Self-publishing skills: Typesetting

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So, you just copy and paste your words into the page and that’ll do. Right?

Sadly not.

Typesetting is the crucial stage of getting your words into a format that will work on the page. It is closely tied in with all the design skills you need and that we looked at in the previous post. If you haven’t done so already, why not take a look at that?

Typesetting is more than just copying the words from your edited manuscript. It’s the skill of putting those words on to the page in a way that a reader can easily read them and get lost in your story.

So the first thing to consider when typesetting is not actually the words ­– it’s the space around the words.

Margins are crucial. Not just for making notes in (I’m not the only one who does that, am I?) but it’s where you readers will hold the book open. In a physical book, it’s where the pages bend towards the spine.

Get the margins wrong and you quickly annoy your readers as words get covered up by thumbs or soon disappear into the valley of the spine.

Similarly, other white space is just as important. The space between lines, paragraphs, indents is all important not just for the book, but also for the readers’ eyes. White space gives eyes a chance to rest. To reflect and take in the story.

The space between lines is important. When you’ve been writing and editing, chances are you’ve used double line spacing, or larger. If you haven’t, your editor almost certainly has. It’s easier for writing and editing, which requires reading in very close detail. But it takes up a lot of space on the page.

You’ll need a spacing that gives some breathing space around each line and you’ll need to make sure that this is consistent across your book. By the way, consistency is something we’ll be returning to frequently …

Continuing with white space, paragraph indents are crucial. Typically, you’ll have a ‘full out’ paragraph at the start of the chapter and of each section and subsequent paragraphs will be indented. Some of this is down to style and so you’ll need to consider this first before laying your text onto the page.

Which we’ll start thinking about very soon, I promise!

Along with your margins, white spaces and indents, we need also need to look at running heads and page numbers. Running heads are quite uncommon in fiction. In nonfiction you’ll frequently see the name of the chapter, the book or the author repeated across the top of the page. Where are they going and how?

Common across all books are page numbers. Of course, there’s lots of way you can present those and again, consistency is key.

Okay, so now we are actually going to put your words on the page!

And here’s the typesetter’s skill that you’ll need. You have to take all those words and carefully place them on the page so that they look the very best and everything is consistent right across the book.

That means the right font, the right spacing between words, the right breaking of words across the lines. Special software packages exist to do this and, of course, professional help is available.

Here are two, key, principle skills that you need to bear in mind

  • Squashed words are difficult to read. Make sure the spaces between words is big enough. When you ‘justify’ your text across the page it can lead to big and small gaps. Small spaces can be used to adjust the spacing.
  • Words that fall over onto two lines need to be broken up carefully. A dictionary like The New Oxford Spelling Dictionary shows where words can be broken up best. Certain words and phrases should stay together on the same line and so you should use ‘nonbreaking’ spaces and hyphens to do that. (See the Special Characters in Word resource.)

The best thing to do is to look at any book on your bookshelf. Does your typeset page look similar? Are you happy with the size of the text, the design of the page, the font and the margins?

It can be difficult to assess this on the screen, so I’d always recommend you get a physical book proof copy before you release it to the world! It gives you chance to hold your book as a reader will.

We’re one step closer to getting your book into the world. But there is one crucial step we have to go through first: proofreading!

Proofread by Joanna Porter.

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Fiction editor and proofreader.

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