What is Typesetting?


Most authors these days work with Microsoft Word, Mac’s Pages or one of the myriad Open Office formats. They allow even the absolute novice to lay their book out in what seems to be a clean and professional format. The author has a wide choice of styles and fonts with which to get creative and all sorts of justification tools to make the finished manuscript look perfect.

So, it should stand to reason that typesetting a book for the printer would be just a matter of adjusting page size and margins to fit the printer’s requirements and you’re good to go? Well, no. Not quite. In fact, it’s the very ease with which these word processing programmes operate which can also cause all manner of problems. Getting a book to look good in print is an art as well as a science. Taming widow and orphan lines is just the first part. What about the differential gutters to make the two open pages look even or creating headers and footers which don’t move all over the place?

It’s one of the oddities of the book industry that nobody notices a well-typeset book but everybody notices a bad one. A poorly, or unusually, typeset book is uncomfortable to read and can elicit scathing reviews which can often seriously damage a book’s chances.

But that’s just part of the problem. The clever magic which these word processing programmes wield to make everything nice and easy for the author can often create absolute mayhem when the manuscript arrives at the printers. All those clever, and invisible, little control codes which are deeply embedded within the manuscript to make everything tidy are misinterpreted at the printers as errors and cause all sorts of unpredictability and can make manuscript look a complete mess on the printed page. Many fonts or style sheets simply don’t exist in the printer’s systems so you stylish Bewitchy-Twitchy font which looked so chic on the page simply gets treated as an error and the book is returned to you to fix.

Things get even more problematical when converting text for eBooks. Each eBook system demands different layouts and things like page numbers or paragraph breaks are often sufficient reason to have your manuscript summarily rejected.

Another major headache for typesetters is the fact that many authors work across several different systems. Maybe they use Microsoft Office at work then open their iPad on the train home, send it to somebody for their opinion who opens it in Android and emails it back to you via a web email client. It all still looks okay on the screen but each system tries to interpret the previous systems control codes and then adds more of their own. What started out as a tab margin in your original document is now a line of invisible garbage that won’t become apparent until the proof copy emerges out of the printer.

A good typesetter will ensure all of these hidden codes are stripped out, that the widows and orphans don’t hang around at the page extremes and all these clever little fonts are changed before they surprise the print machinery and create a nice tidy pile of very expensive scrap paper.