Tag: Typesetting

Much Ado About Typesetting

Since this is what I’ve been doing lately I figured I’d write another blog about it, but this one is going to be more technical. The first thing I want to tell you – something I learned the hard way – is that typesetting for print and for ebook are 100% different. No joke. If you aren’t going to be printing your book in hard copy then your typesetting is entirely different than it is for a physical book. How I learned this? By spending about four days bouncing off the walls because I couldn’t get my PDF to convert it into a format that didn’t look awful. Every time I tried to export it from InDesign into anything else the formatting was sloppy and horrible. There were random words in random places, page numbers on improper pages… it was nightmarish. So, to save you that frustration I now tell you the obvious: it doesn’t work like that.

Also in this blog post I’m going to discuss interior design, albeit briefly, because that is a part of the process. It, too, changes between formats which is one of the reasons you will notice that e-books tend to be more sparse on things like dropcaps and so on.

To me the easier of the two is e-book formatting, so I’m going to start there. After reading some tutorials online about going from a Word Document to an ebook I twitched. Going from Word straight to press? Perish the thought. The idea of doing that makes most typesetters green at the gills. However, for ebooks it proved to be the simplest way to accomplish the task.

The most important thing I learned about ebook creation is that, unlike traditional typesetting, there are very, very few page breaks. The reason for this is that on a device where the font can be changed and text made larger or smaller you can’t predict where the page breaks will be. As a result you should not insert them except at the end of chapters where you want to force the flow to switch pages no matter what font or size the reader is engaging at.

Secondly is don’t use dropcaps or other fancy formatting. It won’t carry over cleanly and will provide a massive headache. You can do simple things like adding in bullet points or maybe a horizontal rule, but it will be very difficult to have text boxes off to the side and so on without being far better at this than I am. As a result you want to limit yourself to as light formatting as possible. Stick to the usuals – bold, italic, underline, strikethrough. The reason for this is because when the Word document is exported through the conversion program it is changed into xhtml which is then read into .mobi, .epub, or whatever format you like.

If you have graphics you will want to keep them as simple as possible and avoid their use if you can because they may not align well. Epub is a rather limited file format, or so I am told, and it can’t really handle a lot of the things that we might want it to, so be careful what you attempt to do with it. I am sure that, with enough time and learning, those of you writing childrens’ books that are full color and illustrated could figure out how to make your pages look good in that format, but I couldn’t tell you right now how to do it. This is more for books that are a straight read and contain very few graphics.

formattingexample

When you are done with your formatting the pages should look like this (without the red). They should be LEFT ALIGNED and have minimal formatting. This page has a page break before the first line and after the ISBN because it needs to stand alone in the book. I killed the personal information about this book because it’s not ready to hit the market yet, and this page may not be in its final form.

Finally, transferring your Word Document to the various file formats can be done in several programs. Calibre, for one, is open source and does a good job creating the files for you.


Traditional typesetting, however, looks much different and, unlike ebook formatting, should decidedly not be done in Word. As I referenced in my last post, I have developed a strong preference for InDesign as a typesetting program. It is a little less overtly friendly than MS Publisher, but it proved its worth to me in letting me have a project done in far less time than I could have anticipated otherwise.

When you are traditionally typesetting you must control leading (the distance between lines), kerning (the distance between individual letters), page breaks, page numbers, and everything else you see when you open the page of a book. Spoiler alert – there’s a lot you don’t even realize is there until you start doing it.

One of the biggest things you are going to be looking for during your typesetting process is eliminating widows and orphans. That is, lines of text leftover on a page or column when the rest has migrated onto the next page. A widow is a single line of text at the bottom of a page where an orphan is the same thing at the top of a page. They’re sad, lonely things and really should be with their families.

In addition to that you must work on designing the page layout for each page. The author’s name, the book’s name, the page numbers, the use of graphics on the chapter pages… all of these things are part of your process and are a lot of work. I’m not going to give you a step-by-step process on how to do this because there are better tutorials out there than I can provide that will center around your preferred software.

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Typesetting Programs

This is mostly for the self-pub crowd, so if you are planning on trad. publishing then this will maybe be interesting, but it won’t be as important to you as it is to folks who are doing this on their own.

Typesetting is one of the most overlooked bits to putting a book together. Everyone knows about cover art and editing and marketing and… but they forget typesetting.

 

Typesetting is different from interior design which are the doodads that make your book pretty, like artwork. Instead, it’s the long slog through the text making sure widows and orphans don’t exist, preventing words from hyphenating onto the next line, and making sure, overall, the book is prepared for print.

I’m writing this coming off the heels of typesetting my first book, so I shall share with you my tale of woe. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s 5:30am and I haven’t been to bed yet. I also started this project at around 11pm. I’m insane that way.

Anyway, the first thing I will tell you is DO NOT TYPESET IN WORD. A lot of self-published folks try and do this, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Word doesn’t output clean enough documents and doesn’t have the tools to make typesetting easy or smooth. Sure, you can theoretically do it just like you can theoretically tapdance on a chocolate cake. But the results are… lamentable.

From there you will be looking at design programs. The first I will mention is Scribus. I dabbled with it, but couldn’t figure it out well – however, since it’s open source it’s a great idea for authors who want to do typesetting on the cheap. And I am sure there are tutorials out there, so if you want to take the time to learn it I am certain that it can work for you. I know many people who swear by it, so I have nothing bad to say regarding the program.

Second is Microsoft Publisher. I started my project in Publisher and by about 12:30am I was screaming for mercy. The auto-flow wasn’t auto-flowing, and I was about to scream and punch my monitors. Both of them. However, I restrained myself because they are kind of important to my job. It is more user-friendly on the surface that Scribus or the next program I’m going to mention, but it definitely lacks in the arena of ease of use once you get into the crunchy bits, and the auto-flow function is… well I have nothing to say about it that won’t come out in furious cussing.

Finally is the program I learned at about midnight after watching this tutorial. After that I have, other than finishing a few minor notes, finished typesetting the whole book. So, all in all, it was maybe four hours in InDesign to typeset a nearly 400 page book. It looks intimidating on the surface, but once you begin using it the powerful features become indispensable and you will find yourself able to accomplish a lot of work with very little effort and time. No joke. The downside is that InDesign is expensive since it’s put out by Adobe. I am lucky enough to have the CS3 package from back when I was in college, and it works just fine for everything I need.

While I could talk your ear off about the details of typesetting all I have the brain for right now is telling you that it is important, and that you can do it yourself pretty easily if you have the correct tools and tutorials.

Typesetting And You

Typesetting - D7K 1987 ep
Typesetting – D7K 1987 ep (Photo credit: Eric.Parker)

I apologize for the late post, everyone. I was battling with a migraine yesterday that wouldn’t let me function. I’m still feeling the after-effects today, but I’m working on destroying it with copious amounts of ibuprofen and caffeine.

 

Typesetting is something most self publishing writers know virtually nothing about. The majority of them think that “typesetting” is changing the page size and margins. It is, however, far more important and complicated than that. It also requires software capable of performing the task. No, Microsoft Word will not cut it.

“Typesetting” is putting a book into the format you need to print it. This means making the page size what it will be for the finished product, making sure the inside looks nice, choosing fonts, dropcaps, etc. It includes making sure the tracking (spacing between letters and words) is proper, it includes making sure the distancing between lines is proper, and it also means weeding out “widows” and “orphans”.

Widows and orphans are one of the primary targets of the typesetting process. They are defined as words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph that are left flapping in the wind at the beginning of a page or column. They are typically a “leftover” sentence from the last page. They can be a few words or even just one. These are not yuor friends. While there is some disagreement about what a “widow” or “orphan” is specifically, the basic concept remains the same.

Another thing typesetting is important for is creating chapter beginnings and formatting them correctly. Do you want to use a dropcap for your first word? How are you formatting your table of contents? How are you formatting the “dedications” and so on? These things are all parts of typesetting.

Generally speaking typesetting is done in a few programs: Microsoft Publisher (available with Microsoft Office Pro), Adobe InDesign, or Scribus (a free, open-source desktop publishing software). While there are others, those are the primary three I have heard of being prominent. If you have Microsoft Publisher as I do it is an extremely useful piece of software. However, you can do the same things with Scribus without the pricetag of a couple hundred dollars.

Typesetting is one of the finishing polishes you put on your book prior to publication. It comes after all the editing has been done, and the story is finished but before cover design can be completed. The reason for that is because the typesetting determines how thick the book is which will change what the book’s spine’s dimensions are. It is not to be skipped. Improperly typeset books look awful in both print and ebook formats.

Frequently ebook writers and publishers don’t take time to properly typeset their ebooks and this is a mistake; it results in readability issues for people purchasing the book and just, in general, looks far less professional.

Long story short, you can have it done professionally or do it yourself, but you must do it if you are going to self publish your book. Those of you working with traditional publishers shouldn’t have this problem since the publisher will be handling that for you rather than you doing it yourself. Much like with editing, cover design, and so on.