The art of book typesetting

Posted on Jun 9, 2016 | No Comments
The art of book typesetting

I fell in love with typography as a student at NSCAD University. Amongst other subjects, I learned to set metal type – the smell of ink transports me back to the days I spent labouring over my galleys in the basement of the design division.

During my 30+ years as a graphic designer, I’ve worked on many books for publishers in the UK & Canada. I’ve designed and typeset cookbooks, novels, academic textbooks, guidebooks, art books, how-to books, poetry, biographies, children’s books, journals, young adult & history books. Working on these projects allows me to delve into the minutiae of type and handle all the little details that make for a beautiful book.

What does a book typesetter do? We set type! What does this mean?

A typical project could consist of the following (after initial design layout has been approved by the publisher):

  • receive Microsoft Word file from publisher
  • fix Word file
  • make sure notes are either endnotes or footnotes
  • fix ellipses to true ellipses (not three periods)
  • change hyphens to en or em dashes, with or without spaces depending on publisher’s house style
  • delete double spaces at end of sentences
  • ensure end punctuation is inside or outside of quotation marks depending on UK or Canadian style
  • remove empty paragraph returns and tabs
  • remove space at start of paragraphs
  • set true small caps
  • set fractions as true fractions: ½ not 1/2
  • set true curly quotes
  • set non-breaking spaces so you don’t have “see p. 18” with the “p.” on one line and the 18 on the following line
  • set up master pages including appropriate running feet and folios
  • apply paragraph and character styles, using nested styles, GREP styles, etc
  • fix widows & orphans
  • fix kerning issues
  • make nice rags
  • fix loose and tight lines
  • eliminate ladders, rivers & runts
  • fix bad hypenation
  • set tables
  • set captions
  • set table of contents & index
  • make revisions & edits after first pages are sent back from the publisher, repeat as necessary

Here is a before and after example from the guidebook Edinburgh Celebrity City Guide

Word file

Word file

Formatted text

Formatted text

 

As you can see, a book typesetter spends a lot of time finessing the original manuscript into legible and readable type. Great typesetting is when no one notices it and only sees (and reads!) a beautiful book.