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
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.