Imagine this. A key passage in your book surveys the tourist icons of Paris. As your readers learn about the gargoyles of Notre Dame, on the opposite page they see the iron lacework of the Eiffel Tower. Turn the page and the story of the tower is told – illustrated with a picture of buses and tourists outside the Louvre.
These things happen. They shouldn’t.
A key difference between modern typesetting programs and a word processor like Word is that the typesetter works with double-page spreads, the same view that readers have when moving through a physical book. (The single-page perspective of e-books is one of their major disadvantages, by the way, but this is rarely mentioned.) This double-page ‘workbench’ makes it easier for the typesetter to place tables, illustrations and other figures to their best advantage.
(Easier but not always easy. The layout of page after page of straight text is quite easy. But having to juggle the placement of text, footnotes, tables and illustrations all within a few pages – and ensure that the result is both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful – is decidedly not simple. This is one of the reasons why some publishers insist on endnotes – but more about that later this week.)
Insertion points need to be clear
Unfortunately, typesetters aren’t mind-readers. While some diligently read the text so they can lay it out in the best possible way (for this reason, often it is the typesetter who notices errors and omissions not discovered at editing), others do not have the time for such a hands-on approach. What you should count on, then, is that your typesetter won’t have the time to decipher from your text where precisely this table should go or where that illustration.
For this reason, you would be smart to indicate in the text where every non-text element should go. Something like ‘INSERT FIGURE 3.2 ABOUT HERE’ may not be pretty but it is necessary. (Indeed, your failure to specify an approximate insertion point may cause the typesetter to completely overlook that illustration and fail to place it.)
Placement of colour illustrations (as discussed in my previous post) is slightly more tricky. There is no problem if the book is completely in colour (simply indicate an insertion point as above). But if your colour illustrations are to be gathered into a colour section, then there is an issue. The point is that this colour section is a section; here, we are not talking about a scattering of colour illustrations placed wherever they are referred to. No, a colour section is a 16-page, full-colour signature that must be inserted between two monochrome signatures. Precisely where this will be inserted cannot easily be predicted in advance. All that may be possible is to indicate an insertion point as close as possible to this or that passage of text.
Certainly, however, you should not leave placement of any colour section to the whims of your typesetter. Be proactive, discuss things with your production editor and ensure that placement of this colour section is specified in the page design brief (discussed in greater detail here, while my argument for author activism is here).
One last thought
What is discussed in this post is placement of non-text elements, not if they are actually necessary. Pictures may say more than a thousand words but they also interrupt the narrative, as do tables, charts and graphs. In each case, ask yourself whether this interruption to the flow of text is necessary, appropriate and desirable.
(Post #16 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)