Typesetting phases and outputs

12 February 2010

For the last two weeks, I have been blithely discussing what typesetting is and the issues relating to it but without actually describing what is produced. Time for a short overview before we move on a new thread of posts, on the proofing process.

A duet

Typesetting is not a single event in the production of the book pages; rather, it is a multi-phased process and one interwoven with that for the proofing of the book. In a sense, one could look at typesetting and proofing as a duet sung by a tenor and soprano.

Their ‘performance’ looks somewhat like this (but note that approaches do vary between presses):

  • Initial typesetting
  • Output of first proofs
  • First proofing
  • Completion of typesetting
  • Output of second (often the ‘final’) proofs
  • Second (or ‘final’) proofing and indexing
  • Output of print-ready copy
  • Final-copy check
  • Delivery of print files to the printer

Let’s look at the initial typesetting, its completion and briefly at how the proofs are output. More detailed descriptions of each of the proofing phases shall follow in my next thread of posts on proofing.

In addition, also required (and not mentioned above) is typesetting of the cover/jacket (more about that in my next post).

Initial typesetting

Practices differ between typesetters and another major factor is which typesetting software is used. However, likely steps are as follows:

  1. Finalization of the page design (as discussed here).
  2. Creation of typesetting documents meeting the design specification.
  3. Conversion of those input files not conforming to the page design/software requirements (e.g. image files changed from colour to monochrome and from JPEG to TIFF format).
  4. Marking up of text files with consistent paragraph styles that match those defined in the destination typesetting documents.
  5. Import and placing of text files in the typesetting documents.
  6. Assignment of paragraph and character styles to the text and any tables (or, if already done at step #4, then fine-tuning of styles).
  7. Import and placing of any image files in the typesetting documents (often this step is left until completion of typesetting).
  8. Generation of first proofs.

Proofing output

Not too many years ago, when typesetting was done on specialist machines, the initial proofs were output in galley form, i.e. as continuous text without any page breaks marked and printed out on what looked like giant-sized toilet paper. As the layout was finalized, the book would be paginated, subsequent proofs clearly showing the page breaks. These proofs, too, could be printed on long galleys or guillotined into their individual pages.

The output of today’s PC-based desktop publishing systems is utterly different, being based on the industry-standard PDF format (though other output formats are possible). Galleys are gone; everything is either printed on ordinary (A4 or US Letter) paper or output as PDFs. Moreover, there is little difference in the appearance of (say) the initial set of proofs and the final print files sent to the printer (not least, all proofs are paginated).

The shift to PDFs has been a revolutionary development for authors. This, however, is something I shall take up next week in a new section of posts detailing the proofing and indexing process. Proofing outputs are discussed in greater detail here.

Completion of typesetting

Just what is needed to be done to complete the typesetting process depends of course on if step 7 above was done during the initial typesetting or has been left until now. If the latter is true, then likely steps are as follows:

  1. Keying of any text changes from the first proofing.
  2. Import and placing of any image files in the typesetting documents.
  3. Re-evaluation of the likely extent of the book including space for the index (not yet prepared, of course).
  4. Possible adjustment of the page design (especially of the font size and line spacing) to meet the final extent set by the production editor.
  5. Pagination of the book (including subtle adjustments to line spacing, to the placement and size of tables and illustrations, etc. to save on – or add – a few lines here and there so that the target page count is indeed reached); the ideal is that each double-page spread has even page bottoms, its composition is evenly balanced and the overall effect is aesthetically pleasing.
  6. Finalization of any page-specific cross-references.
  7. Generation of second (often ‘final’) proofs.

After the return of any changes resulting from the final proofing and delivery of the index, typesetting concludes as follows:

  1. Keying of any text changes from the final proofing.
  2. Typesetting of the index.
  3. Generation of print-ready copy for checking/approval by press staff.
  4. Delivery of print files to the printer.

Time then (almost) to move on to the proofing and indexing of your book but first let’s return to your cover and its finalization.

(Post #21 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Unrealized expectations

9 February 2010

You hoped that your editor would agree to the use of colour inside your book. Nah! Too expensive. (We’ve talked about this already.) And as for the cover, none of your ideas were even solicited let alone listened to (this also discussed here). But some of the other things you are expecting with your book – or just assume will be implemented (their merits are so obvious) – may not happen either.

Oh dear, time for a few disappointments (and a dash of incredulity).

Footnotes or endnotes?

Some authors hate endnotes with a passion while others naively expect to see the method they used in their manuscript replicated in the typeset book. Expect the worst. More than likely, your footnotes will be converted to endnotes and placed at the end of each chapter.

From a publisher’s viewpoint, this is quite reasonable. Technically, with modern DTP software, footnotes are relatively easy to work with (as easy as they are with a word processor like MS Word). That doesn’t mean that publishers are willing to retain an author’s footnotes, however.

Perhaps the main reason is conservatism but in many cases the problem is a question of avoiding layout hassles. This is especially the case when not only are there a whole lot of notes but also there are tables and illustrations to be placed in the text. Juggling the placement of text, notes, tables and illustrations while preserving an aesthetic balance can be a real headache, as can be seen in this example.

As such, it may be that you get little say in whether your book is typeset with footnotes or endnotes. Mind you, if you are a typical author, perhaps you haven’t given your publisher any idea of your wishes (let alone any incentive to take your wishes into consideration) until it is too late. As I’ve pointed out earlier, authors often show great interest in how their cover looks like but they rarely seem to concern themselves with the page design.

Other layout expectations

It is likely that other expectations you may have about the layout are less important to you. Some of the more common features found in an author’s ms that often are not retained by typesetters are:

  • Bold text (many typesetters regard bold as a ‘shouting’ style and prefer the use of italics, seeing this as a more subtle and elegant type style).
  • Capitals (another ‘shouting’ style, best replaced by text in title case, small caps or italics).
  • Headings (changing the alignment and replacing attributes like bold and/or capitals with small caps, italics, etc.).
  • Font (this may be predetermined in a house style for the press or this series, the need to save space may mandate use of a more compact font like Minion, or perhaps it’s Monday and the typesetter feels like using Garamond; certainly, it’s unlikely that the default font in Word – Times New Roman – will be at the first that the typesetter chooses).
  • Type size (determined in part by the font selected and in part by whether the typesetter needs to save space or pad out the text a bit).
  • Placement of special text (as discussed earlier, even in the age of Open Type, many publishers are averse to the use of non-Latin script, diacritics, etc.; such text may end up segregated in a separately typeset glossary, though if so this should have been discussed with your before now).
  • Placement of tables and illustrations (even if, as I recommended here,  you have indicated that this table should go here and that illustration there, the complexity of the layout – or typesetter laziness – may mean something different happens).

Disconcerted in other ways

The layout is not the only source of nasty surprises for authors. Even though authors generally get to see what is written when their book is first announced, it is amazing how often they act surprised when seeing the first proofs after the typesetting – specifically after looking at the title page and copyright page of their book. Common causes of authors expressing shock and horror are the:

  • Format/edition (do not assume there will be a paperback edition of your book; some publishers are especially unlikely to publish in paperback).
  • Pricing (if your publisher is aiming to sell to the academic library market only, then the price may be horrendous; forget about all your colleagues buying your book).
  • Subject (your book may be wrongly classified – labelled as politics instead of anthropology – but, just as bad, the classification may be too simplistic. This is no surprise; given the way bookshops function, your book may only be displayed in the China section – if at all – even though it offers a major breakthrough in sociological theory as well and thus deserves to be shelved under Sociology as well).
  • Series (unless you have approached the press proposing that your study be published in a specific series, it may be simply plonked in that series which your editor thinks is most appropriate; in fact, it may not be so).
  • Publisher (yes, some authors even get this wrong, thinking for instance that – because their book will be distributed in North America by Such-and-such University Press – the imprint of that press will appear on their title page; not so).

Of necessity, each of the points above deserve far greater explanation than there was room for here. I’ll do this in several posts another day. Meantime, let’s explore perhaps the greatest problem that you will face with your book: letting go, handing over your ‘baby’ to strangers.

(Post #19 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Placement of non-text elements

4 February 2010

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.

Double vision

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.)

Colour sections

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.)

Your role in deciding the cover/page design

20 January 2010

Who knows most about your book? You do. Who decides what it should look like? Someone else. There’s a bit of a disconnect here, I feel.

Publisher territory

Publishers do not expect authors to design their own books, and in fact reserve the right to determine a book’s final appearance. After all, they are the professionals. If you look at your author contract, chances are that you will see a clause something like this one from the standard NIAS author contract:

The Publisher shall have complete control of the production and publication of the Work. Among aspects at the Publisher’s discretion are: the paper, printing, binding, cover (or jacket) and embellishments …

However, being the professionals doesn’t mean that the design of your book is best left to your publisher’s editors, designers, etc. alone. No, you too should be involved, right from the beginning.

Why? I can think of two reasons right off.

  1. With your inside knowledge of your book and its subject, you have a better feeling for what might ‘click’ with your readership and what might be appropriate (even allowed) as discussed in my previous post.
  2. Publishers may be the professionals but they don’t necessarily do a good job if left to themselves. This may be because of the attitude problem mentioned earlier (that the jacket/cover is unimportant) but more important perhaps is the time pressure that book designers work under; the temptation to apply ‘the standard treatment’ to your book will be strong as a consequence.

If you want to achieve a better result, something that brings to life your vision for the book, then it is up to you to work for this – even get a little pushy if need be.

But how much say do you have in the final result? Each publisher is different; some may be flexible in one area but will not budge a millimeter in another. Even so, chances are that your publisher will seize upon any good ideas that you have to make your book stand out in the crowd, shine among its competitors – and sell more copies.

Adding an author perspective to the cover

Chances are that your publisher will welcome suggestions from you for illustrations for your cover, particularly if you have copyright-free material. But your illustrations must be suitable. Keep in mind, for instance, that:

  • The image that you supply should be of a sufficiently high resolution (anything less than one megabyte in size is a waste of time; ideally, the file size should be larger).
  • It should go without saying perhaps but your illustration should be composed nicely, aesthetically pleasing and generally of a good quality (nothing that needs a lot of repair work, for instance).
  • There should be no copyright or other ownership issues with the image. If it needs the permission of someone else for its use, then it is your job to get that permission and pass on to your editor any associated requirements (e.g. that an attribution is given using a specific wording).
  • If the image has to be paid for, then that too is your responsibility (though you can of course raise the issue of compensation with your publisher). It is more than likely that an author is charged less for an image than a publisher.
  • The image must leave enough room for the other cover elements (title, subtitle, author name, etc.) mentioned in my previous post.
  • However, if the illustration is to cover the entire front cover, then it cannot be so ‘busy’ that it fights with the other cover elements. Having a uniform background (like sea or sky) in a suitable part of your image can be useful here.

Inspiration need not come from the world of your research only. Other books can also inspire. What works best for you as a reader? What attracts you aesthetically? Develop a sense of what works and what does not. If you can do this, then you will be able to communicate more knowledgeably and on more equal terms with your publisher on the book design.

However, it is important that you bring any design suggestions to your editor at an early stage. Otherwise, with some publishers, you may not be asked your preference about the cover design but simply be presented with a fait accompli for proofing (after all, you are ‘only the author’). At that point, the design budget will have been spent and any protestations from you are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Adding your perspective on the page design

Getting involved in the cover design is one thing, having a say on the layout of the inside pages is quite another.

Theoretically, you could contribute to the page design brief. Over the years I have had authors taking an active (sometimes too active) interest in the entire book design, but these authors have been few and far between; in practice, most authors show little interest in the page design.

However, perhaps you might like to warm your interest just a little more right now because our thread of posts on design is finished; now we are moving onto the typesetting of your book (first up, what exactly is typesetting, followed by a whole lot of ‘issues’ posts demonstrating why you should care).

(Post #7 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Preparing the page design

14 January 2010

With finalization of the editorial process, your text is almost ready for typesetting. Often, however, a design brief is first drawn up, either by your production editor or by the typesetter, specifying how the book should be typeset. As noted in my previous post, the central concern here is ‘fit’: the finished book should end up with the number of pages it is supposed to have.

I shall not get into the specifics of copy-fitting and casting off here as I’ve written about these (and how to calculate book length) earlier. Suffice to say that the target number of words per page will play a decisive role in the page design.

Strangely enough, there is often no co-ordination between the design of the cover and the inside pages; the former lies largely in the world of the marketing department, the latter in that of production. For this reason, the cover designer and book (page) designer are usually different people.

This may make sense from the publisher’s perspective but it does signal a strange failure to take the reader into consideration. As I have written earlier, content may be king but design is the queen whose appearance attracts the initial attention and prompts the curious reader to pick up the book. Moreover, if the discord between the appearance of the cover and inner pages is strong enough, this will affect the reader’s receptiveness to the author’s argument (even if only subconsciously).

In short, aesthetics matters also.

Of course, some attention will (or should) be paid to aesthetics but just as important is enhancing the presentation and accessibility of the text. Why? Because the success of a book demands that consideration be given to:

  • identity (if part of a series, a standard design may apply)
  • readership
  • purpose
  • suitability
  • credibility
  • readability, and
  • attractiveness

Some of the elements that the design brief thus specifies are the:

  • trim size (physical dimensions) of the book
  • layout of elements (not least the appearance of chapter starts, the composition of double-page spreads, and the placement of notes)
  • fonts/typefaces and sizes for body text, headings, captions, notes, etc.
  • treatment and placement of illustrations, and
  • use of colour, if any (and, if so, its placement)

At this late stage, it is not unknown for the design brief to highlight problems in the text that have escaped notice throughout the earlier evaluation and editorial phases (the need for a series of explanatory illustrations in a ‘how-to’ book, for instance).

Just how the page design is translated into reality depends very much on who has prepared the brief and how much interest the publisher’s production department has in creation of a unique ‘personality’ for the book (indeed, because of the time pressures book designers work under, the temptation to apply ‘the standard treatment’ to your book will be strong).

Whichever the approach, it is not unusual for a single chapter to be typeset according to the proposed page design, then feedback then requested from the different interested parties (including, with luck, the author). Eventually a design is agreed and typesetting of the book can proceed.

(Post #4 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Meet the designers (and typesetter)

9 January 2010

In publishing these days, almost everyone looks the same. Yes, clothing and hairstyle may differ (and let’s not forget attitude, accent and class) but everyone works on a computer. Look more closely, however, and the differences become more apparent. What sort of computer are we talking about and which software is being used? Who is the press insider and who the hired help?


In former times, the differences were clear. Editorial and marketing staff were office types, the former usually middle class (if not upper class) and intellectual, the latter often seen as more common and tainted by money. Increasingly, women were commonplace. In contrast, typesetters rubbed shoulders with the printers and got their hands dirty; they were craftsmen, working class and blokes. They were also part of the industrial elite.

Designers lay somewhere in-between. They, too, learned a craft but design was (and is) one of the creative professions; one should expect to work closely with architects, engineers, artists and other creative types as well as with people in advertising and marketing, areas where creativity is valued.

The computer revolution changed this picture, typesetters moving from setting metal type on-site at the printing works to setting virtual type on screen on big typesetting machines located elsewhere. The PC and desktop-publishing (DTP) revolutions completed the transformation. Today, virtually every designer and typesetter works on a computer. The old days of real cutting and pasting have gone.

Amateurs and distance workers

What the DTP revolution also allowed, however, is a dramatic decline in the use of qualified designers and typesetters in the publishing industry. Partly, this was a result of cost-cutting by presses but the trend is also in keeping with the industry’s origins as a profession for gentlemen, an industry distinguished by the work of gifted (and not so gifted) amateurs.

Especially in smaller presses, then, it is quite common for editorial and marketing staff to undertake design and typesetting work. For instance, though without the slightest design or typographic training, I design almost all of the covers for books published by NIAS Press, typeset the occasional book and in the past have even created customized fonts to meet our needs. Such involvement is not at all extraordinary.

This ‘democratization’ of design and typesetting work has also meant that it can be passed on to low-paid amateurs, of course, and indeed outsourced to ex-industry professionals now working freelance and costing less than if they were on the press staff. Moreover, in recent years, outsourcing of typesetting and other pre-press work to India by Western presses is increasingly common. (Several earlier posts have discussed this issue, most notably this one. Click on ‘outsourcing’ in the right-hand tag cloud to view all of these posts.)

That said, although many presses have cut costs by outsourcing or employing low-cost amateurs and/or by the use of template designs, some presses still find it worthwhile to employ professionals to undertake this work.

I suggest you keep this nuanced picture in mind in the description that follows and in subsequent posts dealing with design and typesetting.

Different types, much in common

In the new democracy of design and typesetting, it is quite possible for the designer and typesetter to be one and the same person; chances are they are different, however – or that the typesetter creates the page design but the cover design is assigned to a specialist cover designer.

This is not surprising; the work has much in common but it is not the same. Typesetters and page designers should obviously care about the aesthetics and accessibility of a text but a central concern is ‘fit’ – how to ensure that the finished book ends up with the number of pages it is supposed to have (and hence keep printing within budget).

In contrast, the cover designer must produce covers that are attractive to look at and ideally also a bit intriguing to encourage potential buyers to pick up the book. At the same time, cover designers must satisfy a number of practical concerns such as that the cover works both when viewed face-out (as it should ideally be seen) and spine-out (as on the shelf of a bookshop or library).

That said, there is much in common between designers and typesetters. Both work with an intimate knowledge and appreciation of spatial relationships, colour and fonts, and both need to be skilled at using images to good effect and at enhancing image quality.

For their work, moreover, both designers and typesetters are likely to use a powerful Macintosh computer running highly specialized software. Because of its superior graphics capabilities, the Mac has long been dominant in both pre-press and printing work. (It was this tiny but lucrative slice of the computer market that allowed Apple to survive during the long years of otherwise utter Windows dominance.) The domination of Abobe Creative Suite as the software package of choice is more recent but with InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Acrobat and more, use of the package is almost inescapable.

This can be seen in the next few posts, which deal with the page design and cover design.

(Post #3 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Design matters

5 January 2010

The Biblical observation that men do not hide their light under a bushel but raise it high to light the whole house applies equally to the work that already has been done on your manuscript and the work still to come that will transform it into a book.

The purpose of the editing, and indeed of the author revisions preceding it, should be to polish the text and ensure that it communicates its meaning. But thereafter the book design and subsequent typesetting become hugely important – if content is king, it should be dressed accordingly; the book design should illuminate the contents, not obscure them.

Time and again, publishers fail to heed this imperative and the result can be that a major work fails to gain the recognition it deserved.

What should have been a prize-winning study

I still regret one such instance in my career when, due to my failure to keep the author in check, her opus magnum ballooned to an alarming number of words and illustrations. I also designed the book and at first glance it was beautiful. Even so, it weighed in at over 500 pages, a hundred more than it was first announced at. The book went on to almost win an important book prize; arguably it should have won. For me, however, the moment of truth was feedback from Winnie, a trusted Singapore colleague, who complained that she had tried several times to read the book but ‘got tired’.

Was it the design? I believe so. The font size was too small; the number of characters per line was way over the 65 that is the golden mean (more like 89). The result will have been eye strain for many readers. In a nutshell, there was a readability issue. Probably, the book should have been 600 pages long – or edited more assertively.

This is just one way in which a bad book design can get in the way of readers fully appreciating an author’s argument. A layout that is ugly or boring is just as bad, likewise one whose text uses fonts that are unsuitable for extended reading. Also problematic is a book size that is unhandy (too big or too small, awkward or tiresome to hold, etc.).

Enter the queen

Many readers will struggle with a bad book design (often unconscious of what is bothering them) if they consider the contents important enough. Here, however, the presumption is that the work is to hand. But what actually ensures that a reader buys or borrows a copy of your book? Is it the contents? The marketing? Actually, in many cases, what sells a book is its appearance, its initial impact, something that briefly attracts the reader’s eye to that book and guides her hand to take it off the shelf.

Once a copy has been sold, it’s quite different; what you say becomes more important than appearances. But – for a brief moment – the look and feel of your book is paramount. Content may be king, but design is the queen who by appearance attracts the most initial attention.

The cover matters

The internal book design can be important in the purchase decision-making, but only after the book has been picked up. Initially, then, the most important design element is the book cover (or jacket), something that some publishers don’t seem to care about. In a recent post on H-ASIA, Peter Matanle of the University of Sheffield complained that:

… the cover is really important for a book yet some publishers do not pay sufficient attention to this aspect of book design, preferring simply to make it conform to a series or even publisher style. Often there is no information about the book anywhere on the front or back cover beyond printing the main title and author’s name. Often there are no unique graphics on the cover and no endorsements or short summaries on the back cover to entice a reader in.

His explanation for this (bad) behaviour was that:

… the publisher may be more interested in creating its own brand image than in taking care over the content of the volume, and that the publisher is actually not that interested in post publication marketing either …

Actually, I rather suspect that the publisher’s behaviour is largely shaped by the expectation that nearly all copies sold will be to libraries, and they tend to buy on the strength of the book description, the price, etc., not on the book’s appearance. However, with the continued collapse in library market sales, such a policy seems rather short-sighted.

Like it or not, bookshops and individual book buyers matter, and that means that the cover matters, indeed design matters.

Sounds like it time that you meet the designers.

(Post #2 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)