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.)


Font issues

31 January 2010

If your text is of the plain vanilla variety (using Times, Arial and other similar fonts), then there should be no font-related problems in the typesetting of your book. However (and here note that this is a Western publisher speaking), if you use any non-standard text like that listed below, then you will need to start talking seriously with your editor – indeed, you should have done this months ago.

  • Text with diacritics or special accents (Vietnamese, for instance, uses multiple accents over a single Latin character).
  • Other special fonts or character sets (ornaments, for example)
  • Non-Latin script (e.g. Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese).
  • Mathematical and scientific symbols (many based on Greek letters).
  • Formulas (often a complex arrangement of super- and sub-scripted Greek letters and other symbols and markers that must be precisely placed but still run into the main text).

There are dangers in the use of such special text, three that I can think of right off-hand:

  1. The big danger is that everything turns to custard in the conversion process (an issue I shall return to in a few days time). This can be a result of incompatibility between fonts and/or between computer operating systems, something I have discussed in an earlier post.
  2. Moreover, just because you got this Chinese font free with Word, it doesn’t mean that it can be used by your publisher without paying a heft price; this issue, too, I have explored elsewhere.
  3. And finally there is the issue of readability (something I have also written about earlier and enraged a few people as a result); I would argue that every insertion of special text creates a ‘speed bump’ in the smooth reading of your text.

Please think very hard before using such special text and, if you must use it, then consult with your production editor at an early stage.

(Post #12 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


What is typesetting?

22 January 2010

With the design phase now completed, your manuscript and the design brief will be sent to a typesetter, who will take your text and illustrative material, setting it out on the page ready for printing.

An art and process

There is a lot more to typesetting (and its sister, typography) than you would think. Both have their origins in the Gutenberg revolution and each, in their different ways, were concerned with the presentation of textual material in type format ready for printing. In earlier times there was a big difference between them. Typography was the art of designing, setting and arranging type whereas typesetting was the process (or craft) of actually setting the type.

Note the class difference: typography wore a beret and twirled a designer’s pen, typesetting wore an apron, punched type and had ink on its fingers. As we shall see, however, the differences between the two have blurred in recent years.

Together, typography and typesetting combine an art and process that only really succeeds when invisible. In many respects, the layout of your book is comparable to the background music added to a film. Its primary duty is to make your text clear and accessible, but ideally it should also enhance the meaning with mood and style. Though stylish, the layout must also be durable (indeed timeless), transcending fashion. Much creative energy goes into this art, which is the subject of passionate debate among its practitioners.

At the forefront of the publishing revolution

The differences between typesetting and typography have narrowed (even blurred) due to the digital revolution and advent of desktop publishing (DTP), which has virtually obliterated other forms of typesetting in recent years.

At the sharp end of publishing – in the production of books, journals, etc. – the old, quite laborious and expensive process of producing print-ready material by hand-setting individual lines and pages of type (a job for well-paid tradesmen) has given way to on-screen, WYSIWYG page composition using personal computers and (usually) lower-paid semi-clerical staff.

In parallel with (and a precondition for) this transformation was the development of things we all take for granted today (everyone, not just publishing professionals) – the personal computer, DTP software, new digital fonts (see below), laser printers using the Postscript programming language, and PDF (which renders Postscript into a viewable, WYSIWYG format). An even more recent addition has been the arrival of text mark-up languages like XML; originating from the old pre-DTP typesetting systems, these are still esoteric, even for many publishing people.

For a while, typesetting came in-house for most publishers and many of the old, specialist typesetting firms went bust. In recent years, however, further cost-cutting by publishers has seen this typesetting work move out to local freelancers and further afield to places like India. (I have described this development elsewhere in greater detail, if you are interested.)

At the same time that the process of page layout has been transformed, a parallel transformation has been seen in typography. Here, there have been huge advances in typographical design, not least the development first of scalable, digital fonts followed by an explosion of new designs and more recently the digital capture and standardization of all the world’s varied alphabets and scripts in the form of Open Type fonts.

These advances have been an essential feature of the digital revolution in publishing. Without them, there would be no #e-publishing, no e-readers like the Kindle, probably no iPhone or other smart phone, and indeed even the PC, Web, etc. would be far more limited things than they are.

Key concerns and tools

According to Wikipedia, ‘Traditional typography follows four principles: repetition, contrast, proximity, and alignment.’ The same could be said for typesetting; they are classic requirements of a good design and layout. In essence, then, when laying out your book, your typesetter will be concerned to:

  • Fit your text and illustrations into the agreed page extent.
  • Place text and illustrations in an effective and appropriate combination.
  • Apply a layout that is uniform and predictable.
  • Implement a design that is elegant but also clear and readable.
  • Deliver the print-ready PDF files on or before the agreed date.


Given the sophistication of today’s DTP software (programs like Adobe InDesign, for instance), the typesetter of your book will have a vast array of tools at his/her disposal to ensure these goals are met. There are too many to list here but among them will be:

  • a selection of appropriate fonts in different sizes and styles;
  • paragraph and character styles, assigning uniform values to text (font, size, colour, alignment, etc.) that can be globally changed in an instant;
  • hyphenation, character spacing (kerning) and line spacing (leading), allowing fine adjustments to how much space an amount of text actually fills; and
  • much more (e.g. alignment and rotation, linking to external files, layering, use of colour, etc.)

Such is the world of the typesetter. But, as shall be seen in my next post, this esoteric world about to impinge on your own.

(Post #8 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


Font compatibility

11 August 2009

Readability is an issue with the use of fonts and diacritical marks (as discussed in my previous post) but it is not the only issue. Font compatibility is also important.

Playing safe

There are thousands of different fonts out there. By all means choose fonts that you like but be aware that a document with uncommon fonts when opened by someone else may be unreadable or convert to a common font with strange results. The safe move is to choose standard fonts like Times, Arial and Helvetica or those that are Unicode compliant.

When playing safe isn’t an option

Such an approach is sensible if all that you need to write is ‘plain vanilla’ text. Many authors, however, need to go beyond vanilla and insert symbols and other special characters into their text, examples being:

  • Text with diacriticals or special accents (Vietnamese, for instance, uses multiple accents over a single Latin character).
  • Non-Latin script (e.g. Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese).
  • Mathematical and scientific symbols (many based on Greek letters).
  • Formulas (often a complex arrangement of super- and sub-scripted Greek letters and other symbols and markers that must be precisely placed but still run into the main text).

In their case, standard fonts cannot be used.

Mac vs Windows

Part of the problem here is due to incompatibilities between computer operating systems. Much of the publishing world is Mac based (because of the high quality results and stability possible in this environment) while most authors work in the Windows world. This can have consequences, as happened with a prize-winning study that we published some years ago.

One of my many nightmares with fonts and diacritics

On paper, the text was reasonably clean and the author wrote beautifully. Yes, the text was full of Vietnamese diacritical marks but – notwithstanding my earlier post dealing with readability – it read like a dream. However, when we began typesetting the book, the whole project turned into nightmare. Basically, the author had used two Windows-only fonts for the diacritics, one for capital letters, the other for lower case. When we converted the text over onto the Mac, much of it turned to junk. And unfortunately different garbage symbols (like the delta sign) had one value if the original letter was upper case and an entirely different one if lower case. It took 3-4 weeks to sort out the mess and even then a handful of errors slipped through the two rounds of proofing. Luckily, the author was a dream to work with and – as noted – the book went on to win a major prize in its field.

This is not the only such hassle with fonts and diacritical marks I have experienced. No, over the years, I have gone through quite a few – far too many – nightmares with font conversions. All have involved diacritics.

A brighter future?

Hopefully, I face fewer potential nightmares in the future as, in general, diacritics and non-Latin script are less of a problem today than previously. This is due to general acceptance of the Unicode standard for font mapping and the rise of Open Type fonts based on this standard. The common Unicode standard gives each character form its own unique identifier which allows easy swapping between fonts, so it is imperative that any font you use is Unicode compliant.

Other issues

(That said, just because it is technically possible to splatter your text with, say, Arabic characters, this does not mean that you should do so. Consider the issues of readability and ‘speed bumps’ discussed in my previous post and ask yourself what is necessary, not what is possible.)

There are also wider issues with non-Latin script such as the input method and the direction of input, as will be discussed in a later post. In addition, unfortunately, not all fonts are compliant (to the best of my knowledge, for instance, no Unicode standard has been adopted yet for Lao script).

Publisher resistance to the use of diacritics

Notwithstanding these advances, many publishers still refuse to accept works with diacritics and non-Latin script due to the added production cost and general hassle, while others refuse to have non-Latin script in the main text but allow it to appear in a separate glossary that can be typeset separately from the bulk of the book. If it is necessary to include such special characters in your book, then the ability and willingness of a publisher to handle them must influence whom you approach with your script, and you may be asked to find significant sums of money to finance the extra typesetting costs that your choice causes.

Personally, I am quite open to the use of diacritics but there are limits. Essentially, the result of my bad experiences with non-standard fonts and psychotic diacritical marks is such that today I am only interested in working with fonts that are Unicode compliant and preferably Open Type fonts.

Personal consequences

As far as I am concerned, then, it is not enough to say that “this font is standard in the [Microsoft] Office package, so what’s the problem?” If the font turns to garbage when the manuscript is converted on the typesetter’s machine, then to me and to most other publishers that’s what the font is, garbage.

Should such a problem happen with your text, then, if the text in question is a manuscript on offer to a publisher (rather than one already accepted), immediately you have an added barrier to getting accepted; your manuscript looks like it could be a hassle to produce – better, thinks the publisher, to flag this one away.

Time perhaps to rethink your use of fonts and/or diacritics?


Issues with fonts and diacritical marks

11 August 2009

In the last few days I have got into a bit of hot water on the H-BUDDHIST discussion list by making a hasty, ill-worded comment about diacritical marks. The reaction has forced me to write a more considered response to the list and it is on the basis of this that I now write a series of posts dealing with the wider topic of fonts and diacritical marks.

In earlier times (before the advent of modern Open Type fonts), diacritical marks were often detested by publishers for the difficulty of typesetting them correctly. Today, however, there may be a lingering suspicion among hidebound presses towards diacritical marks but I think that – in this wonderful, new world of digital fonts and Unicode standards – the majority of presses are not at all hostile to their use. However, there are issues with diacritical marks (as with fonts) that now we shall explore. These issues shall be explored in turn over the next 5 posts: