What is typesetting? This is a common question we receive from clients, and I’m here to shed some light on the process.
Before I get into it, typesetting is subtle—almost invisible—work. When done properly, it makes the reading experience pleasant and the book aesthetically pleasing. This is the goal of the typesetter: To make the page look as good as possible so readers won’t be pulled out of the story due to awkward spacing, loose or tight lines, or improper book organization. When a typesetter is finished with their work, a reader will likely never even know the typesetter had a hand in the book at all, since they’ll be so engrossed in the narrative itself.
With that goal in mind, let’s dive a bit further into what a typesetter actually does.
What We Check
After a book’s design is approved, there are a variety of things we, as typesetters, review and fix before sending the final file for a client to review. The following isn’t comprehensive, but is intended as a high-level overview of our typesetting process.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of typesetting, we format the file to ensure each heading, chapter title, paragraph, and element is formatted correctly according to the original text file.
In nearly every document, there are special character styles applied to the text (things like italic, bold, underline, and more). We review the full file for each unique style to ensure phrases are fully stylized (as in, no words being half italicized mistakenly).
We use the Chicago Manual of Style to guide us in stylizing punctuation, particularly around italic words and phrases, and change the style if needed.
Next, we begin line-by-line typesetting. Reviewing the full book line-by-line ensures each line is spaced as optimally as possible. During this line-by-line review, we keep an eye out for any word or character stacks that happen at the ends of lines (which can be distracting) and improper hyphenation of words. We fix any lines that are very loose or very tight, so that each page looks even, aesthetically pleasing, and readable when finished.
During the line-by-line typeset, we will also paginate the book. This includes ensuring each spread is even at the bottom of the page and applying chapter drop page styles and other unique page treatments, like part opener pages. At the end, the book will flow from page to page exactly as a book should.
Image Adjustment and Placement
Also during the line-by-line typeset, we will adjust and place any images set within the text. Adjusting images includes making them print-ready by adjusting their colors and size. Placing images affects both the line-by-line typeset and pagination, so this all happens simultaneously.
Once we’ve finished typesetting first pages, we review the full file one more time to make sure everything is formatted correctly, spaced evenly, and looks readable and professional. We also do one more quick check of line endings to make sure we’ve caught and fixed all character or word stacks and improper hyphenation.
At the end of the typesetting process, the book is ready for a first review.