Friday, June 4, 2010

"The Final Page" Tip of the Week: Avoid common typesetting mistakes.

"The Final Page" column provides a weekly tip for avoiding common self-publishing mistakes. A professional final product makes the difference between being reviewed on The New Podler, or being one of the millions of books that sink through Amazon's sales rankings to languish below the 4-million mark.

"Do it yourself" shouldn't scream "I did it myself!"
Graphic designers are expensive. In my years as an editor, however, I have learned that they don't charge half of what they are worth to authors, and that a $700 book cover or $500 layout job ought to buy them a pair of angel wings. In an increasingly savvy indie marketplace, an ugly book will embarrass you and hurt sales.

Mama may have said, "Ain't nothing is free." Listen up. If you are publishing a book without the help and expense of a graphic designer, what you don't know will cost you. You can typeset your book in Word, but there are reasons not to. The industry-standard software, Photoshop and InDesign, will cost you more than a designer who knows how to use them. Whatever program you use, be sure to avoid these common mistakes.

1. The page margins must be set correctly. There are certain proportions the margins should conform to; specifically, the margins that face the center fold should be wider than outer margins, to leave room for binding.

2. Running heads and page numbering are often cluttered, and sized either too large or too small.

3. Chapter titles, subheads, and epigraphs often look disproportionate.

4. Paragraph's indents should not be a full half-inch. Two to three spaces is usually enough.

5. Tracking may be too tight, and the leading, too loose. Tracking is the space between lines, and leading is the space between letters.

6. Readers will lose patience with ugly, hard-to read font. Although standard for manuscripts, twelve-point font size is a bit excessive for the body text. Be keenly aware of how big or small your font will appear, realistically, in the published version.

7. Your typing teacher may have taught you to put two spaces between sentences. But in the age of computers and nice readable fonts, the accepted standard is only one. Do a find-and-replace for double spaces.

For more reading on the subject, visit this article and this one. And if you prefer to spend your money on Adobe software instead of a graphic designer who knows how to use them, at least drop $12 for this book on typesetting in Microsoft Word.

Sarah Cypher is the author of "The Editor's Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists" (Glyd-Evans Press, 2010) and runs a two-woman editing and book design shop, The Threepenny Editor.


Jason said...

A timely article, Sarah. Just a couple of points that jumped out.

Although the margins that face the centre fold of the book should leave enough room for binding, in the majority of books they are smaller than the outer margins. Similarly, the top margin (above the running head) is conventionally smaller than the bottom margin (below the last line of text). And, of course, the aim is to have every complete page the same length.

Leading [pronounced ledd-ing not leed-ing] is the space between lines. Tracking refers to adjustment of the default space between characters in a font (and kerning is the control of spacing between pairs of characters). Tracking and leading can be too loose or too tight. And don't forget that lines can be too long: anything above about 5 inches risks the reader's eye skipping between lines.

As your article suggests, there are so many conventions, so many tricks, that typesetting is more than buying software. But if you have the time and patience, there is nothing more satisfying than when a line snaps into place and the page is done.

ojm said...

Or then you could use a professional typesetting program, like LaTeX2e, which automagically handles the typesetting if you just know how to set it up.

Here is a manual, it's totally worth it.

Libby Cone said...

Groff is good, too:

Sarah Cypher said...

Thanks for the tips, guys. Jason--great points. I'm not a typesetter myself, but have been working with one for a long time (I edit, my designer typesets); so my observations surely must fall short of a true pro's knowledge. Thank you for clarifying.

Mike Eberhart said...

Nice quick-tips article. Having self-published a Gluten-Free Desserts Cookbook a while ago, I did a lot of research before doing the layout (using Adobe InDesign), and tried to get it all "right". We did the photos ourselves and all the layout and content. It's a lot to do, but in the end, if you are going to invest in publishing a book, you had better do it right.

I'd add a few more things to your list that people (even large commercial publishers) seem to not do enough of: spell-checking, grammar-checking, and proper punctuation. Consistency in format throughout the book too (this is where "Styles" in InDesign and similar products will really help if used properly). And finally, work with a good printing firm that speaks English and helps make sure that what ends up in print is just how you pictured it on your computer.