Tag Archives: layout

A week in the life of a typesetter

By Andrew Chapman

I’ll have to begin with a disclaimer: a lot of each ‘week in my life’ is currently spent as a (very) amateur home-based teacher of my two children, something I’m sure many CIEP members in the middle years of life can relate to; so this blog post instead reflects some of the variety of my work. ‘Typesetting in times of change’, perhaps!

A flexible approach

It was luck that brought me to my slightly unusual career, mixing editorial and writing work with the design side of publishing. Early in my career, I got a job as a staff writer on a computer magazine – remember the Amstrad PCW word processors? That technology was already obsolescent in the mid-1990s, but in a sense this helped me out: the magazine had a small team, so learning fast on the job, and being able to pick up how to use QuarkXPress, was an asset. A later stint on a weekly newspaper, again requiring a flexible approach, cemented my combination of editing and typesetting skills, which has kept me fed as a freelancer for more than 20 years now.

I’d say the two things that have changed the most in that time have been the software and the route to publication, which are inevitably intertwined. Quark is often forgotten these days, as most publishers use Adobe InDesign – though actually I still prefer Quark myself, and its current version is a worthy competitor once again. In practice I use both most days – although editing work is still done in Word.

Changing technology

The advent of self-publishing has had a major influence on the technology – all routes for print lead to a press-ready PDF, but ebooks have very different constraints and attributes. The holy grail of publishing is a system which is flexible, easy to use and accommodates these very different forms of output from a single source file. Both Quark and InDesign can produce ebooks, but I find they are not always very good – it depends on the book. And now there are various solutions in the mix which can sometimes make all this a simpler business – I’m thinking of Vellum (a Mac-only program which is very clever, but limited in its typesetting features), Pressbooks and other tools created by marketplaces such as Reedsy and Amazon. A new player in the print-and-ebook space is Hederis – too pricey for my taste, but one to watch.

The point of this trip down software’s memory lane is really that one has to keep up with these trends, and expect to use a variety of tools for the job – the varied nature of books and magazines means that no single tool cracks every nut. But the one thing that is guaranteed to have any typesetter in tears is a file in Microsoft Publisher format!

Varied work

Much of my career has been spent in magazines, but over the last few years I have shifted the balance of my business to books – sadly magazines seem to be in serious decline, apart from a niche market for attractive indie magazines, often marketed online. Inevitably shop closures during the pandemic have accelerated the decline of the newsstand, although the more serious enemy really is the vast range of free content online. Thankfully, books seem to be thriving, and in the lockdown months I’ve noticed a lot of authors seem to be finishing their books and looking for help in getting them out.

Being an editor who typesets, or a typesetter who edits – my sense of which I am varies day to day – means I can often be involved through more of a book’s production, which I find very rewarding. I find the two activities occupy very different parts of my ‘headspace’, too: for editing, I have to be working in absolute silence, but I can work on paper or a laptop if need be; whereas for typesetting, I typically have Radio 4 burbling in the background – I have two large screens in front of me, and now can’t remember how I ever managed with one.

I love the variety of projects which freelancing enables me to take on – although the scheduling can of course be a headache, especially when books get delayed or all suddenly come in at once. One recent project which I enjoyed being involved with was a lockdown cookery book by a Michelin-starred chef, whose son grew the vegetables the chef cooked with – so it was an interesting mix of father-and-son bonding and mouth-watering recipes, accompanied by amazing photos by a professional food photographer.

I’m something of a generalist by nature – hence the two sides to my career, I suppose – so I also enjoy not knowing what’s next: my most recent editing projects have been a historical novel, a thesis about forensics in detective fiction and a book about understanding canine psychology; and on the design side there have been business books, a short story collection and a trio of books by an established author dipping her toe in the world of self-publishing for the first time.

If there’s one subject area I particularly enjoy, however, it’s history – I’ve been the editor of a family and social history magazine for the last decade, and these days I typeset it too (of course, sometimes budgetary constraints lurk behind these decisions). And in December, I launched a related side project of my own – a weekly email newsletter presenting first-hand accounts from history, partly because I feel history publishing needs more ‘ordinary’ voices from the past rather than just famous names and royalty. I’m not really sure why I’ve forced more constraints on my complicated week – but I suppose if there’s one thing my erratic career has shown, it’s that I like a challenge.

Working together

Maybe being an editor/typesetter combined is ultimately my real specialism – hopefully I’ve got enough years under the belt now to have some insight into how the two work best together, and I’ll try to suppress the lingering spectre of imposter syndrome that whispers ‘jack of all trades, master of none …’ in my ear.

From a typesetter’s point of view, perhaps a few words of advice might be of help to other editors and the authors they work with:

  • Please don’t embed images in your Word document – or, at least, only do so for reference. Word has a habit of chewing up image files, and in any case, the typesetting process, regardless of the software used, needs images as separate files. (This isn’t necessarily the editor’s responsibility, of course, but they should always be high resolution, ie at least 300dpi.)
  • It’s fine – and indeed helpful – to mark up a Word file with styles, for example for body text and different levels of headings, though try to avoid vast numbers of them; and don’t assume that what falls in a certain way in the Word file will end up looking quite the same in the typeset file.
  • Don’t bother ‘laying out’ a book in Word, with running headers and footers, indents or paragraph spacing, and so on: all this will be lost or changed anyway. When a Word file is imported into InDesign, say, the distinctions between styles can be preserved as well as formatting such as bold and italics, but most other things are likely to change. Ultimately the key thing is that the file distinguishes things semantically: the content is sacred, but the form will change.

Andrew Chapman is a Professional Member of the CIEP, as well as a member of the Publishers Association, the Alliance of Independent Authors, the Society of Authors and the Independent Publishers Guild. When not joining associations, he runs Prepare to Publish with the help of some fellow freelancers. His latest side project, the Histories newsletter, can be found at www.gethistories.com


Photo credits: letters by Amador Loureiro; spinach by Sigmund, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Not working with words

By Liz Jones

An editor attempting to describe their job to a non-editor will often talk about ‘working with words’. This is essentially what we do: we take a client’s raw text, and we make it fit for purpose. But working with words is not all that an editor does. This post looks at some tasks editors might do as part of an editing job, as well as separate but related roles.

Non-textual editorial tasks

There are many things an editor might do in the course of a typical editing job that have nothing at all to do with words.

Checking illustrations, photos and other figures

Many of the things we work on involve pictures and diagrams, whether we’re editing books, websites, marketing materials or annual reports. Sometimes we’ll be specifically briefed to check the figures in a document, especially if they do contain text, but often this expectation will be implicit, and it’s down to the common sense of the editor to make sure that if the text mentions five green apples, the accompanying image doesn’t show three red tomatoes. It’s common for photos to appear with a wrong caption, or for annotations to be misplaced.

It’s also sensible to check that photos haven’t been flipped – which might be fine, but not if they depict something that includes lettering, such as a shop sign, or people carrying out activities that have a specific orientation, like driving cars. Other things editors need to be alert to are items that look out of place or even inappropriate – like red telephone boxes in a publication with a global audience, or people drinking alcohol or smoking in a book for children.

Checking numbers and dates

Many editors say they love words but hate numbers – but still it’s necessary to engage with numbers in all forms, in most of the work that we do. Folios need checking for a start, and cross-references. The degree of elision in number and date ranges must be consistent, and this will often be specified in a house style. Many numbers that we encounter need sense-checking, too. For example, would it be feasible to describe a 1,500km car journey as having taken four hours? Could that historical person possibly have died before they were born? And in certain types of work, such as medical editing, numerically expressed quantities are literally a matter of life and death.

Checking typographical details

Meanwhile, being able to spot a rogue italic comma is not a matter of life and death, but it is arguably still important in its way. And the difference between a hyphen and an en dash may seem trivial to some, but a document that has all its typographical details correct will somehow seem more finished, more credible, than one that has been carelessly formatted – even if the reader can’t quite put their finger on why. Typographic details help to signpost the reader – often unconsciously – and when correct they all add up to a seamless reading experience, enabling the message to be imparted with minimum fuss and maximum accuracy.

Checking layout features

An important part of editing – and proofreading in particular – is ensuring that the layout of a piece of text, along with any accompanying images and graphics, makes sense. You’ll need to develop an eye for ‘page furniture’, whether you’re working in print or online: running heads, menus, pull quotes, breadcrumbs … Often different elements within a larger document will work together and interlink, and each will have a particular meaning, which may be more intuitive than explicit to the reader – but as the editor you will need to understand the rationale behind such design decisions, to be able to assess whether all layout features are present and correct.

Bear in mind, too, that it’s easy when editing to be great at spotting the tiny textual details, and then overlook a typo in a title ten times the size of the rest of the text. Or not to notice that a box or a panel is the wrong colour for its function, or that an entire section of a book is labelled wrongly. One of the hallmarks of an outstanding editor is the ability to step back and see the bigger picture as well as focusing on the tiny details.

Related roles

Some editors take on roles that are related to editorial work and may even be combined with it, but use a different set of skills.


Many of the documents editors work on include images or text that come from somewhere else. Sometimes they can be used with a simple acknowledgement, without asking for permission from the rights holder. But depending on the context, and the amount of material being reproduced, often it will be necessary to seek permission. An editor might be asked to handle this aspect of a project alongside their editorial work, or it could be subcontracted as a discrete job. Either way, it’s a useful skill for an editor to be able to offer, and the CIEP now runs a course on copyright for editorial professionals.

Picture research

Sometimes, editors go beyond just looking at pictures, and help to choose them. Picture research can be a really interesting facet to our work. Just as when you’re checking images that have already been placed, you’ll need to keep an eye out for details that fit with the text that needs to be illustrated. Consider the audience, and ensure that any picture you use works as hard as possible to support or augment the text, to ensure maximum value of paid-for images. Some images are free, or may be used freely with a credit (see for example Unsplash or Pixabay). Others must be paid for, and the cost per picture will depend on the size of the image and the type and reach of the publication.

Project management

Many freelance editors are employed to manage editorial projects. This can involve setting and monitoring budgets and schedules, as well as commissioning contributors such as authors and illustrators, and freelancers like designers, editors and indexers. Attention to textual detail is still important, but at this level of work you’ll need to be able to cope with tight schedules and increased responsibility, as well as keeping a range of people updated on progress at all stages of the project. You’ll also need to assess the work of others and provide feedback where necessary. The CIEP offers a course in editorial project management, and it also publishes a guide to this subject if you want to find out more.

 Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and has worked on thousands of projects, involving millions of words and a whole host of other variables. She specialises in highly illustrated non-fiction for a range of clients, and also works as a commissioning editor on the CIEP information team.


Photo credits: open book – Blair Fraser; letters – Octavian Dan, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Computer tools for proofreaders

Computer tools for proofreaders

Computer tools for proofreadersThanks to continuing developments in computer technology, there are more and more tools available for editors, but is there any help for proofreaders? The short answer is yes. To start with, there are tools for on-screen mark-up of PDFs, but they only give you a more efficient ‘pen’ to put your mark-up on the ‘paper’. To see how computers can help more fundamentally, we need to think about what you, as a proofreader, actually do.

Obviously, you have to read every word of the text, to check that it conveys the author’s meaning properly. But you also have to watch out for all sorts of other things: spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, layout glitches, numbering, etc. And that’s just the words – there are also figures, pictures, tables, etc. to check.

You have a lot to think about as you read, and you can easily be distracted from the meaning of the text by the smaller, mechanical changes needed, or you can miss some of the mechanical changes while concentrating on the meaning. This is where using computer tools can help, because they are good at dealing with the routine changes so that you can concentrate on the communication of the author’s ideas. You can rely on the computer, knowing that it will work consistently, without being distracted by the phone or by the cat walking across your keyboard.

By ‘computer tools’ I’m talking about powerful programs that you can buy, such as PerfectIt, as well as the sort of pre-programmed macros that I use. Now, to many people a ‘macro’ is just ‘a shortcut to a task you do repeatedly’, to quote one website, but pre-programmed macros are far more powerful and versatile than that.

There are plenty of pre-programmed macros available, and you even can tailor them to your own way of working with very little programming knowledge – Jack Lyon’s Macro Cookbook is a very useful resource.

So, the main way that computer tools help me in proofreading is by analysing the text as a whole and alerting me to issues of (in)consistency, and they do so before I start to read. Am I the only person to have made a hyphenation decision (say, changing ‘non-linear’ to ‘nonlinear’) based on Chapters 1 and 2, only to find that Chapters 3 to 12 are consistently the other way round? What a waste of time! Do I undo my changes in Chapters 1 and 2, or persist in deleting all the hyphens from ‘non-linear’?

Now, I can’t tell you the ‘best’ way to use computer tools, because every job is different; proofreaders are all different too, in the way they like to work. And I certainly can’t give you unbiased advice, because the only tools I use are my own home-grown macros, but I hope I can give you an idea of what’s possible. Here are some areas where macros can provide aids to consistency – the macro names in italic will allow you to find details of them in my free book, Macros for Writers, Editors and Proofreaders:

• Hyphenation – HyphenAlyse provides a list of all the hyphenated words (or potentially hyphenated words, e.g. nonlinear) in a document, showing how often they appear as a hyphenated word, two words, or one word (e.g. sea-bed, sea bed or seabed).

• Proper nouns – ProperNounAlyse creates a list of proper noun pairs that could possibly be variant spellings of one another, and how often each occurs, e.g. Brinkman (3), Brinkmann (1).

• Spelling – With SpellingToolkit, you can create a copy of the document (in Word) with all the likely misspellings highlighted, and IStoIZ or IZtoIS will indicate all the -is/-iz inconsistencies, e.g. organise/organize.

• Other inconsistencies – DocAlyse creates a list of the frequency of other issues, such as inconsistencies in capitalisation, alternative spellings, and serial (or not) commas.

Other tools that can be used for proofreading include MatchBrackets, MatchSingleQuotes, MatchDoubleQuotes and AuthorDateFormatter.

Using these tools does take time and effort – both in learning how to do it, and also in implementing them on a given job – so only you can decide if it’s worthwhile. Certainly, the longer the job, the bigger the pay-back from the time spent in preparation.

But, regardless of the time saved, if these tools enable you to produce a better standard of work, it seems to me to be a good investment.

Members and associates of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) can find out more about macros on the SfEP discussion forums.

Which computer tools do you find most useful when proofreading?

Paul Beverley

Paul Beverley

At 65, Paul Beverley doesn’t want to retire – he finds freelance proofreading and editing far too enjoyable. He loves polishing text for optimum communication, and finds it very satisfying to use his programming skills to write macros that increase his own and other people’s efficiency and effectiveness. As an OAP with government support he can also cherry-pick his jobs – a great privilege.


Proofread by Jane Hammett, an advanced member of the SfEP.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.