Tag Archives: typesetting

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.

From desktop to publication

Averill Buchanan works primarily as a fiction editor, but it’s not the only way she helps self-publishing authors. Here she talks about her background in graphic design and explains how it has enabled her to offer book production services as well.

From Word document to InDesign to printers’ proofs to finished book

I’ve been working as an editor now for 14 years, specialising in fiction, but it isn’t the only aspect of the publishing process I can help with. I started my working life as a graphic artist, serving my time as an apprentice at a printers before moving on to run my own design consultancy. Twenty odd years later, the advent of self-publishing has drawn me back to my first career, and nowadays I also provide a range of book production services – typesetting and design for print, as well as ebook conversion.

Transferable skills

The graphic design industry has transformed since I left it in the mid 1990s to study English at university as a mature student. Computers and desktop design software have replaced Letraset and SprayMount, and designing for the web is a new area of expertise. But the thing about graphic design is that regardless of the tools you use, you never lose your aesthetic sensibilities, your feel for what works visually, or your tendency to volunteer an opinion of a book cover or logo even when you haven’t been asked. Once a graphic designer, always a graphic designer, I add by way of apology.

Me as a graphic designer in 1990

Self-publishing

I joined the editing profession at just the right time. Around 2009, technology was making self-publishing available and accessible to anyone who had a computer – no design ability required. It didn’t take me long to realise how useful I could be to many of my editing clients – self-publishing authors who just wanted to write but didn’t have the design nous or patience to teach themselves how to produce good-looking books.

When I first offered book layout services, I used Word to create the interior of books destined to be printed through CreateSpace, Amazon’s old Print-On-Demand (POD) service. But I’ve since taught myself to use professional design software, notably Adobe Creative Suite, and now do all my typesetting and layout work in InDesign. It was a steep learning curve, but well worth it. Among other things, InDesign gives you superb control of text, pagination and layout, and I’ve been able to progress from producing text-only novels to full-colour coffee table books.

I’ve also taught myself how to make ebooks, thanks to extensive on-the-job training in xml encoding and html during a stint as an academic research assistant. I use Jutoh software to convert well-formatted Word documents, with or without images, into epubs and mobis (Kindle’s proprietary ebook format).

I tend not to offer cover design unless the client is publishing for friends and family only or is on a very tight budget. I prefer to send clients with commercial aspirations to a professional cover designer. It’s quite a specialised field and I don’t have the Photoshop skills (yet!) to make covers that can compete with trade-published books.

Hand-holding

Many authors find the online world challenging and it seems a shame to allow that to get in the way of them pursuing their life-long dream. So in addition to actually making the books, I also offer a hand-holding service to shepherd nervous authors through the online publishing process.

For instance, using screen-sharing software, I can sit with the client online as they set up their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account and upload their book(s), or I can record a short video of me doing it on their behalf, which I later email to them. Some authors just want it all done for them, leaving them to log in to their dashboards to check sales figures.

Publishing consultancy

As the self-publishing industry has matured and become more professional, the options available can be overwhelming for authors. I can explain things in layman’s terms and offer advice about the route to publication that best suits their needs.

It’s important to establish authors’ objectives at the outset – not everyone wants to be published to make money. Some have written memoirs that are only for family and friends; others want to raise awareness for charities. For many writers it’s simply a personal ambition to get a book published – they don’t want to make a career out of it. At the other end of the spectrum are authors determined to set up their own presses and be as professional and business-like as their budgets will allow.

I advise authors with little to no knowledge of publishing about things like buying ISBNs, setting up their own imprints, the differences between POD and litho printing, and the value of producing ebook editions. I can also help them cost it out. I don’t offer marketing as a service, but it needs to be factored in when offering advice about production. For example, if it’s important to an author that they see their book on the shelves of a high-street bookshop, they need to be aware of how difficult that is to achieve as a self-publisher. Or if an author’s ultimate goal is to give talks and handsell their book at events as well as online, they might want to consider getting, say, 100 copies printed at a printers, in addition to publishing via KDP. My aim is to help authors make the best decision for their circumstances, taking into account their goals and priorities, their budget and how they plan to market their book.

One-stop shop

While some authors prefer to build their own self-publishing teams, hiring different freelancers to handle each aspect of book production, others prefer to work with the same person from start to finish. It’s easier for them to manage the project this way, and as we develop a good working relationship, things go more smoothly. I alert authors to the pitfalls of having the same person edit AND proofread the text, and often, with their permission, I’ll outsource the proofreading. But if they prefer me to do it, for whatever reason, I’m somewhat reassured in the knowledge that other processes, like typesetting or layout further down the line, are another opportunity for me to see the text in a new way; any lingering typos or inconsistencies usually leap out at me later on.

When I quote for large projects that involve several steps, I break the work down into its discrete tasks and agree staged payments with the client in advance. Scope creep is almost inevitable in a big job; the important thing is to keep the author updated and informed of any increased costs.

Some of the books I’ve worked on recently

Book production uses a different part of my brain – I can listen to music while I do design work, whereas I need total silence when I’m editing or proofreading. I enjoy the variety of the work and getting to flex my design skills again. And, of course, there’s a great deal of satisfaction in seeing a publishing project through from the editing stage (sometimes even earlier) to the finished product. But the best reward of all is hearing from an excited author when they see their book for sale on Amazon or when they get to hold a copy in their hands at last.

Averill Buchanan is a recovering graphic designer and fiction editor. She is an Advanced Professional Member of CIEP, a Full Member of AFEPI Ireland and a Partner Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). She also runs her own publishing imprint, Herself Press, which aims to (re)publish the work of neglected women writers from the North of Ireland.

 


Over 170 Professional and Advanced Professional CIEP members offer ‘book production‘ as a service.


Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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