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Learning from Snapshots III: 8 typesetting tips for beginners

BookMachine have been busy with the next blook in the Snapshots series, Snapshots III, BookMachine on Publishing: The Next 5 Years. For the third year in a row, we’ve teamed up with Kingston University Press who have appointed a production team of students from Kingston’s Publishing MA course to design, typeset and proofread a selection of our best posts. Here Dania Zara, who designed and typeset the book, shares her top tips for beginners.

1) Get your master pages ready

Well laid out master pages will save you a lot of time. If your book contains multiple layouts that are to be used repeatedly, create a master page for each layout for easy application and to ensure consistency.

2) Plan your hierarchy

Evaluate the text and create a visual hierarchy that represents its structure. Possibilities are endless, from the standard bold and italic to changing the colour or font. It is advisable that each level of the hierarchy should be indicated by no more than three formatting styles.

Pro tip: Always remember to start with the longest heading or the longest title.

3) Create styles for formatting

To facilitate efficiency and consistency, create proper styles for headings, body text and their variations, instead of manual formatting. It will also make exporting the file to an ePub much easier.

4) Let the text breathe

Work with the line length, leading and tracking to assist readability and create a pleasing design. It is preferable to have no less than 40 and no more than 70 characters on a line. Experiment with type size and leading to get the combination that suits your publication. A common guideline for body text is that the leading should be 115% or 120% of the point size.

5) Don’t use the space bar to create that indent!

Not only will your indents be inconsistent but, if you plan on exporting your file into an ePub, things will get messy. Create indents using the paragraph settings. Similarly, page breaks should be made by inserting a page break character.

It is also useful to display hidden characters (Type> Show Hidden Characters). It will show those indents made by space bars that need to be replaced by proper formatting.

6) Orphans and widows will make you beg for mercy

It took me an hour to typeset a spread with three levels of headings, images and a widow that refused to be resolved. It made me realise typesetting can only be enjoyed (and endured) by those who love the nitty gritty of typography.

In my opinion, adjusting widows and orphans takes a bit of creative problem solving and depends on your layout. It can be done by: modifying the leading, kerning or tracking; fine-tuning the justification and hyphenation settings; sometimes removing a word can do the trick.

7) Proofread blind and against the manuscript after typesetting

You’d be surprised how many mistakes get through the cracks. Typesetting can make you blind to the text since you’re focusing on the format and style. If you’re working solo on a project, it is advisable to either get someone else to do it or take a break and return to the text with fresh eyes.

8) Books have odd pages on the right

I did not know that until a few months ago. Never even noticed it.

Grab your free ticket for the launch of Snapshots III here. For tips on editorial process, read this: Blook your blog: How to turn your blog posts into a book.

Dania Zafar is a MA Publishing student at Kingston University. She’s also a graphic designer and was a part of the BookMachine’s Snapshots III production team. Her mission is to create inter-cultural dialogue and promote cultural understanding through publishing.

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