June 29, 2015

Typesetting Ate My Life

I had a blog post planned for today, I promise I did. What I didn't have was time to give the topic its due, so next week it is (probably). But here's what I've been working on lately: typesetting

It's not that small a word, but it's a significantly bigger endeavor. Typesetting of course is its own little world, with its own rules and conventions, many of which are debated among members of that community. As fervently as some writers & editors debate the necessity of the Oxford comma (currently required in American English, not required in UK English), typesetters debate things like molding text to a drop cap. 

What I've learned from reading forum posts and typesetting guides, and scouring the many books on my shelves, is that different typesetters have different preferences, and that's all there is to it. So, when you're doing your own typesetting, many decisions fall under personal choice. For instance, I believe it looks better to remove the initial quotation mark when using a drop cap in a chapter starting with a bit of dialogue than to format both the quotation mark and the first letter as a drop cap. I've literally seen both options in traditionally published books, even in books by the same author from the same publisher (but clearly set by a different typesetter). Some typesetters online insist the better choice is to format the initial quotation mark as midway between the sizes of the drop cap and the text, and to take it outside of the text block. 

And let me tell you, each of these many choices is made out to be life-or-death for the visual success of your print book. [Having shown my layout to a few readers, I can tell you none of them commented on any of these elements, so it seems, unsurprisingly, typesetters care much more about the details than readers—assuming there isn't something visually awful to draw the latter's attention.] Since the most important, unbreakable rule of typesetting a novel is that the text block (the part of the book that is the actual text, not the header or footer) be perfectly aligned at the top and bottom of the page, I can also reveal that there is lots of funky spacing happening (among lines, among paragraphs, among words—with especially dedicated typesetters) that somehow none of us readers (or at least very few) pick up on. 
    Although I'm curious, do you have any pet peeves with the typesetting of print books? Share in the comments!

In any case, typesetting is quite a painstaking endeavor that can easily drive someone completely insane. I spent literally an entire workweek's worth of hours last week doing it (and yes, I did have other things I had to do as well), and while I'm almost there, I'm not quite done even still. I have learned a lot, but I can now attest it takes a special type of person to pay the nit-picky kind of attention to details that typesetting requires—especially to turn it into a career.


All of the above is a rambling way to say we're moving closer to publication—I'm even starting to count down the days. In related news, Mortal Musings is now up on Goodreads! Add it to your TBR here.

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