What Is Typesetting?
I used to introduce myself as a book editor and typesetter, and people often asked me: What is typesetting? Though I now introduce myself as a book editor and designer, I’ve practiced delivering a simple answer.
Typesetting is the process of composing a text using fonts, sizes, line spacing, and other details that make it appropriate for a given audience and purpose. Professional typesetters pay particular attention to readability and strive to eliminate line breaks, paragraph breaks, hyphenation issues, and other typographic elements that can distract from the reading experience or impede a reader’s understanding.
Some professional definitions of typesetting include only the interior book design—selecting the fonts and styling to package your story—or finessing your book into a smooth ride for your reader. Here at Looseleaf, we do both, because one without the other is a little lame, and your book should never be lame. Below are some of the wrinkles Looseleaf irons out in a print layout after making the important design decisions for your book.
Bad Paragraph Breaks
Paragraphs can break in several icky ways, but some are ickier than others. (Icky, while not an industry-recognized term, is appropriate here.) The ickiest type of paragraph break is when a page break splits the last line of a paragraph from the rest and puts it on the top of the next page–it’s especially bad after a page turn. This sort of break can jar for a reader and can put more focus on the final line of a paragraph than the author intends.
Paragraph breaks are primarily cosmetic or distraction-related problems, but hyphenation issues can create confusion and require readers to reread material they’ve already covered. For example, you can hyphenate the word university after the first syllable: un-iversity. However, when a reader sees un all by itself, they’ll most likely read it as |әn| (“uhn”) rather than |jun| (“yoon”). When they get to the next line and finish the word, they’ll either be jarred a bit or they’ll have to reread the sentence with the right sound in mind. A detailed typesetter will fix this sort of hyphenation. For university, most would adjust things so the word breaks as uni-versity or univer-sity.
Good typesetting also limits the number of lines ending in a hyphen that you can have in a row. Too many hyphens right after one another can be visually distracting and can make it easy for readers to lose their places when moving from one line to the next.
Word Stacks, Rivers, Loose Lines, & Tight Lines
Typesetters also look for word stacks (when the same word is repeated in the same location on two adjacent lines), rivers (when the spaces between words line up in a way that prompts a reader’s eye to flow down the text instead of across it), loose lines (when the words and letters have distracting amounts of space between them), and tight lines (when the spacing between words and letters is so narrow that the line becomes difficult to read).
All this fine-tuning can take time to implement, but it helps make your book a more beautiful, reader-ready experience. If you’re looking for a book designer who can get your story ready for your readers’ eager eyes, check out Looseleaf’s book design packages or take a look at our recent interior book designs (for ebooks too!).