medieval printing press

How to Prepare Text For Typesetting The Right Way

Typesetting is harder than it looks. How do you prepare text for typesetting the right way and make your typesetter not hate you?

It’s hard to believe that we’re still using the term “typesetting” in the 21st century. 

The term evokes images of medieval monks laboriously poring over manuscripts. There, they sit with quills in hand and hunched over their desks, painstakingly copying one ornate letter after another to produce hundreds and hundreds of beautifully illustrated pages.

While the craft of typesetting has certainly gone a long way since those early days of quill and parchment, the term “typesetting” is still very much in use up to this day. Modern technology might have revolutionized the process and made it easier, but the process of arranging text on a page still remains an essential component of book design and publishing.

For as long as books are being published, typesetting is here to stay.

Why do lots of people not know how to prepare text for typesetting?

Hundreds of years have passed since the rise of movable type and Gutenberg’s printing press. But it’s ironic how many writers still don’t know how to properly prepare text for typesetting.

This is understandable for many reasons.

First reason is that… 

…typesetting is not typically taught in schools or English writing classes. 

Unless you are taking a course that is specifically focused on typesetting— like basic publishing or graphic design— you might not have a clue what it entails.

Second major reason is that…

…decisions regarding typesetting used to be solely within the realm of editors and publishers. 

It is one of their major responsibilities. In traditional publishing, writers would submit their raw manuscript to their publishers who would then send it off to an editor for editing, and then finally to a designer or typesetter for the typesetting. 

But everything changed with the rise of self-publishing. There’s no middleman between author and typesetter anymore. Writers now have to work with typesetters directly.

Without a publisher or editor, newbie authors might find themselves lost when it comes to working with a typesetter. 

To avoid frustration and ensure that nobody’s time is wasted (both yours and your typesetter’s), there are a few things you need to do before you send in your manuscript for digital typesetting. By following these tips that we have outlined below, you can ensure that the typesetting process goes as smoothly as possible. Your typesetter will love you all the more for it.

old print press, press, printing press-1520124.jpg

How to prepare text for typesetting – a quick and easy guide

Check with your typesetter

Before formatting your manuscript, reach out to your typesetter first. Ask them what their preferences are in regards to receiving manuscripts. What is their preferred file format? What software do they recommend that you use? Do they have any other specific requirements in regards to font size, margins, and spacing?

Every typesetter will have their own set of preferences that may vary depending on a whole range of factors. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to:

  1. Whatever publishing standards and industry conventions that the typesetter follows
  2. The genre and the subject matter of your manuscript
  3. The typesetting program that they are using
  4. What the intended audience of your book is
  5. The tone and style of the manuscript

Here is an example of how a specific typesetter at Cornell University Press wanted submitted manuscripts to be formatted:

“From the point of view of my role as the typesetter, here is my preferred way of receiving your volume. Everything should be ordered into three streams (each discussed below in more detail): 

A. your prose, including front matter, census, introduction, procedures, any introductory material on the half-titles for specific transcriptions, introductions to appendixes, etc.; 

B. your notes to the introduction and the transcriptions, and lists of variants; and 

C. transcriptions. “

Other instructions of note include:

“Each section header (roman numerals or sub-titles, for example) should be centered with two empty paragraphs before and another blank paragraph after it.”

“Editorial policy at Cornell University Press stipulates American as opposed to British spelling…”

“Single quotation marks for emphasis in your own prose will be removed or changed to italics.”

“Lines or paragraphs of quoted material should be set off by one blank line (i.e. empty paragraph) before and one after.”

Open communication with the people working on your book goes a long way in publishing. 

And a happy typesetter usually results in a faster turnaround time for your book. It’s a win-win situation for all.

Avoid using templates

Self-publishing tools are a dime a dozen. As a writer who is looking to self-publish, you might have been tempted to use a pre-made Word or Adobe InDesign template before, of which there are lots online. These things seem easy to use— simply insert your text and you’re done! 

But templates are, most of the time, a bad idea. Instead of helping, they’re more likely to cause headaches for the people who are going to work on the design and typesetting of your book. 

Templates, while designed to work for as many books as possible, are not tailored to YOUR specific book. 

A professional typesetter has the experience to determine what will work best for your book based on its contents and genre. You can’t fit a memoir with many pictures into a template designed for a general fiction book.

Trust that your typesetter will know what is going to deliver the best reading experience for your audience.

Decide on the book size early on

Pick a book size before sending in your manuscript.

A great way to determine the best size for your book is through research! Go to a bookstore or a library, and then take a look at other books that are in your genre. This gives you a feel of what is popular and what will probably work well for the book that you’re publishing.

By deciding on a book size early on, you can save your typesetter a lot of time and effort. They will know exactly what size they’re working with, thus making their job easier for a bit.

Finalize manuscript before sending it in

Did you know that the typesetters of yore had to learn how to read upside down and backwards? When they place each piece of type into the composing stick, they do so in reverse so that the final printed output is oriented correctly. 

An Introduction to Typesetting (1959)

In the olden days, making revisions to text means having to start over from scratch,

 Every change— no matter how small it may seem— would mean going through the laborious and time-intensive task of hand-setting each metal type by hand. 

While typesetting isn’t as physically laborious today due to proliferation of typesetting software, it doesn’t mean that writers can rush through the editing process and assume that any mistakes can be easily fixed during typesetting. It just doesn’t work that way. 

Ever had that annoying experience of inserting just one word into a document, only to find out that that singular word completely threw off the balance and flow of the whole text? 

That’s exactly the same for typesetters. One small revision and all of their hard work can be undone. 

So take time to get things right. When you send your manuscript to the typesetter’s, make sure that you or an editor has already gone through it to catch any errors and inconsistencies. Have a beta reader or two review your work. 

(Note: Looking to hire an editor to review your writing? Check out our blog post about book editing and its associated costs.)

The important thing here is that what you send to the typesetter should be the FINAL and BEST possible version of your text.

Understand the tools you’re using

“It is essential to have good tools, but it is also essential that the tools should be used in the right way.”

-Wallace D. Wattles, The Science of Getting Rich

For many writers today, Microsoft Word and Google Docs are the go-to tools for manuscript preparation. These are both excellent tools, and can suitably prepare text for typesetting.

As a writer who is trying their hand at self-publishing, you need to take a deep dive into the full range of features your chosen authoring software offers

So, don’t just stick to the basics. Explore the hidden gems tucked away within the program. Learn how to use the grammar and spell checkers (and how to turn them off if you need them to). Also look into how you can customize paragraph styles to better suit your needs.

Use plain, sensible fonts

Don’t use any highly decorative and fancy-schmancy fonts in your text. The font you use in the manuscript may not be the same as in the final product, and you don’t want your typesetter to have a headache while reading it. 

For all text, use a plain, sensible, and proportional font that is easy on the eyes. A few excellent examples would be Times, Times New Roman, or Georgia. Use the standard font size (12pt) for the main body of the text.

Whatever font you will choose, just make sure to use it consistently throughout your manuscript— including all notes, footnotes, superscripts and subscripts.

Learn how to properly use spaces

When it comes to typesetting, every minute detail counts, and the humble space is no exception of course. Using spaces improperly can cause a world of trouble for your typesetter, even if they’re using a digital typesetting software like Adobe InDesign.

If you want to make your typesetter’s job easier, here are some tips on how to use spaces effectively to prepare text for typesetting:

Spaces should only be used for words.

And words only! Using them to align text is a big no-no. Use the TAB key on your keyboard and other alignment tools to ensure that your text is correctly aligned. 

Use page breaks to start a new chapter or section.

Are you guilty of spamming the Enter key or Space bar just to force the next chapter to start on a new page? If you prepare text for typesetting this way then it’s time to break this habit and learn about page breaks!

A page break is a great way to ensure that the next chapter or section of your work starts on a brand new page without fudging up the rest of your manuscript. To use a page break, just press the Control button and the Enter key at the same time on your keyboard. This command works in both Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

Is there really a difference between using a proper page break over hitting the Enter key multiple times? They both accomplish the same thing right?

They do accomplish the same thing, but page breaks are just more efficient and less troublesome for a typesetter.

Have you ever noticed that when you add more characters, spaces, and lines to a page, the text on the following pages gets pushed down? It can be very time-consuming to scroll through all of that just to manually adjust the spacing and formatting again.

But by using a page break, you can avoid this issue entirely. It’s entirely unlike using multiple spaces or hitting the Enter key multiple times. When you use a page break, the next chapter stays put and won’t be pushed down even if you add more content to the previous chapter. 

Give your text some breathing room. 

Cramped text makes for a very unenjoyable reading experience. Your editors and typesetters will spend a lot of their time poring over your work, and you want to make sure that they have a comfortable experience while doing so. 

So place generous margins— nothing less than 1.5 inches— around your text and double space everything.

Use styles to communicate what parts of your text is which

Applying styles to your manuscript isn’t necessary, but it makes things so much easier for everyone involved in the book design, typesetting, editing, and publishing process of your book.

from Pages User Guide for Mac

Applying a paragraph style to a paragraph formats the text according to a set of predefined rules. These rules are either set by the word processing tool or customized according to the author’s preferences. 

Applying the style HEADING to a title automatically changes it to a larger font size, bolded, and centered. The text under the title has a paragraph style of NORMAL TEXT. This formats it into a smaller font size, unbolded, left-aligned, with no indentations. 

photos, nostalgia, retro-7666143.jpg

How to prepare text for typesetting – what do you do about pictures?

The thing about images and illustrations is that when you paste them onto a document what will be pasted is a lower resolution quality picture. There’s also the fact that what you pasted on the document will not be their final position. The typesetter still has to format and typeset everything.

To avoid this, let the typesetter know how many images do you have in your book and where the images are supposed to go. 

Next, gather your images in a folder. Use descriptive labels for each of them to make it easy to identify and locate specific images. Here’s an example: instead of using a random file name like “img_0011”, it would be better to use a descriptive label like “class-photo-1995” that accurately reflects what the image is about.

In a document, create a list of all the pictures that you have, and include the specific place, page, or chapter where you want each picture placed next to its name. You can also use a spreadsheet for this purpose. 

Organizing your images in such a systematic manner can help avoid confusion during the typesetting process. 

Once this is done, you can then send in your manuscript along with the folder of pictures and the list to your typesetter.

Final words on learning how to prepare text for typesetting

So there you have it, a comprehensive guide on how to prepare your text for typesetting properly so that your typesetter will love working with you. 

Always remember that typesetting is the bridge that connects your words with your readers. It might not be as sexy as the words themselves, but it is just as important. 

We’ll leave you here with some words from Tim Brown, taken from his book titled Flexible Typesetting:

“Typesetting shows readers you care. If your work looks good and feels right, people will stick around— not only because the typography is comfortable and familiar, but also because you show your audience respect by giving their experience your serious attention.”

decorative scroll
Scroll to Top