Why use a typesetter?

Technology has brought many improvements to publishing — speed, opportunity for great design, accuracy, and multiple output formats (epub, mobi, print pdf). However, the book will only be as good as the people behind it, and how well they can use the tools provided. A word-processor doesn’t make a great writer, like wise, InDesign doesn’t make a good looking and easy reading book. Sure, InDesign provides the tools, but a skilled typesetter will make your book shine.

There is certainly a place for off-shore vendors providing scalable typesetting services for large volumes, and sometimes payoffs as different operators work on the same jobs in shifts. However, whether you invest in “boutique” typesetter offering bespoke, personalised service, or off-shore vendor for scalable services, there are some guidelines that will help ensure a great relationship with your typesetter and efficient book production.

Style guides

This is not to be confused with a spec design. While the spec design covers the design elements of the book, the style guide covers editorial and typographical conventions to be used. It may seem under the domain of the copy editor, but often things are picked up during typesetting which are seen through fresh eyes.

Content developers and editors can avoid quality and design issues by setting up a style guides either for the publication, and/or as a publishers style guide. This provides the typesetter a reference for any queries or inconsistencies within the manuscript while typesetting, and the typesetter can make an informed decision without having to refer back to the client before carrying on.

Some examples will be spelling (ize vs ise, color vs colour), which words are consistently italicised (foreign language words, et al, viz, etc), how lists are handled (capitalize with full stop, or not), and numbering style for lists and levels. Lists are easy to setup in InDesign and therefore not have to be manually typed in by author or content editor. Also, bringing in lists using Word’s list feature often gets mangled.

Typography and layout

The essence of a good book is readability. Of course, great content, but what’s the point if it is difficult to read? It is important to consider your target market’s reading environment. Style of fonts, font size, leading, and margins all play a part in defining the content to their respective readers.

Mix this into your books overall costing. Say the budget for the book 256 pages but the first draft comes to 263 pages, and there is no way to cut content? By adjusting the font size and leading marginally, you could bring back one line per page and return the book to budgeted extent. In addition, or alternatively, space above and below headings, adjusting letter and word spacing, or the body area (page margins), are all possibilities to bring back a line or two per page and book into extent without having to rework content.

Every book needs hyphenation and justification settings adjusted to minimise loose lines (rivers running through the text), multiple hyphens, and widows and orphans. Typesetters work with this all the time and should be adjusted for every book.

In digital (epub, mobi, html) books page extents are not an issue, other than possibly conversion costs which page based, typography is still as important for the legibility by the reader. However, it is far more complex and challenging as the final reading devices vary considerable and the user often has the ability to override the publishers settings. In some cases this is good as many books are run through meat grinder processes using one size fits all templates and the outcomes can be very poor. But, with some effort and foresight, ebooks can be designed and setup with good results.

Typesetters that have worked in both print and digital will ask you before outputting which reading devices your are targeting and then adjust the epub styles accordingly. You can ask for a one size fits all epub, but sacrifices will have to be made.


The mysterious and often hidden underbelly of content. Books have inherit structure which is transparent to the reader, but is the very thing that makes some books exceptional to pick up and hold.

Visual book design and designing structure go hand in hand. Understanding structure of the content is the key starting point of designing the look and feel. Well nested content providing a logical and natural flow helps the reader to enjoy the content without struggling to maintain concentration.

When designing for print using InDesign, design elements are all visual objects placed on a page using various tools and objects in InDesign. Each repeated object or text element is given a style name, e.g. “HeadA”, “HeadB”, “sidebar-box”, “bold”, “italic”, “chap-head”, etc. All these style names represent an object in the book and when adding or reformatting an object, the style name provide a shortcut to quickly format the object without reapplying the individual style elements. The styles are grouped according to paragraph, character, object, table and table cells.

The challenge comes when transferring the content from print to digital formats.

Unlike the InDesign, digital formats separate content from the visual display. InDesign is a single file with everything inside it, and you need InDesign to open the file and edit. Digital books use web technology as a starting point — HTML and CSS files — and are plain text files which are editable using any number of open-source, free, or proprietary text editors.

The HTML file use open and closing tags to block content according to it structure. So for example, a top level heading would be <h1>This is the heading</h1>. A level two heading, or “head B” would use <h2>, a paragraph of body text the <p> tag, etc. Yup, pretty much the same as the Ventura or Quark Xpress in the 1990s!

The CSS file fulfils the same function as the style sheets in Word or InDesign. They apply formatting to the content contained within the tags of the HTML file. This is done by using syntax where the tag name is used as a “selector”, and then the tag given attributes. For example p {font-size: 16px;}, this would apply 16px font size to all content enclosed in the <p></p> tags.

This is a super simple example and as with web technologies, things can get very complex very quickly. There are other elements such as classes and ids which can be added to the HTML tags that give greater control over the content, also adding more efficient ways to format and recycle or reused content.

So, how does this affect the publisher or content creators?

The key is consistency in styling InDesign documents so that as much of your content uses the same style names for the same types of elements. There are two parts to styling in InDesign: the style name, and the html tag applied within the style sheet. Even if the tag is not applied to the style name, just having consistent styles will make conversion more efficient. With consistent style naming it is possible to use them to apply the correct structure.

But why such an emphasis on structure?

Well, there is a strong swing in the direction of single source publishing workflows that use HTML as the source document and able to deliver to multiple formats (epub, mobi, screen and print pdf) without ongoing conversion processes. These systems bypass InDesign and open up the publishing process to a truly collaborative (parallel) workflow which has been the holy grail of publishing.

But, for publishers to have efficient content conversion and to take advantage of single source publishing systems, content will have to be structured consistently and that starts with your existing content in InDesign.

Style naming conventions are not difficult to setup and there are many CSS models (BEM, ATOM, OOP, etc) which have already addressed many issues that book publishers might face. One size will not fit all, but starting sooner than later will help to start creating more efficiency even within InDesign.

Many typesetters now understand this as they are also involved in converting books to digital version on behalf of clients.


The accumulated experience across many different genres by a typesetter is passed through onto your titles, however, the details of your title should never be revealed other than those collaborating on the project. Work should not be sub-contracted out by the typesetter unless under explicit approval by the client.

Backup and archiving

Backup systems can be fully automated and any loss of data should not be more than a day. In addition, each round of proofs or changes should be saved with a different version number, e.g suffix with “prf_1”, “prf_2”, etc. This helps if reference for a change or update in a previous version is required.

On completion of a project a final archive is should be delivered to the client. The archive should include all the makeup files (InDesign, Idml, images, press pdf) and if required exported docx or html.

Many typesetters keep an archive of all the jobs and I have had clients come back many times looking for another copy, or to do reprint changes. Before embarking on reprint changes, make absolutely sure that the typesetter is working on the correct or latest version.

Like what you read? Give Damian Gibbs a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.