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What does a book formatter actually do?

So your manuscript is finally done. That’s great, but now what? For new or indie authors, it might be a question you haven’t considered. Especially for indie authors, the next step is getting it formatted for publishing. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat difficult finding good information on what good formatting actually entails. There’s also a lot of bad information out there as well. Hopefully, some of the misconceptions will be cleared up by the end of this article.


So what is typesetting?


In a nutshell, when you get a book formatted for publishing, it’s called typesetting. Without getting into the deep nuts and bolts of the process, when you submit your work to a professional typesetter or topographer, they take your completed manuscript and format it to specific standards.

Some sources out there will tell you that the formatting programs like Microsoft© Word is sufficient for self-publishing. On some levels, it’s true. You can use Word to format your book enough to self-publish, but anyone who buys it will be able to tell that it’s not professionally formatted, reducing its perceived value.


When people know it’s self-published, they’ll either consciously or unconsciously judge it more harshly than if it looks professionally done. Even if the information is accurate or the storyline is gripping, they’ll always have a question in the back of their mind about the information. As wrong as it might be, people do judge a book by its looks.


So what does a typesetter do exactly?


A typesetter, by definition, arranges the text in your manuscript to meet certain visual criteria. It’s these criteria that people judge the merit of your book against. The following is just a short list of what people either consciously or unconsciously judge your book against:


• Line spacing – The white space between lines of text can have an impact on readability. The longer the line of text is, the more whitespace you need between each line. If you don’t have enough whitespace, the reader will become fatigued and more likely to set your book down. In other words, they won’t enjoy it as much and may not even finish it.


• Spacing between words – For the same reasons, the spacing between words has an impact on readability. Just like line spacing, if the spacing between words isn’t sufficient, then it becomes more difficult to read. The size of the characters determines, in part, the word spacing.


Another problem is, if the spaces between words line up from line to line, they produce an optical phenomena called rivering, or rivers for short. Rivers can create a visually distracting pattern that makes your manuscript more difficult to read. A professional typesetter uses specific tools, like line tracking and kerning, to reduce this issue.


• Readability of the characters/font – The font that’s selected has a huge impact on readability. Using the wrong font makes your book more difficult to read, possibly generating bad reviews. A typesetter has studied what fonts work best in which circumstances. This area of study is called typography. They’re also trained to know certain conventions, like a monospaced font is normally used for computer code or sometimes for citations from other books.


That same font, if used for the rest of the manuscript, would reduce the readability of the book. More importantly, the reason for using the font

in the first  place is to highlight a specific section of text, so if the entire book is in that font, important information won’t stand out.


• Make sure all the elements in a manuscript are consistent – A big problem with improper typesetting is that specific elements don’t match. A typesetter’s job is to make sure the correct font, font size, and flourishes are used every single time for a specific element. For example, if you used Calibri 12 point bold for your chapter heading in one chapter, you need to use that for every other chapter as well. The same goes for subheadings, bulleted text (including the space between the bullet and the text), italicized text, and other elements.


These are just some of the things your reader will pick up on if the formatting is done incorrectly. Just think, this is only small portion of what a typesetter does when making your manuscript shine.


On the other hand, there are things people believe book formatters do that we actually don’t do. The following is just a short list of things you need to make sure are done before ever submitting your manuscript to a formatter, such as:


• Make sure your document is finished – The biggest thing I see when new or indie authors submit their work for formatting is the belief that they can make content changes after the formatter returns the first draft for review. That’s not what this stage is for.  Most formatters will charge extra for each content change the author requests.


• Spellchecking and grammar – Sure, the formatter MAY pick up on some typos or a grammar issue here or there, but for the most part, they’re just copying/pasting the text into their software and then tweaking the text to make it look awesome. They’re not going to actually read the manuscript to find errors.


• Copyediting – Just like spellchecking, the formatter isn’t going to make sure the content reads well. They’re just going to make sure it looks good, errors and all.


In conclusion, when bringing your project to your adoring fans, formatting and typesetting is, and should be, the last step performed before a book goes to print or converted into an e-book. It’s not the time or place to be still making changes to the manuscript. Otherwise, your project is going to get very expensive. Your money can be put to better use elsewhere. Doesn’t your project deserve every possible advantage you can give it to be successful? Contact us today to find out how to may your project shine.

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