What is typesetting? 

In a nutshell, typesetting is the layout process of your book’s interior. Just as you need a great cover design, you need a great layout design. It is the serious author’s final ninja-blow to any competitor on the bookshelf. Where an editor ensures you have crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s, typesetting takes your book’s content and makes it sexy to the reader.


What typesetting isn’t? 

Some authors mistakenly think that while your book is still undergoing typesetting, it is still raw and edits can be made to the text up till the 11th hour. Perhaps you skipped editing, thinking that the typesetter will fix any errors, or they’ll make all 1000 of your editorial changes once you have read through the final product one last time. Perhaps you took the serious author’s path of paying for editing, but you played it a little fast and loose with the editors notes thinking there is still time to make changes later.


A typesetter is a designer, NOT an editor 

Try think about it this way. 

You’ve brought grandma a whole basket of wool and said, ‘Please knit me a jersey’. No specific pattern in mind, just a neat winter’s jersey – whichever pattern grandma in her years of knitting expertise think will work best with the wool provided. You’ve perhaps visited once or twice in the process and observed quietly. Now, as grandma is about to complete the last row of ribbing you come with some changes you’d like. Can we move this bit over there, I’d like this colour to start here, that one there… In theory, the answer is ‘yes’ – it can be done. However, grandma is going to have to unravel 90% of your jersey to make these changes. That jersey you were hoping to rock in your Monday morning meeting will now be delayed – severely. 

Hopefully, from my analogy, you can gather that typesetting is a bit like knitting. Our lingo even contains words like ‘threading’. When you treat this process like a last chance to edit the socks off your book, you risk setting off a massive chain reaction. Adding a sentence to a page may knock the design of your book out by a whole page. Rearranging a complicated network of text and images in the middle of your book once the whole book has been completed, will lead to an extended lead time. Everything after the section in question, will be impacted. Your book is a continuous, flowing body of text. It is grandma’s yarn. In order to undo/alter the bit in the middle, everything after that point may need to be re-worked or in the worst cases – redone.


Save yourself 

Your designer will quote you for additional design time. You could easily wind up paying double your original quote. You will run well over time on whatever lead time was quoted originally. Just as grandma has likely committed to knitting 100 beanies for her favourite charity this winter, you are also not your designer’s only client. If you treat typesetting like editing, you cannot bully your typesetter to neglect all other clients for your sake. It is your responsibility to start this process with an absolutely final manuscript. Saving time and money by skipping editing at the beginning will bite you in the end if you misunderstand and misuse the typesetting process. 

It is vital that you as a self-publishing author understand how crucial it is to have your manuscript in tip-top shape before it goes into typesetting. I can’t stress this enough; a typesetter is NOT an editor. When a typesetter invites you to give feedback on font styling, running header treatments, table of contents formatting and the like, it is not ‘code’ for ripping it all apart with a border-line rewrite. 

Before you’ve gotten to the first full draft of your book, your designer most likely did a spec (sample) design for you that you would have approved. When it comes to reviewing your final draft to see if any errors have snuck in that weren’t in the original manuscript, it is also not the time to go ‘Hey, what about this and that and that… I thought about these things till all the work was done and now I want to change the whole look and feel of the book’. You will run into extra costs and added lead time.


Adobe InDesign is not MS Word 

You may think that your editorial requests are ‘no big deal’ – you’ve just done it so easily in your own MS word manuscript. That picture you suddenly wanted to add – no problem. 

Adobe’s InDesign is not Microsoft Word’s baby sister. They operate differently and believe me, much to the professional author’s benefit. As Beyonce is the queen of the music industry, InDesign is the queen of the publishing industry. It doesn’t take the most trained eye to spot the notable difference between a book that was ‘home-made’ in MS Word vs. the book that was professionally typeset using the proper typesetting software. 

The fine-tuning it allows your typesetter is much more advanced and digitally as close as we get to the old-school typesetting by hand where letters and spaces were meticulously placed by hand. Once your book has gone into InDesign, it stays there. There is no bouncing back and forth to MS Word.


MS Word is all I know, how will I give feedback? 

Your typesetter will share a PDF with you and Adobe’s Acrobat Reader will become your new best friend. It makes highlights, strike-through’s and general feedback very easy for the author and designer. 

If your designer is able to track along the exact location of your feedback it will also ensure the shortest turnaround time to deliver your next draft to you. If you’ve never used Adobe Acrobat and all this sounds utterly terrifying – take a deep breath. Don’t be shy to ask your designer how to use it. Adobe Acrobat is freely downloadable off the internet, so don’t be worried about extra expenses on this front. YouTube tutorials are widely available as well. Your designer wants you to have a great experience and will gladly give you some pointers on how to get the basics under your belt. Mastering this process is more power to the self-publishing author.


A typesetter is also not an illustrator 

They may very well be able to illustrate or redesign your best attempts at tables and graphs in MS Word but be aware that it is something that will need to be quoted for. Just as your cover is a separate element of your book, so is your custom illustrations.



Your typesetter is an artist 

Not a proofreader, editor or the person you leave your lazy referencing to hoping they’ll figure out the Harvard referencing system for you to keep you out of plagiarizing trouble. Self-publishing is about YOUR ownership of YOUR book. You have to OWN every step you take. It is absolutely worth understanding and engaging in this process. It’s the final push up the hill. What a view awaits when you get to the top – hopefully with some bubbly waiting for you on ice 🙂 

Whether you are self-publishing with high hopes of world fame or whether you are doing it for the cathartic experience of it, owning the process that gets you there is what will lead to a book you are proud of. 

I hope this article has provided you with some understanding to what may have sounded like a non-descript concept – typesetting.  It’s not meant to scare you, but empower you to make the most of your typesetting experience. Your designer wants to enjoy this process with you. A lot of fun and creativity can be had with text. Understanding where a typesetter’s role begins, and ends will ensure that both you and your typesetter have a great time collaborating on your book – to the point where you’d want to add them to the acknowledgments in your book and they’d want to name their first-born after you 🙂