We do our own in-house typesetting at Comely Bank Publishing. What that involves is creating a blank document of exactly the same dimensions as the final page of the book, working out suitable margins allowing for chapter headings at the top and page numbers at the foot, and quite possibly different margins for left and right pages throughout. That’s because, when you open a book to read it, the ‘tightness’ of the binding means that it feels more comfortable if the text is very slightly nearer the outside than the inside of the page. But every printer is different: our current one needs the the text to be slightly more offset than previous ones – there’s a degree of trial and error involved.
We also have to think about fonts, or to be exact, typefaces. We want the text to look good and be easy to read, which means using a good serif (those little bits at the foot of letters) font such as Garamond Pro or Minion Pro. These two are free; there are are others that cost more, and sometimes it’s worth buying one. Fonts can look fine until you start using figures, or italics, or bold text. Incidentally, the choice of font can considerably shorten a book and make it cheaper to produce. On a 400 page book, Garamond is around a dozen pages shorter than Times New Roman, and apparently uses 16% less ink.
And then there are ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’. It’s bad form to end a chapter with one single line on a page on its own, and it’s also wrong to start a new section with a single line right at the foot of a page. We might ask the authors to make some alterations, but I do some editing myself a lot of the time – take out a carriage return, re-order a sentence, simply re-write something slightly. Authors are invited to approve, of course, but they never notice. That’s something an outside typesetter could never do.
Anything that deviates from standard paragraphed text causes problems, and sometimes we have to print something like an email, a letter or a notice on a door in a different font. Those chapter headers are tricky, too – the document has to be formally divided into ‘sections’ to allow that to work, and often the book needs different headers on left and right pages – the book title on the left, say, the chapter title on the right.
Finally, some text is very difficult. Anything using strange mathematical formulae causes trouble because some of the characters simply don’t exist in very many fonts. Diagrams, maps and any sort of picture is a challenge. It all takes time.
We can, and do, typeset some books using Word. Word is limited, but that can be a good thing if all we’re trying to do is typeset a straightforward novel. Failing that we have to use the industry standard Adobe InDesign, but that unfortunately costs £17.00 per month. Either way, what we then produce is that pdf file for the author to approve. We’d never let the author near anything other than a pdf at that stage, though – authors can ruin hours of work by making one or two ‘innocent edits’.
It’s an in-house secret how much we charge, I’m afraid. I have considered outsourcing the process, but the standard fee – for a less flexible service – seems to start at well over £1000, and we do it for a bit less, that’s all I’m saying. £1000 plus is a lot of money.