Did you know that while it’s perfectly acceptable for writers to submit work to publishers in a Word document, a publisher will never send a Word document to be printed?
Word is considered too “unstable” to print from. Content is too easily manipulated. Pagination and text move around too easily. The hard copy can come out different from what’s on the monitor.
So publishers require PDFs, usually generated from desktop publishing software programs like QuarkXpress.
There’s fun stuff like selecting fonts and layout and page size. The laborious (and some would say tedious) part is in the details: alignment, justification, tracking. This is the bulk of the work, especially if it’s poetry or different genres mixed together. Bilingual texts, in which the originals and translations are laid out on facing pages, is particularly tricky.
You will probably never have to typeset a book – let alone your own – but it’s important to have an appreciation for the work of the person whose job it is to make text electronically presentable.
The strange and beautiful thing about typesetting is that after a certain number of hours, text stops being text.
It becomes images.
Your eyes are not content processing portals but vulturine hunters: for missing periods, errant commas, extra spaces, uneven lines. You exult upon finding improperly inverted quotation marks. It’s weirdly fun.
Like any mechanical process, typesetting has moments of Zen. But mostly it involves sitting somewhere quiet going over and over and over and over and over the same piece of writing until it looks immaculate on the digital page.
If publishing is, as they say, midwifery, then typesetters are the nursing staff. Cleaning shit up. Making sure the blankets are tucked in. Checking stats. And going unthanked.
Thank a typesetter today.