What is it?

Courtesy of Felipe Hefler/Freeimages.com

Typesetting involves arranging your text (and pictures if you have any) so that it resembles a proper book, rather than a school essay on A4 sheets.

Trim Size

Whether you typeset your own book or employ a designer, you first need to decide on book size. This is often referred to as trim size in the publishing industry as it’s the size pages are trimmed to after printing.

If you hire a designer, they may well advise you on this. If not, the easiest way to determine page size is to measure a few recently published books in the same genre as yours. It’s also helpful to be aware of industry standards. It’s a good idea to pick a commonly used trim size, both for ease of printing and so that the book looks right. Below are some standard book sizes:


Personally, I think the best size for a novel in the UK is 19.8cm (height) x 12.9cm (width), otherwise known as B Format. In the US, Demy or A Format are more common.

Nonfiction books come in a greater variety of sizes. I’d recommend both American Royal (6″ x9″) and Royal (234cm x 156cm) as convenient, frequently used sizes. However, it very much depends which genre you’re writing in. Text books, for instance, are often larger and might even suit an A4 format.

Most printers use most (but not all) of the above as standard. Many also have a range of other sizes available. It’s important to investigate printers and decide which you want to use before you approach typesetting, particularly if you’re using a service, like Lulu, that has limited options.

Page Multiples

Another good reason for picking a printer before you start typesetting is that, due to trimming and binding methods, some print in rather high page multiples.

What does this mean? If a printer works in a multiple of sixteen, for example, your finished book will have a page count of 16, 32, 48…160, 176, 192 and so on. So 155 pages will become 160 with the end pages being made up of blank sheets.

The lowest possible page multiple is two. A sheet of paper has two sides so a book can’t help but have an even number of pages. This isn’t an issue. If your book ends on an odd page, the final one will just be blank.

The problem occurs with higher page multiples where you could, potentially, end up with a dozen or more empty pages at the end of your book. This isn’t an insurmountable issue. It’s easily fixed by inserting an extra page here and there between chapters or sections. It’s just important to know beforehand if you need to allow for this.

Can I typeset my own book?


Most designers use expensive programmes such as Adobe’s InDesign or Quark Express to typeset books. The cost of these and the time it takes to learn how to use their features, make them impractical for small-scale self-publishers. On the other hand, a good proportion of home computers have Microsoft Word installed on them. If they don’t, then it’s available at a fraction of the cost of InDesign or Express.

I’ve heard it said that it’s impossible to produce a decent-looking book in Word. I don’t believe this to be true. If your book is a novel or largely text-based, it’s more than possible. It’s probably not going to look quite as fancy as a professionally designed one but you can produce something good enough that hardly anyone, except a professional typesetter, will notice the difference.

Click here for step-by-step guides on typesetting in Word. There’s nothing mysterious or overly technical about the process. However, it is going to take many hours, even days, to do it right. You need to decide if your time is more valuable than the cost of hiring a professional to do the job for you.

Some DIY companies such as Lulu and CreateSpace, provide preformatted templates. However, these still require a significant amount of work to make your book look professional. I discuss this option here.

If you have a more complex, heavily image-based book, it’s probably time to call in the cavalry and hire a designer. If you don’t have the money for this, then you could consider publishing through Blurb.com who provide templates and design software.

How to find a designer?

There are many excellent designers out there. Inevitably, there are also some less impressive ones. Unfortunately, doing an internet search, returns both varieties. To discriminate, take a look at their websites. They should be full of book layouts and/or cover designs that they’ve produced. You can get some idea of quality from this.

By far the best option is personal recommendation. Do you know anyone who’s self-published? Did they hire a designer? Were they happy with the results? Do you think their book looks good?

Failing this, try going straight to the horse’s mouth and look at books themselves. Browse through as many as you can either in a bookshop or library. You can also do this online using Amazon’s Look inside function. When you see a professional-looking layout you like, check the copyright page. If you’re lucky, near the bottom, it will helpfully state Typeset by So-and-So Book Designs. If not, keep going until you find a book that does. Explore the designer’s website and then contact them to get an idea of price and to ask if they work with self-publishers. Some will, some won’t.

How does the process work?

If you’re anything like me, using a designer can feel a bit intimidating. You don’t know what to expect or what questions to ask. Even the word ‘designer’ conjures up images of an alien world you’re fairly sure you don’t belong in.

The fact is, though, that there are many designers out there more than happy to work with novice self-publishers. If in doubt about anything, simply ask. If someone’s happy to take your money, they should also be willing to work with you and explain the process, as long as you don’t make unreasonable demands of them.

Always get a quote before committing yourself. In the UK, quotes are often given without VAT so check if this is included. If not, then multiply by 1.2 to get the actual price you’ll pay.

It’s also important to clarify exactly what service you’re buying to help avoid future disputes. Check the designer’s website or ask the following questions:

  • What timescale is involved?
  • How will the designer get a feel for your book? Is there an initial consultation with you?
  • Will they typeset the first page or chapter for your approval before continuing with the rest of the book? If they do, will they provide one design or several for you to choose between?
  • How much are alterations charged at?

The above by no means represents a list of requirements that a designer must fulfil. For example, if, for the quoted price, just one design is produced, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad service. It’s just important to be clear about what to expect before you go ahead.

There is, however, one point on which there can be no leeway: you should own the completed design. It’s always courteous to acknowledge the designer (on the copyright page). However, after you’ve handed over the money, you should be able to use the design in any way you want without permission from, or consultation with, the designer. This is usually more of a problem with less reputable all-in-one package providers than with individual designers but it’s always worth double checking.

How much will it cost?

Prices vary immensely. For a simple novel you can be looking at anything between £1 and £5 per page. This refers to the completed typeset page, not the raw A4 one you present to them. The average novel (if there is any such thing) has approximately 250 – 300 words per page. Simply divide your word count by 275 to see roughly how many pages you can expect to pay for.

Typesetting a book with complex elements, such as images and charts, will cost considerably more. Here, you’re looking at anywhere between £3 – £30 per page, depending on how complex your formatting is and which designer you pick. The sheer number of factors involved with this sort of book makes it impractical to estimate a cost. It’s very much a matter of getting quotes from designers.

How long will it take?

Typesetting is a fairly speedily process although, obviously, this depends on how busy the designer is at the time. Generally, though, it shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks.

Can you suggest a designer?

Chandler Book Design http://www.chandlerbookdesign.co.uk/ is a reputable, reasonably priced firm, more than happy to undertake work from self-publishers. I have no affiliation with them and accept no liability for any contract you take out. I simply mention them as I was very pleased with a book cover they created for me. They also come in at the lower end of the market at £1 per typeset page for a simple, text only, book such as a novel.


Next time: Cover Design



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