Step 9 – Layout

This is where all the decisions you’ve made see the light of day. This is also the part that takes the most time. It’s also where you’ll see the payoff as the story takes shape in book form.

You may have noticed (or maybe not) that the line of text on one side of the spine is on the same line as the text on the other side of the spine. That’s an essential part of book design, and it’s called the Baseline Grid (even though it’s strictly horizontal, they call it a grid. Don’t blame me.) Your software will make it so that all your text sits on those gridlines – it’s not something you have to worry about (and that’s why MS Word isn’t suitable for book layout – it doesn’t have that grid.)

Baseline Grids. Use them.

Chapter beginnings are where layout can get creative – everywhere else, it’s just text, text, text. It used to be that the first page of a chapter had the chapter title towards the top (not at the very top), and thirteen lines of text at the bottom. Why? Dunno – it’s a tradition, and that’s just the way it was. Now, the only real requirement is that you have a significant amount of white space at the top of your page, there is some stylistic indication that this is a new start (like a drop cap), and you don’t show running heads or folios on the page.

For the first paragraph of the chapter, do you want drop caps? That’s a layout option that’s very popular. Some people also use italics or small caps for the first few words of the paragraph. Don’t indent the first line of that first paragraph, unless it’s a stylistic thing that indents the whole drop cap. And of course, setting all this up once and then assigning it to a style means that every other paragraph looks identical with no effort. (The identical thing is important. The no effort part is just very nice.)

Rivers in text. Not OF text. There’s a difference.

All text needs to be justified – that means that the last character of the line ends at the margins edge. Sometimes that leads to ‘rivers’ of white space visibly running through the paragraph – that’s unsightly, and a sign of bad layout. The indent for the paragraphs should be from 1 to 2 times the font size.

Having the first line of the paragraph be the last line on the page, or having the last line of the paragraph be the first line on the page (called widows or orphans) is to be avoided. If you have to choose one (and my wife writes three line paragraphs all the time), choose to have the first line at the end of the page, because then the whole width of the book block will be used at the start of the next page. With the last line of a paragraph starting a page (which won’t be the full width of the book block) the page looks … off.

The last line of a paragraph should be at least long enough to extend past the indent of the line below – otherwise the book block looks disconnected at that point. And if (for some odd reason) the same word ends two lines in a row, that needs to be fixed, too.

The Fix

You have two tools to fix issues (aside from re-writing a section.) You can nudge letters (and spaces) closer or farther apart. This can help a paragraph take fewer lines or more lines, and that can fix most issues. If it doesn’t, then you can nudge the spine edge of the margin in or out a little, which will also help a paragraph to take more or less space. You don’t want to nudge the margin more than a few points either way, and you don’t want to nudge the letters (called tracking) more than 15 thousandths of a letter width. The idea is to be unnoticeable in your nudging.

Text Niceties

While you’re doing your layout, you need to pay attention to quote marks and dashes. The “curly quotes” are properly called typographer’s quotes, and you’ll need to make sure that they are used in all dialogue. In America, double quotes are used for dialogue and single quotes are used for quoted material inside the dialogue. In England, it’s the other way around. French dialogue (and in some other languages) is set off with «Guillemets», and in some other languages, they are used but point inward instead of outward. Moral of the story: check with Wikipedia before mindlessly assuming how other languages do things. And when doing book layout, dialogue is fiddly, tricky, and essential to get right.

You need to make sure that the dashes are used properly;

  • Em-dash; to set off a clause in a sentence
  • En-dash; to show duration (8:00-9:00)
  • Hyphen; to join parts of a word across lines
  • Minus; used only for mathematical operations

Oh, and about hyphens: don’t hyphenate more than three lines in a row, don’t hyphenate across pages, and don’t hyphenate proper nouns (basically, anything that’s capitalized.)

Copyright symbols are generally part of a font – use the proper copyright, trademark, and registered symbols where appropriate. Use ‘dumb quotes’ for inches and feet (” ‘) instead of curly quotes. This is also where you begin to use Oldstyle Figures if you’ve got ‘em, and fleurons if appropriate.

You now know about Front Matter and Back Matter – on my site and around the web, there’s a book called A Few Notes On Book Design by Peter Wilson. Get it, and read about the strict order for parts of the Front Matter and Back Matter. If you don’t follow it, you can seriously confuse your readers, and having your copyright page where it’s expected to be makes life easier for librarians. (And I am one, so don’t expect me to cut you any slack on this.)

Yes, it’s involved. There’s a lot of things to keep track of – and that’s why some people are able to do this for a living. It is possible for you to do it, but you have to be committed to it. Or just committed, I can’t tell.


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