Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Hurrah for Typesetters - Sally Nicholls


Hurrah for typesetters! Or, more specifically, hurrah for my boyfriend Tom, who has just finished typesetting my latest submission - a twenty-page sample of what I hope will be Book Three. I suspect the actual difference typography makes to a manuscript is small, but I can’t help the feeling that no editor could possibly reject anything that looks as beautiful as my books do when Tom has finished with them.
What exactly is typography? Traditionally it meant laying out – and sometimes designing – the blocks of type which go towards making a book or other printed work. In my case, it means choosing a font for the manuscript, setting the margins, designing chapter headings and page numbers and dealing with things like em-dashes (a dash the length of an m and a useful Scrabble word) and manuscript headers.
My novels are also complicated by things like lists, extracts, one-line-long chapters and, in this particular case, quotes from all my friends on Facebook. (Quick plug: if you would like to feature in the next book, the Facebook group Help Sally With Book Three is looking for new members. Preferably unshockable ones.)
The typesetter Eric Gill, of Gill Sans Serif fame, and also responsible for war memorials up and down the country, said that as long as a type was good, you could set any book in it. This was fine for Gill, who had one printing press and limited type, but my fella has a whole CD of fonts and very little opportunity to use them. After much deliberation, we’ve gone with something called Straight, which apparently makes the submission look clean, youthful and modern. Sounds good to me.
Is typesetting something you should try at home? Probably not. A poorly typeset manuscript is worse than a merely ordinary one – Tom tends to go purple and start muttering when encountering anything set in Comic Sans Serif, for example. If you’re really interested, try The Elements of Typographic Style, by Robert Bringhurt. If you’d rather not plough through its beautifully set three hundred and fifty pages, however, I’d recommend simply widening your page’s margins and buying some good paper. It’s tax deductable, and it makes your manuscript feel – and smell – that little bit more book-like already.
Now I just have to hope that my publishers like the sample enough to pay me to write the whole thing ...

7 comments:

Lucy Coats said...

Absolutely fascinating, and how lucky you are to have a Tom, Sally. Let's hope the publisher is blown away by the beauty of Book 3. I shall certainly visit your Facebook page and sign up, being totally unshockable!

Lee said...

Here's a favourite blog:

http://ilovetypography.com/

adele said...

At last! All of us font freaks can come out of the closet...I am very very fuss about the way my book looks and still haven't recovered from a couple which were set in Ariel or somesuch. A lot of publishers feel that san serif fonts are cool and trendy and make for ease of reading, but give me something like Perpetua every time! I bet your new book will look gorgeous, Sally! Greetings to Tom and thanks to Lee for that web address which I'm going to visit right now....

adele said...

More haste less speed...should be FUSSY, of course. Sorry.

Sally Nicholls said...

Yay! Thanks for the blog link, Lee (and the answers, Lucy). I agree, Adele - I much prefer serif fonts. This was one reason why it took so long to find a font for this book, because I liked all the old-fashioned classical ones, and Tom kept going 'Yes, it's a lovely font, Sally, but we need someting MODERN, for this book.' We went for a sans serif font in the end, but a particularly nice one.

Penny said...

Thanks for the typography link, Lee, and am full of envy about your Tom & his wonderful Knowledge, Sally!

Ever since seeing one of my books - squeezed small into its tightly budgeted pages - against the work of another author - all open font and space and light and air - I knew which one would make for easier reading, especially by eight and nine year olds.

Something to watch out for next time. But I suppose that writers are so amazed that their work has got to the proof pages that it's hard to stop and say "Hang on, I'm not sure about this . . ." A bit like with cover designs really.

Lee said...

Another font site I forgot to mention:

http://www.josbuivenga.demon.nl/