May I take your order?

As promised, here’s a sample of how I annotate a design for the compositor. These are actual specs for an actual book that was just typeset. I haven’t seen the proofs yet, but I know that it hit castoff on the first try, which is miraculous given that the book in question is an anthology and the manuscript was all tear sheet. I did not have an electronic manuscript for this book, so my samples are typeset from a disturbing amalgam of Flatland and actual snippets of text from the book, as typed (with four fingers!) by me.

I’m not presenting this as an example of fabulous design; I go back and forth between thinking it’s handsome and finding it vile. Rather, it’s a fair example of a pain-in-the-ass document structure: many of the pieces in the anthology have odd one-off design elements. One has its own dedication, one has its own credit line, one is a series of poems, one has two kinds of space break, . . . And it’s volume one of I don’t know how many, so the next in the series will probably require even more styles that get used for only one or two pieces.

Let me confess right now—and I know this will come as a great shock to you—but: I’m a verbose order-writer. Midway through the first day of my very brief career as a coffee shop waitress (the restaurant closed after I’d been there three weeks; was it my fault? perhaps), the cook/manager had to step out of the kitchen and patiently explain to me that it was not helpful for me to write out every word of the order in full. She could apprehend a page of abbreviations much quicker than one of whole words, and I would be able to write faster, as well as perhaps to fit an entire order onto a single slip. We didn’t have a large menu, and she was the only cook, so there was a limited vocabulary; I learned the abbreviations.

In book design, though, there can be a lot more variables, and I have no idea who’s going to have to decipher my specs. Have they ever typeset books before? Can they read English? Who knows? I suspect that it would be easier for the compositor to absorb my directions if I abbreviated more, but what abbreviations should I use? Everybody in my department seems to have a different jargon, and I can’t find my copy of Designing with Type . . . which I’ve owned for six or seven years but never managed to read. So at the moment I prefer to spell almost everything out. The comps probably hate me.

Here’s the kind of thing I send them (click each image for a much bigger version at Flickr):

half-title page

sample layout - half-title page

So. First, I tell them what baseline grid the book is set on. I hope and pray that they won’t have to change the leading to make the text fit, but shit happens, and when it does, I want things to stay in the same relative positions on whatever the new grid is. I also try to mention stuff like old-style figures on the front page, so they won’t miss it. Swapping in old-style figs is a pain in Quark, and I’m glad I’m not the one doing it.

Then I encourage the comp to pick up the front-matter page layouts from my sample file. But I usually write up the specs anyway, as if they had to build the page from scratch, because (1) it’s useful information for me, in the event that I have to make changes to the design and don’t remember what the hell my original theory was, and (2) the horrifying truth seems to be that our compositor does re-create most of our layouts from scratch. In Quark XPress 4.

The numbers running down the side correspond to lines of text on a normal body page. Almost every object position on the layout is expressed in terms of which text line it should share a baseline with, so it’s handy to have the numbers on every page.

I’m not going to explain what “17/28 BrothersRegularAlternates” and all that crap means, because it would make this post a mile long, and there are about a million places where you can find better explanations than I would give. For starters, if this is all Greek to you, I recommend checking out Adobe’s free Typography Primer, a 745 KB PDF.

title page spread

sample layout - title page spread

This is rare for me, but here I just told the comp to pick up the whole spread. It’s not that the layout of this spread is all that complex, but it would have taken me about an hour to explain how to position everything. Not worth it. I’ll tell you, though, that the sunburst on the left is live type—these suns come from a typeface called Afrodisiac by Brode Vosloo—while the one on the right is an EPS. I don’t remember why. The display type in this book is all Brothers by John Downer.

copyright and copyright acknowledgment pages

sample layout - copyright pages

Verso page intentionally left blank. After my first month or so at this job, the managing editor caught me preparing a design with dummy text on the copyright page, and he informed me that we never, ever send a sample of the copyright page to the compositor. This is one of those rules that when you hear it, you know there’s got to be a sad, sad story behind it.

I set all my copyright pages exactly the same at this job. The only variables are the typeface and whether the text is centered or flush left. The text face in this book is Albertina by Chris Brand, which I decided to try based on Dean Allen’s writeup at Textism. I like it a lot.

On the copyright acknowledgments page, on the right, I hung the quotation marks, because I think it looks neater. I started to put this instruction in the comp order, but then I nixed it because (1) nobody besides me will ever notice, and (2) it’s just begging for an extra twenty-five PEs on the first pass. I try not to set myself up for too much heartache, but if I were setting this book myself, I’d hang the damn quotes. It takes ten seconds.

more copyrights, and dedication

sample layout - dedication

Though in general it is customary to pretend that the compositor is illiterate and not particularly bright, there are certain things I do assume that he or she can figure out. In this case, I show the back of the copyright acks page, but I don’t bother to spec anything. The comp should know from our general house specs that the running head text in the front matter should be the name of each section—not the title of the book, as it is elsewhere in this anthology. And I spec the running heads in general on my sample of a normal text spread, a few pages later.

On the dedication, “break lines for sense and visual balance” is asking a bit much. I almost always put it in, but usually I end up marking exact line breaks on the manuscript, just to be sure.

editor’s note

sample layout - editor's note

Nothing special here; just me being redundantly repetitive again.

more editor’s note, and the TOC

sample layout - table of contents

As I mentioned above, one of the stories in this book has two kinds of space break. I chose to explain that later on; for now, I’ve just spec’ed the most common one.

more contents, and a story opener

sample layout - story opener

Again, the back of the contents page is shown here for no particular reason. I didn’t spec anything new, and the page doesn’t convey any new information. The comp may want to drive a spike through my head by this time.

The story opener is sort of a worst-case scenario. It includes a two-paragraph head note, the lone story dedication, and the second variety of space break. “Hearts” is the shortest story title in the book.

When I first received the uncopyedited manuscript to use for design, there were no author names at the tops of the stories, so I picked out the names in bold small caps within the head notes. When the CE’s marked-up version came back, suddenly there were separate names I had to work into my design, and the CE had added “by” before each one. I confirmed with the editor that we had to insert the names, and I went through the MS and crossed out all the added bys. Because, no.

text spread

sample layout - text spread

The samples so far have been pretty busy, but this is what most of the pages in the book will actually look like. Phew. This is where I finally spec the running heads. I also like to explicitly define a character style for small caps, because (1) this is how I would style the small caps, myself, and (2) I intend never, ever to have a compositor say, “No, that’s not a PE where we used fake small caps there, because you didn’t tell us not to.” I always tell them not to. Of course, this also means that I have to be sure that the type family I’ve chosen can accommodate whatever instances of small caps occur in the book. If I’ve specified small caps after every space break, and one of those paragraphs starts with italicized text, I have to make sure either that my text face really has italicized small caps available—most don’t—or that if they apply Quark’s italic attribute to real small caps, they’ll get an acceptable oblique version that will actually print. Such dodgy mixtures often look fine onscreen, but when you try to print them, the text goes vertical again, or the small caps drop out, or the spacing becomes kookity.

On the recto page, I’m still busy explaining the finer points of the damn space breaks. All these details are pulled together under one heading in the text-only version of the specs that accompanied this layout.

holy headings, Batman!

sample layout - story opener and poetry

My masterpiece. The longest title in the book. A-heads. B-heads. Poetry (I insisted on hanging the quotation marks here). Credit lines. Poem headnotes. Hung roman numerals. Yet another space break. A freakishly long B-head. I crammed as many worst-case scenarios as I could onto this spread; in the final layout (which this is not), there’s even a publication credit for the story, crammed in between the author bio and the first A-head.

There’s only one chunk of poetry in this book, but it’s a long and messy one comprising selections from a longer, oddly structured work. The headings on these poetry extracts had all been coded correctly—A and B heads only—on the design dupe in red, and then recoded incorrectly—with three levels of heads—in blue on the setting copy. So I tossed it back on the production editor’s desk with a note asking if it was okay to change them back, and when she said it was, I erased all the (illegible, anyway) codes and remarked them in my color (which is usually brown). Frankly, it’s kind of annoying that the MS comes to me already coded, because quite often I find that the coding is wrong. I spend a lot of time erasing or crossing the codes out and rewriting them. But that’s for a future post.

So this is a pretty good example of why it sometimes takes me a whole day to write up a comp order. I have to try to anticipate every hideous juxtaposition of elements, and communicate to the compositor how to deal with them. This is not a complex design. There are only two pieces of art to place, three type families, and four master pages. It’s reasonably flexible, and the comp shouldn’t feel inclined to tear his or her hair out while trying to make the spreads balance. Fortunately, most of the books I do these days are even simpler—three masters, two typefaces, no art. So those only take half a day to write up.

5 thoughts on “May I take your order?

  1. • Is the indent on S1 (Story First) a Golden Mean proportion? Just wondering.

    • Do you have any preferences/thoughts re: SB dings, e.g. one vs. three, size, how it visually relates to the textblock type, and so on? I like the one you used from Afrodisiac—pointy (looked it up on MyFont since it was blurry in the Flickr gif /nerd).

    • I like the way the white bar behind the title intersects the background drop-out ding on the half-title page.

    • The fact that you used the word “Please” in your specs (HT page) grants you a lot of leeway with the compositor regarding verbosity.

    • The capital “W” of Brothers is hot.

    • Knowing I will be refused before I even begin, I’m offering my services to search hither and/or yon for your Designing with Type.

    1. Goodness, no. I think I started with a three-line-square ornament on the first line, but then I removed the ornament and kept the indent. I also had in mind one of my predecessors’ designs, which had headnotes and chapter numbers crammed up in the corner. And I was trying to keep the headnotes from being too wide to be legible (it’s about a 72-character line).

    2. I usually use a single dingbat, or a pair to form a symmetrical shape. Three to me looks like manuscript style; redundant and cluttery. And the relationship to the text block? Well, not too loud, I guess. There are exceptions, of course. (Did you ever see that pregnancy book I did with the aggressively fallopian Dalliance ornaments? An exuberant demonstration of my dubious taste.)

    3. I have a feeling those white bars—drawn in Quark and therefore able to be only roughly positioned and proofed—are not going to quite line up at high res. Should have added them to the dingbat EPS. I hate Quark.

    4. I try to write specs that won’t trigger Passive-Aggressive Typesetter Mode. You know how it is—when you get markup that clearly indicates that the person writing it thinks you’re a moron, you say, “Fine; I’ll follow these specs to the absolute idiotic letter, without querying, even though I know the author meant something quite different.” Or maybe only I do that.

    5. It’s nice, huh? That’s actually the Alternates set. There’s a more normal “W,” as well.

    6. I think it’s at my mom’s house. In a tote bag, in a box, in a closet that can be reached only by ladder. I just got two new books today, though: Oliver Simon’s Introduction to Typography (London: Faber and Faber, 1969) and Nigel French’s InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign CS2 (Berkeley: Adobe Press, 2006). So I’ll be busy for a while.

  2. Question 1 is what happens when you OD on Bringhurst and Tschichold. You also start to wonder if saying “Golden Mean proportion” is akin to “PIN number.” I think it is. Moving on, I like the indent; it’s a smooth transition. Though in a simpler text with less than 1,000 elements dings could be really cool. Qu’ran pages remind me of that style, though I would never call those ornaments dings. Much as I love the word.

    Perhaps the hanging quotes issue answers this question, but is it verboten to spec the typesetter to small cap a first line for sense, rather than the first three words? I don’t know in what case not having the first line be done for sense in a text would really spell disaster; it confounds me in novels, but I may be weird.

  3. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my general response to any discussion of Golden Mean proportions in book design is, “In what parallel universe?”

    It’s a nice idea, sure, but in practice I just don’t have that much control over the parameters. Setting the text in a Golden Rectangle that’s in some kind of Golden Relationship to the page trim (over which I have no control, and which is not Golden), while making castoff and creating a legible page—it’s just too much. Too much math, too much time, too much frustration when the design gets changed at the last minute for space reasons.

    So I rely on the Golden Eyeball and the Golden Rule of Thumb. Perhaps once a year that renders a Golden Rectangle somewhere on a page; I’ll trust you and your pocket ruler to find it for me.

    As for asking the typesetter to pick out the first phrase, I’ve seen other people here spec that, and I’ve certainly done it when I’m typesetting the book myself, but in the outsourcing situation it seems to me to be asking for trouble. Though our composition house probably has some typesetters who are clever and inquisitive creatures like yourself, I am not certain that all our books are being set in the United States, by native English speakers, or by people who read voluntarily. Our former colleague Mr. Keller, for example, though much more qualified than I as a designer and compositor, might feel uncomfortable making such a judgment (or not—he’d be unlikely to ever actually say so, so who knows?). Nobody wants to have it come back covered with PEs.

    If I did want to use that style, I’d probably mark the text on the MS explicitly, in each instance, to be perfectly clear. But as it is, I don’t mind the two- or three-word workaround in most cases. There’s a sort of calming rationality about it. (People with more normal AQs may not find rationality quite so calming.)

  4. According to Bringhurst, you can indent paragraphs according to the golden mean “if the indent is to the remainder of the line as that remainder is to the full text measure.” He goes on into sinkage, elevated caps too. I took it to mean it’s possible to use the G.M. in a particular pair of elements without making the entire page layout conform to teh Ratio. Strict adherence to the G.M. seems to give you freakishly large foot margins anyways, and those can only mean a time-consuming agony making castoff and staying on budget (and pages may not be a standard size). YMMV, especially if your math is better than mine. And it is.

    So, I thought you managed to sneak a little G.M. into that there design, because you are that hardcore. Nonetheless, you are still hardcore. And like I said, the G.M., for all it’s shininess, may just be a designer shibboleth or require typographic kung-fu to which many are called but few can, or should, answer.

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