Q&A with Typesetter Megan Ellis

Megan Ellis is a typesetter based in Collingwood, Melbourne. Specialising in (but certainly not limited to) illustrated books, Megan is an Adobe InDesign pro and wears many hats along the publishing process. We chat with Megan about the role of typesetters and gain insider wisdom for designers who work with them.

How would you describe your role?

My primary roles are typesetting, layout and prepress. And due to my extensive skills in everything Adobe as well as specialist knowledge in preparing files for press, I do a lot of work on complex, illustrated book projects. Most of my projects are print-related but I do also do digital projects. I’m a sole trader and have been around in the industry for the last 13 years (GASP).

Did you mean to end up as a typesetter? What was your trajectory?

A long time ago I did an apprenticeship in Graphic Reproduction (which was prepress before the digital revolution). It included working on books, but in a very different capacity. Back in those days we weren’t sending single page PDFs to press but stepped-up or imposed film. That deep knowledge of imposition and pagination has come in very handy over years.
Later I worked in a prepress house that eventually specialised in books. There I became more involved in the final stages of bookmaking before printing: taking in corrections, detecting any issues with images or with the InDesign files. I discovered the joy of layout and typesetting and also by then I had had enough of prepress and so went out on my own doing pretty much what I do now.

What is the typesetting process?

Typesetting/layout is the process where the approved design template from the designer and the final edited manuscript from the publisher are combined to create 1st pages.

This is the full process for an illustrated book:
Step 1: I am supplied with the following elements: template design (as an InDesign file), usually a few spreads with all design elements included, with instructions (sometimes on colour, or structure or anything else that may not be in the design file); the edited manuscript; and images (or instructions on leaving space for images).
Step 2: I combine all these elements to simply (or more accurately: complexly) typeset/layout the book to produce 1st pages.
Step 3: I take in a series of corrections to 1st, 2nd, 3rd (and sometimes on and on) pages.
Step 4: I also do any other final checks and fixes to the InDesign files and images in preparation for print.
Step 5: Create hi-res PDFs for press.

The extent of involvement and stages I work on are different for different books and different publishers. I can follow a book all the way to press or sometimes I hand back 1st pages and the publisher will do the corrections and I get it back to do final corrections and checks before it goes to prepress. While other times the designer will set 1st pages and I will be involved in taking in corrections and preparing the files for prepress or press.
I also work on text-only books (memoirs, biographies etc). With these projects, I can be involved in the text design as well as typesetting.

What is the largest book you have worked on and how long were you working on it?

Um … James Halliday Wine Companion (776 pages). It seems to take forever, but it took consistent work over a couple of months. Also Explore Australia (480 pages); I always forget how big Queensland is!

As a master of InDesign, what is your favourite or most used tool in the program?

Not sure about being a master (but if you say so!): Paragraph and character styles! (YAY!)

What five tips would you give to designers when working with a typesetter?

Tricky … I do see my job as doing all the necessary (and potentially less interesting) technical stuff so the designers don’t have to worry about them.

  •  Clear and consistent instructions whether it’s the actual InDesign files or written
  • Every element included (surprising the number of cookery book designs that don’t
    include ‘serves’ design!).
  • Don’t use kerning to set space between paragraphs.
  • There is no such thing as too many instructions.
  • Supply ALL fonts and weights.