Book typesetting and layout tips are usually about the small stuff—fixing awkward hyphenation, using special characters for symbols, and so on—but most of the questions we get are about the BIG issues. How can I balance the number of text lines on facing pages? What if the last page of my chapter only has two lines? If my chapter has to end on a right-hand page, can I leave it blank? These issues arise all the time during book typesetting. We’ll explain the best ways to resolve them.
Let’s assume you’ve imported your text into your InDesign document, autoflowed the text into your pages, and now you’re going through your book, typesetting one chapter at a time. You’ll be fixing anything that looks awkward as you go. But your biggest challenges are:
- resolving any widow issues (avoiding the last line of a paragraph by itself at the top of a page),
- aligning your facing pages at the top and bottom (achieving the same number of lines on every page except the first and last pages in each chapter), and
- ending your chapter appropriately (ideally not less than six lines on the last page, and not leaving any blank pages on the right-hand side).
You’ll resolve all of these issues at the same time as you typeset each chapter.#Typesetting the pages of your #selfpub book? Read our #toptips for balancing facing pages and avoiding widows/orphans. https://bit.ly/2K60zcN Click To Tweet
First, optimize InDesign for typesetting a book
Before you start going through your pages one chapter at a time, let’s get all your typesetting ducks in a row. You can optimize your InDesign settings and preferences to help InDesign make your book text look its best, and to help you decide where to make changes if needed. (And if you haven’t yet started a document in InDesign, consider purchasing our InDesign book template, which comes optimized and ready to go with all the basic styles described in Book Design Made Simple.)
In book typesetting, it’s okay to have the first line of a paragraph be the last line on a page (an orphan) if it’s unavoidable. However, it’s never okay to have the last line of a paragraph be the first line on a page (a widow).
The settings below will ensure that widows never happen. Open your Basic Paragraph style by double-clicking it in your Paragraph Styles panel, then choose the Keep Options tab. Use the settings shown below, but don’t click OK quite yet, as you’ll also adjust the Hyphenation and Justification settings.
Hyphenation and justification (H&J) settings
The default settings that come with InDesign don’t work well for justified text with the line widths that we use for books. See this excerpt from Book Design Made Simple about H&J settings for a more detailed explanation.
Here’s how to optimize your settings for typesetting a book. With your Basic Paragraph style open, choose the Hyphenation tab. Then adjust your settings to match those shown below. With these settings, you can be confident that most, if not all, of your paragraphs will have even spacing and not too many hyphens.
Now choose the Justification tab. When text is justified, InDesign must do its best to make your type look as evenly spaced as possible, a difficult task as every line contains a different number of characters. These justification settings allow InDesign to add or remove space between words (word spacing) and between letters (letter spacing), and even to make the characters slightly wider or narrower (glyph scaling), in order to make your paragraphs look their best. After you’ve entered these settings, click OK.
InDesign’s best Composition preferences for book typesetting
InDesign comes with a default set of Preferences. Not all of these are optimal for book typesetting. So choose Edit>Preferences>Composition (Windows) or InDesign>Preferences>Composition (Mac) and choose the settings shown below. These will help greatly with typesetting your book.
Best page view for book typesetting
It really helps to work in the Normal view for typesetting. With your document open and the Selection Tool selected, press W to toggle back and forth between Normal view and Preview. In Normal view, you’ll be able to see all your margins and other non-printing stuff.
It also helps if you can see the hidden characters and your baseline grid while typesetting, so be sure to turn both of those on too. Here’s how:
Hidden characters: Choose Type>Show Hidden Characters, or press Ctrl/Cmd+Alt/Opt+I. All of your hidden characters (spaces, end-of-paragraph returns, etc.) will be visible.
Baseline grid: Choose View>Grids & Guides>Show Baseline Grid, or press Ctrl/Cmd+Alt/Opt+’.
Finally, typesetting the big stuff!
Now you’re all set to typeset your chapters! Start looking through your first chapter and you’ll probably notice that several pages are one line short. Ack! What the heck? This is because your Keep Options settings are making sure there are no widows (the last line of a paragraph by itself at the top of the next page). InDesign is being helpful by keeping the last two lines of every paragraph together.
Before you try to fix these short pages, take a look at your chapter as a whole. As it stands, does the last page of the chapter have lots of lines of text, or very few? And, if your chapters will all start on verso pages (on the left), then you’ll want to make sure there’ll be enough text remaining on the last recto (right) page in the chapter. Never, ever leave a recto page blank unless it’s at the very end of your book. A blank right-hand page signals THE END to the reader. It is okay, though, to occasionally leave a blank verso page before a chapter that begins on a right-hand page.
Observing your chapter as a whole is very helpful because you’ll be shrinking or stretching some paragraphs to get the same number of lines on facing pages. Are you okay to shrink a few paragraphs and lose a few lines off the last chapter page, or do you need to stretch a few paragraphs to have a healthy number of lines on your last page?
You’ll be using tracking to shrink or stretch paragraphs, so let’s take a quick look at tracking.
What is tracking and how does it work?
Tracking in typography is the amount of space between characters. When you apply tracking to a word, sentence, or paragraph, the space between the characters will be increased or decreased consistently. Tracking values are measured in thousandths of an em, so if you type 10 in the tracking field, it’s a 1% increase in the space between characters. If you type -10, it’s a 1% decrease.
Why is tracking helpful? Because it allows you to stretch or shrink a whole paragraph without being obvious about it. This is extremely valuable when you need to add or remove a line of text.
Fixing the first short page in your chapter
Start by going to the first instance of a short page in your chapter. Make sure you’re in Normal view so you can see your baseline grid and end-of-paragraph returns. On that 2-page spread, do you see any paragraphs that end very close to either the beginning or end of the last line?
In the example below, the recto page is one line short. No paragraph on this 2-page spread ends with just one short word on the last line, so there are no good candidates for shrinking a paragraph to lose one line. But there’s one paragraph on the recto page (see the red arrow) where the last line is almost full. That’s a good candidate for stretching the paragraph to gain a line on that page, and thereby balancing the number of lines on this 2-page spread.
Look for a similar paragraph in your chapter. Try stretching the paragraph using tracking, to see if it’ll flow onto an extra line without looking too stretched or obvious. Using your Type tool, quadruple-click anywhere in the paragraph to select it. Then find the Tracking drop-down menu (in the Control panel or the Character panel) and select 10. Here’s how the example paragraph looks with tracking 10—the last 1.5 words in the paragraph have moved onto an extra line, and now both pages in this spread have the same number of lines.
Once you’ve found a paragraph-stretching solution using tracking, experiment to see if you can use a smaller tracking value than 10. It’s possible that you can still create an extra line in that paragraph using 2 or 3 instead. Figure out the lowest possible tracking value to fix your problem, and go with that.
If stretching a paragraph isn’t an option on your 2-page spread, try shrinking a paragraph instead. Look for a paragraph with only one or two words on the last line. Select the paragraph by quadruple-clicking it, then change the tracking to -10. Does that shrink the paragraph so that it’s one line shorter? If so, experiment to see if you can still shrink the paragraph using a larger tracking value than -10 (perhaps -2 or -3 will work just fine).
Avoid applying tracking to whole pages, or both pages of a 2-page spread. Instead try to minimize the amount of tracking within a paragraph, so the reader won’t notice that it’s been squeezed or stretched.
Now fix the whole chapter
So you’ve fixed the first short page in your chapter by stretching or shrinking a paragraph. Now you’ll go through the rest of your chapter, balancing the number of lines in all the 2-page spreads and making sure you have enough lines remaining on the last page of the chapter.
Here’s where things can get tricky! Sometimes you won’t find any paragraphs on a 2-page spread to shrink or stretch, so what can you do? Take a look at the previous 2-page spread. Any possibilities? Or even the spread before the previous one? Sometimes you might need to go back a few pages to make an adjustment. And you might shrink or stretch a paragraph only to discover that it messes up the number of lines on the following page!
This takes practice, so take it slowly at first. Go through the chapter and scan for trouble spots. Very often you’ll discover that when you’ve fixed one, you’ve also solved one on the next page in the process. Or you may have even caused trouble for yourself on the next page. This can be frustrating, but remember that at this point you’re doing the real work of page layout. You’ll get better at it as you go along. We hope you’ll come to enjoy the problem solving! Start to think of your book as one big, challenging, and enjoyable puzzle.
Sometimes you absolutely cannot find any way of making two facing pages the same length (it does happen!). Here are a few emergency solutions, shown in order of preference:
- Reword some text to make it longer or shorter. This is only possible if you’re also the author of the book!
- Resize an illustration.
- Shorten the two page frames so that both facing pages are one line short. Spreads that run one line long are discouraged—especially if your book uses running feet—but can be tolerated if you have run out of all other options. Be sure your next spread is normal length.
Exceptions to the page balancing rule
In fiction and most nonfiction books, page balancing is a must. There are, however, exceptions to the page balancing rule. Some books, such as cookbooks, workbooks, and teachers’ manuals, present a different topic or issue on each page. In these books, pages should still align at the top, but a “ragged bottom” look is fine. The same goes for poetry books.
More book typesetting tips
We hope we’ve answered any questions you had about avoiding widows and orphans, balancing the number of lines on facing pages, and leaving enough lines on the last page of each chapter.
We’ve also answered other typesetting questions on our website. A list of all the pages, posts, and videos on our website about typesetting is included here in our Typesetting tag.
And to get you started with all the proper book typesetting preferences already in place, we’ve now created a template for you! It includes all the settings we discuss above and will save you lots of time.
We hope you come to enjoy typesetting as much as we do!
Read more: Using InDesign keyboard shortcuts » A good way to speed up your book typesetting.
And more: Optical margin alignment » Add a slightly fancier look to your book pages.
And still more: Typesetting math in InDesign » Learn how to build equations.
Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.