Behind the Book: Typesetter Sorrel Packham

More in this series: Agent | Ghostwriter | Editor | Library Assistant  | Publicity Assistant | Typesetter | Cover Designer | Foreign Rights Manager | Blogger |Scout |Translators | Book charity | Copyeditor 

In the sixth instalment of my interview series, I’m so excited to be talking to Sorrel Packham, who typeset The Next Together. She once told me that because my book has so many different epistolary elements, it ended up containing the most fonts of any book Sorrel had typeset!

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that she did an absolutely excellent job, and turned the messy word document I wrote into a work of art, so I had to find out how she pulled it off.


What does your job involve?

Taking the final draft electronic manuscripts from authors and creating the file that is sent to the printers. There are a few stages in between, however. Firstly the size of the book has to have been decided, and with the cover designer, the style of the printed page will be decided upon. Any quirky bits in the text will be discussed and how I should approach them with regard to layout. Adobe_InDesign_iconThe programme I currently use to work in is called InDesign but equally you could also use a programme called Quark Express. Both programmes are called layout programmes and are used widely across the publishing and design industry.

Once the text has been ‘laid out’ and styled, it is sent to copy editors and proof-readers to check the content for sense and grammatical errors, and to the author and editor to make sure everyone is happy with the text and how it looks. Any corrections that need to be made are marked on a printed copy of the document and given back to me to make the corrections in the live file. Once all the corrections have been made and everyone is happy with the file, I send to print by ‘packaging’ the file with all its fonts and images into one bundle that can be archived for future use.

How did you get started in typesetting?

I did a degree in Book Arts at the London College of Printing (now Communication) and got interested in book lay out and text design then. I was lucky to get a job as an admin assistant at a local university and so when I saw a publishers assistant job come up at a neighbouring university it made me the best candidate for the role.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Setting up complex documents in a way that means the text and any styling won’t change when any corrections are made to the file – like when you style something in word and then change a bit earlier on, it knocks everything out. I style my documents so everything stays in place regardless of what happens to the text. I also enjoy styling the more unusual aspects of the text – from handwritten letters to setting images within the text in a way that shapes the words around the image, for example.TNTOG_23

How was the experience of typesetting The Next Together? (So many fonts!)

Hard work! But I enjoyed the challenge of it. Some of it was difficult to make the styling consistent but we did our best! I could tell just how much energy and enthusiasm you had when you wrote it and that’s rare to feel so I wanted to support that by doing the best that I could with the complexity of the styling.

And you did a really excellent job of it! 

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What are some of your favourite children’s books now and from your childhood?

For me, working in children’s publishing is a bit like working in a sweet shop – it sounds ideal but I’m a bit too immersed in it all to appreciate it all properly. Some of my more favourite books are the more quirky or grown up ones – Salem Brownstone, Rae Earl’s OMG series, and I love Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book.

370493My favourite books when I was a child were the Beatrix Potter collection, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and Masquerade by Kit Williams which is not really a children’s book but I found the images captivating.

What are you proudest of in your career?

2015-08-15+10.29.19I’m proud of the more involved and more technically difficult jobs that I think only I would find interesting, but I’m really happy to have collaborated with the students from First Story in publishing their anthologies. Its always so moving to see a bunch of kids read proudly from work they have written and I have helped publish. They work is so frequently incredible too.

Do you ever work on picture books? How is this different to YA novels?

Occasionally. The text is completely dependent on the visual images and tends to take second place in terms of layout – although obviously not always. The work I do on those books tends to be more or an art-working role where I clean up images or rebuild really old files that we need to reprint.

Has being involved in publishing changed how you read books for pleasure?

Yes – it makes it much harder! I have to push myself to read at home now because I stare at text all day long, it’s hard to want to continue to do that when I get home. But I do try and am always glad of the effort made.

  What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into publishing?

Unless you really want to live in London for a large part of your life, or another capital city like New York (although New York doesn’t sound that bad does it?!), pick a different career! For me, having most of the jobs available to me being in a city that is incredibly expensive – and is becoming increasingly prohibitively expensive to live in has made me re-evaluate what I want to do with my life to the extent that next year, I’m giving up publishing and will be retraining to be a Landscape Architect!


Sorrel Packham has typeset a variety of publications for Walker Books, such as Trouble by Non Pratt, Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman and More Than This by Patrick Ness. You can find out more at her website, where she offers freelance typesetting: typesetbysorrel.com.


In other news: Thirteen days to go until The Next Together is published! Today’s behind the scenes extra is sneakily short (but sweet!).

I’ve rewritten The Next Together……in the form of a haiku. Because I have fifteen days of behind the scenes extras to do here, guys, and they can’t all be entire chapter rewrites from the point of view of a different character. Enjoy!

“Kate, don’t do the thing.”
“I’m doing the thing. Suck it.”
“That’s what she said.”

You can find a rebloggable version of this post here

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16 thoughts on “Behind the Book: Typesetter Sorrel Packham

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