Turn the Page

Add comment November 25th, 2015 04:42am admin

For some time now—and way too long—I’ve neglected the hell out of this blog o’ mine. In fact, I’ve written and posted just seven pieces here in 2015. That does not mean that I’ve lost interest in making books, book design, typefaces, freelancing, and in writing about all those things.

It would be nice to say that I’ve been busy as all get-out this year, designing and laying out books the whole time. Truth is, however, I’ve only worked on five books so far this year. And two of them were children’s books—books I’m proud of, but short, as children’s books usually are.

But now things take a decided turn.

Those of you who have stuck with me over the years know that I have freelanced as a book designer/layout artist for about twenty-four years, as I like to say … “with a net.” That is, I’ve also held a full-time day job that is totally unrelated to book design and publishing the whole time—in fact, going back over thirty-two years.

Well, in a few hours, at 9:00 AM I begin my last day at that day job. At 5:00 PM I retire from it and throw myself fully and only into the life of a freelance book designer and layout artist. I plan to take on as much book design and layout work as I can. Making books is the work I love to do. I mean to do such work every moment that I can. So I am open to hearing from everyone and anyone about the possibility of such work: traditional publishers, self-publishers, university and independent presses, and everything in-between.

I am finishing work on the second of the two children’s books I mentioned above, Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff. After that I will launch some kind of promotion, perhaps a postcard or maybe an email to every publisher in this year’s Writer’s Market. I also want to complete the two books I’ve begun writing—the first to show self-publishers how to make design choices and apply them to book pages made with the open-source (free!!!) program Scribus; and the second, a retrospective on the books I’ve worked on to date.

Additionally, I will be more attentive to this blog, writing frequently for it. Additionally, I hope, turning it into a platform for “book people” to bring their book design issues to for discussion.

Otherwise all I really want to do is play golf every day. And maybe find a team in an over-50 hardball league to pitch for.

Some Potential Clients …

Add comment October 3rd, 2015 10:26pm admin

And there can be some off-putting experiences in dealing with prospective clients. Gentleman phoned me after I’d evidently replied to his post seeking a book designer/layout artist. He said he had six books written and he needed PDFs for CreateSpace to print.

I began by asking him whether the files were currently in MS Word. He replied in the affirmative and added that CreateSpace had told him they wanted the work done in Word. I asked how come and mentioned that I’d worked on a number of books printed by CreateSpace that had been designed and laid out in InDesign or Quark before exporting to printer-ready PDFs.

So then I asked why CreateSpace wanted the work done in Word, since they’d be getting the PDFs to print from. He didn’t understand and asked why I couldn’t talk to CreateSpace myself. I answered I’d be glad to talk to them once we had an agreement signed and in place. Parenthetically, it occurred to me that they may just have told that one can save a Word file to PDF.

He apparently didn’t see how it was fair of me to want to make sure we had a deal before I put any time into the project, because he told me he had other people to contact.

I wished him well.

Where I Am, Where I Am Heading—One of the Things Freelancers Need to Think About

Add comment August 25th, 2015 08:21pm admin

I have always freelanced with a net—that is, I have run, and continue to run, my book design practice the past 24 years in addition to a full-time day-job in civil service. In fact, I have held the day-job for noticeably longer than 24 years. So I’m now preparing to retire from the day-job, as well as begin collecting social security. But I don’t plan to stop working for myself as a book designer/layout artist.

My issue now is the limits placed on earnings while collecting social security. (This year it’s something like $15,400 or $15,600–I forget exactly which.) I love making books and, as I said, and I do not plan to stop. So I have three options: 1) Continue present rates, earn as much as I earn and if there are penalties, well, that’s the way it goes–pay them; 2) Continue present rates and stop just shy of the amount that would result in penalties; or 3) Lower rates some (at least until age 66, when there will no longer be an earnings limit), perhaps get more work and increase my clientele, think about increasing rates after age 66.

While I have always been against bargain basement rates., I find myself beginning to lean toward option 3, because of the growth possibilities. In these 24 years I have been lucky to work on a wide variety of books, some challenging and some that I felt very strongly about doing my part to help them find their audience. But I continue to look for important books to make—books that may matter to a lot of people, books that matter to me—and I wonder if now is the time to try to increase my volume of work in hopes of finding (or being found by) some “big” books?

Doing Business

Add comment June 10th, 2015 09:37pm admin

Another day, another inquiry to field regarding a book design and layout project, this one a medium-to-longish work of fiction, a novel. We’ve done our initial contact and back-and-forth, questions and answers that I use to assess the scope of the project. This may sound like a no-brainer, something that all parties must be clear on before the design of a book begins, before I even send type sample to the client.

Not always so.

Today I discussed with a client starting anew on a book interior, after she gets the “new final” text back from her editor, with some reorganization of the material. As much as this may sound like a nightmare—and this large a do-over is happening for only the second time in my twenty-four years designing and laying out books; the first time was a long novel, over 1,000 pages and this time it’s a short work of non-fiction—dealing with considerate clients and having an agreement in writing that addresses such a contingency at least in abstract terms can help keep this project a positive experience. So even though the scope of this project has changed in broad strokes, it is on track and the client knows the original price will go up some. By the same token, I will not use this as an opportunity to greatly increase the price just because I can.

And as to the possible new book that I began with above, I gave my estimated price. Should that person agree, the next step would be for me to prepare a formal agreement for signatures and the down payment.

I must admit that as the hours tick on and I don’t receive that assenting email, I get fidgety. Yet our initial exchange began yesterday afternoon and quieted overnight. Perhaps there’s a big time difference. I don’t yet know where this new person is located. I have asked, noting that I need to putting any agreement.

And that’s a big part of freelancing. One thing that never changes in over twenty-four years: I just need to relax when negotiating.

Jules Feiffer at the Parrish Art Museum

Add comment April 18th, 2015 03:38pm admin

We just got back from the Parrish Art Museum a while ago. We went to hear Jules Feiffer speak about his new graphic novel, Kill My Mother and to have him sign the two copies we bought.

First off, the man’s in his eighties and, baby, can he still draw! Pen-and-ink outlines filled in with watercolor, he old my wife when she asked about his method. I found it interesting that he hand-lettered on another layer, maybe vellum—this was no computer-generated book—and, if I understood correctly, the lettering was turned into a font. That’s after each page of art was digitized (I presume by scanning). Even so, he said something to the effect that, at his age, he used none of today’s technology.

My takeaway was that I really do let myself skate just a bit when I number myself, as a book designer, among artists. I mean, I don’t draw or paint, and I definitely feel lacking those skills makes me less than. On the other hand, and I guess it was foolish of me to try to convey it to Mr. Feiffer in ten words or less as he signed—especially after I heard him say he had no use for the high-tech tools available—that if it wasn’t for computers (my Macintoshes, Postscript, and various software packages over the years), I would not be a book designer.

What Goes Around, Come Around … Maybe

Add comment March 19th, 2015 12:23pm admin

Curious thing. Or maybe just what goes around, come around. I mentioned that I was considering–I admit it had actually progressed a little farther than just considering; I was very strongly leaning in favor and giving that impression–a pro bono project. Then something in the way the contact person spoke about having spent previously on the e-version rubbed me wrong. Like they’d pay for some stuff but not for others. Then I switched gears on a dime and tried suggesting an alternate pay method, a royalty on each copy sold. And that was not acceptable. So I wished them well.

What made it easy to walk away from a book I’d really like to have been associated with–just not for free–was that someone contacted me yesterday afternoon, saying she’d been eying me (that is, my work) for some time. As the book sounded interesting, I was pretty happy it had shown up. We still had to come to an agreement and arrive at a price, but I figured that would come—this time I would show more than just a little flexibility if necessary—after I got a look at some of the material.

One of the problems with the first book that the author-publisher wanted done for free or a barter was that there were tons of photos in a non-print format that would have to be opened and changed, in addition to any necessary editing. So the new one would create a username and password for me on the cloud storage service she used and I would be able to have a look at everything in order to put together my proposal including price and milestones. Last night I emailed a reminder that I was waiting for the username and password.

This morning I received an email that things had changed. Her usual “formatter” was now available and would not cost anything, so, of course, she would use him in the first instance.

Now, sure, I was bummed. But this kind of thing happens, I told myself. In fact, I had just kind of done that same thing: pulling up stakes after seeming to be on board with a project. Then I noticed that, although the second potential had an address in one western state, her cellphone area code was not so far from the one I had turned tail on.

A coincidence, I am sure. But maybe it’s the universe sending me a message.

Still All About the Next Project

Add comment March 9th, 2015 11:16pm admin

I was productive today. I think I’ve about gotten approval on the sample pages for the new book to go final and to template. Still need to wait a few days for the finalized textfiles, and two or three weeks for the art. But it’s good to hear the client say it’s about there on my end.

On the other hand, I heard from two potentials and neither was encouraging. The second, a longshot, as it was a self-publisher looking for a copy editor and I decided to query for the design and layout, simply said, “No. Thanks.” The first was a little more interesting. They asked for a two-page sample using some of the actual material.

I’m always leery about doing anything for free, giving anything away that might be used even though I didn’t get the job. And, frankly, my bullshit detector went off. I don’t believe they were looking for auditions, so much as ideas for making the book. I was more diplomatic than to say that, however.

I essentially told them time was money and mine was too valuable to work for free after over 23 years at this game and nearly 100 books to show for it. I also said time was particularly at a premium, as I was working on a book as we exchanged our emails. I again directed them to the work samples I’d attached to my inquiry and gave them the link to my website one more time, where, I said, they could find samples of actual work I’ve done.

I concluded by saying I still wanted to work their project. It happens that it sounds like more than a single book, but rather a series of them on climate change and water issues. This is important stuff that I would like to be a part of. I also told them that.

I haven’t heard back. But it’s only been a few hours.

In that time I’ve begun to question my behavior. True, I no longer suffer gut-wrenching angst with every rejection. There was a time when each time I failed to get a job I worried that I’d never work again. This time I simply questioned whether I had made the right choice in declining to audition. I mean, if nothing else, it would have been fun. I do, after all, like to create the look of a book and make pages. Then, too, editors–copy editors and substantive editors–do sample edits, no?

I answered myself with the certainty that editing 10 pages of a

manuscript that then get taken for free without a job forthcoming is not something that can be used to make the complete book. A design, however—even just two pages—can contain enough to push a thief into discovery of a book’s whole look.

And that’s where it stands.

2014’s Takeaway … Punctuated Already in 2015

Add comment January 7th, 2015 09:35pm admin

I went on some in my last blog piece of 2014 about a mishap of an attempted negotiation on a big book design-and-layout project. It stuck in my craw, I must say, and I’ve been stewing on it since it happened.

Then I began retracing my steps and tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. What I realized was that the old saw about effort that you give away for free will wind up defining your value to some potential clients. And there’s more if you already know that it’s a mistake to give your time and work away—even preliminary work that’s more thought than labor.

When dealing with that potential client I wrote about I knew when I reached the point where I was allowing myself to be taken advantage of. It caused me to pull up short, shut down, and stop giving my full effort. After all, why give my best effort for nothing.

All that accomplished, however, was to make the potential client wary. He disliked my half-hearted effort. The smarter move would have been to tell him at the start that I would only begin to percolate ideas when we had a contract in place, my first instinct and the one that I ignored.

* * *

So today, January 7, someone who’d posted on some board or forum or something, looking for a book designer, telephoned. I had answered her posting and she was getting back to me. She sounded like a nice enough older woman. But it began to get weird when she told me she was the most intelligent person I would ever meet. She was looking for a book designer, but had “done 90% of the design.” And despite my 23 years of experience I would learn plenty from her.


But when she couldn’t quite deliver a direct answer to my questions about exactly what she wanted me to do, how she would deliver the text, whether there were illustrations, and what she was doing about a cover, I found myself wondering whether I could ever ask for a price that would make the job worthwhile.

When I wished her well going forward and said goodbye, I knew that this time I would have no misgivings about walking away from a possible project.

Sometimes We Lose Out on a Job … Dodging a Bullet

2 comments December 20th, 2014 12:40pm admin

See, it is sometimes hard to tell where an opportunity will lead. Sometimes, you can almost taste the deliciousness of a very interesting-sounding book design-and-layout project; and you start to imagine all the things the very large fee will help you accomplish.

It feels like hell, however, when it gets through to you that the job just is not destined to happen.

So much so, that, still enormously dejected, I need to avoid writing in the first person. I just don’t want to see again that I missed out on a really spectacular project. Hence the unusual—for me—second-person voice.

Well over a year ago I was contacted by a person somewhere out in America who worked for what sounds like a research company that’s located, more or less, in my backyard. We discussed this multivolume work—this person called it an “encyclopedia”—at length, and I was told it would be great if I reached an agreement with the company’s principal, who would be making the decision. And, incidentally—even though I provided a price that was relayed to the principal and found to be acceptable–the project was nowhere near ready to go to a book designer, as portions were still being written.

Freelancing carries with it a whole lot of unpredictability as far as the scheduling of paying projects. Your first job as a freelance book designer, you realize pretty quickly, is to locate potential clients to begin talking to about the possibility of work. When you speak with a company the issue is whether they will consider outsourcing the work. When you speak to an individual—generally, a self-publishing writer—you first need to impress upon them the idea that they want to publish a book that does not instantly shout, “I’m self published!”

Then there is a kind of hybrid, a company that is not based primarily on making books, where the management is essentially a single person with a magnum opus based on their company’s work. That was the case with this encyclopedia project that came to nothing.

Two or three months ago, easily at least a year after we first spoke, I contacted that person back out in America to follow up and see whether the encyclopedia ever hatched–not yet. And we began a new dialogue, complete with more talk about the price. I actually forgot that I had already mentioned a number and came up with another, a much larger number. I was quickly reminded that the principal had the earlier number in mind.

As things really seemed to progress—and this was be being too eager, too enthusiastic, and too confident that there was a job for me to get—I started to think about how I might put together this multivolume set. I requested samples of the text and illustrations, so I could begin to play with type samples and page orientations. I wound up producing two samples, one based on the MS Word doc of the text that the principal had set up in a way that he found attractive, and a second based on my interpretation of a traditional two-column reference book.

After years of telling prospective clients that I do not audition and that they should look at samples of my previous work, I auditioned. When I was told that the principal needed to see more out of me, that the samples didn’t seem particularly “creative,” I was visited by my first burnt feeling. I explained that I had only been given a “chapter” of text and a single, chapter-opening illustration. I would need to see a more representative sample of the material. I reasoned that an encyclopedia was bound to have repetitive elements that might lend themselves to introductory graphic icons that would help “get the creativity out.”

I also said that I would not do any more work without a signed agreement and my customary one-third, up-front payment. The project still was not ready to proceed or to formalize with an agreement, replied my contact person. At that point I wished them well and stopped the madness of putting in time on a project that was not yet mine.

But thoughts of this encyclopedia never really left me and I decided to shoot one email to the principal. We had never communicated directly and, while I had no reason to believe that the contact person out in America was not on the up-and-up, I figured going to the source might just clear the logjam and get me the commitment I wanted.

Funny thing was that although I had the name, address, and phone number of the company in my backyard, I did not have an email address. So I searched online.

I found their website, of course. Typical of such, it boasted all kinds of positives about the company and what they do, as well as of the principal individually. I also found an article that laid out a whole list of negatives, grievance, and accusations against the principal. And a claimed alias of the principal. The article, which–to be fair–I must admit was unattributed, as far as I could see, detailed a plethora of incidents, charges (some criminal), misrepresentations, and false credentials.

So perhaps working with these people would have proven to be another circle of hell.

Sometimes when you missed out on a job it’s just providence helping you to dodge a bullet.

Social Media and All That

Add comment August 17th, 2014 10:54am admin

I have been absent for awhile: working, working at getting work, and like that. Additionally, few things move me these days to start writing.

But, sure enough, along comes an annoyance and I get rolling. Just like that. [snaps fingers]

The last couple of days repeated emails have come from a fellow trying to sell me on his company’s services for self-publishers. He promises that they will make me just the most fabulous book and my dreams will come true.

Okay, fair enough, the last is just a conclusion in my own words. But if this guy read any of the things I wrote, whether pieces on this blog, posts on my professional page on Facebook, or comments I make on Twitter and in various LinkedIn groups, he would know that although I occasionally mention writing and writing a book about book design, my professional focus is design and laying out books.

This guy takes no time to establish any kind of connection with me, but merely launches into his, “Buy Me!” spiel. Epic fail! He and his company are, and are destined to remain, like, ninth-rate in his chosen arena.

There are many really good people, seasoned professionals, folks who maintain a reality-based approach and understand that social media are best at selling something when you first build a bridge between yourself and your intended customer (if all goes according to plan). This fellow simply has not learned how to be one of those folks yet.

I have written on this blog and on various social media about my take on how to write a good book and publish it successfully. Now Rachel Thompson at Bareredhead Media takes a stab at it here.

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