July 1st, 2016 01:32pm
Yesterday I had an email exchange with someone new about a possible children’s book project. She sent me an email initially just asking about my availability and for a price. I sent back my standard, “I’ll make myself available if we can strike a deal.” And I asked my standard handful of questions about the nature of the project and the files she’d make available to me. She asked for a price again, answered most of my questions, said she had attached three illustrations to the latest email, and asked me questions about the usability of the three illustrations. I told her that only three illustrations had been sent.
This exchange took place while I was doing corrections and edits (hopefully, final) on two books.
I finished up the email confab by asking whether she had seen my price. Since then, not a word.
* * *
This morning I woke around nine to find two emails that had been sent about an hour-and-a-half earlier. They were from a woman I did not know, at a company or other entity with which I’d been in contact a week or two earlier. The first email asked if I could speak with her tomorrow, Saturday. I wondered if she realized it would be Saturday. And a holiday weekend, to boot. She must have, as the second was sent immediately after the first and asked whether I was available to speak today.
That was easy: of course, I would speak today. Immediately, if not sooner. Actually, I said that noon would be fine.
By now it should not surprise that I have not received an answer of any kind.
* * *
What is it about the eager ones? The get your attention; and then they shut down. What a way to go into the long weekend!
May 30th, 2016 12:55pm
One of the continuing expenses for any business using a computer is upgrading software. Now the purveyors of all that software would have us install an upgrade every time they come out with one. But it’s not that simple. Business owners can’t always indulge the tendency, should they have it (and I do) to be technology junkies who always want new and shiny. This may be particularly true for graphic designers and artists, including book designers.
In my case, the inclination is strong toward wanting a new machine—iMac, iPad, iPod Touch—every time they come out with one. The exceptions are iPhone—I don’t own one, as I don’t use a cell phone often enough to care about the familiarity, convenience, and ease of use that having another Apple device would bring me. The Apple computers and idevices I already have fill all my e-needs, from working to monitoring my runs to providing for my television viewing. And the biggie: I will never get rid of my 17-inch MacBook Pro. Apple’s discontinuing the 17-inch size in its laptops definitely puts a damper on my Apple fanboy inclinations. I need the size to display to facing pages at a time of the books I work design and lay out.
Then there are the software upgrades. Having worked for over 25 years as a book designer, my preferences have run the gamut. I started with PageMaker, at the time only capable of single-page documents, and quickly moved over to QuarkXPress when I became aware of it, because multipage docs, books, were possible. I also liked the precise way Quark handled type. Instead of sticking religiously to the pasteboard metaphor, Quark allowed for items to be positioned on a doc by typing in exact numerical coordinates. To me, this was deal-maker.
I avoided InDesign, the supposed Quark-killer, for some years, despite Quark the company becoming less nice and less responsive to its customers than Adobe, because I didn’t care for InDesign’s type handling compared to QuarkXPress when I tried out demo versions a couple of times.
And a funny thing happened, just when I found a version of InDesign that finally seemed to do a better job of handling type, I ran into possibly the nicest person ever to work at Quark. I was working on my first children’s book, Mishka: An Adoption Tale. It’s so long ago, I forget exactly what the problem was that the printer—in China—was having with the illustrations I had placed in the layout—it became my problem, not the illustrator’s—so I wound up contacting Customer Service at Quark and got walked through fixing the problem.
Afterward, the woman at Quark who had helped me off the ledge was very modest about how she saved her day, no matter how profusely I thanked her. In fact, she told me to watch my mail for a little gift “for [my] trouble.” Imagine that, she helped me and was sending me a gift! Well, when it came, it was a CD full of “Extras” for Quark. The only problem was that I was working with version 6.something and these Extras required version 7.
At that point I wasn’t exactly getting enough book design work to spend the hundreds of dollars on software upgrades as often as I would have liked. So I emailed my new friend at Quark, thanked her, and asked if she wanted me to return the CD. She said, “No. Watch your mail again.”
Days later I received a full copy of Quark 7.02. For free. When I thanked her, she said—and this quote is exact; I still remember it—“This is one of the nice things I get to do now and again at my job.” And she went on to say she was leaving Quark for a new job with a new company, so this was a great way for her to close out her time there.
Soon after that, as I said, I started to use InDesign and gradually shifted over to it exclusively. That free Quark 7.02 upgrade was the last time I upgraded Quark until just last year. After Adobe went to its monthly fee, subscription method of selling its software, I was done with Adobe. Like my 17-inch MacBook Pro, I plan to ride my version of InDesign (and the rest of Adobe’s Creative Studio 5.5 suite for as long as it worked on whatever computers I am using). I so dislike being told I must rent their software eternally, instead of purchasing it outright whenever I feel ready for a new version.
That brings me to the last, perhaps most important, of upgrades: Macintosh operating systems. Now, normally, I want to upgrade the OS every chance I get. With incremental, “security” updates I always do so immediately. With big, “name change” OS updates—i.e., from Lion, to Mountain Lion, to Yosemite, and now to El Capitan—I wait a couple of months and read what feedback and reviews that I can on the new OS and then upgrade the MacBook Pro, nominally my “backup machine.”
I did just that a few months ago. I had to install a version of the Java Runtime Environment—not the latest version—for InDesign to work; but I did and it does.
So, for some reason, just before I went to bed last night, around midnight, I decided it was time to upgrade the iMac to El Capitan. I find it easier to do this late like this, so that I’m not in bed and watching and waiting for the pot to boil. Plus I very rarely sleep through the night, so I can check that it’s downloaded, tell it to install, and have it tip-top by morning.
All that went well. I simply forgot about the Java installation. It’s easy enough. Just have to find the correct version. Well, long story short, perhaps I should have waited on this part, as I was sleepy. I wound up installing the latest version of Java. Which left me fuming in the middle of the night. I found something that showed me how to uninstall the latest Java, using the Terminal app.
The Terminal is generally techier than I like to get. I’m not sure why. The few times I’ve needed it, things have gone well. It may be all the warnings I’ve read about the inadvisability of “playing” with Terminal. Well, so I copy and pasted the two lines of code into the Terminal window. Then I went back to bed.
This morning, after a quick Google for the version of Java that I need, I downloaded, installed, and now I’m back in business.
Maybe the middle of the night isn’t the best time.
May 2nd, 2016 09:40am
My apologies to the motion picture makers who first used the title above, but it was the first phrase I thought of when I was informed that Pascha Press, the indy publisher of When My Baba Died and its associated workbook, for whom I served as Creative Director, was suspending operations.
Publishing remains a rough business. When there was only traditional publishing, big companies that essentially decided what books were available for readers around the world—this after globalization and consolidation of many, many publishing companies worldwide left just six then five mega-publishers—would make or break new writers and recycle the same batch of proven bestselling authors and their periodic latest works. Then—the way I see it from my perch as a freelance book designer thanks to the personal computer revolution—desktop publishing came along and led to the legitimizing of “vanity publishing,” which gave way to the self-publishing revolution.
It was said once that, “The power of the press belongs to he who owns the press.” [My apologies for the sexist pronoun, but that’s the quote.] Turns out the real power may have been in the ability to accomplish pre-press and production on a desk in one’s bedroom or on a laptop at the library. And once the ability to publish e-versions became available at—in some cases—virtually no cost to authors, the dogs were let out. Once and for all.
Books that once would have found their way blocked by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing—to be sure, some deservedly so—got their chances to find audiences both in print and on e-devices. To be sure, the absence of gatekeepers makes it all the more important that authors make their best efforts to choose their subjects with some care, write well, get their manuscripts professional editing and design, and develop and execute a targeted marketing plan.
When I began my career as a freelance book designer some 25 years ago “with a net”—that is, “on the side” from my unrelated 9-to-5 job—I worked for a few traditional publishers and some smaller publishing companies that specialized in Catholic literature and science, math, and other professional journals. The past six or seven years, however, self-publishers alone have filled my production calendar. And more and more of those self-publishers have formed their own publishing companies.
I realize that individuals forming their own publishing companies did not result from anything I said, but I have been telling clients and potential clients for some time now that choosing to self-publish is a decision to go into business as a publisher, even if just one time for their one book. Additionally, there is something of an imprimatur given by having the name of an actual business entity, a company or corporation, on the cover and title page of a book.
But as the publishing business democratized, the competition for eyeballs—and, more importantly, for people willing to lay out their hard-earned money for the privilege of possessing and reading print books and their various e-versions—has spiraled ever-upward. That makes the marketing and promotion of book sales most important.
And it doesn’t always go well for these independent and self-publishers, which saddens me, as I don’t just earn a living from book design. I also just plain love books. Especially print books.
So I am saddened by the decision for Pascha Press—the publisher of the very original and vital children’s book, When My Baba Died (and its accompanying workbook)—to shutter its operation.
I would still implore anyone who has or knows anyone with young children who have faced or are facing the prospects of a loved one’s passing to contact Pascha Press directly or Amazon and purchase a copy of, When My Baba Died and the workbook.
April 14th, 2016 02:01pm
And then there’s the downside to freelancing as a book designer so far away from my clients.
Drives me crazy.
Every book has judgment calls on my part, where I make a decision in the first pass on how I want something to look. Then when I get it back for corrections, I find my vision’s either been confirmed or else the client’s called for a change.
Sometimes, however, it’s simpler. Like a book’s textfiles show the placement art or graphics (photos, drawings, etc.). Now the way a lot of authors do it is to just place the graphics in the Word file–MS Word is how I get text 99.99% of the time. This is the wrong way to do it. The art never places correctly at fine resolution that way.
The better way is to just note the placement of the graphic, whether it’s a photo or something else, and then send any and all artfiles, at correct resolution—600 dpi for line art and 300 dpi for photos or grayscales; for extra credit they should be in .tif format–either individually in email, or by uploading a compressed folder of them to a cloud storage sight like Dropbox, or to an FTP site.
This is not to say folks who send things this way are awful people. But best practice–a better, more efficient workflow–that results in the best looking pictures goes the way I described above.
And it keeps me from banging my head against the wall. (Kidding. I’m kidding.)
April 7th, 2016 03:23pm
Sounds funny to say, I suppose, but now after giving up the safety net—i.e., a secure, full-time day-job—that enabled me to freelance as a book designer/layout artist for more than twenty-five years without any worries caused by the uncertainties of steady work and paydays that go along with freelancing, I have had more than one epiphany about the whole “game”.
The first one is not entirely new. However in the spirit of giving something to people new to freelancing I repeat it now: If you don’t have enough work to support yourself, and the projects you get don’t pay you enough money for a proper living, try raising your prices. I was given this advice early on in my freelance career. It seemed counterintuitive. I mean, I could not find enough clients to pay me x, and now I should try to get hold of additional clients to pay me more than x?
But that was the conversation I walked into on an online forum for freelancers, so long ago I know longer remember the forum’s name, though I do remember the first name of the woman who ran it: Betty. Over an extended period of time—weeks, I think I remember—a couple of seasoned professionals kept at it, making the case that it was true that no paying client would take a freelancer, especially a new one, seriously if they didn’t take themselves seriously. And the first way to demonstrate that you take yourself, your skills, seriously, is by presenting yourself as someone who commands good rates, professional rates.
That worked for me. It was the start of my being held in some kind of professional regard. And looking back, I see it differently now, to wit: How can you expect others to value your work highly if you don’t. Nevertheless, over the years I have found it necessary to remind myself, again, of this truth.
My next revelation is the more surprising, however.
When I left my day-job, forgoing the safety net it provided, I was determined to freelance full-time. I do not believe I am old enough to just pack things in and retire from all the kinds of work I’ve done for most of my life. I intended to hit the ground running, spending a good part of my day on self-promotional activities. I was positively committed to this plan and the ultimate result: more freelance book design and layout work than I had ever had before.
But a curious thing happened. Reminiscent of the kind of creative visualization the circle I was in spoke of some thirty or forty years ago, a boatload of work simply showed up before I could do anything additional in the way of promotion or marketing my services. At the risk of sounding airy-fairy, I don’t need to be able to explain how or why in order to buy into the notion that my being 100% on-board somehow attracted all the new work.
I recommend highly committing wholeheartedly to your work.
March 24th, 2016 01:29pm
I find it amazing that in the middle of the busiest stretch that I have ever had in 25 years as a book designer, I still have time to fret that I’m not busier still.
Let me backtrack.
As I have explained before on this blog, I came to freelancing as a book designer/layout artist a bit over 25 years ago. At the time I was already into a 9-to-5 civil service job for over seven years. I would keep the 9-to-5 for almost 25 years more, retiring from it just this past November. I freelanced all those years, I liked to say, “with a net”—that is, with the safety of the full-time day-job.
And I was lucky to have it, because even when the freelance work was plentiful, the paydays were sporadic. There would be the up-front deposit, but then the remainder only upon completion. And that was only with self-publishers. With publishing companies, there was no up-front payment or “deposit” and payment was invariably 30 to 60 days—if I was lucky—after a book was completed.
So the full-time job was needed for any peace of mind and sense of financial security.
But I always wondered how I would have made out if my only work was freelancing as a book designer. The one thing I’ve learned since my retirement from the day job just before this past Thanksgiving is that it is at least possible that I would have been just fine. For one thing, I am in the middle of my busiest and most productive period of my work life to date. I attribute that to the ability to spend more time scouting out potential clients and projects. And finding them, to be able to spend all the time necessary pitching my services and discussing possible book projects with these potential clients.
Right now I have three books in various stages of progress: a children’s storybook, the first in a series of four, awaiting some last-minute copy for blurbs, as well as author’s and illustrator’s bios, and illustrations for the front and back covers; holding until I get feedback from my client on the first pass of pages of a book on child autism; sitting tight until a third client sends me the remaining text on a book expanded on from a transgender reimagining of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
In other words, I am not actually working at this very moment. As always, it drives me crazy. All the more because I have grown used to being busy almost constantly since leaving the day-job.
That part never changed. Nor does the fact that easily half of freelancing is searching for the next paying project.
January 16th, 2016 01:05pm
When my grandchildren were young, I used to wish for children’s books to work on, so that I could show them Poppy’s work. But except for one children’s book in 2007, Mishka: An Adoption Tale, my work was exclusively textbooks about different kinds of engineering, and science journals, both loaded with mathematics, equations, and tabular material.
Until last year, 2015. First I got to work on a neat little storybook about a child’s first brush with death. I know, sounds grim—how could I call this book “a neat little storybook”?
Well, When My Baba Died, the story of a child living through the death of a grandmother, placed the experience under a comforting light. Written from an albeit religious perspective by author Marjorie Kunch, described in her author’s bio as “a mother, mortician, and Orthodox Christian,” death comes across as a natural step that closes out a person’s earthly existence, but leads to something peaceful and not at all scary.
Now, whether or not the religious angle is your cup of tea, the story is told in a very comforting manner and the pictures are bright and cheery. This feel of this book was just what I had in mind years ago when I first looked to design and lay out children’s books.
While I was working on Baba I received another children’s book project which I have since finished. This one is titled Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff and is just as fun and quirky as it sounds, even as it drives home a notion of common sense about how the diets of pets ought to be treated with care. Although I’m showing the front cover below, this is one for which I did just the interior, although I did add the author’s and illustrator’s name to the front cover.
But as welcome as these books were, I must admit they each surprised me with issues and “special needs.” At least compared to all the non-children’s books I’ve done.
Or one thing, page size and type choices—including type size and leading—are a whole new and intense ballgame. As it’s safe to say that children’s books have much less text—and therefore, type—in them, as well as illustrations that take up space, the way text is placed and runs is particularly important for a pleasing look.
Just for instance …
But then there are issues that cropped up that I had never encountered before. With Mishka, I’m afraid I can’t remember the exact issue, but it had to do with typefaces and an overseas printer. I do not generally give the client my native files, but rather send them only printer-ready PDFs. But the printer in Asia kept telling my client that the typefaces were causing problems and they needed me to send all of them.
I called Quark (the company), because I was using QuarkXPress, and I thought perhaps there was an issue with how the PDF was distilling from their software. I was lucky enough to make contact with someone from Quark’s Customer Support Department who really cared. She walked me through some stuff and took a look at files I sent her. She thanked me for being a loyal Quark customer—I’d mentioned that I’d been using Xpress since version 3.0. She told me to expect “a surprise” in the mail “for [my] trouble].”
Weeks later I received a CD of “graphic extras” to use with Quark. But I found that it would not work with my version of QuarkXPress, 6.something, and I offered to return it. My personal Customer Service rep—for that was how I had come to think of her, as she had taken such an interest, fixed my issue, and then sent me a gift—told me not to bother returning the disk. A week or so later, I got yet another little package from her, the update to version 7 for free. And when I thanked her, she told me that this was one of the perks of her job: she got to do special nice things like this every now and then.
In its turn, When My Baba Died brought a different unexpected problem. For the first time, after working on dozens of books loaded with photographs and full-color illustrations, I ran into an ink coverage issue. That is, a printer returned the dust jacket PDF because the ink coverage on the page was over their 240% limit. That is, each of the four ink colors—Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, black—are part of the formula that make up printed colors, expressed in percentages. For the printer used for When My Baba Died, the total of those four percentages cannot add up to more than 240.
Cutting to the chase … I did some online searching and found an article that explains all this and provides a link to a profile to drop into InDesign that handles the issue, “Force Color Images to CMYK with a 240% Ink Limit.”
But needless to say, this is another example of how just because children’s books are clearly shorter than most other kinds of books doesn’t mean there aren’t still thorny issues to contend with.
Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff has been a good project in and of itself. I have no misgivings or sense of what I might have done differently, and better, with this one. It was just one of those that seemed to try to draw me into the book shepherding end of things. I found myself wanting to line up all the different kinds of places an author might speak at to promote a children’s book.
That said, I’m awaiting finalization of a deal on yet another children’s book, one that could be the start of a four-book series. And while I’m always more hopeful of steadier projects and the fun and learning experience that only a bumpy ride can bring, the prospect of starting a book series and helping to establish its brand is exciting.
January 3rd, 2016 02:32am
The year just past, 2015, was an odd one for me as a freelance book designer. It started the way it usually does, slowly, but then got busy about halfway through. And stayed that way. It was no help, too, that once I decided to retire from my day-job as a court clerk I deferred all my thinking about promotion.
Of course, this blog suffered. But by this many years into the freelance game, 24 years, I often feel like I have nothing interesting to blog about. Then, too, I have not been the best about promoting the blog and getting the kind of rabid following that would make it easier to want to keep up with it.
Now that I am a freelance book designer 24/7 and with no other work, 9-to-5 or otherwise, my intention is to get as many book projects to work on as I can. That is not so different from how I felt all along. But deep down I always understood there were practical limitations on the time I could commit to freelance work.
Again, in retirement from my former employment, those limits disappear.
So the head of steam I picked up during the last half of 2015, fueled mostly by children’s books, is something I sought to maintain. Even while away for Christmas I monitored all the online spots I look to connect with potential clients. In fact, a handful of contacts bore fruit and I sent out to proposals yesterday, one to a client for whom I have worked on two books already and one to someone new. The latter was for the first in a series of children’s books.
I think these projects are safely mine. Just a question of final agreement on the price, the signing, and receiving checks.
December 3rd, 2015 11:31pm
You might think that after almost 24 years as a freelance book designer/layout artist the odds of a totally new (to me) hassle in sending PDFs to a printer were, well, nonexistent. Except that there’s always something new to learn.
A few weeks ago I finished the layout of a children’s book. The client had approved and so I uploaded the PDFs to her printer, Ingram Spark. It was a weekend, so I didn’t hear back from my client until the following Monday. She told me the PDFs had been rejected because the total ink coverage was too high and that she really didn’t understand what that was all about.
So I went to the Ingram Spark site and nosed around my client’s account, found the file and the error message. Sure enough, it said that the total ink coverage of the front cover and various pages exceeded 240%.
Okay, so what that means, briefly, is that the “formula” that makes up any color in the CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK) model must add up to less than 240. When the number exceeds 240, the site informed, it can cause cracking of the ink on the page because that ink is so heavy on the paper. Below is a screenshot that shows a spread from the book, along with InDesign’s Separations Preview, indicating the percentage of each of the four color inks (again, Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK) that make up a color on the printed page.
You may not make it out but the blue highlighted areas in the small box in the center show the percentages of each color of an area of the red dress of the figure poking out of the whole on the left-hand page of the spread. Below is that Separations Preview blown up a bit so you can clearly see the numbers.
The total, you’s notice on the top line, “CMYK,” is 242%. Rejected.
What to do?
I admit, the first thing I thought about was to monkey around with the color until I got the individual percentages to add up to a number below 240. But I quickly realized that wouldn’t fly because the art had been done by someone else and approved by my client as is. More to the point, however, that was just one speck of one image. What about the rest of the image? And all the other pages? So I took the easy way out and googled “total ink coverage.” I found a great piece by David Blatner, “Force Color Image to CMYK with a 240% Ink Limit”, on the InDesignSecrets site. In it was a link to a color profile for keeping the total ink coverage within 240%.
I was able to download Mr. Blatner’s “simple” profile, import it into InDesign, and select it for the children’s book I was working on.
As I said in my comment to Mr. Blatner, “ … saved my skin … .”
November 25th, 2015 04:42am
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.