Sometimes Things Don’t Work

Add comment May 12th, 2019 07:05am admin

My email is on the fritz, so if anyone is interested in contacting me, do it via LinkedIn, FaceBook, or Twitter.

Thank you.

The Management


Add comment March 25th, 2019 11:31pm admin

I’ve said many times before—though maybe not on this blog, or even in relation to book design work and freelancing—that, despite how driven I am to achieve whatever I do under my own power, I do subscribe to the old sports saying

Better to be lucky than good.

At the same time, I believe we can manufacture our own good luck by working at it. And sometimes it’s a combination of the two.

Yesterday, my wife Nannette (who is a working artist herself) and I had lunch at one of our favorite places out here on the north fork of Long Island and then headed farther out to Greenport to check out a gallery or two, because Nannette is considering finding a gallery where she can show and sell her work.

The first place we stopped in was a workspace and gallery for a woman who was nice enough to discuss some of the ins and outs of how galleries operate. She really gave Nannette a lot of information and things to think about. She also directed her to a gallery a short drive away, where the director is strongly pro-art and pro-artist.

So off we went.

We found this second place easily and had a nice conversation with the owner-director.

Now, it happens that I am very fortunate to have a wife who is always promoting me, mentioning that I am a freelance book designer wherever we go—even when she is looking to promote her own work. She brought me up to the director of the second gallery, who turned to me and said that was interesting, as he was just thinking about putting together books of the works of artists he represented. And we will discuss that further soon.

That, boys and girls, is an example of Serendipity.

Is Book Design Dead?

Add comment October 7th, 2018 02:32pm admin

I mean, obviously, books continue to be designed and laid out for print. And even fixed-page layouts of books are produced for e-readers. But a curious thing has happened in the way we speak of book production. Rather than looking for book design, many people, and the ads they post, ask for book “formatters”.

As if all we need to make a book is to arrange the words.

I prefer to assume that we’ve reached this point because ebooks read on electronic device such as Kindle, Nook, iPad, and even smartphones are so ubiquitous many don’t think of print books anymore.

I’ve said many times before that I would have loved to have had all my textbooks on an e-reader when I was in college. But the plain fact is that, for me, an ebook will never carry the same sense that it is an object of art independent of the content of the book the way a print book does.

And, yes e-devices not having been around when I was a child, I grew up with the anticipation of cracking open a new book and sniffing that new book smell. So I’ll admit to a certain amount of nostalgia. However, my objections to reducing book design to mere formatting go beyond that.

There’s something about approaching a book project with an eye toward serving the reader, not just the client who hires me. I always aim to bring the author’s work to print in a way that is easy on the eyes, presents pages that somehow look appealing to readers, and yet are not distracting.

It’s a balance I try to strike with each book. It begins with looking over the material, words and pictures (if there are any pictures), and choosing typefaces that somehow marry with the material, that are appropriate for the reader, and that just plain look nice, do not annoy the reader, and do not irritate the reader’s eyes.

Initially, this means matching typefaces sometime from being from the same era and/or place as, say, a story is set in. But it also requires taking into account the reader—for instance, children or older readers may benefit from and often prefer typefaces with larger x-heights. Beyond that, I always think about the balance between providing enough white space on a page that invites readers in without seeming to “pad” a book’s page count. My preference for such generous white space stems, I think, from memories of slogging through books of densely typeset pages that were dark with all the ink coverage and seemed to tax the eyes.

So even though I wouldn’t trade in any of my e-devices, I lament the tendency not to think of book design and layout as a thing the same way it used to be. I’d even prefer hearing more about the designing of ebooks and not merely formatting them. I hope the train hasn’t left the station on this.

State of the Union

Add comment July 16th, 2018 07:16am admin

Corrections on one of the two books I currently have in production, the book on ethics for attorneys, arrived late last night. I saw them a little while ago this morning when I did my first check of email, while deciding whether to sleep late or get up and have a nap this afternoon.

That’s my lot, now that I’m semi-retired—that is, I’ve retired from my 9-to-five employment as a court clerk into book design as my sole non-leisure pursuit—my schedule can only be defined as flexible. I go to bed late, enjoying late-night shows like I never had before. I get up when I feel like it, sleeping as late as I like, but more often getting up normally or even early and taking a nap during the afternoon.

One thing that hasn’t changed a bit is how much I love making books. I think it may be one of those callings that bores deep into a person’s being, goes a long way toward defining who that person is, and for e, only grows in how much fun it provides.

I thought of this just a while ago, because I got up at my usual time to decide whether I’d sleep late, during which time I make my first check of email, and discovered I had received corrections for the book I mentioned above. It struck me that I felt genuinely happy to have this work to do, that the completion of the book is in sight, and later this week I’ll find out whether my proposal has won a really great book project, a guidebook involving my subcontracting map-making work.

With that we’re a little past the midpoint of the year and I need to begin looking at the half dozen or so possible books I’d discussed with people for the second half of the year. It will be interesting to see how many materialize and what newer ones reveal themselves.

Details, Details

Add comment June 17th, 2018 11:49am admin

Freelancing as a book designer is a wonderful thing. I imagine it’s the same for freelance editors, freelance illustrators, and … well, you get the idea. But that doesn’t mean we want to go full-tilt forever. In my case, working a secure, full-time day job for over 30 years to pay the bills, for the benefits, and for the pension, enabled me to work at developing my business, which, of course, is what freelancing is.

At some point, however, you want to ease up, slow down, work less, perhaps retire (or semi-retire), and still live a good life. If you’ve had a career all along, in addition to your freelancing, perhaps you were lucky enough to participate in a pension plan that will contribute to keeping you comfortable in your later years. But whether you have a pension or not, there’s Social Security.

Of course, Social Security is not a whole lot and needs to be part of a whole network of savings, investments, and, perhaps—if you still love the work—some continued freelancing. But if you began collecting Social Security before you reached what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls “full” or “normal” retirement age there’s some fine print.

Now, before I go any further, let me make clear that I’m not an accountant, an attorney, or someone who ever worked for the Social Security Administration. You need to do your own homework and ask the right questions of people well-versed in the details of all this. I’m just sharing the little I’ve learned about these issues.

To start with, there’s that matter of when you reach “full” retirement age. From the SS website there’s this:


Age To Receive Full Social Security Benefits
(Called “full retirement age” or “normal retirement age.”)
Year of Birth * Full Retirement Age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943 – 1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67
*If you were born on January 1st of any year you should refer to the previous year. (If you were born on the 1st of the month, we figure your benefit (and your full retirement age) as if your birthday was in the previous month.)


So if you continue to freelance, you haven’t reached that full retirement age and have elected to collect Social Security benefits, you need to make yourself aware of what the earnings limit is for each year until you do reach that “normal” retirement age. If you go over that amount, you will have to pay back to the SSA 41 for every $2 you exceed the limit through a reduction in your benefits.

Last year, 2017, the limit was $16,920 ($1,410 per month). This year the figure is $17,040.

The limit does rise in the year in which you reach your full retirement age. If you reach it in 2017, for instance, you’re allowed to earn up to $4,480 without penalty. And if you collect your Social Security benefits and reach full retirement age next year, 2019, your earnings limit rises to $45,360.

Interestingly, you don’t necessarily lose those penalized benefits permanently. That is, the SSA will apply those withheld (penalized) benefits as a delayed credit. And this will would permanently increase your Social Security benefit when you do reach full retirement age. The catch is, of course, the same as if you waited for your full retirement age to collect benefits from the jump: you need to live long enough to recover what you lost by either delaying collecting or because of penalties.

Oh, and then—as a Social Security agent I spoke with told me—once you’re in your first full year having reached that normal retirement age, there are no longer any earnings limits. “You can earn a million dollars without penalty, she said.”

Another Designer’s Musings Make Me Think

Add comment May 13th, 2018 02:54am admin

A no-doubt well-meaning fellow on LinkedIn, after designing over a thousand book covers “and earning about a quarter of a million bucks from [his] design business,” is done with working as a book cover designer, because he wants to turn to writing full-time. And he’s created a bunch of templates and “ready covers” for DIYers to do their own design and layout on, as well as tutorials on YouTube. I’ll grant you that the sentiment is likely from the heart and a nice one.

But whereas he probably worked hard and each and every template and cover, he created them without a hint of knowledge about the books they’ll be used for. And that’s not original. In fact, it reeks of one-size-fits all bookmill work.

Then again, who am I to question the guy’s skills, experience, or success. After all, he’s made “a quarter of a million bucks” on “over a thousand covers.

Well, wait a sec! $250,000 for 1,000 covers averages to $250 per cover. That’s really not professional money in a first-world economy. And that got me to thinking about my earnings over the years. So I took to looking at all my records. Now, I’ve been freelancing as a book designer/layout artist for over 27 years. Twenty-five of those years my book design practice was a moonlighting enterprise. That is, I held a full-time “day job” (totally unrelated to graphic design, publishing, or making books) for those 25 years. During that time I worked on about a hundred books and earned almost $325,000.

I feel pretty good about what I’ve accomplished, how I built a book design practice to work at full-time after retiring from that “day job.” I’m thankful to that fellow on LinkedIn, because he got me thinking about all this to start with.

Closing the Door on 2017

2 comments December 17th, 2017 09:17am admin

Another year almost over and once again it’s time to take a look at what I accomplished and just what kind of year it was. Even though I blog pretty infrequently these days, I always want to sum up the twelve months that are just about to end (even if it is a tad early yet).

For starters it was my second full year of freelancing without a net. Anyone who knows me or has read even a little of what I have to say about working freelance knows that I held a full-time job as a court clerk for over 32 years and that I worked my freelance book design practice the last 25 of those years; and now I continue to do book design and layout as my sole form of gainful work. And when I’m not playing golf.

So what kind of year has it been?

I feel as if it was a slow year. And then I look back and see that I worked on five books this year, and did some clean up work on two other books completed in 2015 for an indy publisher that had shut down and then rose up again briefly.

I also want to smile at how my perspective has changed over the years and that I now call that amount of work “slow”.

A good amount of time was spent on an 800+-page book of photos and text in the form of short essays, as well as a question-and-answer format. The hundreds of photos required a lot of Photoshop work, editing backgrounds and playing with colors. That part of the project was pretty intense and required me to stretch my comfort level with Photoshop, so I had a lot of fun with that book. Despite all that, it was a case of—for the first time in years—where I severely underestimated the value of the job and took kind of a beating on what I was paid, considering the scope and amount of work. But that’s on me for underestimating.

At the same time, I got involved in another of what I’ve come to call “pay-it-forward” projects, taking one design-and-layout job for a young author, a first-year high school girl, and having that blossom into another fledgling indy publisher for whom I’m serving as Creative Director. I just sent the second book for my young author off to the printer this past week.

And looking forward to 2018 I already see a year that looks busier still. I have a handful of proposals and promising initial contacts out, at least a couple of which I honestly expect to result in projects. I have two PDF-only (not PDF for print) projects, both continuing a book I worked on this past year, translations of reviews of the works of Beethoven. The first of those is scheduled to start in January.

To all my friends and clients—past, present, and to come: Happy Holidays (whichever you celebrate) and here’s to a healthy, creative, and happy New Year.

Money Changes Everything Redux

Add comment December 3rd, 2017 03:05pm admin

A while back I wrote about how I took on a “pay-it-forward” project, designing and laying out a book for a young high school student who had already authored a few books and published them on CreateSpace. That book was The 100 Most Important New Yorkers. While we were in the middle of that, Agatha Edwards’ dad informed me that our young author planned other “100 Most Important” books, the next being The 100 Most Important African Americans. So it seemed a no-brainer to me for them to set up a publishing company. That’s exactly what they did. I signed up as Creative Director and dove back into the design with an eye toward establishing a “100 Most Important” brand for this new indie publishing company, Brooklyn Bridge Books.

We put out a book we were all proud of and I created a look for the series that we could easily adapt for new books.

Now that we’re working on bringing The 100 Most Important African Americans to press, the feeling that we’re a real publisher is hard to deny. Agatha, of course, has her hands full with writing—well, and having a life, too; I mean, she’s a teenager and according to her “About the Author” bio, she has school sports (she’s both an indoor and outdoor competitive runner), debate team activities, as well as music and a composing to occupy her.

But her parents direct the business end of things and edit her, too. And I try to give them a little of the benefit of what I’ve picked up over the years.

For me the “paying it forward” is actually starting to pay off, even though that was not my motivation when we started. Additionally, it’s fun for me to see both the growth of my young author and to participate in the building of an imprint from the ground up. And it’s nice to be appreciated. From the Acknowledgments in The 100 Most Important African Americans:

Most importantly, this book has been produced by Steve Tiano. Steve is a freelance book designer who made this book amazingly intelligent, as he did with my previous book, The 100 Most Important New Yorkers. Steve grew up near where I live and often walked to his grandmother’s house a few blocks away. Steve took a liking to me because I live in his old neighborhood and poured himself into this project. This book is finer than I could possibly imagine because of him. Steve, you are the greatest and I continue to owe you!

Sometimes Business Takes a Backseat to Staying Sane

Add comment September 27th, 2017 05:55pm admin

I think I’ve mentioned in the past that I only turn over cross-platform, printer-ready PDFs to clients. It’s what I arrive at by job’s end that they pay for; and I spell that out in every contract I write. Perhaps because I worked that day job for over 32 years in New York’s Unified Court System, I use the attorney’s phrase “work product” to describe the InDesign and Quark files I create to get to those PDFs at job’s end.

But I just ran into a situation that made me rethink this position of mine.

I’ve been working on the book Veritas Pictura, a book of some 300+ photos illustrating a series of philosophical questions that are then answered by thinkers from many different walks of life. Or maybe it’s the other way around: it’s a book that delves into some of life’s questions using a kind of Socratic method, punctuated by those 300+ vivid photographs. Either way, the book is a very interesting bit of work.

I’ve been working on this one for a while, since Valentine’s Day, February 14, of this year, when I began editing photos. It proved an opportunity to hone some of my Photoshop skills—in particular, Selecting—and I sharpened my ability to edit out and drop in elements of photos.

Then there was a break of a couple of a few months while the author finished writing and the final editing was done. Aside from some back and forth fixes the printer needed, my end of things was completed.

Until today.

Today, much to my client’s consternation and not just mine, the printer said certain pieces of art used on the jacket, were low-resolution. So, of course, I started by checking what my client had sent me and found that they were the requisite 300 dpi. Next I looked at the art placed in my actual InDesign file for the jacket. Same thing: 300 dpi.

In a burst of flexibility, I packaged the InDesign doc for the jacket, the fonts used, and the images the 300 dpi images they say are “lo-res” and sent them to the printer. Perhaps they can find some issue I’m unaware of that’s causing the problem they see. That’s not something I plan to make a habit of doing, but in this case, when it’s simply not clear to me what they’re talking about I think that is the prudent step.

Money Changes Everything

2 comments June 1st, 2017 08:38am admin

I first started freelancing as a book designer over 26 years ago. It was slow going getting started. I’ve mentioned more than once on this blog about the lucky break that became my first steady work and that helped me start a track record. But it wasn’t until about three or four years later that someone online, an experienced freelancer, dropped the nugget of wisdom on me that raising what I charged for book design and layout would get me taken more seriously and help me expand my business.

And you know what? That worked.

Over 20 years after that, my situation’s changed. I’ve also mentioned here more than once that I started out freelancing “with a net”—that is, I had a full-time, 9-to-5 job all those years. So I was secure and could be patient growing my book design practice.

I’m semi-retired now and still secure. And there are tax consequences to consider that I didn’t have to concern myself with when I was a full-time employee. In addition to the pension I earned from the day job, I decided to not be presumptuous about life expectancy and hold out on collecting Social Security until I would be entitled to the maximum. But there is a maximum I can earn for the next few years, above which there is a payback I would have to make to Social Security.

On the one hand, I’m not averse to paying into Social Security if I make above the maximum. I just don’t want to get into a situation where my next year’s payments could be recalculated at a lower amount. Just as important to me is that for the first time, since I don’t want to reach that maximum in just three or four projects, I can take worthy book projects from self-publishers who are working on a shoestring and can’t afford my normal rates. I’ve figured that the optimum reduction is to 25–50% of what my typical full price would have been.

The first such project, one I haven’t completed yet, is a book written by a young woman, a junior high schooler. I’m working on her book, The 100 Most Important New Yorkers, for about 25% of my usual fee. I’m having a good time doing it. Plus I actually feel like I’m doing something that matters, helping a young author come to press in a serious and professional way. The author, Agatha Edwards, has actually self-published before. But I’m doing my best to place this latest book of hers on the same level playing field as every adult who is self-publishing. I think she’s that good and worth the read.

And it’s only by lowering my rates that I am able to “pay it forward” like this. I understand that most freelancers should not do this. They shouldn’t cheapen the value of their efforts. But I’ve been through that already, for years now. Now my prime concern is to keep making books, especially the ones that wouldn’t get quite the professional push without me.

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