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.

Maybe.

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.

“Time Keeps on Slippin’, Slippin’, Slippin’ into the Future”

5 comments February 16th, 2014 07:45pm admin

And just like … this … I began the transition to Apple’s latest Macintosh OS, the much-heralded Mavericks, yesterday. I resisted as long as I could, but bringing the iBooks reader to Macs ultimately makes Mavericks too great for me to pass up any longer. For sure, it is really terrific that iBooks Author has been on the Macintosh platform for some time now, but having the reader, too, really means the world, as there’s nothing as efficient as creating and viewing on the same machine.

As is my way, I decided to proceed fairly cautiously. Sudden software loss due to incompatibility with a new OS is the stuff my nightmares draw strength from. My biggest concern, of course, was not too lose Adobe Creative Studio 5.5—especially in the face of Adobe’s subscription plan-only for Creative Studio in The Cloud. (I have ranted about that for some time already and will not go into it again here and now.)

So yesterday afternoon—surprising, now that I thing of it, as it had not been on my radar, but was just an impulsive move on my part—I updated to Mavericks on my trusty laptop, a circa 2009 17-inch MacBook Pro. How great was that! I mean, Apple no longer makes a 17-inch laptop, so I am thrilled that my very own 17-inch MacBook Pro remains relevant.

And it bears repeating:

Sudden software loss due to incompatibility with a new OS is the stuff my nightmares draw strength from.

 The big, most welcome news is that just one piece of the software on my MacBook Pro will not run under Mavericks, QuarkXPress. Admittedly, it is a drag that something I once used so much is dead—unless I upgrade, which remains a possibility. But at least I really don’t use it anymore, so the loss is ore sentimental than anything else.

I plan to give it until next weekend. If no craziness occurs on the laptop, I will upgrade the iMac to Mavericks. Fingers crossed.

The Downside of the Democratizing of Publishing Books

2 comments January 17th, 2014 08:01am admin

I remember hearing, more years ago than I care to admit to, that “The power of the press belongs to those who own the press.” Or perhaps own a press.

I imagine the line referred more to journalism, rather than book publishing. And yet there was obviously a little something to it. Maybe not so much in physically owning a printing press, as it turns out, but in having the means to publish one’s own books. Self-publishing, I think it us safe to say, has caught on.

Of course, as with anything that becomes popular, there is always the possibility of a diluting of the talent pool and the resulting product, if you will. I saw it as a kid, watching Major League Baseball expand first from sixteen teams, to twenty, then twenty-four, and beyond.

Well, as traditional publishers struggle to stay alive, self-publishing authors, free of the yoke of corporate gatekeepers’ desire to publish only books that follow some formula that sells beaucoup copies and makes big money. The problem that results from all this freedom from the tyranny of traditional publishing is that too many people get into self-publishing not realizing they have gone into business  as publishers. Even if just one time for their one book.

All the fine touches that traditional publishing companies provided—professional editing, design, typesetting, and pagemaking—often fall by the wayside, as this new breed of publishers make book publishing seem more like a do-it-yourself project taken on just to prove how inexpensively they can birth books. The professionals who heretofore made books no longer have quite the hand that they did in making books an art form, independent of what is inside the covers.

The other day I was contacted by another in a line of authors who plan to self-publish on a shoestring. This writer may not understand that his bankroll is nowhere near enough to create the enterprise that his book should be. And I am beginning to question how to answer the next design student who contacts me for advice about her prospects in the field of book design.

All About the Year Ahead

3 comments January 4th, 2014 01:45pm admin

Three new books, I reported, were arranged to start in January, 2013. Little did I know that these would—on the plus side—be big projects, but—on the down—that they would pretty much be it for me last year.

For all the throwaway comments I have made about my uneasiness with ebooks and the tendency to make them with no fixed design, I begin to seriously worry that print for books really is on the decline.

On the other hand, I learned some during the past year about making ebooks. My noodling with Book Creator was a limited success as far as I went with it. It is definitely something I would consider for making a children’s storybook with children for the iPad. As for bigger books, perhaps not so much, as Book Creator—to this point—does not flow text, but rather works one fixed page at a time.

One big goal that I had had for a couple of years running was to work my first cookbook. That goal was met with The Marriage of Mushrooms and Garlic, published by Zumaya Publications. The next step is to work it into an ebook. Toward that end, I was fortunate enough to be give a heads-up by the publisher at Zumaya Publications, Liz Burton, about a tool she has used successfully for converting to ebooks, Jutoh. I got hold of Jutoh Plus and have started familiarizing myself with it and making the conversion. I plan to write about it in the blog shortly.

Aside from that, I am hard-pressed to list specific goals for 2014. As at the beginning of each year, I hope to make it my busiest year, with my largest earnings, ever. I want to continue working with self-publishers, as they generally offer the greatest chance of success when thinking out of the box. My continuing hope, however, is to meet more self-publishers determined to treat their books as more than do-it-yourself efforts that can be done on a shoestring instead of opportunities to produce books that at least cannot be distinguished from—except if they are better than—traditionally published books.

Time to make the new year what it can be.

This Is the Year That Was

2 comments December 31st, 2013 03:58pm admin

2013 was an odd year. I felt very busy a good part of it, but looking back, it was really just a pair of long, long projects and the tiniest, last snippet of finishing one leftover from 2012.

Speaking of 2012 … Now there was a busy year. And 2011, even more so. This year felt like a lot of wheel spinning. I believe I discussed more big book projects than ever before. But for one reason or another—mostly the confusion many self-publishers have about the need to budget beyond nickel-and-dime, DIY values—most of them fell through.

I always feel great disappointment when a book design-and-layout I put a bid in on does not go my way. Years ago, when I knew it was because the potential client simply was unwilling to meet my price, I always considered lowering what I would accept. And then when I decided not, too, I had great angst, fearing I might never work again.

Needless to say, I grew out of the feeling angst over rejection. If I had not, I don’t see how I could have survived in this business.

But things have changed for me one again. Ebooks, epubs, Kindle versions—all that—change everything. I can see very clearly that a new pricing paradigm is shaping up. At least insofar as e-versions are concerned. Oddly. The fact that ebooks are—or will be, once I am totally comfortable with the new workflow—much quicker to knock out is no comfort.

The stems mostly from the unavoidable fact that design, in the aesthetic sense, is not so important with ebooks. It turns out that the ability for the human reader to adjust how ebooks look on their e-readers, while certainly great for the human reader (taking into account typefaces and sizes that are easiest on his or her eyes), takes the art out of making ebooks. And fixed layout ebooks sound good in theory, but the small devices they can be read on, don’t necessarily lend themselves to the viewing of books as an artform.

Be interesting to see how this continues to play out in 2014. Stay tuned.

Half a Dozen Regrettable Choices That Mark a Self-Published Book “Amateur”

19 comments August 5th, 2013 09:37pm admin

  1. Using one of the typefaces that come resident on most every computer … like Times New Roman. It’s intellectually lazy to not explore what typefaces are out there for best taking an author’s words to his or her readers.
  2. Using type at a size that’s more conducive to squeezing more words on the printed page than making for comfortable reading.
  3. Margins and/or leading that is stingy, leading to less than optimal white space and too many characters per line, something that can tax readers’ eyes and their ability to stay focused on what they are reading.
  4. Tables of Contents for novel whose chapters do not have titles, only numbers. The word “Chapter,” a number, and then a page number are unnecessary and rather silly looking. Present such a table of contents in a two-column format (when everything else in the book, aside, perhaps for an Index, which a novel wouldn’t have, is single-column) and we have a book that, right at the start, looks ridiculous. The Table of Contents appears to be squeezed in to use the least amount of space. If it’s necessary, it deserves the proper amount of room.
  5. Opening paragraphs of a chapter that have the first line indented. They should be flush left and, while we’re at it, a conservative initial drop cap (or even a raised initial cap) often presents very nicely.
  6. Sending art embedded in Microsoft Word—or worse PowerPoint—files. And for the best chance at successful placing of photos, they should be in TIFF format, a lossless filetype (unlike JPEG, which is lossy).

Bonus Choice: Not checking spelling. You don’t have to be a design or editorial pro to get this right. And one that always stands out and drives me crazy is “loose” when an author means “lose.” If I spot one of those in a book when I’m considering it, I will set it down in a New York second.

Note: Although it is tempting to say that readers are responsible for whether they remain focused on what they are reading, those of us involved in making books—publishing companies, self-publishing authors, and book designers alike—should do all we can to help readers stay involved with the books they read.

Book Design Work Done Before Its Time Is Work Wasted

Add comment June 8th, 2013 11:13am admin

One of the hazards of loving to do book design as much as I do is that I can sometimes be so eager to start a book design and layout project that ideas begin to percolate before an agreement has been reached with a client and a contract signed. This almost inevitably leads to trying out some of these ideas on the page. The obvious drawback, of course, is that I might start working and never actually win the bid and the job.

Nearly as much of a mistake is to begin work before the materials, text or illustrations, are finalized. Sometimes this is unavoidable, as when an author does not realize changes will become necessary. This occurred recently I one project where a self-publishing author quoted from a number of reference works on his subject. After the writing was completed and his book shepherd gave him the word about seeking permission for the quotes, he was shocked to see what all the permissions would cost him.

So he went about paraphrasing the quotes, referencing the source texts in his bibliography but saving the expense of obtaining permissions. He also did painstaking work to make each of the paraphrases occupy pretty much the same space as the quotes he edited out. Without his thorough attention to every word, substituting the new text for the quotes could have been a much more time-intensive task for me than it turned out to be. But I cannot underscore heavily enough the importance of making sure one’s contracts either take into account early work that ends up redone or that you restrain the urge to begin work before there is general agreement that the materials you begin working with have final approval.

That Ol’ Black Magick

Add comment May 26th, 2013 09:20pm admin

I go on a lot about how much I love making books. But there are not-so-happy moments, too. I’ve made enough, the past couple of days, about how badly I think of Adobe’s decision to no longer sell Creative Studio and its components (InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator being the main pieces, or at least the ones that affect me). So I’ll not bore you anymore about that.

But there is the dark magic that computers occasionally bring forth. Happened again yesterday. Or at least I heard about it yesterday. Recently I received a list of a whole batch of corrections and edits for the novel on which I’m working, the one with transliterated Lakota. I assure you I made them all before burning a CD and sending it to my client. This morning my self-publishing author emailed me to say that “[t]he first such fix right out of the box” appeared not to have been done. Now, I know I did that first one, because I had a question about it right at the start and h and I had an exchange of emails to clarify. But, sure enough, the PDF that I copied and sent to him on the CD was missing that correction.

So I went back to my latest InDesign file for the book, the one from which I distilled the PDF. Again, no first correction. But the next twenty or so were done. Then, mysteriously, the a chunk of remaining edits appeared not to be done before they were picked up again until the last one. I have no explanation as to what happened or why. It is, however, making me a little crazy trying to see what the issue is. The simplest explanation is that I sent an older PDF—or, rather, distilled a PDF from an older InDesign file. Except that does not explain why the corrections picked up again after a certain point.

Oh, the joy of freelancing!

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