Posts filed under 'clients'
June 24th, 2012
Sad to say, I found out that TSTC Publishing has been shut down by the administration of Texas Sate Technical College. Not surprisingly, according to an article in the Waco Tribune, this is about cost cutting in a time of economic stress.
Unfortunately, casualties of the cost cutting are the benefits of bringing more economically priced textbooks to students and the real-world publishing experience interns from TSTC and Baylor University received.
My heart goes out to all the good folks there, although Mark Long and Sheila Boggess are really the two people I’ve had any regular contact with. I hope they both go on to the bigger and better things of their choosing. More problematic is the loss to countless interns, or would-be interns, who will miss out on training that could lead to a leg up in a still disjointed job-seeking environment.
They all deserve better. It really is too bad the administrator who ultimately made this decision missed what TSTC Publishing added to TSTC and the value it provided Texas taxpayers.
January 2nd, 2012
Amidst all my kvetching about whether or not ebooks would kill the desire for print books, I always seem to miss an even bigger issue: the possibility that all the short-form reading we do nowadays—blogs, emails, texts—is killing our taste for reading books.
That will most certainly dry up any appreciation we have for print books. Worse, the less we read well-thought out, well-written long-form writing, the more likely it is we will no longer learn how to write well.
I just read a book review that began:
It’s not often that I finish a book.
WTF, I wanted to comment, resorting to textspeak.
First of all, the irony of my commenting about the lack of patience for lasting through reading a whole book by using the kind of texting abbreviation that is so common but also a sign of a perhaps growing disinterest in focusing long enough to write well made me laugh. But then I read the rest of the review, which revealed that the writer has little idea what goes into this kind of writing.
No point in insulting anyone, I decided.
Besides, there are still people out here putting all their effort into making us want to read their writing. And these people are working through their writing to make sure it’s done with an eye toward writing correctly and having deliberate reasons for and knowing why when they break grammatical rules, misspell, and punctuate badly. Aren’t they?
So when I think of the book design and page composition work I have done on self-published writing that manages to get it right, writing done well about things I think many readers would be interested in, I wonder if I am just incredibly lucky, this is the last gasp before the barbarians at the gate win, or my concern is an overreaction.
Either way, if someone takes the time to write well and pays attention to what readers want to read, I hope there is also a growing appreciation for how much needs to go into a do-it-yourself effort that looks professional and not one-size-fits-all. This weekend, reading through a lot of material posted by self-publishers and self-publishers’ help companies, I followed a lot of links to see what these books looked like.
Most of them looked the same. Oh, the type and titles and cover art were different; but they all had that—again I use the phrase—one-size-fits-all look. And they were crowing about their work. Many will say—and I admit, as I always do—that I have a vested interest in the continued need for professional, freelance book design and layout. After all, that is what I do. But I got into all this because I love books, reading, and good writing.
I think there is a growing segment of people writing who don’t know writing from a hole in the ground. Yet they somehow find their way to mastering the marketing of mediocre books. This year I am making it part of my work to get involved with books that really make a case for why books matter and why the printed book is more than a container for words.
July 6th, 2011
As things slow down just a bit from the hectic pace I maintained for just over a year straight, I begin to get that sinking feeling of being less busy than I want. Back over three years ago, I wrote the piece below. It’s worth recalling from the archive of the older, hacked blog, if only to remember that everything old gets new again.
* * *
It amazes me how quickly things change. Just ten days or two weeks ago I told anyone who would listen that I was in the busiest year-and-a-half of my freelance life. Moreover, it appeared that this busy time would stretch to a full two years.
Man plans, God laughs.
And that was how I started this entry, unhappy because … well, let me continue.
A couple of projects that should have kept my streak alive have yet to launch. Another expected book disappeared because the author-publisher decided to try working with someone local. And no matter how many times, across fifteen years, that similar ups and downs have occurred, I once again felt as if I might never work again. I actually felt depressed. So I began to concentrate on the first of my twice-yearly emailings to prospective clients, soliciting book design and page composition work. Already delayed because I worked straight through the holidays, it was on opportunity to catch up.
A week into the email project, I have been contacted by a handful of publishers about possible projects. Only about halfway through this year’s batch of publishers, I already have a better return—in terms of publishers responding—than ever before in the nine or ten years I have been going the email route. I don’t know if it is because I have drastically shortened the email, or because I have eliminated my attachment of samples and a résumé for a link to samples and a line about my willingness to send them my résumé if they will get back to me requesting it. Or perhaps my experience has grown to a point where a number of publishers now feel I have crossed some threshold that causes them to desire my services.
Whatever the reason, losing out on work does not sting as long as it used to.
May 9th, 2011
Another piece from the old, hacked-into blog, this one raises the issue of the conndrum designers—not just book designers—face when the choice to simply get through a job bumps into the creative urge to do something better and the client doesn’t want “better”.
Last week, John Boardley, the owner-proprietor of the very fine blog, I love typography, brought me into a discussion about difficult book design clients. Someone, in the course of a comment, mentioned that they were in the middle of a difficult book design project, where the client was dead-set against a spec that he (the designer) knew would make the book look immeasurably better than what the client demanded.
Less than helpful, I pointed out—in a less trite manner—that the customer is always right. It’s their dime. And yadda yadda.
It got me thinking about the mindset of publishers—usually smaller ones, as the larger publishers generally understand why they hire designers—and self-publishing authors when they engage the services of a book designer. I remarked that I often work on what I refer to as “straight layout” projects, from templates supplied by publishers. Often, these projects go the most smoothly, as the templates are tried and true, having been used for long-running series of books. But as a designer, while they pay the bills, the books on which I do “straight layout” are usually not the most fun, as they require no exercise of creativity from me.
I ended up posting to the maillist for the Yahoo group for self-publishers. I pretty much asked it all in my subject line, “How Much Leeway Do You Give a Book Designer?” The answers were interesting to the point that they addressed the question; and varied. To sum up, some publishers agreed that to get what they pay for, to some degree it is necessary to step out of the way at some point and let the designer design. And the designer point of view, that working for a publisher or self-publishing author who is stubbornly set on things in opposition to the designer’s best judgment is best avoided, was also represented.
But I never felt as if anyone got out of their own corner. That is, no one addressed my real question about how they strike a balance between the publisher’s need to have some control over the designer they hire while giving that designer the freedom to do great work. And having been extremely fortunate in working for nearly all first-rate clients who viewed me as a member of their team, I came away with nothing more concrete than the notion that the more successful I am at giving the client exactly what pleases them, the more likely it is that they will remain clients with whom I choose to work.
May 5th, 2011
Long time since I last posted. My bad. But I’ve been working to get a few books out that are near the end. And I have been working on “booking” this blog—that is, turning the blog to this point into a book. I have more in mind than simply running the entries into a book format, however. I plan to edit and rework the entries into a more cohesive, flowing and unified work. The piece that follows is from the hacked-into precursor to the current blog.
Aside from living a life, nothing satisfies me quite as much as using time away from work productively. No, this is not to be a back-to-school riff about working vacations. Rather, I mean that forced downtime, when no book design and layout projects are in the studio or on the horizon. I refer to the point where my mood turns well beyond the finger-tapping, knee-bobbing stage, when I start wondering whether the landscape for freelancers in publishing has taken a depressing downturn.
What I learned and accomplished this summer surprised, enlightened, and enriched me.
Last year, 2006, was a breakthrough. Busier than any prior year, the work continued well on into this year. Mostly straight support work, the projects lasted until the beginning of June. Nonstop. Then, just past this year’s halfway point, I finished the last of a string of military history books. And my first page design and layout of a children’s book left for the printer. I began to wait for whatever would occur next. But I intended for this to be a period of active waiting. I turned to the half of the freelancer’s business that makes or breaks the working part of the business: promotion.
I had not altered the way I marketed my services in eight or nine years. This consisted of a pretty much daily scouring of online sites and sources for freelance work, as well as emailing my résumé and work samples to hundreds of publishers twice yearly. Since this past April, however, I finally have a website of my own. On it are samples of my work. So instead of risking the annoyance of potential clients with my attachment of work samples, I included a link to my website.
I did not design the website. How that came to pass is another story, a whole other story. Suffice to say, it took a kick in the pants, administered by an online friend, Brian Stegner, to move me along. Brian, it seems to me, is an encyclopedia of very many things computer—especially Macintosh. He understood how stuck I was on finding the way I wanted a website of my own to look. He got me untracked, advising me to get something up—a framework—and proceed from there. And it was a wonderfully talented, young designer, Jasmine Wabbington, who conceived the appearance, arranged all the files, and flavored the site.
For my part, I was astute enough to grasp how a website makes up only half the equation, and that a blog completes the platform from which I reveal who I am and what I do.
Brian and Jasmine erected that platform.
I was concerned about my resolve in keeping up the blog—especially once I got busy again with books. So I cultivated the habit of spending some time each day thinking about different topics for this blog. Even on days when I did not write. And I set the goal of three entries per week, although two satisfy me. What I did not count on was how interested I would become in seeking out other blogs that opine on my subjects—book design, freelancing, typography, books on those subjects—to read and comment on. There was no way to guess how this would lead me to people who would interview me.
The upshot is that yesterday I sent sample pages for a new book design project—sort of a manual and how-to for dealing with poverty and empowering the impoverished—to the book’s publisher. Last night I began the layout of another new book. This morning I received an inquiry from an author in South Africa who has a book design proposition.
Oh, and the publisher of the poverty book loves what I showed him!
Funny to go back over this piece and see the history. I am reminded, too, of how my book design practice has grown.
January 31st, 2011
I find myself guilty once again of sporadic blogging, if not outright neglect of this blog. For that I apologize. In my defense, I have been consumed by work. And the latest book, another self-published tome by a professional, has brought some new issues into focus.
Primarily, I wonder why a difficult client is automatically considered a negative, whereas a difficult project can actually prove the best kind of fun. Interestingly, I think there’s something to be said for the ideal combination being a client who is easy to work with—and this does not mean the client cannot be demanding—and a really difficult book to bring to press.
That ideal combination is the one I labor under at the moment. This latest client has written a book that I’m not sure I understand, but that seems to have elements of memoir, spiritual growth, and metaphysical philosophy to it. He also possesses a rock-steady certainty about how a number of things ought to flow across and look on my pages. There are times when I don’t agree; some of his ideas seem jarring to me, like they might interrupt the reader’s flow. But, then, I can’t be sure that’s not intended.
Altogether I have found that whether I like a client’s ideas or not, it is far better to have a client who does not shy from telling you, very specifically, what he’s looking for. And this while I also remember how, as a novice designer, the urge to put one’s own stamp, and only one’s own, on a project, is often overwhelming.
Working at book design and layout as many years as I have, I want to tell new book designers—primarily those who work with self-publishing authors—a few things about situations like this.
It’s okay to have clients who are active in the design process. It’s not necessary that you feel every book you work on is a product solely of your own art. No arguing that it feels a lot more like fun when you get to be The Creative Force. But not every client will hire you for that. You can, of course, turn down such jobs. However, I’m a believer in the desirability of constant paying work. I also think the flexibility you grow by working with these two kinds of clients likely prepares you for a longer career in that it helps you to function under different circumstances. And longevity, after paying clients, is what it’s all about.
January 1st, 2011
Here is my cautionary tale and reminder that the freelance game should be fully half about finding the next project, promoting our services, and absolutely not counting chickens before they hatch.
Yes, I am bummed. But I also feel exhilaration at just how in charge of my book design practice I am, while at the same time admitting it is not all about me. Despite how I enjoy playing that it is.
As the closing days of 2010 unfolded, after I thought all activity would finally stop for the year with the holidays arriving—as it always has in the past—I was contacted by five potential new clients about book design and layout, and straight layout, projects. Last year, strange year that it was with both zigs and zags in it when I expected opposites, closed in a way that can happen to all of us who freelance and reminded me that looking ahead must always include promoting ourselves.
Admittedly, looking back, it seems to have fit. As I wrote in my wrap-up of 2010, it was unexpectedly my best year ever, both in terms of earning and the creative energy that successfully surged in me last year. Coming on the heels of a down year, the U.S. economy in tough straits, knowing that traditional publishers were very much tightening their belts, I was not prepared for the burst of really fine self-published work that would propel my year.
At least two of the potential new clients who contacted me spoke of big, big projects, one about 1,800 pages and the other well over a thousand pages, too. Serious money would have been involved. Well before the stroke of midnight, however, the carriage turned back into a pumpkin and I was left thinking about how 2010 went out every bit as unexpectedly as it came in.
First I heard from the academic press. They were interesting and, in retrospect, confuse me a little. Their initial contact presented the price they intended to pay. They didn’t need to raise that number so soon, I thought. But it was a satisfactory number and I told them I would be willing to fully do the project to the other specification mentioned, including any timetable. A second or third email informed me that, well, they first had to field other bids before giving me an answer.
Now, I am fine with competitive bidding and I understand businesses have no obligation to respond instantly. But the sudden change from all the firm details presented puzzled me and reminded me: Don’t expect potential clients to keep the same steady tone once you agree with them, at least while negotiating money. That is their right; but to be shocked by it when it happens, more importantly, is pointless.
So they took a lower bid. Parenthetically, I should say that, again, though competition is fine, downward competition on rates alarms me. I blame that at least partially on the crowdsourcing mentality that seems to pervade the thinking of the new generation of designers. Whether they have been sold the idea or it simply suits their sense that all spontaneity and flexibility in the marketplace is good and example of “power to the people,” I do not know. But when they cannot earn their livings on the skills they picked up in school at so much expense, all the contests, spec work, and crowdsourcing will not seem so empowering.
The second potential client emailed soon after. They would not need my services, nor any other book designer/page composition artist, because the printer they spoke to made it clear they could simply distill PDFs from the Microsoft Word textfiles. If such a solution satisfied them, I did not have it in me to go sour grapes and give my “hammer a nail with the flat side of a wrench” rant one more time. It was clear to me that professional typography was not as important as getting their project done at a modest price. And the printer cared only about locking up their end of the job.
The third turndown was the one that made me laugh. From a New York City concern, they elected to go with a designer on the other side of the country. People familiar with me know how gee whiz I am about the small, 24/7 world we are now, thanks to the Internet, email, and all the rest. More than once I have scratched my head publicly when potential clients expressed a preference for working with a designer in their town. So I certainly won’t whine about someone who chose not to go local. But the irony … well, just is.
The moral of the story, if there really is one, is that the economy makes the freelancer’s security unpredictable. So we should always be looking for the next paying project.
August 17th, 2010
Last time out I may have sounded a little like the stern lecturer or a schoolmarm, admonishing self-publishing authors with my short list of “shoulds” for their success. But I return this time to make clear that working on self-publishing authors’ books beats working for traditional publishers in many ways.
That is not to say I never want to work for a traditional publisher, though by all accounts the traditional publishing model is in big trouble. I simply recognize the advantages of the streamlined self-publishing process.
Let me give you a for-instance.
A question about something I notice in a textfile I bring into the book document as I make pages can take days to get answered from a traditional publisher, as it makes its way from my contact person—usually a production editor or head of the design department—to the editor on the project and maybe even the author. Additionally, if some irregularity in the writing, something inconsistent with what the author did earlier, surfaces, it would not be out of the question for the structure of a traditional publisher to discourage my pointing it ut.
Working with a self-publisher, I always find myself and the author-client rowing in the same direction: doing whatever we can to make the best possible books, even if it means my commenting about a sudden change in the narrative voice, say. The best thing, overall, however, is the expeditious process for asking questions and receiving answers. As little a thing as this may sound like, quick, clear communication again makes any project a better experience and a good book more likely.
April 18th, 2010
I enjoyed the initial design and layout of my first medical novel. Although only the first pass is complete, with corrections and changes sure to come, the best part of the creative bump is likely over. I had begun two other books while working on that novel. And I fielded other inquiries in a typical “feast” portion of the feast-or-famine freelancer’s way.
One of the other possible projects was a 500-page scifi novel. This was another potentially interesting project, though I cannot imagine it would have had as many different text elements as the medical novel. But that has led me to thinking in a different, if not new, direction: eBooks.
I’ve already gone on some about how my first exercises with the epub and mobi formats left me underwhelmed. But those, it occurred to me, don’t even scratch the surface of what a proper eBook might be. Naturally, it took the iPad—no, I have not purchased one yet, as I’m waiting for second generation, which, at the least, I expect to include a video camera—to get me thinking about the extended possibilities of eBooks.
By “extended,” I picture the ability, while reading, say, a science fiction novel about time travel, to link to material about what physics says about the possibility of traveling through time. I am not sure whether I want multimedia to be part of the material one can access, as it could distract from the reading and might make a book into more of a movie experience over time. But I also like the idea of having other material available to move on to for more information when the reader’s imagination is piqued.
As it happened, this science fiction novel didn’t happen for me. I could not agree on a price with the prospective client. I understood perfectly the financial constraints he found himself bound by, but I could not bring the project in for what he could spend. And, interestingly, that price included the cost of proofreading. I wonder whether, whatever the price, it is a good idea for the same one pair of eyes to handle the typesetting and proofreading?
November 30th, 2009
A week or so ago I finished work on a book for a self-publisher, Jen Hall. The book, Success Is Simply Spiritual, is more than a simple self-help book, but a kind of treatise on achieving one’s dreams. And for that I highly recommend it to anyone looking to achieve things beyond the everyday “stuckness” we all occasionally find ourselves in.
But that is not the point I view this particular book from right now. I have worked on design-and-layout projects for self-publishing authors before. It happens, however, that Jen lives and is based in Australia. Hers was my first book for a client outside the U.S.
I had always wondered about issues like coordinating payment originating in non-U.S. currency—and also, frankly, about dealing with another layer of detail should there be any problem with timely payment. Well, of course, there was no problem. My pre-work conversations with Jen revealed a person—never mind an author and publisher—of the highest integrity; also someone who knew what she wanted and was very easy to work with.
So the project went off without a hitch and I await my copies of the book to inspect my handiwork and read it through as a book and not a “project”. But it wasn’t until the other night, reading Shel Israel’s insightful work, Twitterville, that it occurred to me: I’ve now gone global!
All the more remarkable when I think of how I reached this point. After resisting social media—Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter among them—on a whim, I engaged in Twitter nearly a year-and-a-half ago. Like many people who formed their opinion without actually trying it, I wondered why I should be interested in what someone I’d never met was doing or where they were. More to the point, I wondered who the hell would give a rat’s ass what I was up to.
Well, by superstar standards, I have a modest number of followers, a few over 1,800 and I’ve topped out at following just over 2,000 people. But within those numbers I’ve had some pretty meaningful exchanges—as well as some not-so-meaningful that were just fun—and made contacts or cultivated existing contacts to the tune of three books so far.
In Twitterville Shel describes the forming of bonds that can create a global clientele among people who will otherwise never actually sit in each other’s presence—except perhaps via the kick of videoconferencing (which I utilized with Jen and her copy editor). So now that I’ve gotten to that part of the year where I market myself to publishers in what seems almost like a horse-and-buggy method, email, looking for next year’s work, I am rethinking how far to cast my net.
Truly it is a remarkable time to be alive and a hoot of a way to conduct business.