Posts filed under 'clients'

Looking Back at 2016 and Ahead to 2017

Add comment January 1st, 2017

Last year was full of shit.

And I use that last word above as a substitute for the word “stuff”; to mean, too, that it got to be too much, too full of itself; and, finally, to indicate that something bad and nasty happened.

Last one first. While this is my blog on book design and freelancing, not politics, God knows I have to acknowledge the election. I am horrified by it, because, from the point of view of a small businessperson, it seems to me that the whatever-he-is-elect (because there are so many obvious issues, the emolument clause, first of all, that I don’t quite picture him in office for long) is not someone who’s interested in doing things for or protecting things that help, the little guy. And so I foresee everything from tax policies that hurt freelancers, as well as greater incentives for people who would ordinarily have turned to those of us within the U.S. for freelance projects to third-world country freelancers, thereby both depressing prices and depriving us sustainable work.

On the other hand, 2016 was a heady year. And given that I’ve grown more superstitious as I’ve gotten older, I sometimes want to hesitate to talk about how well things have gone. But the truth is, that, given my relatively new status as a semi-retiree (I had worked in New York State’s court system for over 32 years, before retiring from it Thanksgiving, 2015) to pursue book design full-time, there were certain logistics to work out with just how much book design-and-layout work—and income from it—I really wanted to take in. Because there are consequences to it, with a “limit” on allowable income before a penalty kicks in when one opts for collecting Social Security early, as I have.

I guess I had no idea that, with more time to pursue new freelance projects, I would just naturally work more and reach that limit more quickly than I could have imagined. And that brought me to a kind of crossroads: Do I stop working when I reach that limit? Or do I start working for less, so that I avoid the limit longer each year (until the limit is eliminated in a few years)?

If I do the latter, I decided, it allows me to accept interesting jobs for less money if I am so inclined. This requires a bit of reorienting to my thinking, as I’ve spent years railing against folks who accept “pennies-on-the-dollar” rates, thereby depressing all freelancers’ prospects. Now I tend to see it that it’s a way to keep some freelance projects and prospects from looking outside the country for freelancers, as well as giving me the opportunity to accept interesting projects that I would normally have turned down because of the low rate of pay. However, I am endeavoring to do this only in instances where the people who offer such work are genuinely people I want to help, because I see something in them and in what they have created that I think needs to be brought into the world.

I’ve grappled a bit with the idea that it may be a bit hypocritical of me to change my tune now that I’ve “got mine” thanks to a decent pension plus Social Security. But I’ve been working pretty much, one way or another, since I was about 13-years old. And, as far as freelancing goes, that means a lot of nights when I worked deep into the night on books, going to the civil service 9-to-5 job on four and five hours of sleep, and building my book design practice over the course of 25 years. I sort of feel that I “earned mine,” rather than I just somehow have it now.

At the same time, I always told anyone who would listen that, as tired as I sometimes was from working one full-time job only to go home and—especially when factoring in the long hours of searching for freelance projects—then working a second full-time job from my own studio at home, it kept me sane. I got to have one foot in the real world where the ability for someone to earn a living was increasingly less secure, as well as the relatively secure world of civil service whose only real hardship was the occasional indignity of seeing how, sometimes, knuckleheads achieved heights that better workers, better people, couldn’t because of Politics and politics.

Finally, the great personal stuff that 2016 closed out with … The secure footing that my freelance book design practice is now on—and God knows I worked at it for enough years—combined with a reasonably secure retirement from the 9-to-5, has enabled us to take advantage of low interest rates in a recovering economy (reminding me again of the miserable and uninformed choice the country made this past November). My wife and I sold our old home and were able to move into a newer home—actually, a dream house—with an improved kitchen, solar panels, on a golf course.

* * *

And that brings me to this bright, new year’s potential: more books, certainly, to begin with. I am already beginning preliminary work on a very interesting project, a book of translations of critiques of Beethoven’s works. I am also awaiting the start of the third in a series of children’s storybooks. And there may be a sort of professional memoir somewhere ahead, about one man’s experiences as a pioneering agent for professional athletes. And I am always open to listening to anyone else’s proposals for such work: traditional publishers, independent and university presses, and self-publishers.

That, plenty of golf, and an ever-expanding life of new experiences with my wife lie ahead for 2017. I am even again interested in finding an over-40 hardball league on the eastern end of Long Island to pitch in this summer.

I wish everyone a Happy, Safe and Healthy, Productive, and Fulfilling New Year in 2017. I invite you all to grab for just such a year.

Sometimes We Lose Out on a Job … Dodging a Bullet

2 comments December 20th, 2014

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.

The Plug is Pulled on TSTC Publishing

2 comments 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.

My Book Designer’s Resolution for 2012

4 comments 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.

Sometimes Sour Grapes Are Tasty

Add comment 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.

Yeah, right.

Ideal Clients/Ideal Vendors

Add comment 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.

Marketing 101

Add comment 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.

Degrees of Difficulty

Add comment 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.

P.S. to 2010

3 comments 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.

I ♡ Designing and Typesetting Self-Publishers’ Books

Add comment 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.

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