Posts filed under 'freelancing'

Sometimes Business Takes a Backseat to Staying Sane

Add comment September 27th, 2017

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

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.

Freedom of the Press and This Book Designer

Add comment January 21st, 2017

It’s been said that freedom of the press belongs to those who own the press. Nowadays the whole “ownership of the press” thing has largely been turned on its head, thanks to digital typesetting and print-on-demand (POD). These two babies have brought the possibility of getting published to virtually anyone who wants to publish a book.

I’m aware of this because for the last five or so years the lion’s share of my clients have been self-publishers. This is a sea change from when I established my freelance book design and layout practice 26 years ago. Back then I started out with traditional publishers and a book packager or two as my clients. Back around 2009–2010 I began to see a steady diet of self-publishing authors as clients. By 2011, the majority of my clients were self-publishers. As of last year, I work pretty much exclusively for self-publishers.

This isn’t exactly alert-the-media/stop-the-presses kind of news.

But it strikes me as particularly of the moment, given the political climate and the repressive attitude toward the press of the new administration. So in addition to the work self-publishers have provided me over the years—in fact, perhaps whether or not I’d ever gotten work from them—I am thrilled that this outlet exists for getting ideas and people’s books out into the world. Inasmuch as the current federal government seems to be leaning away from facts, science, and intellectual freedom—the latter not to be confused with deliberately telling lies to fuel hate and make money—more than ever we need authors to get their books out into the world.

It’s my business and I stand ready to assist in that task. But it’s also something I believe in.

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.

Even When I’m Busy … I Wait

Add comment July 1st, 2016

Yesterday I had an email exchange with someone new about a possible children’s book project. She sent me an email initially just asking about my availability and for a price. I sent back my standard, “I’ll make myself available if we can strike a deal.” And I asked my standard handful of questions about the nature of the project and the files she’d make available to me. She asked for a price again, answered most of my questions, said she had attached three illustrations to the latest email, and asked me questions about the usability of the three illustrations. I told her that only three illustrations had been sent.

This exchange took place while I was doing corrections and edits (hopefully, final) on two books.

I finished up the email confab by asking whether she had seen my price. Since then, not a word.

* * *

This morning I woke around nine to find two emails that had been sent about an hour-and-a-half earlier. They were from a woman I did not know, at a company or other entity with which I’d been in contact a week or two earlier. The first email asked if I could speak with her tomorrow, Saturday. I wondered if she realized it would be Saturday. And a holiday weekend, to boot. She must have, as the second was sent immediately after the first and asked whether I was available to speak today.

That was easy: of course, I would speak today. Immediately, if not sooner. Actually, I said that noon would be fine.

By now it should not surprise that I have not received an answer of any kind.

* * *

What is it about the eager ones? The get your attention; and then they shut down. What a way to go into the long weekend!

Business Upgrading

Add comment May 30th, 2016

One of the continuing expenses for any business using a computer is upgrading software. Now the purveyors of all that software would have us install an upgrade every time they come out with one. But it’s not that simple. Business owners can’t always indulge the tendency, should they have it (and I do) to be technology junkies who always want new and shiny. This may be particularly true for graphic designers and artists, including book designers.

In my case, the inclination is strong toward wanting a new machine—iMac, iPad, iPod Touch—every time they come out with one. The exceptions are iPhone—I don’t own one, as I don’t use a cell phone often enough to care about the familiarity, convenience, and ease of use that having another Apple device would bring me. The Apple computers and idevices I already have fill all my e-needs, from working to monitoring my runs to providing for my television viewing. And the biggie: I will never get rid of my 17-inch MacBook Pro. Apple’s discontinuing the 17-inch size in its laptops definitely puts a damper on my Apple fanboy inclinations. I need the size to display to facing pages at a time of the books I work design and lay out.

Then there are the software upgrades. Having worked for over 25 years as a book designer, my preferences have run the gamut. I started with PageMaker, at the time only capable of single-page documents, and quickly moved over to QuarkXPress when I became aware of it, because multipage docs, books, were possible. I also liked the precise way Quark handled type. Instead of sticking religiously to the pasteboard metaphor, Quark allowed for items to be positioned on a doc by typing in exact numerical coordinates. To me, this was deal-maker.

I avoided InDesign, the supposed Quark-killer, for some years, despite Quark the company becoming less nice and less responsive to its customers than Adobe, because I didn’t care for InDesign’s type handling compared to QuarkXPress when I tried out demo versions a couple of times.

And a funny thing happened, just when I found a version of InDesign that finally seemed to do a better job of handling type, I ran into possibly the nicest person ever to work at Quark. I was working on my first children’s book, Mishka: An Adoption Tale. It’s so long ago, I forget exactly what the problem was that the printer—in China—was having with the illustrations I had placed in the layout—it became my problem, not the illustrator’s—so I wound up contacting Customer Service at Quark and got walked through fixing the problem.

Afterward, the woman at Quark who had helped me off the ledge was very modest about how she saved her day, no matter how profusely I thanked her. In fact, she told me to watch my mail for a little gift “for [my] trouble.” Imagine that, she helped me and was sending me a gift! Well, when it came, it was a CD full of “Extras” for Quark. The only problem was that I was working with version 6.something and these Extras required version 7.

At that point I wasn’t exactly getting enough book design work to spend the hundreds of dollars on software upgrades as often as I would have liked. So I emailed my new friend at Quark, thanked her, and asked if she wanted me to return the CD. She said, “No. Watch your mail again.”

Days later I received a full copy of Quark 7.02. For free. When I thanked her, she said—and this quote is exact; I still remember it—“This is one of the nice things I get to do now and again at my job.” And she went on to say she was leaving Quark for a new job with a new company, so this was a great way for her to close out her time there.

Soon after that, as I said, I started to use InDesign and gradually shifted over to it exclusively. That free Quark 7.02 upgrade was the last time I upgraded Quark until just last year. After Adobe went to its monthly fee, subscription method of selling its software, I was done with Adobe. Like my 17-inch MacBook Pro, I plan to ride my version of InDesign (and the rest of Adobe’s Creative Studio 5.5 suite for as long as it worked on whatever computers I am using). I so dislike being told I must rent their software eternally, instead of purchasing it outright whenever I feel ready for a new version.

That brings me to the last, perhaps most important, of upgrades: Macintosh operating systems. Now, normally, I want to upgrade the OS every chance I get. With incremental, “security” updates I always do so immediately. With big, “name change” OS updates—i.e., from Lion, to Mountain Lion, to Yosemite, and now to El Capitan—I wait a couple of months and read what feedback and reviews that I can on the new OS and then upgrade the MacBook Pro, nominally my “backup machine.”

I did just that a few months ago. I had to install a version of the Java Runtime Environment—not the latest version—for InDesign to work; but I did and it does.

So, for some reason, just before I went to bed last night, around midnight, I decided it was time to upgrade the iMac to El Capitan. I find it easier to do this late like this, so that I’m not in bed and watching and waiting for the pot to boil. Plus I very rarely sleep through the night, so I can check that it’s downloaded, tell it to install, and have it tip-top by morning.

All that went well. I simply forgot about the Java installation. It’s easy enough. Just have to find the correct version. Well, long story short, perhaps I should have waited on this part, as I was sleepy. I wound up installing the latest version of Java. Which left me fuming in the middle of the night. I found something that showed me how to uninstall the latest Java, using the Terminal app.

The Terminal is generally techier than I like to get. I’m not sure why. The few times I’ve needed it, things have gone well. It may be all the warnings I’ve read about the inadvisability of “playing” with Terminal. Well, so I copy and pasted the two lines of code into the Terminal window. Then I went back to bed.

This morning, after a quick Google for the version of Java that I need, I downloaded, installed, and now I’m back in business.

Maybe the middle of the night isn’t the best time.

Big Takeaways from Over 25 Years as A Freelancer

Add comment April 7th, 2016

Sounds funny to say, I suppose, but now after giving up the safety net—i.e., a secure, full-time day-job—that enabled me to freelance as a book designer/layout artist for more than twenty-five years without any worries caused by the uncertainties of steady work and paydays that go along with freelancing, I have had more than one epiphany about the whole “game”.

The first one is not entirely new. However in the spirit of giving something to people new to freelancing I repeat it now: If you don’t have enough work to support yourself, and the projects you get don’t pay you enough money for a proper living, try raising your prices. I was given this advice early on in my freelance career. It seemed counterintuitive. I mean, I could not find enough clients to pay me x, and now I should try to get hold of additional clients to pay me more than x?

But that was the conversation I walked into on an online forum for freelancers, so long ago I know longer remember the forum’s name, though I do remember the first name of the woman who ran it: Betty. Over an extended period of time—weeks, I think I remember—a couple of seasoned professionals kept at it, making the case that it was true that no paying client would take a freelancer, especially a new one, seriously if they didn’t take themselves seriously. And the first way to demonstrate that you take yourself, your skills, seriously, is by presenting yourself as someone who commands good rates, professional rates.

That worked for me. It was the start of my being held in some kind of professional regard. And looking back, I see it differently now, to wit: How can you expect others to value your work highly if you don’t. Nevertheless, over the years I have found it necessary to remind myself, again, of this truth.

My next revelation is the more surprising, however.

When I left my day-job, forgoing the safety net it provided, I was determined to freelance full-time. I do not believe I am old enough to just pack things in and retire from all the kinds of work I’ve done for most of my life. I intended to hit the ground running, spending a good part of my day on self-promotional activities. I was positively committed to this plan and the ultimate result: more freelance book design and layout work than I had ever had before.

But a curious thing happened. Reminiscent of the kind of creative visualization the circle I was in spoke of some thirty or forty years ago, a boatload of work simply showed up before I could do anything additional in the way of promotion or marketing my services. At the risk of sounding airy-fairy, I don’t need to be able to explain how or why in order to buy into the notion that my being 100% on-board somehow attracted all the new work.

I recommend highly committing wholeheartedly to your work.

The More I Get

Add comment March 24th, 2016

I find it amazing that in the middle of the busiest stretch that I have ever had in 25 years as a book designer, I still have time to fret that I’m not busier still.

Let me backtrack.

As I have explained before on this blog, I came to freelancing as a book designer/layout artist a bit over 25 years ago. At the time I was already into a 9-to-5 civil service job for over seven years. I would keep the 9-to-5 for almost 25 years more, retiring from it just this past November. I freelanced all those years, I liked to say, “with a net”—that is, with the safety of the full-time day-job.

And I was lucky to have it, because even when the freelance work was plentiful, the paydays were sporadic. There would be the up-front deposit, but then the remainder only upon completion. And that was only with self-publishers. With publishing companies, there was no up-front payment or “deposit” and payment was invariably 30 to 60 days—if I was lucky—after a book was completed.

So the full-time job was needed for any peace of mind and sense of financial security.

But I always wondered how I would have made out if my only work was freelancing as a book designer. The one thing I’ve learned since my retirement from the day job just before this past Thanksgiving is that it is at least possible that I would have been just fine. For one thing, I am in the middle of my busiest and most productive period of my work life to date. I attribute that to the ability to spend more time scouting out potential clients and projects. And finding them, to be able to spend all the time necessary pitching my services and discussing possible book projects with these potential clients.

Right now I have three books in various stages of progress: a children’s storybook, the first in a series of four, awaiting some last-minute copy for blurbs, as well as author’s and illustrator’s bios, and illustrations for the front and back covers; holding until I get feedback from my client on the first pass of pages of a book on child autism; sitting tight until a third client sends me the remaining text on a book expanded on from a transgender reimagining of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

In other words, I am not actually working at this very moment. As always, it drives me crazy. All the more because I have grown used to being busy almost constantly since leaving the day-job.

That part never changed. Nor does the fact that easily half of freelancing is searching for the next paying project.

The Year That Was, The Year to Be

Add comment January 3rd, 2016

The year just past, 2015, was an odd one for me as a freelance book designer. It started the way it usually does, slowly, but then got busy about halfway through. And stayed that way. It was no help, too, that once I decided to retire from my day-job as a court clerk I deferred all my thinking about promotion.

Of course, this blog suffered. But by this many years into the freelance game, 24 years, I often feel like I have nothing interesting to blog about. Then, too, I have not been the best about promoting the blog and getting the kind of rabid following that would make it easier to want to keep up with it.

Now that I am a freelance book designer 24/7 and with no other work, 9-to-5 or otherwise, my intention is to get as many book projects to work on as I can. That is not so different from how I felt all along. But deep down I always understood there were practical limitations on the time I could commit to freelance work.

Again, in retirement from my former employment, those limits disappear.

So the head of steam I picked up during the last half of 2015, fueled mostly by children’s books, is something I sought to maintain. Even while away for Christmas I monitored all the online spots I look to connect with potential clients. In fact, a handful of contacts bore fruit and I sent out to proposals yesterday, one to a client for whom I have worked on two books already and one to someone new. The latter was for the first in a series of children’s books.

I think these projects are safely mine. Just a question of final agreement on the price, the signing, and receiving checks.

Welcome 2016!

Turn the Page

Add comment November 25th, 2015

For some time now—and way too long—I’ve neglected the hell out of this blog o’ mine. In fact, I’ve written and posted just seven pieces here in 2015. That does not mean that I’ve lost interest in making books, book design, typefaces, freelancing, and in writing about all those things.

It would be nice to say that I’ve been busy as all get-out this year, designing and laying out books the whole time. Truth is, however, I’ve only worked on five books so far this year. And two of them were children’s books—books I’m proud of, but short, as children’s books usually are.

But now things take a decided turn.

Those of you who have stuck with me over the years know that I have freelanced as a book designer/layout artist for about twenty-four years, as I like to say … “with a net.” That is, I’ve also held a full-time day job that is totally unrelated to book design and publishing the whole time—in fact, going back over thirty-two years.

Well, in a few hours, at 9:00 AM I begin my last day at that day job. At 5:00 PM I retire from it and throw myself fully and only into the life of a freelance book designer and layout artist. I plan to take on as much book design and layout work as I can. Making books is the work I love to do. I mean to do such work every moment that I can. So I am open to hearing from everyone and anyone about the possibility of such work: traditional publishers, self-publishers, university and independent presses, and everything in-between.

I am finishing work on the second of the two children’s books I mentioned above, Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff. After that I will launch some kind of promotion, perhaps a postcard or maybe an email to every publisher in this year’s Writer’s Market. I also want to complete the two books I’ve begun writing—the first to show self-publishers how to make design choices and apply them to book pages made with the open-source (free!!!) program Scribus; and the second, a retrospective on the books I’ve worked on to date.

Additionally, I will be more attentive to this blog, writing frequently for it. Additionally, I hope, turning it into a platform for “book people” to bring their book design issues to for discussion.

Otherwise all I really want to do is play golf every day. And maybe find a team in an over-50 hardball league to pitch for.

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