Posts filed under 'freelancing'
December 31st, 2012
2011 was a boom year. 2012 not so much. Not to say that I was not busy. In fact, I worked pretty much throughout the year. I worked on a couple of long-term book projects—interior design and layout on one; cover design and execution and interior design and layout on another—longish books with stringent creative requirements that stretched through from one year to the next. These two books actually made up the lion’s share of my work. There were other books as well, but, overall, though I was worked steadily, the year was not so profitable as the one before.
Entering 2012 my optimism was on the wane. It simply seemed to me that I could not expect it to be as financially rewarding as 2011. Of course, I always worry about self-fulfilling prophecies and giving myself excuses for failing. But 2011 had been head and shoulders financially better than any other year I had ever worked as a freelance book designer/layout artist. The way the rest of the American economy suffered, I could not imagine that freelancing in the publishing arts would continue to fare so much better.
This was also the year in which my promotional skills took a step forward. I don’t pretend to know any more or any different than people who, for instance, make social media their main field of play, but I have finally coordinated my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog presences. I have been contacted through each of those venues by prospective clients. This last quarter of the year has seen a number of exciting propositions materialize.
First, I managed to line up three new books to begin in January. And second, I have opened a new avenue to promote my services, beginning to review big, new books on design on my blog. The first appeared about a month ago and was about Stephen Coles’ The Anatomy of Type. The second is being done as a series, the first of which appeared just a couple of days ago, on Phaidon’s boxed set, The Archive of Graphic Design. (The latter ill resume next time I post to the blog after the instant piece.)
And so it goes. I am set up for the biggest start to a new year that I have ever had!
January 28th, 2012
I talk a great deal about how I despise crowdsourcing, contests, and predatory jobs boards that encourage freelancers to underbid each other. So I am definitely on the side of not working without a paying agreement in place. But every once in a while a potential client shows up with a possible project that is so attractive and enticing to me that I actually begin to spend time, plan, and even put together some typeface and page samples into a page layout doc.
It’s embarrassing when I find myself ignoring my own paradigm.
Mind you, this does not happen often. But when it does, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about the possibilities for such a project or even more time trying to turn off my thoughts about a book I have not yet been offered.
Just a few such book design/layout projects are: the mini-coffee table book of photoessays about historic Waco, Texas; a novel containing all kinds of text material besides the straight narrative of the story; a series of health-related texts; a new edition of a community cookbook; and a two-book set based on a father’s letters to his children. Each of these contained challenges that had me sketching page shapes and grids; and each prodded me to print combinations of typefaces that might be used in their production.
The enthusiasm that causes me to break that rule I have against working for free—except for the occasional pro bono project or the book that I am so high on that I take for less than the job is worth—comes about only when I am over-ready for a book to work on and something shows up on my doorstep that I have never quite seen before.
But I am always on guard with my back permanently up against those trying to get free work on something they plan to sell.
October 30th, 2011
I tried earlier, months ago already, to emerge from this fallow period and to start blogging again regularly. Over the last week or so I began to make a list that would hopefully stretch to twenty or thirty pieces. I mean, surely I still have that much to offer anyone interested in book design and making books, particularly self-publishers.
So far, counting the instant piece, I have eleven. I might have said fifteen, counting the four ideas a friend tweeted or Facebook messaged me but that I somehow lost.
- 20 or 30 Pieces I Would Like to Write for This Blog, in which I present some new subjects that get to the heart of book design and freelancing, or in which I discuss some new things I have learned about old topics, all information from which self-publishers might benefit without spending the twenty or so years it took me to learn.
- 10 Books I Wish I Had Designed, a look at just that, maybe showing some sample pages and how I might have made them look. Although it has been said that there are only seven or ten or twelve plots in all of literature, I don’t know that picking ten books I wish I had designed would cover every possibility. But that really isn’t my point
- Sans Serif Typefaces I Might Consider for Body Text in Books would explore something that used to peeve me greatly: how some book designers ignore the “rule” that only serif types ought to be used for booklength stretches of text. Of course, now that I have years and years of this work under my belt, I’m both leery of hard and fast rules, as well as of my own hardline stances. It seems to me that if using a sans for a book’s body text makes that book stand out in a bright, creative way that does not distract the reader, I have served my client in the best way.
- Am I a Luddite for Having a ‘Tude About the Proliferation of Ebooks? discusses my reluctance to design, much less embrace, ebooks. The problem for me is still that the reader can adjust the typeface(s) used and type size.
- When I Blogged Regularly, I Was Busy; When I Stopped … about the benefits of an active online presence to graphic designers selling their services.
- Turning Down Work, in which I would discuss the importance of trusting one’s instincts about how difficult a prospective client might be to work with, and—this is the important point—how, when we work with clients not right for us, we almost guarantee the likelihood that the client’s needs are not met in the best way possible.
- Other Obsolete Art Forms takes the position that print books are on their way out and looks at some other art forms gone the way of the dodo bird.
- What Does It Take to—and How Did I—Become a Book Designer? Where I give up the goods on just how I got to be a freelance book designer and page composition artist.
- Confusing One’s Professional Identity and Promotional Path Online with Personal Voice. I asked an online acquaintance, another publishing freelancer, for some ideas for reaching new prospective self-publishers to offer my services. He pointed out that I discuss a lot of things—food, running, baseball—that don’t really give prospective clients a reason to hire me for book design. I’m concerned that he may be correct and disappointed that being multifaceted may not be of value to prospective clients.
- Am I Affected by Steve Jobs’ Death? I’m concerned about Apple without Jobs at the helm. Will they maintain the Macintosh OS as much of a productivity tool as it’s been to me for over twenty years?
- Writing a Book About Book Design may discuss my using this blog as the foundation for telling the story of how I became a freelance book designer and page layout artist, how I work, what tools I use, how I find work, and each of the books on which I’ve worked.
Well, that is about as much as I have to this point. But, as always, I am open to suggestions if you want to help me with the remaining nine or nineteen.
July 22nd, 2011
Over on Freelance Folder, there is a piece up that’s almost two weeks old, “Open Thread: Do You Ever Work for Free?” I started to comment, then realized I had enough to say that it might make for a piece here on the blog.
Since almost my first days freelancing as a book designer/page layout artist—hell, back to when I did my very first bit of freelance work, as a proofreader—I rejected the idea that working for free was a generous opportunity from someone to help me get experience and move my career forward. And I’ve been enough postings for that kind of work and been solicited for it more times than I care to remember.
What’s wrong with it, you might ask, for people just starting out and looking to gain some experience? Well, for one thing, almost all such “clients” are themselves looking to make money with the fruits of your free work. The other thing I have noticed—and this is perhaps a function of my experience, closing in on twenty years now—is that the entities seeking to allow me the opportunity to gain experience and exposure themselves tend to have a lot less time in existence as businesses.
So I’ve taken to countering that they should pay for the learning experience of working with me, if not the actual product of my work.
If you still feel unworthy of accepting money for your creative efforts, work for a legitimate non-profit. I did just that a few months back—it was my first pro bono work in some time—when I allowed my services to be auctioned off by Writers for the Red Cross to benefit, of course, the Red Cross. That’s the kind of “work for exposure” that feels good. And I knew it was not some greedy scam to profit on work not fairly paid for.
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 23rd, 2011
My, how things have changed! When I wrote this for the hacked blog over three years ago, traditional publishers were on a much sounder footing than today. Additionally, self-publishing had not yet lost its “vanity publishing” stigma, nor become the sophisticated business model some authors have made it. Indeed, some of my most profitable projects and must pleasant clients were with self-published books.
My experience is that steady projects and paydays usually result from hooking up with established publishers and book packagers. And by “established,” I really mean traditional publishing companies, run as businesses rather than acts of love; ones that have a number of authors in the fold. In the case of book packagers, this means ones that do production for at least a few publishers.
In my estimation, such smaller clients often do not seem to think like businesses. They sometimes do not appear to value freelancers as other small businesspeople. Often it seems that they seek to pay their contractors in the most economical way they can, forgetting that they should want to work with freelancers who value the work they do to much the same high degree that the publishers value their books.
More’s the pity, because a lot of times the more interesting book projects that cross the transom come from micro- and self-publishers—at least those few who do not publish books about self-publishing and how to self-publish. Unfortunately, these tiny book projects do not often result in the best paydays.
I find, then, that the most satisfying way for me to work is to have my cake and eat it, too. That is, a steady diet of an established publisher or two’s books enables me to afford to work for these smaller clients. That way, I earn the income I need and I get to design and lay out interesting, even amusing at times, books. And the only way I know to ensure such a balance of clients and projects is by not worrying about turning down low-paying work until I have enough work on the rolls that pays sufficiently.
May 18th, 2011
Another look back to one of the pieces from the hacked blog, this one worth repeating periodically, actually, because negotiating prices for projects is always with the freelancer.
Art of the deal? Uh-huh. Right. As a beginner, I took what I could get—especially if the project was math-related, as I wanted to develop a “specialty,” typesetting equations. Having no real experience when I started, I created samples using various exercises from tutorials for both PageMaker and QuarkXPress.
During the time I was working on the science journals, I was contacted by the managing editor of a small religious press. I had not contacted him directly. Rather, he told me, I had contacted another publisher, a friend of his, with one of my blind email inquiries. The friend had no use for my freelance services, but he sent my information to the managing editor of the small religious press.
I worked on six or seven books for them, using the same simple layout for all the books that I designed for the interior pages of the first one. We agreed on a rate of $6 per page, pretty good for a simple book filled with plain text, no tabular material, and no math, I thought at the time. They had offered that price the first time we spoke; no negotiation took place.
About that time I began to think more about taking a more active role in deciding how much I was paid. I knew this would involve a willingness to decline projects occasionally, something I could not imagine doing without some discomfort. But I learned.
The way I come up with bids for a project is by starting off with ranges for each of the tasks involved. First comes the interior design phase. I consider everything—from initially speaking with the client about the project to get some flavor of it, reviewing some of the book’s text and any art that will be used in the book, to passing back-and-forth sample ideas and finalizing those sample pages into a template—part of this first phase. I figure this part of my price based on a range of flat rates.
The second part of the process is the layout of interior pages. For this I give clients a per-page rate. Sometimes this phase just flies by, and other times it seems to drag. But when a client sends me a clean file that has been marked up efficiently—this, of course, for straight layout jobs—I have the opportunity to work very quickly and, depending on the per-page rate, I can make out very well at times.
Designing and executing a cover, though not something I do as often as interiors, can be one of the more fun parts of a book. But as it is the first thing prospective readers see when they spot a book, a great deal of care must go into what the cover means to convey. Because of that, the time necessary to conceive and execute a cover, as well as the price charged, can fluctuate wildly.
I add these three figures together for a flat price for the project. And then, when putting the bid in, I note that two rounds of corrections are included, but that any author’s or editor’s changes that affect a sizeable number of pages will be billed at an hourly rate.
I also tell the client that I may be willing to show some flexibility with my price, especially if the project is one that I find interesting or of some import. I close by asking what they had in mind for a budget on my involvement in the project. After that, they either agree with my price, come back with something lower, or excuse themselves and I move on. If they come back with another price, I will either accept or counter. If they clearly have no intention of paying the minimum I think the job is worth, then I politely excuse myself and move on.
May 12th, 2011
I love looking over my old takes on how I began to do all this. And, of course, I blogged about it a lot when I began the first blog. Much of those “takes” were lost when the old blog got hacked, but here’s a piece—part of a series, actually—that captured nicely
Recently I was asked whether I would like to guestblog somewhere on becoming a freelance book designer and layout artist. In the midst of a very busy spell, I declined. Weeks later someone on a publishing freelancers forum posted a whole list of issues that beginners have questions about and I took note. Finally, when an online friend suggested that it might be time for me to run a series on my own blog covering the design and layout of a book from start to finish, I agreed, deciding to first cover the road to becoming a freelance book designer and layout artist.
* * *
In 1992 I owned a Macintosh IIx computer and a LaserWriter IINT. I possessed about fifteen years’ experience as a proofreader of science and mathematics books and academic journals. That experience was gained prior to 1992, mostly at a poorly-run computer typesetter and the kind of place that made me think, If I had the equipment, I could do this work better and more economically by myself. Hence my having the Macintosh and laser printer.
I give myself credit for one thing from the start: I knew that the most important question, one that never goes away, is, How do I find work? To this day, I admit that I get edgy when I am in-between projects.
My first tries at freelance graphic arts work were through the Sunday newspapers. I mailed out a cover letter and my résumé hundreds of times. I included samples that consisted of résumés I had typeset for others, as well as a single fanfold brochure created for a friend. I sent out hundreds of these little packets. About 2% brought in responses of any kind, all but two negative. I got two projects this way, the teacher’s edition of an algebra textbook and a brochure for a medical supplies company.
A 2% response rate may be pretty good, but I thought it was dreadful. For all the postage and money spent on supplies, two paying jobs in over a year did not cut it.
My first break came the old-fashioned way: a good friend who was proofreading for a small, local book production service mentioned that they were looking for someone to help with layout. I contacted them, used my friend as a reference, and freelanced for them from my studio at home for a couple of years. It was repetitive, low-paying work, but I needed seasoning, and I viewed it as an opportunity to get paid while developing my skills.
I first went on the Internet in 1998, by way of a free, text-only service provided by the local library system. It changed how I searched for work. I began to email a cover letter and my résumé, in addition to the old way via post office mail. And, of course, I looked for online jobs boards that specialized in publishing jobs and freelance work.
My second big break came when that “old-fashioned way,” a friend in the right place, came through once more. I answered a jobs board posting seeking a layout artist for a Florida science journals publisher. The response I got began: “Steve, is this really you?” Remarkably, a friend from my days at the poorly-run computer typesetter years before, happened to have moved to Florida where she became the production supervisor at that science journals publisher. I worked for them for three years, as I loved the steady work and enjoyed polishing my math typesetting skills, at very low rates. When my friend left, I was able to stop working for them, too, without a trace of bad feeling.
Sometime in 1999 I had begun attaching PDFs of my résumé and the few work samples I had to the email body, which served as a cover letter and emailing that whole package to every publisher in the current year’s Writer’s Market that published an email address in that directory. And I stopped wasting money on hard copies and postage. I do this twice each year.
Since then, except for a couple of “snail-mailed” promotional postcards, I only seek work via email and the Internet. I regularly check a handful of sites listing freelance opportunities. I flatly avoid all the “meat market” bid-for-work sites. A client who will hire someone accepting a low-ball rate is not the client for me at this stage of the game. If someone pays bottom-of-the-barrel, then that is the level of experience they are entitled to and will likely get (which may still be pretty good work; or maybe not).
The one thing I learned from these early experiences was that we freelance graphic designers, production editors, layout artists, and book designers can be our own worst enemies. That is, the longer we accept sub-par rates, the longer they will be offered—often on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. On the other hand, it’s all too easy for the well-fed, experienced designer to tell the hungry, inexperienced writer to turn down paying work of any kind. My advice errs on the side of understanding that we all need to get our foot in the door.
But I think we all need to know how to measure when we have passed through our “inexperienced” phase and when it is time to start turning down sub-par rates so that—being practical here—if nothing else, the next generation of novices can cut their own teeth working for the low-paying scavengers. And I mean that affectionately, pleased that I did get the experience I needed.
Next time: Steady Work, Agreeing to Rates, and Negotiating Agreeable Rates
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.
March 21st, 2011
I thought it would be good for me to report on my involvement in the Writers for the Red Cross online auction. My item, the design and layout of a book, wound up bidding up at the top of the week’s proceeds. For that I am truly happy for the Red Cross.
As it turned out, the winner is a new small press run by someone for whom I have done book design and layout work at his “day job” at a college press.
So this resulted in a very definite win-win, as I had yet to work for him at the new outfit and he knows my work. Plus the Red Cross, at this time especially, can really use some support. They happen to be what I call a legitimate non-profit. That’s very important when it comes to performing work for free.
Spec work, crowdsourcing, and contests are—until proven otherwise to me—avenues for profit-making ventures (or those trying desperately to be such) to parasitically suck the blood from people trying very hard to keep their head above water and earn an honest day’s pay. Unlike these entities and individuals who solicit spec work and the rest.
If a person or company seeking to do business cannot or will not afford to pay for goods and services they need to conduct business, they should not be in business. Sports franchises get away with this, as any individual professional sport league in the U.S. seeks to guarantee all its teams a profit; and I have, for some time, found the practice un-American and flying in the face of our capitalist system. And I tend to like capitalism.
All the nonsense about working “for exposure” being good for novices is nonsense when it comes, again, to working for businesses seeking to turn a profit. All that is exposed is the workers desperation and refusal to value their own effort.
If one wants to work for nothing more than exposure, I always suggest finding a pro bono project from a legitimate non-profit. Which brings me back to the Red Cross and the online auction. I cannot recommend highly enough the value of this kind of working for free. In my case, adding this last in, it was a win-win-win.
Interestingly, I was contacted after the auction closed and a winner was announced, by one of the bidders who had not submitted the winning bid. She expressed an interest in contracting my services and, although we have not yet struck a deal—I believe we very possibly will—I think this proves the value of this kind of exposure, instead of working for, essentially, chiselers trying to get something for nothing at the same time they look to make a profit. So this may very well wind up a win-win-win-win sitch.