Posts filed under 'from previous blog'

Making Books: Design and Production, How I Started

Add comment 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

Free Tools for the Beginning Book Designer

Add comment November 20th, 2010

This is one of my favorite pieces from the old, compromised blog. I enjoyed my wiseass take on grandkids as “our replacements”—it stills makes me smile when I read it now. But the meaning of this piece to me is that it’s when I began to acknowledge a sense that things I learned and learned about could assist others starting out on the freelance path I chose

It’s taken me awhile to write and post this. Mostly because my granddaughters—“our replacements,” an old friend calls them—were visiting the last week and a half. But that may also have pointed me toward my material this time around.

See, I’ve been thinking about novice book designers starting out. It can be an expensive proposition when one begins, I realize, all while striving to get one’s foot in the door. Hardware is just the initial investment.

Software, too, adds up. Additionally, with software, there’s the stinking suspicion that open-source software—TeX (in all its flavors) and Scribus for page layout, plus various printing, drawing, and photo editing programs—may make an investment in QuarkXPress or InDesign, and art programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator a waste of money.

I know there are those who swear by open-source, regarding commercial software as unnecessary. I am certain these same people do relatively good work. But no book publisher or packager who was looking to hire someone for design or layout of a book ever asked me whether I was skilled in Tex or Scribus.

But I come not to praise—or take shots—at software choices. Rather I want to discuss the tool next in line: typefaces. Where do we get them? What’s the story with how expensive they can be? Are there alternatives to paying top dollar to Adobe and the other foundries out there, boutique and otherwise?

The first types we handle are the resident fonts in our computers. On the Macintosh, my choice, that means Times Roman, Helvetica, Palatino, etc. On PCs I imagine that means fonts called Arial, Swiss, and Comic Sans—there’s an “inside sports” joke here that I’ll get back to … if I remember—among others. Then there are the “bonus” fonts packages with other software. I know of two reputable sources like that: Corel (Draw, Paint, WordPerfect, which I have never owned, because Quark, Adobe products, and MS Word seemed to be pretty much the professional software of choice that a book designer/layout artist would need to consider) and Adobe.

My first font purchase, as I;ve mentioned before on this blog, was a twosome: Adobe Garamond and Futura. I wish I could remember what they cost back in 1989. I think I recall around $100 each. Next I bought Bodoni and Frutiger from Adobe. And those were my last individual purchases for some time to come, because it wasn’t long after that I bought a version of Adobe Illustrator—version 6, I believe—that came with the aforementioned generous slice of Adobe’s Postscript 1 Typeface Library.

Many of my favorites, typefaces that I still use today, are in that Adobe collection. So I would urge any new book designer to look around for it, as there are more than mere favorites in it. Classic typefaces can be found in that collection. But that still requires an investment of cash.

What about totally free typefaces?

Well, I should digress here and say that there are many great resources to learn about typefaces. My favorites are John Boardley’s wonderful blog, I love typography and the Typophile forums. Truth be told, there are many others that I frequent now and again. Smashing Magazine, although primarily a web resource has good material about fonts. And there are countless others. For this piece I searched through all of them and more. I also put out the word for suggestions on a number of forums, though not on Typophile, as I thought it a bit much to ask professional type designers who earn their living creating types to suggest free typefaces.

One thing that becomes immediately apparent when doing a search such as this is that most free fonts are display fonts, not particularly good, and rarely complete. (By “complete,” I mean a complete set of characters, from upper and lowercase, to numerals, punctuation, and accented glyphs.)

But I did come up with eight typeface families that I think might be used in designing and laying out books. Now, to be fair, two of them, Fontin and Fontin Sans, I had learned about some time ago on the aforementioned “I love typography.” The fact that Jos Buivenga designed both a serif and a sans serif, making Fontin a comprehensively complete family caught my attention and I’ve been meaning to use them and plan to soon. [It took three years, but I finally found a book they matched really well with and I used them.] I would advise novice book designers who choose to make such a search as mine to take a look at Mr. Buivenga’s exljbris Font Foundry, as well as his fine blog of the same name. He has a selection of eight fonts on the site, as well as an intriguing new one, Calluna [this one has come a long way since I first wrote about it here], in the works.

My other six selections to start a type library for free are nearly evenly split between serif and sans serif types. They include another from exljbris, the sans Delicious. Next up is Gentium, “a typeface for the nations.”. (Designed by Victor Gaultney, “Gentium” means “of the nations.”) Goudy Sans is an idiosyncratic sans by Frederic W. Goudy. The Fell Types, developed for computer typesetting by Igino Marini, are a selection of different serif, “modern revival fonts” I loosely categorize as a single selection. They bear some careful study in deciding whether and where to use them. Last are Liberation Sans and Liberation Serif, developed by Steve Matteson, again pleasing to me not just for themselves but because they form a complete serif and sans family.

I think these form a nice set of types to study and use athe best of all prices. Which is not to say that there are not others out there that deserve to be mentioned. In fact, I invite anyone who has a favorite free typeface family that is suitable for book design, to please make mention of them in a comment to this piece.

The Platform and Upgrade Conundrums

Add comment November 3rd, 2010

Here’s another one from the archives of the corrupted blog. I thought of it this morning because I’ve been reading some on the forums about when to upgrade, the costs of it, the ramifications to working the way one is used to.

Aside from the ever-present challenge of keeping new book design and layout projects coming in, both to keep working and just to stay fresh, I find the thorniest issue to be the question of when to upgrade. This pertains to both hardware and software.

Without even considering the obvious question of whether my finances will bear the cost of upgrading, for years the first question I asked myself concerned the continued existence of Apple Computer (now simply Apple, Inc.). There was a time when predictions ran rampant that Apple could not possibly survive much longer on their own thin share of the P.C. market.

Ignoring the annoying attitude I continue to sense occasionally that one’s chosen computer platform is akin to one’s religion, I always believed that a computer is simply a tool, like a wrench or a saw. If I worked as a plumber or a carpenter, and Sears forever closed its doors and Craftsman tools were no longer available, I doubt that would cause me to quit my trade. Instead, my tool company of choice would probably change. So I remember a time when I thought the next computer I bought might, of necessity, be a Windows machine. I began preparing myself psychologically. Thankfully, it never happened that way.

That said, it was back in 1990, that I first found that—at least for page design, typesetting, and layout—the Macintosh and the peripherals I needed to use were in sync from the time I plugged them in and cabled them together. They just worked properly together right from the jump. I turned the computer on, began learning to use the software I would use, and started to work productively. Every Windows machine I saw back then seemed to require technical expertise to get peripherals such as printers and scanners to work with that platform and to perform all the supporting tasks to making books: opening, copying, and saving files; printing; and otherwise using page layout software.

Currently, I work on a G5 PowerMacintosh. [Needless to say, that’s changed since I’m now on a 24-inch Intel iMac.] My G3 PowerBook laptop died over the winter, so when I can, I plan to purchase a 17-inch MacBook Pro. That will mean beginning the switch to Intel processors in my production environment. Not being one to pioneer unnecessarily, I just set up my wife on an Intel iMac.

I upgrade software even more cautiously: only when clients let me know the time has come. Until then I don’t fix something that works. For instance, I recently got QuarkXPress 7; no client has requested I use it yet, however. So my work with it has consisted of noodling to this point. I’m ready when the time comes.

And since I originally wrote this, in June or July of 2007, I haven’t used Quark again. InDesign really did kill my need to use Quark. Partly because many clients request it and partly because it is so well-integrated with Photoshop and Illustrator.

The Kick to Children”s Books

Add comment October 30th, 2010

After a month-long hiatus, during which I focused on marketing and promotion, I also took time to resurrect more of my previous blog’s chestnuts that had been lost during the infamous corrupting of my site, blog, and Twitter account by unknown, nefarious individuals. Here is the first of another of those “chestnuts,” one that I was particularly interested in getting out there again, as it discusses children’s books, at a time when I had just finished work on my first children’s storybook.

The page design and layout of an illustrated children’s book is as interesting as freelance book design and page composition projects get. Completely beside the strong emotion you feel from showing such a finished book to, say, your grandchildren, there is the unexpected complexity to the job, and how that complexity makes your creative juices flow.

An illustrated storybook for children begins with—no big surprise in this—the words the author uses to tell the story. That would be the lead that an artist follows when creating the illustrations: he or she must first and foremost follow the words and the storyline.

The page designer starts by giving thought to choosing a typeface with some visual interest. It needs to be a typeface with more than just a Times Roman kind of utility, a typeface with not too many flourishes, and one that will hold a child’s eye. Then, when laying out the book’s pages, the page designer must allow the art to advance the story—tell it, really—flowing the text so that the words keep pace with the illustrations. The text must neither jump ahead of what the pictures say, nor fall behind them. Either one would throw off the story’s pacing and let go of the reader’s attention.

The whole thing, odd as it may sound, is really quite musical, kind of a dance. The words need to flow rhythmically from page to page, on the beat established by the illustrations.


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