Posts filed under 'book design'

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.

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.

More from Book Design 101

Add comment April 14th, 2016

And then there’s the downside to freelancing as a book designer so far away from my clients.

The waiting.

Drives me crazy.

Every book has judgment calls on my part, where I make a decision in the first pass on how I want something to look. Then when I get it back for corrections, I find my vision’s either been confirmed or else the client’s called for a change.

Sometimes, however, it’s simpler. Like a book’s textfiles show the placement art or graphics (photos, drawings, etc.). Now the way a lot of authors do it is to just place the graphics in the Word file–MS Word is how I get text 99.99% of the time. This is the wrong way to do it. The art never places correctly at fine resolution that way.

The better way is to just note the placement of the graphic, whether it’s a photo or something else, and then send any and all artfiles, at correct resolution—600 dpi for line art and 300 dpi for photos or grayscales; for extra credit they should be in .tif format–either individually in email, or by uploading a compressed folder of them to a cloud storage sight like Dropbox, or to an FTP site.

This is not to say folks who send things this way are awful people. But best practice–a better, more efficient workflow–that results in the best looking pictures goes the way I described above.

And it keeps me from banging my head against the wall. (Kidding. I’m kidding.)

On Children’s Books

Add comment January 16th, 2016

When my grandchildren were young, I used to wish for children’s books to work on, so that I could show them Poppy’s work. But except for one children’s book in 2007, Mishka: An Adoption Tale, my work was exclusively textbooks about different kinds of engineering, and science journals, both loaded with mathematics, equations, and tabular material.

mishka_frtcov

Until last year, 2015. First I got to work on a neat little storybook about a child’s first brush with death. I know, sounds grim—how could I call this book “a neat little storybook”?

Well, When My Baba Died, the story of a child living through the death of a grandmother, placed the experience under a comforting light. Written from an albeit religious perspective by author Marjorie Kunch, described in her author’s bio as “a mother, mortician, and Orthodox Christian,” death comes across as a natural step that closes out a person’s earthly existence, but leads to something peaceful and not at all scary.

9780996404525-Perfect_aug11

Now, whether or not the religious angle is your cup of tea, the story is told in a very comforting manner and the pictures are bright and cheery. This feel of this book was just what I had in mind years ago when I first looked to design and lay out children’s books.

While I was working on Baba I received another children’s book project which I have since finished. This one is titled Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff and is just as fun and quirky as it sounds, even as it drives home a notion of common sense about how the diets of pets ought to be treated with care. Although I’m showing the front cover below, this is one for which I did  just the interior, although I did add the author’s and illustrator’s name to the front cover.

front_cover_wht

But as welcome as these books were, I must admit they each surprised me with issues and “special needs.” At least compared to all the non-children’s books I’ve done.

Or one thing, page size and type choices—including type size and leading—are a whole new and intense ballgame. As it’s safe to say that children’s books have much less text—and therefore, type—in them, as well as illustrations that take up space, the way text is placed and runs is particularly important for a pleasing look.

Just for instance …

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 11.29.37 AM

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.13.42 PM copy

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.53.05 PM

But then there are issues that cropped up that I had never encountered before. With Mishka, I’m afraid I can’t remember the exact issue, but it had to do with typefaces and an overseas printer. I do not generally give the client my native files, but rather send them only printer-ready PDFs. But the printer in Asia kept telling my client that the typefaces were causing problems and they needed me to send all of them.

I called Quark (the company), because I was using QuarkXPress, and I thought perhaps there was an issue with how the PDF was distilling from their software. I was lucky enough to make contact with someone from Quark’s Customer Support Department who really cared. She walked me through some stuff and took a look at files I sent her. She thanked me for being a loyal Quark customer—I’d mentioned that I’d been using Xpress since version 3.0. She told me to expect “a surprise” in the mail “for [my] trouble].”

Weeks later I received a CD of “graphic extras” to use with Quark. But I found that it would not work with my version of QuarkXPress, 6.something, and I offered to return it. My personal Customer Service rep—for that was how I had come to think of her, as she had taken such an interest, fixed my issue, and then sent me a gift—told me not to bother returning the disk. A week or so later, I got yet another little package from her, the update to version 7 for free. And when I thanked her, she told me that this was one of the perks of her job: she got to do special nice things like this every now and then.

In its turn, When My Baba Died brought a different unexpected problem. For the first time, after working on dozens of books loaded with photographs and full-color illustrations, I ran into an ink coverage issue. That is, a printer returned the dust jacket PDF because the ink coverage on the page was over their 240% limit. That is, each of the four ink colors—Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, black—are part of the formula that make up printed colors, expressed in percentages. For the printer used for When My Baba Died, the total of those four percentages cannot add up to more than 240.

Cutting to the chase … I did some online searching and found an article that explains all this and provides a link to a profile to drop into InDesign that handles the issue, “Force Color Images to CMYK with a 240% Ink Limit.

But needless to say, this is another example of how just because children’s books are clearly shorter than most other kinds of books doesn’t mean there aren’t still thorny issues to contend with.

Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff has been a good project in and of itself. I have no misgivings or sense of what I might have done differently, and better, with this one. It was just one of those that seemed to try to draw me into the book shepherding end of things. I found myself wanting to line up all the different kinds of places an author might speak at to promote a children’s book.

That said, I’m awaiting finalization of a deal on yet another children’s book, one that could be the start of a four-book series. And while I’m always more hopeful of steadier projects and the fun and learning experience that only a bumpy ride can bring, the prospect of starting a book series and helping to establish its brand is exciting.

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.

Half a Dozen Regrettable Choices That Mark a Self-Published Book “Amateur”

19 comments August 5th, 2013

  1. Using one of the typefaces that come resident on most every computer … like Times New Roman. It’s intellectually lazy to not explore what typefaces are out there for best taking an author’s words to his or her readers.
  2. Using type at a size that’s more conducive to squeezing more words on the printed page than making for comfortable reading.
  3. Margins and/or leading that is stingy, leading to less than optimal white space and too many characters per line, something that can tax readers’ eyes and their ability to stay focused on what they are reading.
  4. Tables of Contents for novel whose chapters do not have titles, only numbers. The word “Chapter,” a number, and then a page number are unnecessary and rather silly looking. Present such a table of contents in a two-column format (when everything else in the book, aside, perhaps for an Index, which a novel wouldn’t have, is single-column) and we have a book that, right at the start, looks ridiculous. The Table of Contents appears to be squeezed in to use the least amount of space. If it’s necessary, it deserves the proper amount of room.
  5. Opening paragraphs of a chapter that have the first line indented. They should be flush left and, while we’re at it, a conservative initial drop cap (or even a raised initial cap) often presents very nicely.
  6. Sending art embedded in Microsoft Word—or worse PowerPoint—files. And for the best chance at successful placing of photos, they should be in TIFF format, a lossless filetype (unlike JPEG, which is lossy).

Bonus Choice: Not checking spelling. You don’t have to be a design or editorial pro to get this right. And one that always stands out and drives me crazy is “loose” when an author means “lose.” If I spot one of those in a book when I’m considering it, I will set it down in a New York second.

Note: Although it is tempting to say that readers are responsible for whether they remain focused on what they are reading, those of us involved in making books—publishing companies, self-publishing authors, and book designers alike—should do all we can to help readers stay involved with the books they read.

Book Design Work Done Before Its Time Is Work Wasted

Add comment June 8th, 2013

One of the hazards of loving to do book design as much as I do is that I can sometimes be so eager to start a book design and layout project that ideas begin to percolate before an agreement has been reached with a client and a contract signed. This almost inevitably leads to trying out some of these ideas on the page. The obvious drawback, of course, is that I might start working and never actually win the bid and the job.

Nearly as much of a mistake is to begin work before the materials, text or illustrations, are finalized. Sometimes this is unavoidable, as when an author does not realize changes will become necessary. This occurred recently I one project where a self-publishing author quoted from a number of reference works on his subject. After the writing was completed and his book shepherd gave him the word about seeking permission for the quotes, he was shocked to see what all the permissions would cost him.

So he went about paraphrasing the quotes, referencing the source texts in his bibliography but saving the expense of obtaining permissions. He also did painstaking work to make each of the paraphrases occupy pretty much the same space as the quotes he edited out. Without his thorough attention to every word, substituting the new text for the quotes could have been a much more time-intensive task for me than it turned out to be. But I cannot underscore heavily enough the importance of making sure one’s contracts either take into account early work that ends up redone or that you restrain the urge to begin work before there is general agreement that the materials you begin working with have final approval.

That Ol’ Black Magick

Add comment May 26th, 2013

I go on a lot about how much I love making books. But there are not-so-happy moments, too. I’ve made enough, the past couple of days, about how badly I think of Adobe’s decision to no longer sell Creative Studio and its components (InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator being the main pieces, or at least the ones that affect me). So I’ll not bore you anymore about that.

But there is the dark magic that computers occasionally bring forth. Happened again yesterday. Or at least I heard about it yesterday. Recently I received a list of a whole batch of corrections and edits for the novel on which I’m working, the one with transliterated Lakota. I assure you I made them all before burning a CD and sending it to my client. This morning my self-publishing author emailed me to say that “[t]he first such fix right out of the box” appeared not to have been done. Now, I know I did that first one, because I had a question about it right at the start and h and I had an exchange of emails to clarify. But, sure enough, the PDF that I copied and sent to him on the CD was missing that correction.

So I went back to my latest InDesign file for the book, the one from which I distilled the PDF. Again, no first correction. But the next twenty or so were done. Then, mysteriously, the a chunk of remaining edits appeared not to be done before they were picked up again until the last one. I have no explanation as to what happened or why. It is, however, making me a little crazy trying to see what the issue is. The simplest explanation is that I sent an older PDF—or, rather, distilled a PDF from an older InDesign file. Except that does not explain why the corrections picked up again after a certain point.

Oh, the joy of freelancing!

It Takes More Than Formatting to Make a Book

Add comment May 16th, 2013

As much as I am having a really good time designing books for self-publishers, I hear entirely too many of them talk about needing only a cover designer and someone to format their text. It is true that ebooks don’t take as much design as print—unless they are fixed layout ebooks, any design and layout choices can be changed by the reader. (Hence my extremely mixed feeling about ebooks, despite my listing toward being something of a technology junkie.)

That said, and taking ebooks out of the equation, too many self-publishers want the benefit of cutting out a third party as publisher and at the same time want readers to pay for the privilege of owning, essentially, do-it-yourself projects done for nickels and dimes. For the life of me, I do not understand why it is so hard to understand that readers must be given something for his or her hard-earned cash that looks like a book they want to own.

That’s where professional book design enters the frame. Throwing words together artlessly, either on the page or on a screen, misses the opportunity to make a book that is an object of art befitting the writing that makes up the content of that book. And that, like it or not, suggests the writing isn’t worth the investment of time and money to make it look like an object of art.

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