Posts filed under 'the business of freelancing'

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.

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.

“Reality Bites!”

Add comment May 2nd, 2016

My apologies to the motion picture makers who first used the title above, but it was the first phrase I thought of when I was informed that Pascha Press, the indy publisher of When My Baba Died and its associated workbook, for whom I served as Creative Director, was suspending operations.

Publishing remains a rough business. When there was only traditional publishing, big companies that essentially decided what books were available for readers around the world—this after globalization and consolidation of many, many publishing companies worldwide left just six then five mega-publishers—would make or break new writers and recycle the same batch of proven bestselling authors and their periodic latest works. Then—the way I see it from my perch as a freelance book designer thanks to the personal computer revolution—desktop publishing came along and led to the legitimizing of “vanity publishing,” which gave way to the self-publishing revolution.

It was said once that, “The power of the press belongs to he who owns the press.” [My apologies for the sexist pronoun, but that’s the quote.] Turns out the real power may have been in the ability to accomplish pre-press and production on a desk in one’s bedroom or on a laptop at the library. And once the ability to publish e-versions became available at—in some cases—virtually no cost to authors, the dogs were let out. Once and for all.

Books that once would have found their way blocked by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing—to be sure, some deservedly so—got their chances to find audiences both in print and on e-devices. To be sure, the absence of gatekeepers makes it all the more important that authors make their best efforts to choose their subjects with some care, write well, get their manuscripts professional editing and design, and develop and execute a targeted marketing plan.

When I began my career as a freelance book designer some 25 years ago “with a net”—that is, “on the side” from my unrelated 9-to-5 job—I worked for a few traditional publishers and some smaller publishing companies that specialized in Catholic literature and science, math, and other professional journals. The past six or seven years, however, self-publishers alone have filled my production calendar. And more and more of those self-publishers have formed their own publishing companies.

I realize that individuals forming their own publishing companies did not result from anything I said, but I have been telling clients and potential clients for some time now that choosing to self-publish is a decision to go into business as a publisher, even if just one time for their one book. Additionally, there is something of an imprimatur given by having the name of an actual business entity, a company or corporation, on the cover and title page of a book.

But as the publishing business democratized, the competition for eyeballs—and, more importantly, for people willing to lay out their hard-earned money for the privilege of possessing and reading print books and their various e-versions—has spiraled ever-upward. That makes the marketing and promotion of book sales most important.

And it doesn’t always go well for these independent and self-publishers, which saddens me, as I don’t just earn a living from book design. I also just plain love books. Especially print books.

So I am saddened by the decision for Pascha Press—the publisher of the very original and vital children’s book, When My Baba Died (and its accompanying workbook)—to shutter its operation.

I would still implore anyone who has or knows anyone with young children who have faced or are facing the prospects of a loved one’s passing to contact Pascha Press directly or Amazon and purchase a copy of, When My Baba Died and the workbook.

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.

Sometimes We Lose Out on a Job … Dodging a Bullet

2 comments December 20th, 2014

See, it is sometimes hard to tell where an opportunity will lead. Sometimes, you can almost taste the deliciousness of a very interesting-sounding book design-and-layout project; and you start to imagine all the things the very large fee will help you accomplish.

It feels like hell, however, when it gets through to you that the job just is not destined to happen.

So much so, that, still enormously dejected, I need to avoid writing in the first person. I just don’t want to see again that I missed out on a really spectacular project. Hence the unusual—for me—second-person voice.

Well over a year ago I was contacted by a person somewhere out in America who worked for what sounds like a research company that’s located, more or less, in my backyard. We discussed this multivolume work—this person called it an “encyclopedia”—at length, and I was told it would be great if I reached an agreement with the company’s principal, who would be making the decision. And, incidentally—even though I provided a price that was relayed to the principal and found to be acceptable–the project was nowhere near ready to go to a book designer, as portions were still being written.

Freelancing carries with it a whole lot of unpredictability as far as the scheduling of paying projects. Your first job as a freelance book designer, you realize pretty quickly, is to locate potential clients to begin talking to about the possibility of work. When you speak with a company the issue is whether they will consider outsourcing the work. When you speak to an individual—generally, a self-publishing writer—you first need to impress upon them the idea that they want to publish a book that does not instantly shout, “I’m self published!”

Then there is a kind of hybrid, a company that is not based primarily on making books, where the management is essentially a single person with a magnum opus based on their company’s work. That was the case with this encyclopedia project that came to nothing.

Two or three months ago, easily at least a year after we first spoke, I contacted that person back out in America to follow up and see whether the encyclopedia ever hatched–not yet. And we began a new dialogue, complete with more talk about the price. I actually forgot that I had already mentioned a number and came up with another, a much larger number. I was quickly reminded that the principal had the earlier number in mind.

As things really seemed to progress—and this was be being too eager, too enthusiastic, and too confident that there was a job for me to get—I started to think about how I might put together this multivolume set. I requested samples of the text and illustrations, so I could begin to play with type samples and page orientations. I wound up producing two samples, one based on the MS Word doc of the text that the principal had set up in a way that he found attractive, and a second based on my interpretation of a traditional two-column reference book.

After years of telling prospective clients that I do not audition and that they should look at samples of my previous work, I auditioned. When I was told that the principal needed to see more out of me, that the samples didn’t seem particularly “creative,” I was visited by my first burnt feeling. I explained that I had only been given a “chapter” of text and a single, chapter-opening illustration. I would need to see a more representative sample of the material. I reasoned that an encyclopedia was bound to have repetitive elements that might lend themselves to introductory graphic icons that would help “get the creativity out.”

I also said that I would not do any more work without a signed agreement and my customary one-third, up-front payment. The project still was not ready to proceed or to formalize with an agreement, replied my contact person. At that point I wished them well and stopped the madness of putting in time on a project that was not yet mine.

But thoughts of this encyclopedia never really left me and I decided to shoot one email to the principal. We had never communicated directly and, while I had no reason to believe that the contact person out in America was not on the up-and-up, I figured going to the source might just clear the logjam and get me the commitment I wanted.

Funny thing was that although I had the name, address, and phone number of the company in my backyard, I did not have an email address. So I searched online.

I found their website, of course. Typical of such, it boasted all kinds of positives about the company and what they do, as well as of the principal individually. I also found an article that laid out a whole list of negatives, grievance, and accusations against the principal. And a claimed alias of the principal. The article, which–to be fair–I must admit was unattributed, as far as I could see, detailed a plethora of incidents, charges (some criminal), misrepresentations, and false credentials.

So perhaps working with these people would have proven to be another circle of hell.

Sometimes when you missed out on a job it’s just providence helping you to dodge a bullet.

The Downside of the Democratizing of Publishing Books

2 comments January 17th, 2014

I remember hearing, more years ago than I care to admit to, that “The power of the press belongs to those who own the press.” Or perhaps own a press.

I imagine the line referred more to journalism, rather than book publishing. And yet there was obviously a little something to it. Maybe not so much in physically owning a printing press, as it turns out, but in having the means to publish one’s own books. Self-publishing, I think it us safe to say, has caught on.

Of course, as with anything that becomes popular, there is always the possibility of a diluting of the talent pool and the resulting product, if you will. I saw it as a kid, watching Major League Baseball expand first from sixteen teams, to twenty, then twenty-four, and beyond.

Well, as traditional publishers struggle to stay alive, self-publishing authors, free of the yoke of corporate gatekeepers’ desire to publish only books that follow some formula that sells beaucoup copies and makes big money. The problem that results from all this freedom from the tyranny of traditional publishing is that too many people get into self-publishing not realizing they have gone into business  as publishers. Even if just one time for their one book.

All the fine touches that traditional publishing companies provided—professional editing, design, typesetting, and pagemaking—often fall by the wayside, as this new breed of publishers make book publishing seem more like a do-it-yourself project taken on just to prove how inexpensively they can birth books. The professionals who heretofore made books no longer have quite the hand that they did in making books an art form, independent of what is inside the covers.

The other day I was contacted by another in a line of authors who plan to self-publish on a shoestring. This writer may not understand that his bankroll is nowhere near enough to create the enterprise that his book should be. And I am beginning to question how to answer the next design student who contacts me for advice about her prospects in the field of book design.

All About the Year Ahead

3 comments January 4th, 2014

Three new books, I reported, were arranged to start in January, 2013. Little did I know that these would—on the plus side—be big projects, but—on the down—that they would pretty much be it for me last year.

For all the throwaway comments I have made about my uneasiness with ebooks and the tendency to make them with no fixed design, I begin to seriously worry that print for books really is on the decline.

On the other hand, I learned some during the past year about making ebooks. My noodling with Book Creator was a limited success as far as I went with it. It is definitely something I would consider for making a children’s storybook with children for the iPad. As for bigger books, perhaps not so much, as Book Creator—to this point—does not flow text, but rather works one fixed page at a time.

One big goal that I had had for a couple of years running was to work my first cookbook. That goal was met with The Marriage of Mushrooms and Garlic, published by Zumaya Publications. The next step is to work it into an ebook. Toward that end, I was fortunate enough to be give a heads-up by the publisher at Zumaya Publications, Liz Burton, about a tool she has used successfully for converting to ebooks, Jutoh. I got hold of Jutoh Plus and have started familiarizing myself with it and making the conversion. I plan to write about it in the blog shortly.

Aside from that, I am hard-pressed to list specific goals for 2014. As at the beginning of each year, I hope to make it my busiest year, with my largest earnings, ever. I want to continue working with self-publishers, as they generally offer the greatest chance of success when thinking out of the box. My continuing hope, however, is to meet more self-publishers determined to treat their books as more than do-it-yourself efforts that can be done on a shoestring instead of opportunities to produce books that at least cannot be distinguished from—except if they are better than—traditionally published books.

Time to make the new year what it can be.

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!

An Interesting, New Way to Work

Add comment March 25th, 2013

Something new is happening on this latest job. I am getting paid on a monthly basis before beginning the “meat” of the book project. In other words, like some other professionals, I am on a retainer.

This came up in a fairly uncomplicated way. The client—a small, independent publisher—made it clear from when we first spoke that, although her company is of modest means, she definitely believes in paying freelancers fairly for the work they do. So she proposed paying in monthly installments, starting when we signed our agreement to work together.

It takes a bit of getting used to, receiving checks without doing any real work yet. But it is also very nice to have a regular income. Up until the other day I had hoped the textfiles would be ready and in my possession sooner rather than later. I found out, however, that is could be September or so before editing was completed.

I was told just over the weekend that I am free to begin work with the complete, though yet-to-be-edited textfiles right now if I choose. The expectation is that any editing will not result in large additions or deletions of copy. So there should not be major shifting of text.

On the one hand, I am as leery of working with files that are not final as I have always been. Despite that, I remain eager to plunge into this one, a combination travel book/cookbook. The design was approved some time ago. It’s bright and straightforward.

I cannot wait to start. And since I already receive payment, I may take the early plunge.


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