Posts filed under 'self-publishing'

Money Changes Everything

2 comments June 1st, 2017

I first started freelancing as a book designer over 26 years ago. It was slow going getting started. I’ve mentioned more than once on this blog about the lucky break that became my first steady work and that helped me start a track record. But it wasn’t until about three or four years later that someone online, an experienced freelancer, dropped the nugget of wisdom on me that raising what I charged for book design and layout would get me taken more seriously and help me expand my business.

And you know what? That worked.

Over 20 years after that, my situation’s changed. I’ve also mentioned here more than once that I started out freelancing “with a net”—that is, I had a full-time, 9-to-5 job all those years. So I was secure and could be patient growing my book design practice.

I’m semi-retired now and still secure. And there are tax consequences to consider that I didn’t have to concern myself with when I was a full-time employee. In addition to the pension I earned from the day job, I decided to not be presumptuous about life expectancy and hold out on collecting Social Security until I would be entitled to the maximum. But there is a maximum I can earn for the next few years, above which there is a payback I would have to make to Social Security.

On the one hand, I’m not averse to paying into Social Security if I make above the maximum. I just don’t want to get into a situation where my next year’s payments could be recalculated at a lower amount. Just as important to me is that for the first time, since I don’t want to reach that maximum in just three or four projects, I can take worthy book projects from self-publishers who are working on a shoestring and can’t afford my normal rates. I’ve figured that the optimum reduction is to 25–50% of what my typical full price would have been.

The first such project, one I haven’t completed yet, is a book written by a young woman, a junior high schooler. I’m working on her book, The 100 Most Important New Yorkers, for about 25% of my usual fee. I’m having a good time doing it. Plus I actually feel like I’m doing something that matters, helping a young author come to press in a serious and professional way. The author, Agatha Edwards, has actually self-published before. But I’m doing my best to place this latest book of hers on the same level playing field as every adult who is self-publishing. I think she’s that good and worth the read.

And it’s only by lowering my rates that I am able to “pay it forward” like this. I understand that most freelancers should not do this. They shouldn’t cheapen the value of their efforts. But I’ve been through that already, for years now. Now my prime concern is to keep making books, especially the ones that wouldn’t get quite the professional push without me.

Freedom of the Press and This Book Designer

Add comment January 21st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Back at 2016 and Ahead to 2017

Add comment January 1st, 2017

Last year was full of shit.

And I use that last word above as a substitute for the word “stuff”; to mean, too, that it got to be too much, too full of itself; and, finally, to indicate that something bad and nasty happened.

Last one first. While this is my blog on book design and freelancing, not politics, God knows I have to acknowledge the election. I am horrified by it, because, from the point of view of a small businessperson, it seems to me that the whatever-he-is-elect (because there are so many obvious issues, the emolument clause, first of all, that I don’t quite picture him in office for long) is not someone who’s interested in doing things for or protecting things that help, the little guy. And so I foresee everything from tax policies that hurt freelancers, as well as greater incentives for people who would ordinarily have turned to those of us within the U.S. for freelance projects to third-world country freelancers, thereby both depressing prices and depriving us sustainable work.

On the other hand, 2016 was a heady year. And given that I’ve grown more superstitious as I’ve gotten older, I sometimes want to hesitate to talk about how well things have gone. But the truth is, that, given my relatively new status as a semi-retiree (I had worked in New York State’s court system for over 32 years, before retiring from it Thanksgiving, 2015) to pursue book design full-time, there were certain logistics to work out with just how much book design-and-layout work—and income from it—I really wanted to take in. Because there are consequences to it, with a “limit” on allowable income before a penalty kicks in when one opts for collecting Social Security early, as I have.

I guess I had no idea that, with more time to pursue new freelance projects, I would just naturally work more and reach that limit more quickly than I could have imagined. And that brought me to a kind of crossroads: Do I stop working when I reach that limit? Or do I start working for less, so that I avoid the limit longer each year (until the limit is eliminated in a few years)?

If I do the latter, I decided, it allows me to accept interesting jobs for less money if I am so inclined. This requires a bit of reorienting to my thinking, as I’ve spent years railing against folks who accept “pennies-on-the-dollar” rates, thereby depressing all freelancers’ prospects. Now I tend to see it that it’s a way to keep some freelance projects and prospects from looking outside the country for freelancers, as well as giving me the opportunity to accept interesting projects that I would normally have turned down because of the low rate of pay. However, I am endeavoring to do this only in instances where the people who offer such work are genuinely people I want to help, because I see something in them and in what they have created that I think needs to be brought into the world.

I’ve grappled a bit with the idea that it may be a bit hypocritical of me to change my tune now that I’ve “got mine” thanks to a decent pension plus Social Security. But I’ve been working pretty much, one way or another, since I was about 13-years old. And, as far as freelancing goes, that means a lot of nights when I worked deep into the night on books, going to the civil service 9-to-5 job on four and five hours of sleep, and building my book design practice over the course of 25 years. I sort of feel that I “earned mine,” rather than I just somehow have it now.

At the same time, I always told anyone who would listen that, as tired as I sometimes was from working one full-time job only to go home and—especially when factoring in the long hours of searching for freelance projects—then working a second full-time job from my own studio at home, it kept me sane. I got to have one foot in the real world where the ability for someone to earn a living was increasingly less secure, as well as the relatively secure world of civil service whose only real hardship was the occasional indignity of seeing how, sometimes, knuckleheads achieved heights that better workers, better people, couldn’t because of Politics and politics.

Finally, the great personal stuff that 2016 closed out with … The secure footing that my freelance book design practice is now on—and God knows I worked at it for enough years—combined with a reasonably secure retirement from the 9-to-5, has enabled us to take advantage of low interest rates in a recovering economy (reminding me again of the miserable and uninformed choice the country made this past November). My wife and I sold our old home and were able to move into a newer home—actually, a dream house—with an improved kitchen, solar panels, on a golf course.

* * *

And that brings me to this bright, new year’s potential: more books, certainly, to begin with. I am already beginning preliminary work on a very interesting project, a book of translations of critiques of Beethoven’s works. I am also awaiting the start of the third in a series of children’s storybooks. And there may be a sort of professional memoir somewhere ahead, about one man’s experiences as a pioneering agent for professional athletes. And I am always open to listening to anyone else’s proposals for such work: traditional publishers, independent and university presses, and self-publishers.

That, plenty of golf, and an ever-expanding life of new experiences with my wife lie ahead for 2017. I am even again interested in finding an over-40 hardball league on the eastern end of Long Island to pitch in this summer.

I wish everyone a Happy, Safe and Healthy, Productive, and Fulfilling New Year in 2017. I invite you all to grab for just such a year.

“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.

Social Media and All That

Add comment August 17th, 2014

I have been absent for awhile: working, working at getting work, and like that. Additionally, few things move me these days to start writing.

But, sure enough, along comes an annoyance and I get rolling. Just like that. [snaps fingers]

The last couple of days repeated emails have come from a fellow trying to sell me on his company’s services for self-publishers. He promises that they will make me just the most fabulous book and my dreams will come true.

Okay, fair enough, the last is just a conclusion in my own words. But if this guy read any of the things I wrote, whether pieces on this blog, posts on my professional page on Facebook, or comments I make on Twitter and in various LinkedIn groups, he would know that although I occasionally mention writing and writing a book about book design, my professional focus is design and laying out books.

This guy takes no time to establish any kind of connection with me, but merely launches into his, “Buy Me!” spiel. Epic fail! He and his company are, and are destined to remain, like, ninth-rate in his chosen arena.

There are many really good people, seasoned professionals, folks who maintain a reality-based approach and understand that social media are best at selling something when you first build a bridge between yourself and your intended customer (if all goes according to plan). This fellow simply has not learned how to be one of those folks yet.

I have written on this blog and on various social media about my take on how to write a good book and publish it successfully. Now Rachel Thompson at Bareredhead Media takes a stab at it here.

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.

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.

Should I Self-Publish?

Add comment October 9th, 2012

That is the question.

I mean, not from me. But it is the one I hear more and more from authors.

While you might think that’s a sign that self-publishing is still seen as the ugly stepsister of book publishing, I am here to tell you it is nothing of the sort.

More and more people are not merely considering, but actually taking, the self-publishing route. I really believe that, in large part, self-publishing has lost the stigma of “vanity publishing.” In my experience, this is so much so that, over the last three or so years, aside from the rare academic press book, I have worked exclusively for self-publishing authors.

To a person these self-publishers understood they had chosen to go into business as publishers. And that is the first thing such authors need to grasp. After that, they make the leap to realizing they have gone into business as publishers, and as businesspeople need to put operating capital into their publishing companies. If an author understands that this need exists, I think he or she may be in very good shape to succeed as a publisher. Then comes the difference between publishing and self-publishing.

The principal reason an author self-publishes may be a determinant in whether or not the choice is well-made. I do not necessarily hold out a great deal of hope for success when the self-publishing author tells me their prime motivator is to not share the proceeds from their book sales. Likewise complaints that traditional publishers did not appreciate their work leave me cold.

Give me the author who believes in the book he or she has written and wants control over choosing an editor, designer, and proofreader in order to continue the care they took in writing it. This is the author, the self-publisher, who will appreciate the need to invest not just time but capital in their work. This is an author who ought to self-publish.

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