Posts filed under 'finding work'

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.

Even When I’m Busy … I Wait

Add comment July 1st, 2016

Yesterday I had an email exchange with someone new about a possible children’s book project. She sent me an email initially just asking about my availability and for a price. I sent back my standard, “I’ll make myself available if we can strike a deal.” And I asked my standard handful of questions about the nature of the project and the files she’d make available to me. She asked for a price again, answered most of my questions, said she had attached three illustrations to the latest email, and asked me questions about the usability of the three illustrations. I told her that only three illustrations had been sent.

This exchange took place while I was doing corrections and edits (hopefully, final) on two books.

I finished up the email confab by asking whether she had seen my price. Since then, not a word.

* * *

This morning I woke around nine to find two emails that had been sent about an hour-and-a-half earlier. They were from a woman I did not know, at a company or other entity with which I’d been in contact a week or two earlier. The first email asked if I could speak with her tomorrow, Saturday. I wondered if she realized it would be Saturday. And a holiday weekend, to boot. She must have, as the second was sent immediately after the first and asked whether I was available to speak today.

That was easy: of course, I would speak today. Immediately, if not sooner. Actually, I said that noon would be fine.

By now it should not surprise that I have not received an answer of any kind.

* * *

What is it about the eager ones? The get your attention; and then they shut down. What a way to go into the long weekend!

Big Takeaways from Over 25 Years as A Freelancer

Add comment April 7th, 2016

Sounds funny to say, I suppose, but now after giving up the safety net—i.e., a secure, full-time day-job—that enabled me to freelance as a book designer/layout artist for more than twenty-five years without any worries caused by the uncertainties of steady work and paydays that go along with freelancing, I have had more than one epiphany about the whole “game”.

The first one is not entirely new. However in the spirit of giving something to people new to freelancing I repeat it now: If you don’t have enough work to support yourself, and the projects you get don’t pay you enough money for a proper living, try raising your prices. I was given this advice early on in my freelance career. It seemed counterintuitive. I mean, I could not find enough clients to pay me x, and now I should try to get hold of additional clients to pay me more than x?

But that was the conversation I walked into on an online forum for freelancers, so long ago I know longer remember the forum’s name, though I do remember the first name of the woman who ran it: Betty. Over an extended period of time—weeks, I think I remember—a couple of seasoned professionals kept at it, making the case that it was true that no paying client would take a freelancer, especially a new one, seriously if they didn’t take themselves seriously. And the first way to demonstrate that you take yourself, your skills, seriously, is by presenting yourself as someone who commands good rates, professional rates.

That worked for me. It was the start of my being held in some kind of professional regard. And looking back, I see it differently now, to wit: How can you expect others to value your work highly if you don’t. Nevertheless, over the years I have found it necessary to remind myself, again, of this truth.

My next revelation is the more surprising, however.

When I left my day-job, forgoing the safety net it provided, I was determined to freelance full-time. I do not believe I am old enough to just pack things in and retire from all the kinds of work I’ve done for most of my life. I intended to hit the ground running, spending a good part of my day on self-promotional activities. I was positively committed to this plan and the ultimate result: more freelance book design and layout work than I had ever had before.

But a curious thing happened. Reminiscent of the kind of creative visualization the circle I was in spoke of some thirty or forty years ago, a boatload of work simply showed up before I could do anything additional in the way of promotion or marketing my services. At the risk of sounding airy-fairy, I don’t need to be able to explain how or why in order to buy into the notion that my being 100% on-board somehow attracted all the new work.

I recommend highly committing wholeheartedly to your work.

The More I Get

Add comment March 24th, 2016

I find it amazing that in the middle of the busiest stretch that I have ever had in 25 years as a book designer, I still have time to fret that I’m not busier still.

Let me backtrack.

As I have explained before on this blog, I came to freelancing as a book designer/layout artist a bit over 25 years ago. At the time I was already into a 9-to-5 civil service job for over seven years. I would keep the 9-to-5 for almost 25 years more, retiring from it just this past November. I freelanced all those years, I liked to say, “with a net”—that is, with the safety of the full-time day-job.

And I was lucky to have it, because even when the freelance work was plentiful, the paydays were sporadic. There would be the up-front deposit, but then the remainder only upon completion. And that was only with self-publishers. With publishing companies, there was no up-front payment or “deposit” and payment was invariably 30 to 60 days—if I was lucky—after a book was completed.

So the full-time job was needed for any peace of mind and sense of financial security.

But I always wondered how I would have made out if my only work was freelancing as a book designer. The one thing I’ve learned since my retirement from the day job just before this past Thanksgiving is that it is at least possible that I would have been just fine. For one thing, I am in the middle of my busiest and most productive period of my work life to date. I attribute that to the ability to spend more time scouting out potential clients and projects. And finding them, to be able to spend all the time necessary pitching my services and discussing possible book projects with these potential clients.

Right now I have three books in various stages of progress: a children’s storybook, the first in a series of four, awaiting some last-minute copy for blurbs, as well as author’s and illustrator’s bios, and illustrations for the front and back covers; holding until I get feedback from my client on the first pass of pages of a book on child autism; sitting tight until a third client sends me the remaining text on a book expanded on from a transgender reimagining of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

In other words, I am not actually working at this very moment. As always, it drives me crazy. All the more because I have grown used to being busy almost constantly since leaving the day-job.

That part never changed. Nor does the fact that easily half of freelancing is searching for the next paying project.

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.

Some Potential Clients …

Add comment October 3rd, 2015

And there can be some off-putting experiences in dealing with prospective clients. Gentleman phoned me after I’d evidently replied to his post seeking a book designer/layout artist. He said he had six books written and he needed PDFs for CreateSpace to print.

I began by asking him whether the files were currently in MS Word. He replied in the affirmative and added that CreateSpace had told him they wanted the work done in Word. I asked how come and mentioned that I’d worked on a number of books printed by CreateSpace that had been designed and laid out in InDesign or Quark before exporting to printer-ready PDFs.

So then I asked why CreateSpace wanted the work done in Word, since they’d be getting the PDFs to print from. He didn’t understand and asked why I couldn’t talk to CreateSpace myself. I answered I’d be glad to talk to them once we had an agreement signed and in place. Parenthetically, it occurred to me that they may just have told that one can save a Word file to PDF.

He apparently didn’t see how it was fair of me to want to make sure we had a deal before I put any time into the project, because he told me he had other people to contact.

I wished him well.

Doing Business

Add comment June 10th, 2015

Another day, another inquiry to field regarding a book design and layout project, this one a medium-to-longish work of fiction, a novel. We’ve done our initial contact and back-and-forth, questions and answers that I use to assess the scope of the project. This may sound like a no-brainer, something that all parties must be clear on before the design of a book begins, before I even send type sample to the client.

Not always so.

Today I discussed with a client starting anew on a book interior, after she gets the “new final” text back from her editor, with some reorganization of the material. As much as this may sound like a nightmare—and this large a do-over is happening for only the second time in my twenty-four years designing and laying out books; the first time was a long novel, over 1,000 pages and this time it’s a short work of non-fiction—dealing with considerate clients and having an agreement in writing that addresses such a contingency at least in abstract terms can help keep this project a positive experience. So even though the scope of this project has changed in broad strokes, it is on track and the client knows the original price will go up some. By the same token, I will not use this as an opportunity to greatly increase the price just because I can.

And as to the possible new book that I began with above, I gave my estimated price. Should that person agree, the next step would be for me to prepare a formal agreement for signatures and the down payment.

I must admit that as the hours tick on and I don’t receive that assenting email, I get fidgety. Yet our initial exchange began yesterday afternoon and quieted overnight. Perhaps there’s a big time difference. I don’t yet know where this new person is located. I have asked, noting that I need to putting any agreement.

And that’s a big part of freelancing. One thing that never changes in over twenty-four years: I just need to relax when negotiating.

What Goes Around, Come Around … Maybe

Add comment March 19th, 2015

Curious thing. Or maybe just what goes around, come around. I mentioned that I was considering–I admit it had actually progressed a little farther than just considering; I was very strongly leaning in favor and giving that impression–a pro bono project. Then something in the way the contact person spoke about having spent previously on the e-version rubbed me wrong. Like they’d pay for some stuff but not for others. Then I switched gears on a dime and tried suggesting an alternate pay method, a royalty on each copy sold. And that was not acceptable. So I wished them well.

What made it easy to walk away from a book I’d really like to have been associated with–just not for free–was that someone contacted me yesterday afternoon, saying she’d been eying me (that is, my work) for some time. As the book sounded interesting, I was pretty happy it had shown up. We still had to come to an agreement and arrive at a price, but I figured that would come—this time I would show more than just a little flexibility if necessary—after I got a look at some of the material.

One of the problems with the first book that the author-publisher wanted done for free or a barter was that there were tons of photos in a non-print format that would have to be opened and changed, in addition to any necessary editing. So the new one would create a username and password for me on the cloud storage service she used and I would be able to have a look at everything in order to put together my proposal including price and milestones. Last night I emailed a reminder that I was waiting for the username and password.

This morning I received an email that things had changed. Her usual “formatter” was now available and would not cost anything, so, of course, she would use him in the first instance.

Now, sure, I was bummed. But this kind of thing happens, I told myself. In fact, I had just kind of done that same thing: pulling up stakes after seeming to be on board with a project. Then I noticed that, although the second potential had an address in one western state, her cellphone area code was not so far from the one I had turned tail on.

A coincidence, I am sure. But maybe it’s the universe sending me a message.

Still All About the Next Project

Add comment March 9th, 2015

I was productive today. I think I’ve about gotten approval on the sample pages for the new book to go final and to template. Still need to wait a few days for the finalized textfiles, and two or three weeks for the art. But it’s good to hear the client say it’s about there on my end.

On the other hand, I heard from two potentials and neither was encouraging. The second, a longshot, as it was a self-publisher looking for a copy editor and I decided to query for the design and layout, simply said, “No. Thanks.” The first was a little more interesting. They asked for a two-page sample using some of the actual material.

I’m always leery about doing anything for free, giving anything away that might be used even though I didn’t get the job. And, frankly, my bullshit detector went off. I don’t believe they were looking for auditions, so much as ideas for making the book. I was more diplomatic than to say that, however.

I essentially told them time was money and mine was too valuable to work for free after over 23 years at this game and nearly 100 books to show for it. I also said time was particularly at a premium, as I was working on a book as we exchanged our emails. I again directed them to the work samples I’d attached to my inquiry and gave them the link to my website one more time, where, I said, they could find samples of actual work I’ve done.

I concluded by saying I still wanted to work their project. It happens that it sounds like more than a single book, but rather a series of them on climate change and water issues. This is important stuff that I would like to be a part of. I also told them that.

I haven’t heard back. But it’s only been a few hours.

In that time I’ve begun to question my behavior. True, I no longer suffer gut-wrenching angst with every rejection. There was a time when each time I failed to get a job I worried that I’d never work again. This time I simply questioned whether I had made the right choice in declining to audition. I mean, if nothing else, it would have been fun. I do, after all, like to create the look of a book and make pages. Then, too, editors–copy editors and substantive editors–do sample edits, no?

I answered myself with the certainty that editing 10 pages of a

manuscript that then get taken for free without a job forthcoming is not something that can be used to make the complete book. A design, however—even just two pages—can contain enough to push a thief into discovery of a book’s whole look.

And that’s where it stands.

2014’s Takeaway … Punctuated Already in 2015

Add comment January 7th, 2015

I went on some in my last blog piece of 2014 about a mishap of an attempted negotiation on a big book design-and-layout project. It stuck in my craw, I must say, and I’ve been stewing on it since it happened.

Then I began retracing my steps and tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. What I realized was that the old saw about effort that you give away for free will wind up defining your value to some potential clients. And there’s more if you already know that it’s a mistake to give your time and work away—even preliminary work that’s more thought than labor.

When dealing with that potential client I wrote about I knew when I reached the point where I was allowing myself to be taken advantage of. It caused me to pull up short, shut down, and stop giving my full effort. After all, why give my best effort for nothing.

All that accomplished, however, was to make the potential client wary. He disliked my half-hearted effort. The smarter move would have been to tell him at the start that I would only begin to percolate ideas when we had a contract in place, my first instinct and the one that I ignored.

* * *

So today, January 7, someone who’d posted on some board or forum or something, looking for a book designer, telephoned. I had answered her posting and she was getting back to me. She sounded like a nice enough older woman. But it began to get weird when she told me she was the most intelligent person I would ever meet. She was looking for a book designer, but had “done 90% of the design.” And despite my 23 years of experience I would learn plenty from her.

Maybe.

But when she couldn’t quite deliver a direct answer to my questions about exactly what she wanted me to do, how she would deliver the text, whether there were illustrations, and what she was doing about a cover, I found myself wondering whether I could ever ask for a price that would make the job worthwhile.

When I wished her well going forward and said goodbye, I knew that this time I would have no misgivings about walking away from a possible project.

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