Posts filed under 'design books'

The Year Just Past

Add comment December 31st, 2012

2011 was a boom year. 2012 not so much. Not to say that I was not busy. In fact, I worked pretty much throughout the year. I worked on a couple of long-term book projects—interior design and layout on one; cover design and execution and interior design and layout on another—longish books with stringent creative requirements that stretched through from one year to the next. These two books actually made up the lion’s share of my work. There were other books as well, but, overall, though I was worked steadily, the year was not so profitable as the one before.

Entering 2012 my optimism was on the wane. It simply seemed to me that I could not expect it to be as financially rewarding as 2011. Of course, I always worry about self-fulfilling prophecies and giving myself excuses for failing. But 2011 had been head and shoulders financially better than any other year I had ever worked as a freelance book designer/layout artist. The way the rest of the American economy suffered, I could not imagine that freelancing in the publishing arts would continue to fare so much better.

This was also the year in which my promotional skills took a step forward. I don’t pretend to know any more or any different than people who, for instance, make social media their main field of play, but I have finally coordinated my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog presences. I have been contacted through each of those venues by prospective clients. This last quarter of the year has seen a number of exciting propositions materialize.

First, I managed to line up three new books to begin in January. And second, I have opened a new avenue  to promote my services, beginning to review big, new books on design on my blog. The first appeared about a month ago and was about Stephen Coles’ The Anatomy of Type. The second is being done as a series, the first of which appeared just a couple of days ago, on Phaidon’s boxed set, The Archive of Graphic Design. (The latter ill resume next time I post to the blog after the instant piece.)

And so it goes. I am set up for the biggest start to a new year that I have ever had!

My First (Test) Ebook Project with Red Jumper Studio’s Book Creator for iPad

Add comment November 1st, 2012

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first heard about Red Jumper Studio’s Book Creator for iPad; but it couldn’t be more than a couple of weeks ago and somewhere online. It sounded like a great entry point for me to again try to get stoked about making ebooks, an app for repurposing print files for e-versions.

I have to admit there were some immediate red flags, even while reading about the iPad app. For one thing, even Red Jumper Studio suggests it’s probably best-suited for children’s picture books. It sounds like long docs were not their prime intention. Then, too, text will not flow from page to page or—I guess with ebooks it may be more accurate to say—from screen to screen. And Book Creator’s choice of typefaces is currently limited to fonts native to the iPad.

On the other hand, Book Creator for iPad is made for fixed layout ebooks.

You may all assume this last point won me over to at least explore what Book Creator offers, how it works, and what its end-product looks like.

So with all this in mind, I dug out a copy of Adrienne Ehlert Bashista’s Mishka: An Adoption Tale (Pittsboro, NC: DRT Press, 2007). With really pleasing illustrations by Miranda R. Mueller, this is one of the books I am most proud to be associated with.

If text would flow from page to page until it was all out there, I think that would have been fine. I would have found a new body text face/display face combination to suit this new version of the book. But having both factors forced on me by the program got me to thinking. Since I had to run illustrations on very nearly every page and JPEG files were best suited to this, that would mean downsampling artfiles to screen resolution and resaving as JPEGs.

The method I arrived at was one that could easily be brought into Action/Batch routines in Photoshop for quick, repeated steps for each piece of art. Seeing, however, that there were relatively few pages—compared to something other than a picture storybook for children—I wanted to do them manually, one at a time, to see how each illustration looked before placing them. I decided then to keep the body text and, essentially, make each page—including the text—an illustration. This allowed me to keep the original typefaces as part of those illustrations.

Here is the process I used:

  1. Open the PDF of all the interior pages of the book in Adobe Acrobat Pro—I currently work in version 10.1.4.
  2. Create a new folder and name it for the new ebook’s art.
  3. Select Tools => Pages => Extract and choose Extract Pages As Separate Files. Make sure to choose the new folder to save the Extracted Pages into.
  4. Open the first extracted PDF file in Photoshop as a Photoshop PDF.
  5. Select Image => Mode => RGB … if Mode is not already RGB.
  6. Resample at screen resolution by selecting Image => Image Size … and entering 72 for Resolution.
  7. Select File => Save As. For Format, choose JPEG and leave all other specs as is. Click Save. Enter 12 for Quality. Click OK.

And that was the process. Easy to see how this can be turned into an Action and then applied to the whole folder of individual PDFs in a Batch operation.

After repeating until each individual PDF was a 72 dpi JPEG, I did the same for the front cover.

Then it was simply a matter of placing all of these JPEGs, beginning with the front cover on the first page, the Cover, in Book Creator for iPad’s landscape layout. The JPEGs had to be sized, of course, to fill out the page; but, essentially, that was it. After placing all 33 PDFs, the ebook—technically an iBook, though not one created with Apple’s proprietary iBooks Author—was complete, as the sample pages below demonstrate.


Now these are just the first few pages of my “test ebook” of Mishka: An Adoption tale. My understanding is that, technically, this is actually a variant of an iBook, although it was not created with Apple’s own iBook Author app. But by opening in still another piece of free software, Adobe’s Digital Editions, it’s possible to view as an ebook on something other than an iPad. And it can be opened in atill another free app, Sigal, and saved in the .mobi format for viewing on the Kindle.

My next thought is to try repurposing a general non-fiction book, something much larger than a 32-page children’s storybook and loaded with text, an adult’s book.

Continuing Education

Add comment October 27th, 2012

It isn’t all making books and finding paying book-making projects. I really do find myself with an insatiable need to expand on the skills I already have, as well as a need to learn new skills. So as we wind down preparing for the approaching hurricane—preparations which I hope wind up much ado about not so much—I am also thinking about what work I can take with me should we evacuate to a local hotel.

Falling back to a method of organizing my thinking about work that has served me well in the past, I wrote a to-do list:

  1. blog piece on my Continuing Education
  2. read The Lost Sigil Ebook Editor Manual
  3. read Designing for Magazines
  4. read Magazine Design That Works
  5. repurpose Burleson Century as an ebook in Book Creator for iPad
  6. make an epub and then MOBI file of item 5 for Kindle consumption
  7. blog piece on the repurposing of Mishka as an ebook in Book Creator for iPad

The first item is self-explanatory, so I won’t belabor the point by discussing it … except to say that, about now at 6:55 PM EDT on Saturday, October 27 I am cautiously optimistic—call it a “hunch”—that the storm will somehow not be as bad as the potential thy are predicting. But I am also superstitious enough to worry about being cocky and daring a comeuppance that involves a really horrible weather experience.

Finding the manual I would most like for learning the ins and outs of Sigil—“a WYSIWYG ebook editor,” according to Google—required a stretch. I really wanted a printed book or a PDF that I could print. I suppose I have no complaints about reading it in the Kindle app on either my iPad or my MacBook Pro when al I am doing is reading. But once I get to working and I want it opened to refer to, that means viewing it on the laptop and working on the iPad. Or vice versa. Anyway, I still like print books, even though there’s no quibbling over the appropriateness of a book about making ebooks being an ebook.

The two books on magazine design have been beckoning for awhile. For years I have ignored magazine design in favor of books because so much of magazines are simply advertising … even articles. And years ago, the only in-house design and layout work I ever did was on display ads for a supermarket paper, leaving a bad taste about ad work.

Once I have some sense of what to do with Sigil and how to do it, I plan to plunge in with a project, making an ebook in Red Jumper Studio’s Book Creator for iPad out of the files for the print edition of Burleson Century, a book for which I created the cover and interior design and layout earlier this year.

Lastly, another blog piece, this one about the iPad ebook I already created from the children’s book Mishka: An Adoption Tale, for which I did cover and interior design and layout a few years ago.

If we’re hotel-captive a couple of days, this all this will certainly keep me busy learning some new stuff. If the electricity stays on.

The Elements of Typographic Style

Add comment November 7th, 2010

An old piece from the corrupted blog, this one on what I consider the Bible of setting type and page design …

A careful reading of Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style (Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks, Publishers, 1992,1996, 2004, 2005) rewards as few books do. Written in some of the most graceful prose I have ever read, it forces you to consider just as carefully—if you love books and if you love making books—all the typographical angles.

Some time ago, when I began this blog, I admitted to considering myself something of a mercenary. I took, and even preferred, layout jobs, as opposed to designing. All for the paydays. Sometimes I smiled to myself when I thought the word “mercenary.” Well, now the other shoe drops. Reading Bringhurst makes it all too clear that I have not always kept the faith, so to speak. While I convinced myself that experiencing and executing other people’s designs was part of my typographical studies, I was not as aware as I might have been of what was in front of my eyes.

Oh, I did right by my authors in that I worked to convey their words and pictures without any fanfare for myself. I also honored my obligation to readers in doing so.

None of this goes to say anything negative against any of the “house designs” I helped to implement or carry on. For one thing, as with any business proposition, there exists an element of “the paying customer is always right.” Yet pages that were perfectly serviceable when I made them, with reflection on The Elements of Typographical Style, now seem questionable. While it pays to be mindful of the whole book—and I am little more than a quarter of my way through—a handful of Brinhurst’s lines already stick out and I find worth memorizing:

Choose faces that suit the paper you intend to print on, or paper that suits the faces you wish to use.

Choose faces that suit the task as well as the subject.

Use what there is to the best advantage.

Choose faces whose individual spirit and character is in keeping with the text.

Respect the integrity of roman, italic and small caps.

Consider bold faces on their own merits.

Pair serifed and unserifed faces on the basis of their inner stucture.

Match the continuity of the typography to the continuity of thought.

Add no unnecessary characters.

Don’t mix faces haphazardly when specialized sorts are required.

And from me: Don’t wear suede in the rain. And get the name of the book right!

I’ve About Had It with Book Design

Add comment September 2nd, 2010

Okay, I’ve about had it with book design. Or a particular kind of book design. I don’t even know whether to call it bad design or what, but this book I’ve been trying to get into has finally driven me away with a headache and a very tired feeling in my eyes.

At the same time, it is a terrific-looking book with plenty of interesting elements. But taken all together, it gets in the way of reading the book. And I love to read.

Isn’t a book’s design really not supposed to get in the way of the reading? (I mean, I know I write and say all the time that a book’s design should not separate a reader from a book. I’ve always known this—just instinctively at first, and then I knew it—as I learned about making pages and setting type. But really.

I stare right now at the last page I was able to make my way through before it became impossible. My eyes actually began to feel sore as I struggled to focus on the page. And, strangely, it’s not as if the page or the whole book is a total eyesore, exactly. There’s an attractive precision to it. In the upper left corner of this page, a verso, positioned to run vertically is a subhead in, maybe, 36- or 42-point type, some sans serif. (I am not very good at coming up with the names of type on sight, no matter how much I set.)

Under the vertically-oriented subhead is a narrow display column of, perhaps, 7- or 8-point sans serif. Widely-leaded for legibility, it is still a bit small for reading more than just a couple of lines; and there are 31 such narrow lines there.

The main text area is more than 30 picas wide. The text there is set double line-spaced, in about 10- or 11-point boldface sans serif. There’s just way too much sans serif type to be read.

Then there’s a tiny 5- or 6-point sans serif in light blue, lightface sans serif. Tough to read. And if that’s not enough there’s a footnote in tinier sans serif still. I can’t really make it out without my reading glasses, which I don’t ordinarily need unless my eyes are exhausted.

Now, the only defense I can make for this designer—who is big-time famous and doesn’t need defending by little, ol’ me—is that he is also the book’s author. But still.

Finding My Muse

Add comment July 21st, 2007

Big can o’ worms! Bigger than I could have imagined. Opened a world of shaky ground for myself when I stated with such certainty that my first rule of book design is to stand, more or less, in the shadows and simply bring the author’s work to the reader. My interior pages are merely receptacles for the author’s words and any illustrations—that has been my guiding principle for about fifteen years of design and layout work.

Pause … while I laugh and restrain myself from writing exactly the way I tend to speak—or tawk, as I was, after all, born and raised in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn—and ask myself out loud, using much less polite language: “Who on earth do you think you are, self, prattling on about making pages as if that were the same as discovering a cure for all cancers during a break from solving the problem of world poverty.

Okay, there, I’m back from making fun of just how serious I can sound about this jazz of book design.

So, like, Liz Tufte of Signature Bookworks has brought one David Carson to my attention. I have not yet checked out his book design work or anything he may have written on the subject. But Liz writes, commenting on a comment of mine in response to a blog entry of hers entitled What is Book Design?, that

Designer David Carson … isn’t interested in merely delivering the author’s message; he wants to be equal partners with the author.

And, like, that rather appeals to me. In fact, the way I put it in my last comment to her comments to my comment was:

God help me for being so egotistical—Lordy! How the notion of being “equal partners with the author” appeals to me!

There’s just a few tiny details to work out. First, what would such a partnership look like for me? I remember how when I first became aware of the expression “desktop publishing” years ago, and about when I got my first Macintosh and laser printer, I began to notice examples of a typesetting style, if you could call it that, where every variation of every font that the typesetter had on his or her computer was used—simply because they could. I see no danger of that for me. But, then, who knows what crazed way I might try to carve out my own territory in someone else’s book if I were to take that chance.

Better to take some more time reading some more background and then considering again what I mean to be accomplishing by my book design and layout work. I began a month or so back, re-reading Designing books: practice and theory. Then I picked up Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography. Next was Ellen Lupton’s thinking with type. This last one was an easy read, fun even. And after that, based on the mention by Jacqueline Simonds in her answers to my “Four Questions,” I read Colin Wheildon’s Type and Layout. She was right, by the way, that there’s a relation between the amount of laughter Wheildon draws out of you and your degree of book design geekiness.

Thinking About Type

Add comment July 14th, 2007

Sitting down at the marina having lunch, something I’ve been doing solo lately, I squinted as the bright sunlight reflected off the white pages of the book I was trying to read. It took some effort, as distractions abounded. There were the seagulls, noisy as ever, and a raft of senior citizens lunching with each other and their grandkids. But mostly there was the glare of the white-hot sun on the white pages.

I opened the book, Eileen Lupton’s wise and witty thinking with type, to the page I was up to, somewhere in the middle. It turned out to be page 102 of 176. And I read from the book: “Paragraphs do not occur in nature.”

Paragraphs do not occur in nature?

I exploded with laughter. All the grandparents and their grandkids stared at me. I tried to remember when I had last heard something that came out sounding so funny. Forget the sense it made. I imagined a professorial voice explaining how commas were no longer found in the wild, either.

The point is that all we regard now as “the rules”: grammar, spelling, the dos and don’ts of typography are human constructs that gained some kind of agreed-upon legitimacy over time and by the consent of people who knew enough to make a call on what was to be regarded as the standard.

In the book I was reading over lunch the other day, that sentence I found so funny was a lead-in to some discussion and illustration of different ways that new paragraphs are set off from the ones preceding them. The two ways that we use most regularly these days are the indent and a line space between paragraphs. To see the others, you should just pick up a copy of thinking with type.

What stayed with me of what I read was the notion that one very important reason to learn the rules of an endeavor is so we can break them in a knowing and intelligent way. That, I decided, is the best explanation of why I am steeping myself in books on typography and page layout in what turns out to be a return to summer as the slowest season for freelance book design and page makeup work. Last summer proved an exception I had hoped would continue: in 2006 I was busy from May through December.

I kept going back to the book. But the bits and pieces of conversations that I overheard distracted me. Involuntarily I tried to hear in paragraphs. The only time I felt I succeeded was when I listened to two middle-aged me complain about a third. They spoke in short, angry outbursts, using creative obscenities. Each pronouncement detailing something else they disliked about the person they spoke of stood out alone, just fine, as a short, discrete paragraph. Natural, even.


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