Archive for October, 2009

Letter to a Client: I Saw the Light

7 comments October 30th, 2009


I had an epiphany while I was running earlier this morning. I’ve blogged and spoken many times about how a book designer’s compact is to bring the author’s words to readers and pretty much get out of the way after that. Yes, to greater and lesser degrees we all, especially cover designers, try to make art and leave a little of ourselves on each book, so’s when we take credit—and we will take credit—it means something.

But somewhere in the beginning of my run, I heard myself thinking, “It’s her dream.” And then, to underscore that I had “heard” right, R.E.M. began playing “Losing My Religion” on my iPod, which—curiously, although it made sense to me then—struck me as some kind of “sign” that I was definitely on the right track.

So, although I take my part seriously as the book’s designer and layout artist, I remember that we all have dreams and we are pretty sure we know how those dreams look. When others try to change the look, those dreams may cease to be ours. Success Is Strictly Spiritual is your dream.

I already told you why I think certain things should look a certain way. Briefly …

Page openers are supposed to stand out from “regular” pages. If the recto running head is the same as the chapter title, well, it is true that the chapter title is already there at the top of the page, just below the running head with the same chapter title. I still think that one may be a little overkill. But with a running foot, they’re not right on top of each other, though I still think it’s unnecessary. The drop folio, however, after thinking about it, is something I like—and habit is a bad reason to not have a regular folio if that is what you want.

Same thing goes for pages with only the diagrams on them: if you want the runners and regular folios on them, you can have them.

The only thing I remain steadfast against is the runner and any kind of folio on a blank page. It would be different if you had a head such as “Reader’s Notes” on the page. But totally bare and I think you risk confusing the reader, who just might wonder whether something went wrong in the printing process and material that should be on the page somehow got omitted.

So only this last one seems to really matter. Look at the redone pages when I send them and decide whether you still want any of the above changes.



I Get Letters … and Other Communiqués

Add comment October 21st, 2009

I found your webpage while looking at some information on I had a friend mention freelance typesetting as a possibility for work. I am currently out of school, with no education focused on design; however, I am a bit of a photographer and have dabbled in web design for some time now. Just recently I started getting familiar with inDesign, I tend to learn programs quickly. Do you have any recommendations as far as what I should read, or how I can get started into this?


Dear Dan,

My initial thought was to tell you how offhanded your friend’s suggestion sounds. It reminded me of how, a lifetime ago, a friend of mine mentioned that I might be more attractive to girls if I grew myself to six feet tall.

But the issues you raise deserve serious consideration, too, not just my wisecracks.

a friend mentioned freelance typesetting … Truthfully, it sounds like you come to this work entirely too casually. I know it’s not nuclear physics or brain surgery, but it certainly matters to all the clients, prospective and actual, out there. In book design, you are charged with doing what you can to make the client’s final, edited files into readable, attractive pages that, hopefully, stand out a little from all the other readable pages out in the world. You may be well paid for this; you are certainly obligated to give the client your experienced, educated best.

a possibility for work … Before you invest your time and, possibly, money, let me assure you that even as an active freelance book designer and layout artist of more than a few years’ experience, work is always just a possibility. That is, it is a most competitive field. Success is not guaranteed. And for the successful, riches are not guaranteed.

out of school … So you have been plying a trade somewhere already? Are you earning a steady living? Mark well whether you are ready to enter a field where fully half your time—at least—will be spent scouting the next jobs. Not working? Well, you have ample time to polish the skills and pick up and practice the good habits necessary to succeed at this. (Whether you actually will succeed or not involves a roll of the bones, however.)

with no education … Oy! Never mind polishing skills; you need to learn what those skills are and then actually learn them and how to use them. It doesn’t really matter whether you get those skills in a formal school setting or by teaching yourself, but you need to be able to use the tools, think on your feet when difficulties occur, and how to quickly seek solutions when you cannot (even at 2:00 am).

a bit of a photographer … Are you now? Do you actually have an eye for how things should look on paper—pictures and type? Learning the tools is the craft; having an eye is the art.

dabbled in web design … For starters, being a “dabbler” may not be the best pedigree. More importantly, web design is quite a different animal from print. Likewise, being “familiar with InDesign” is not the same as knowing how to use it.

I guess I still managed to wisecrack my way through this, Dan. But that does not mean I haven’t also spoken seriously. I hope I at least hinted at the nature of this work.

Me and MOBI, Part Two (of “eBooks and I”)

Continue Reading Add comment October 18th, 2009

Picture 2

eBooks and I, Part One

3 comments October 13th, 2009

I began this piece three or four times, going back at least two weeks ago. What I realized is that instead of whining about the demise of the printed book—a premature plaint, I hope—I should come clean with myself that I need to get comfortable with the process of turning a print-ready file into an eBook.

So I plunged in the easiest way I knew. I googled the subject and found one of Adobe’s Technical Papers, “eBooks: From Adobe® InDesign® to the Kindle Store.” This paper lays out the process pretty seamlessly.

The paper’s methodology makes it sound pretty simple actually, laying out the procedure in four steps:

  1. Export the InDesign document to the EPUB format.
  2. Convert the EPUB file to alternative MOBI filetype.
  3. Preview the MOBI file on a Kindle if you wish.
  4. Lastly, if you want to sell you eBook on Amazon, upload it to the Kindle store at

Touting, of course, Adobe’s latest and greatest, the paper advises that InDesign CS4 comes with “enhanced EPUB export features,” that preserves more of what the original InDesign document looked like. That’s the first bit of caution. Working this process by starting in InDesign CS3, as I did, you may lose the refined niceties of your document, your book. But the point of this experiment is to see about starting with an InDesign document and arriving at a file that Kindle reads.

Before I could follow the four steps above, I needed to download a piece of free software from Adobe, Digital Editions. Available on Adobe’s website—and, again: free—Digital Editions is used for the InDesign-to-EPUB translation. Next I had to get a piece of open-source—read: free—software, calibre, which is used to translate the EPUB file to the MOBI format. It is the MOBI format that Kindle reads.

And this is what the first two pages of what I got look like:



These are two fairly unadorned pages of straight text. Next up I’m going to try something with a single graphic or two. The trick with graphics, as far as I can tell, is to anchor them to the text in the InDesign document. See, when the InDesign file is translated, it goes as one long piece of text, scooting any and all graphics to the end—if I understand correctly. So anchoring graphics to the spot in the text where you want them to appear will allow them to flow with the text.

But I’ll need to see just how that works out.

All About the Work

Add comment October 4th, 2009

I watched a documentary the other night about Frank Gehry, the architect. Something he said struck me, though, I confess, evidently not so much that I can remember just what word-for-word. I recall Mr. Gehry speaking of waiting for the one piece of work that would be—my word now—transcendent, that would somehow give meaning to all he had done and would do. He went on to make the point, I think, that such waiting was futile for the artist—an architect certainly being one among other artists—as an artist must keep growing and making new art or else flame out.

As often happens for me, the message that I noticed in that moment was a critical one for me to receive at the time I did. The book interior I started work on recently and wrote about on this blog a week or two ago, still relatively fresh on my mind, had left me with a high that was beginning to diminish. The fact that anything was left of that high, I think, resulted from my not having actually begun the layout much less finished it.

And it’s not that way, you know. Or rather it’s not just on way or the other. Sometimes I do feel as if I am waiting for the one book to come along that will draw out my very best work, something that people might one day remember me for. Other times I just know I am the same person I described in maybe my very first or second piece on this blog—currently lost in the ether along with my archive of older blog pieces, thanks to The Hacking—a “mercenary,” just waiting for the next paying job.

Funny, how it alternates back and forth with me.


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