Archive for December, 2009

It Was the Best of Years, It Was the Worst of Years … No, Really!

3 comments December 29th, 2009

2009 brought the stutter-stepping economy into my book design practice. It also heralded the first knocks on publishing as an industry that I forced myself to take seriously. Publishers cut production and advances both. Gloom and doom regarding the future of the printed book became commonplace. I whined about the demise of the book as we know it in my own blogging, as well as in comments on other blogs and forums. (I was also told by other designers that I needed to get a grip.)

Now that the year is almost all over, and summing it all up, I see that my fears were not totally misplaced. As I alluded to above, at one point Houghton Mifflin ceased accepting new manuscripts. That had me holding my breath, waiting for a cascade of other publishers going over the edge.

As it turned out, it seems that for all the downsizing and other negative vibes, my year did not turn out badly. Oh, I grossed a little less than last year and a lot less than I would have liked, but given the way the economy sank, a little less than last year was not so bad at all. Fewer employees in publishing probably meant more work for freelancers.

The question is, What’s coming in 2010?

Do I Freelance or What?

Add comment December 13th, 2009

Noodling around for something to read and inspire this morning, I came upon artist Alison Dunlop’s blog wandering thoughts and images from the studio and, in particular, her piece “my studio waits ‘patient’-ly.” In it Ms. Dunlop speaks of her nervousness before putting down her tools—and, in fact, leaving them set up and ready to be used upon her return—and heading off for some undisclosed surgical procedure.

I admit to feeling a chill as I relate to that all-too-natural fear about when/if a hospital stay ends successfully and how soon one can return to productive work. But the other thing I was reminded of is the difference between working freelance for hire and simply creating one’s own work on one’s own whims and inspiration.

I feel the advantage of hiring myself out to clients and being presented with specific “problem” I must go on to solve all the time that I work on book design and layouts. It is only when I find myself in between projects, wondering when the next book will arrive or even where I will find that new project that the disadvantage of working for others shows itself.

Contrast that with working completely on one’s own and for oneself. The freedom in that arrangement is obvious. But, of course, with freedom comes inherent issues; the first being one of inspiration. As I suggested earlier, working freelance for a client means the client presents problems all the material and I must make it work. That eliminates the greatest issue of all: a totally blank canvas. On the other hand, it presents a totally blank canvas that the artist must fill.

The only other concern about working without a net, as I like to think of soloing for oneself, is whether and how one can earn a living at it.

Choose carefully which way you will work.

A Book Designer Takes Stock

2 comments December 7th, 2009

I sometimes think that I lead kind of a remarkable life. But then it occurs to me that it likely seems remarkable only to me.

This line of thought popped into my head again this morning, a little after 6 a.m., as I was running. No denials now, I am 56 years old. I was running with my iPod Touch clipped to the middle layer of sweatshirts I wear when it’s around freezing, AC/DC blaring “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” through my earbuds, and I was considering what I might do to pick up my next book design and layout project.

Just a couple of days ago I had begun one of my twice-yearly efforts to email every publisher in the current year’s Writer’s Market with an inquiry about their potential need for a freelance book designer/typesetter and links to sample of my work. And I about decided to follow up with a promotional postcard after New Year’s.

And gradually I began to feel better. See, lately it’s bothered me that my voice has changed. Oh, I never mustered the nerve to sing publicly, but I should have. I was always able to go note-for-note singing along with Lou Christie on “Lightning Strikes” or “Two Faces Have I,” as well as Lou Gramm on “Urgent” or “Long, Long Way from Home.” Then, a few months ago, I could no longer hit the notes I used to. Mind you, this is just singing along with the car radio or the iPod. Still, it was a bit of a reminder that everything changes.

Then Saturday I sent off  what are likely the last corrections on my 62nd book project. Now, I realize that considering these were all done in addition to my full-time, 9-to-5 civil service job, that’s not too shabby a body of book design and/or layout work. But it also means I’ve only average about four books yearly since 1993. That doesn’t make me feel so accomplished. So another year draws to a close and I begin my marketing season, waiting for number 63 to arrive. That’s the interior page textfiles; I sent off the cover almost three months ago, so the client could get it in their new catalog.

The truest thing I was ever told by an experienced freelancer when I started out was a reply posted to a query of mine on the old Freelancers Online forum. Expect to spend fully half your time lining up paying work—as a beginner for sure, and from time to time afterwards, as the economy or just the publishing season ebbs and flows.


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