Archive for November, 2010

5 “Easy” Steps to Self-Publishing a Best-Seller*

Add comment November 25th, 2010

*Take with a grain of salt, I’m not a full-scale book shepherd, nor am I issuing guarantees today.

  1. No matter what any of us try to sell you on design, editing skill, or the need to sell, sell, sell, remember that it all starts with the writing. Even before that, you need to pick a story to tell or a subject to expand on that people want to read about. And then write the damn thing really well.
  2. Now, this writing well thing, as far as I’m concerned, should extend to writing about your book on blogs and even texting and Twitter—after, of course, taking into account the idiosyncrasies of texting shortcuts and abbreviations. You still ought to sound like you know how to use English (or whatever language you write in).
  3. Run your book by an editor. All the best intentions won’t make up for what an independent reader who possesses experience at looking at a story or narrative for things like continuity, logic, reasonableness, and does the end just plain follow from all that was written after the start.
  4. This might even be considered 2a. Use a real copy editor to check on correctness and uniformity: of spelling and punctuation, as well as that you define on first usage any terms you might not expect readers to already understand.
  5. Think about your target audience. That is, unless you are satisfied with the average sales for most any self-published book, under 100 copies to family, friends, and acquaintances. Define that target audience and think about how you will reach the readers in it to tell them about your book and why they want to read it. You may want to pay a professional to define the best marketing path and create and implement a plan for reaching that audience.
  6. Don’t go with a one-size-fits-all book design and template. Don’t buy into the you-can-do-book-design-in-a-word-processor hype. You can also bang a nail into a wall with the flat size of a wrench. It’s not the proper tool for a myriad of reasons, starting with the fact that good typography does not come naturally to Word or any other word processor. If you really have a design sensibility and know how the printed word should look, take the time to learn InDesign or Quark—or learn one of the flavors of TeX if you can accept your design having an element of programming to it. Or hire a professioal book designer like me.

Free Tools for the Beginning Book Designer

Add comment November 20th, 2010

This is one of my favorite pieces from the old, compromised blog. I enjoyed my wiseass take on grandkids as “our replacements”—it stills makes me smile when I read it now. But the meaning of this piece to me is that it’s when I began to acknowledge a sense that things I learned and learned about could assist others starting out on the freelance path I chose

It’s taken me awhile to write and post this. Mostly because my granddaughters—“our replacements,” an old friend calls them—were visiting the last week and a half. But that may also have pointed me toward my material this time around.

See, I’ve been thinking about novice book designers starting out. It can be an expensive proposition when one begins, I realize, all while striving to get one’s foot in the door. Hardware is just the initial investment.

Software, too, adds up. Additionally, with software, there’s the stinking suspicion that open-source software—TeX (in all its flavors) and Scribus for page layout, plus various printing, drawing, and photo editing programs—may make an investment in QuarkXPress or InDesign, and art programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator a waste of money.

I know there are those who swear by open-source, regarding commercial software as unnecessary. I am certain these same people do relatively good work. But no book publisher or packager who was looking to hire someone for design or layout of a book ever asked me whether I was skilled in Tex or Scribus.

But I come not to praise—or take shots—at software choices. Rather I want to discuss the tool next in line: typefaces. Where do we get them? What’s the story with how expensive they can be? Are there alternatives to paying top dollar to Adobe and the other foundries out there, boutique and otherwise?

The first types we handle are the resident fonts in our computers. On the Macintosh, my choice, that means Times Roman, Helvetica, Palatino, etc. On PCs I imagine that means fonts called Arial, Swiss, and Comic Sans—there’s an “inside sports” joke here that I’ll get back to … if I remember—among others. Then there are the “bonus” fonts packages with other software. I know of two reputable sources like that: Corel (Draw, Paint, WordPerfect, which I have never owned, because Quark, Adobe products, and MS Word seemed to be pretty much the professional software of choice that a book designer/layout artist would need to consider) and Adobe.

My first font purchase, as I;ve mentioned before on this blog, was a twosome: Adobe Garamond and Futura. I wish I could remember what they cost back in 1989. I think I recall around $100 each. Next I bought Bodoni and Frutiger from Adobe. And those were my last individual purchases for some time to come, because it wasn’t long after that I bought a version of Adobe Illustrator—version 6, I believe—that came with the aforementioned generous slice of Adobe’s Postscript 1 Typeface Library.

Many of my favorites, typefaces that I still use today, are in that Adobe collection. So I would urge any new book designer to look around for it, as there are more than mere favorites in it. Classic typefaces can be found in that collection. But that still requires an investment of cash.

What about totally free typefaces?

Well, I should digress here and say that there are many great resources to learn about typefaces. My favorites are John Boardley’s wonderful blog, I love typography and the Typophile forums. Truth be told, there are many others that I frequent now and again. Smashing Magazine, although primarily a web resource has good material about fonts. And there are countless others. For this piece I searched through all of them and more. I also put out the word for suggestions on a number of forums, though not on Typophile, as I thought it a bit much to ask professional type designers who earn their living creating types to suggest free typefaces.

One thing that becomes immediately apparent when doing a search such as this is that most free fonts are display fonts, not particularly good, and rarely complete. (By “complete,” I mean a complete set of characters, from upper and lowercase, to numerals, punctuation, and accented glyphs.)

But I did come up with eight typeface families that I think might be used in designing and laying out books. Now, to be fair, two of them, Fontin and Fontin Sans, I had learned about some time ago on the aforementioned “I love typography.” The fact that Jos Buivenga designed both a serif and a sans serif, making Fontin a comprehensively complete family caught my attention and I’ve been meaning to use them and plan to soon. [It took three years, but I finally found a book they matched really well with and I used them.] I would advise novice book designers who choose to make such a search as mine to take a look at Mr. Buivenga’s exljbris Font Foundry, as well as his fine blog of the same name. He has a selection of eight fonts on the site, as well as an intriguing new one, Calluna [this one has come a long way since I first wrote about it here], in the works.

My other six selections to start a type library for free are nearly evenly split between serif and sans serif types. They include another from exljbris, the sans Delicious. Next up is Gentium, “a typeface for the nations.”. (Designed by Victor Gaultney, “Gentium” means “of the nations.”) Goudy Sans is an idiosyncratic sans by Frederic W. Goudy. The Fell Types, developed for computer typesetting by Igino Marini, are a selection of different serif, “modern revival fonts” I loosely categorize as a single selection. They bear some careful study in deciding whether and where to use them. Last are Liberation Sans and Liberation Serif, developed by Steve Matteson, again pleasing to me not just for themselves but because they form a complete serif and sans family.

I think these form a nice set of types to study and use athe best of all prices. Which is not to say that there are not others out there that deserve to be mentioned. In fact, I invite anyone who has a favorite free typeface family that is suitable for book design, to please make mention of them in a comment to this piece.

Finding a Place for Social Media in Your Freelance Practice

Add comment November 17th, 2010

A combination of things—being very busy with work, finishing up suddenly and finding myself with a lot of open time, health issues at home—all conspired to induce a very real case of writer’s block. I could not motivate myself to write anything for this blog, nor could I focus on doping out some ideas to write about.

Book design was uppermost in my mind. I designed a promotional postcard and got started mailing them out. I also bought the 2011 Writer’s Market and began emailing publishers in it, expressing my interest in book design projects they might want to get off the ground with a freelancer. And I was getting the feeling that I really needed to think of something to blog about.

As I usually do when I work on the computer—whether on a book design or doing the layout, or when sending promotional emails or scouring the Internet for people in need of a book designer—I had email, Facebook, and Twitter (the last via a Twitter client called “twhirl”) open on the second monitor. I noticed this past Monday night that a client, TSTC Publishing in Texas, had on Facebook that the hardcover edition of Lust, Violence, Religion, a book I had done interior design and layout on, was in. The ran it with a thumbnail photo of two people looking on as a third held the opened book in her hands. I happily addressed my Facebook friends:

The funnest book I’ve worked on yet. The cover’s not mine on this one, but the interior design’s all my baby.

That distraction out of my system, it wasn’t enough to just scout around for another client. I began to feel the edginess I get when I’m not really working. The next night, last night, I posted on Facebook:

Every time things get slow–that means I’m only working 9-5 at Court plus just 4 or 5 hours scouting out the next book project, I think about heading back to my PHP/MySQL studies and dreaming up some killer web app. Usually the feeling passes.

And two hours later:

Another day and night I couldn’t come up with anything for the blog. It’s becoming harder and harder with each succeeding day, well over a month. I mean, like, I’m dry. Dunno what the hell I’m going to do to imagine a scenario or an issue in book design that interests me enough to right about, like, now. Or tomorrow, anyway.

I never even noticed that I’d typed “right” when I meant “write.”

This morning, a friend—it’s time I stop saying and writing “Internet friend” or “Facebook friend” for people I never see in person—left me a message of encouragement with a list of ten or eleven ideas that I might consider.

My point is that this is how social media can ideally work. I was in a funk. And someone I’ve become friends with over the years—first on a now-defunct forum for publishing freelancers, which led to him bringing me in on a couple of big layout projects (encyclopedias), and now keeping in touch on Facebook—bailed me out.

I try hard to do the same for others and just generally express my better angels on Facebook and Twitter both. Sometimes that means as little as sharing how I feel about our political situation (I tend to be a disapproving lefty). Other times it’s true that I just wisecrack. But I also bring out who I really am and discuss, in short bites, the work I do and how I do it. 2010 has been my busiest year ever as a freelance book designer in no small part because of relationships I have cultivated on Twitter.

So social media is not a time-sink for people engaged in business. I recommend finding a way to use the social media tools you are comfortable with—and perhaps none if you are not at all comfortable. But at least investigate the possibilities. Don’t dismiss social media, and Twitter in particular, as just places to hang out and discuss what you had for lunch.

Don’t Make Me Cry—No One’s Dying, But …

Add comment November 7th, 2010

Interesting (to me) piece coming below from the old, corrupted blog. Written a little over three years ago, it was about how things were tightening and someone I knew was giving up book design because it was so hard to get paid to make books in a way that balanced with the effort put in. Ironically, I noticed it just as I start the slowdown of my most profitable year ever.

A friend I made online is talking about moving on, giving up her book design business. Although she never told me just how many years she has been at this game, I know the pains she has always taken to make books. But finally she recognized that the time, energy, and effort she put into each project was not properly rewarded by the fees her clients—many of them individual self-publishers—would (or perhaps could) pay her. At the end of the year, after adding up the year’s proceeds, many small businesspeople probably get the same feeling. That, too, concerns me.

It sounds as if the next thing my friend plans to do, a combination of Internet industriousness plus an abiding interest of hers, will be likely to provide her just as much, if not more, satisfaction. And if I had to bet, I can foresee the financial benefit pretty quickly surpassing her praiseworthy book design efforts. This, and the fact that the ranks of those of us who love making books will likely shrink by one special craftsperson, profoundly saddens me.

Is this the way the demise of books begins? With individual, skilled book designers and production artists giving up the work, rather than new technology simply making printing on paper irrelevant?

How did T.S. Eliot put it? Not with a bang but a whimper. That was the end of the world he wrote about, but then wouldn’t we be talking about just that—at least as we know it?

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!

On Creativity

Add comment November 7th, 2010

And another old piece, where I muse on the creative process.

Every so often the urge strikes to create something new. Usually this occurs when I most resemble a blank slate, dazed and logy upon waking from sleep, or when I am lunching at my marina spot, seated at a small table and staring aimlessly at tied-down boats bobbing in the water. An idea will hit and, sometimes only in my minds eye, I’ll sketch out the look of a spread that I fancy I might like to use for a book someday. And voila! A concept emerges.

I should own up right here and now that, generally, as I cannot—how you say?—draw a whit, the only sketching I ever tended to do was in my mind’s eye. Until, that is, it occurred to me that using type can be a kind of drawing. Further, geometric shapes, white space, and placement are other tools to be used in making the pictures that pages can be.

These notions are not entirely new to me, of course, after 17 years of setting type on a Macintosh. During that very first phase of the computer typesetting experience, when, I can proudly say, I learned quite on my own that one need not—indeed must not—use every typeface and effect in one’s arsenal simply because one can, I designed a certain flyer for a fundraiser. It was kind of a wretched attempt at a joke; and the fundraiser it supposedly publicized was a fiction. The subject of the flyer was to make fun of some news that the top-level people at the place I worked were getting restless over not having received pay raises in a few years at the same time that those of us nowhere near the top level, employees with a union contract, had gotten a number of 1.5% and 2% raises that were less than what the top level folks spent on tips.

But I digress.

My point is that, in this pretend flyer I played with one style of one typeface. Size and placement provided variety, along with a couple of homemade dingbats, which were sized and placed for effect.

This makes me wonder whether any young student of typography just naturally rebels against ornamentation. I mean, there’s me; and then there was—you guessed it—Tschichold. Okay, I’m kidding. Honest, I meant it in fun mentioning myself in the same sentence as Jan Tschichold. But I do have to consider that the natural order might be to reject unnecessary flourishes and pointless decoration.

I have only one reservation about shooting for the cleanest, most functional looking page I can. Sometimes ornamentation is simply fun. For the reader, as well as the designer. I realize that no one ever said any of us must have fun. But I got to thinking about this while beginning to read Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 1990). In this wonderful book, one thing Tufte does is rail against ornament that serves no point, or is “chockablock with cliché and stereotype, coarse humor, and ‘content-empty.'” He likens such display to “a duck.” And he illustrates the point with a graphic, a photo of a building that is a duck.

Now, how ridiculous is a building in the shape of a duck?

Except that it turns out “the Duck,” as it’s known, sits about 20 or so minutes from where I live in Suffolk County, on Long Island, in New York. And, while I’ve always laughed at it as a bit of local lunacy, it really is a landmark and part of the fabric of what makes out here so uniquely out here.

Which goes to show that most any guideline or rule may be broken in a way that seems reasoned and natural to some, while at the same time arbitrary and an act of quackery to others.

The Value of My Work

Add comment November 5th, 2010

Another of the corrupted posts … I guess things are cyclical, as I am reading a lot again about how much it costs to self-publish a book.

One of the eternal issues reared its head again on a maillist to which I subscribe. Someone posted about the costs of self-publishing a book. The person lamented that it costs serious money to do so, after complaining that getting one’s book published by a “real” publisher was impossible without having an inside track to one of the “real” publishers. The point was also made that the alternative of handling one’s own book design and typesetting required a lot of effort.

Well, yeah.

I took my time about responding, not feeling that the posting was addressed to me in particular. But when one of my pet peeves is forced before my eyes, I usually end up not knowing how to avoid saying at least a few words.

First, it’s important to admit that I realized some years ago that it would be unfair—okay, who ever said anything should be fair?—if the power of the press were available only to those who could afford to own a press. Or the press. After that, though, I still wonder if we have any realistic way of learning how many authors resort to self-publishing simply because their work stinks and they cannot grasp that fact. I like to think that, truly, far fewer situations such as that exist than the cynic in me sometimes says. I like to think that the judgment on whether a particular manuscript will be popular enough to earn a profit as a book is what guides “real” publishers, and that otherwise well-written works simply don’t get picked up because, while worthy, their audiences are small.

So when someone makes the decision to self-publish, I want to support that right. But then I think—and I wrote something to this effect to the maillist—if a city cannot afford to support a major league baseball team, then it should not have one; if a business owner lacks the capability to run a profitable enterprise, then I understand when they are forced to close. That being the case, it drives me crazy when a self-publisher, in the quest to keep expenses low, refuses to see that the rate they want to pay a book designer/layout artist falls way below reasonable. The same self-publisher would not lowball a plumber or an electrician.

But I reserve my harshest judgment for myself. When I sit waiting for my next project, finished with one book and not yet sure when and from where the next one will come, and I feel as if I may never work again … I remind myself that if I do not properly value my time and effort no one else will either. And the more of us who ignore that simple fact, the more we insure that the offers to pay us for our work will remain inadequate. At least until book design and layout become as necessary to all of us as properly functioning plumbing.

The Platform and Upgrade Conundrums

Add comment November 3rd, 2010

Here’s another one from the archives of the corrupted blog. I thought of it this morning because I’ve been reading some on the forums about when to upgrade, the costs of it, the ramifications to working the way one is used to.

Aside from the ever-present challenge of keeping new book design and layout projects coming in, both to keep working and just to stay fresh, I find the thorniest issue to be the question of when to upgrade. This pertains to both hardware and software.

Without even considering the obvious question of whether my finances will bear the cost of upgrading, for years the first question I asked myself concerned the continued existence of Apple Computer (now simply Apple, Inc.). There was a time when predictions ran rampant that Apple could not possibly survive much longer on their own thin share of the P.C. market.

Ignoring the annoying attitude I continue to sense occasionally that one’s chosen computer platform is akin to one’s religion, I always believed that a computer is simply a tool, like a wrench or a saw. If I worked as a plumber or a carpenter, and Sears forever closed its doors and Craftsman tools were no longer available, I doubt that would cause me to quit my trade. Instead, my tool company of choice would probably change. So I remember a time when I thought the next computer I bought might, of necessity, be a Windows machine. I began preparing myself psychologically. Thankfully, it never happened that way.

That said, it was back in 1990, that I first found that—at least for page design, typesetting, and layout—the Macintosh and the peripherals I needed to use were in sync from the time I plugged them in and cabled them together. They just worked properly together right from the jump. I turned the computer on, began learning to use the software I would use, and started to work productively. Every Windows machine I saw back then seemed to require technical expertise to get peripherals such as printers and scanners to work with that platform and to perform all the supporting tasks to making books: opening, copying, and saving files; printing; and otherwise using page layout software.

Currently, I work on a G5 PowerMacintosh. [Needless to say, that’s changed since I’m now on a 24-inch Intel iMac.] My G3 PowerBook laptop died over the winter, so when I can, I plan to purchase a 17-inch MacBook Pro. That will mean beginning the switch to Intel processors in my production environment. Not being one to pioneer unnecessarily, I just set up my wife on an Intel iMac.

I upgrade software even more cautiously: only when clients let me know the time has come. Until then I don’t fix something that works. For instance, I recently got QuarkXPress 7; no client has requested I use it yet, however. So my work with it has consisted of noodling to this point. I’m ready when the time comes.

And since I originally wrote this, in June or July of 2007, I haven’t used Quark again. InDesign really did kill my need to use Quark. Partly because many clients request it and partly because it is so well-integrated with Photoshop and Illustrator.


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