Archive for December, 2010

My 5 Favorite Book Projects of 2010

1 comment December 30th, 2010

Alert: Two of the books on this list are still in progress and not available yet, but that does not change the fact that they were high up on my list of experiences this year.

Number 5, Cataclysm by Herman S. Wolk; published by the University of North Texas Press.

What was fun about this project—and fun is one of my measures for best of the year—was the experience of doing its cover. The guidance I get from the folks at the University of North Texas Press proves why I so enjoy clients who have a clear idea what results they want but then leave me alone to make those results happen. The collage effect of this cover was achieved, of course, in Photoshop. The fade from the plane dropping “the bomb” over Hiroshima blending into the city below was not complete until I got the little stripe about halfway down. The disconcerting effect was to prevent the blend of photos from being seamless—I needed to indicate the disruption caused by the birth of the nuclear age.

Number 4, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Review and Resource Manual by Nancy Cantey Banasiak, MSN, APRN, PNP-BC; Alison Moriarty Daley, MSN, APRN, PNP-BC; Patricia Jackson-Allen, MS, RN, PNP, FAAN; Wendy S.L. Mackey, MSN, APRN-BC, CORLN; to be published by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

A straight layout job—that is, no book design, but a provided template utilizing an established house style—on a big book, there was still much to interpret and choose. In a lot of ways, this is a book of explicated lists and the breaking out chunks of details, was paramount. And the client is one that understands how decisiveness and quick responses keep a big project on track.

Number 3, Taking Charge: Your Education, Your Career, Your Life by Karen Mitchell Smith and Katharine O’Moore-Klopf; published by TSTC Publishing.

There’s not much more I can say, having written in this blog already about Taking Charge. I will just say that, creatively, it was great to finally match up a typeface superfamily I’d wanted to use for a long time with material that matched up so nicely.

Number 2, the self-published The Last Alaskan Barrel: An Arctic Oil Bonanza that Never Was by John M. Miller; published by Caseman Publishing.

This was one in what I now see as the growing trend to serious self-publishing with professional production values. An author who knows his material, had a handle on reaching his audience, and took book design, as well as my place as the book designer, seriously, John Miller made it a pleasure for me to work on an important book—all the more so, as the Gulf Oil Spill was at its height as I worked. So it was an important and timely book that I’m proud to have in my body of book design work.

And Number 1 in my cavalcade is the to-be self-published memoir/family history, Journey of a Konkani Family by Mulki R. Bhat.

What makes this book such a hit with me is the interesting story it tells and the typographical demands it makes. Written by a retired physicist who emigrated to the America from India, it has transliterated Sanskrit throughout. The story covers generations before its author and seeks to maintain and help teach the language, in addition to the family history it preserves. Lofty goals achieved.

Another Year in the Rear-View Mirror

Add comment December 26th, 2010

As 2010 comes to an end, I’m left more unsure of what lies ahead than at any other time in my memory. My reasons may confuse you. See, at the end of 2009, I was coming off a year in which my income from working as a freelance book designer and layout artist had decreased from the year before. And while I always have the goal of my freelance earnings rising 25% from the year before, in simplest terms, I regard it as a “win” if my freelance earnings are more than in the preceding year.

Well, as I said, 2009 saw a decrease in those earnings. Additionally, everything seemed to point to 2010 being an even harder year. Publishers were suffering—some refusing to take on new authors altogether, advances to authors decreasing, and the proliferation of electronic readers leading many people to declare that the previously predicted demise of printed books was finally coming to pass.

I can’t state categorically that I know the exact cause, but 2010 was my best year ever. My freelance income just about doubled over what I earned in 2009. It was a very good year.

In part, publishing companies may have lightened their rosters of employees and utilized the more economical alternative of freelance talent. With freelancers, publishers save a noticeable amount: no fringe benefits to pay, less office space and fewer computer stations to maintain. But I think that the real difference-maker at the end of the day was the coming of self-publishing into its own. In quite a big way.

As far as I can tell, the self-publishing=vanity publishing equation is no longer valid. And self-publishers have begun to understand my mantra that choosing to self-publish is choosing to go into business as a publisher. Consequently, they seem to realize that, like any other business, a publishing company will require investing a certain amount of capital to get off the ground and to bring each book published to press. In 2010 I benefited from the way these elements came together and bore fruit.

For 2011 I hesitate to imagine the same growth. Superstitious, I suppose, I always hate to express too much optimism, else my cockiness should be rewarded with another unexpectedly down year. But I also wonder, on the heels of such an unexpectedly great year what I need to do to pull in even more of these high-paying, interesting projects. That brings me back to what I always consider the larger part of working freelance: promoting myself, marketing my skills and talent, getting the jobs.

Taking Charge and How I “Took Charge” of One Book’s Interior Design

Add comment December 15th, 2010

I’ve said before that the best part of book design is starting a new project. But that may not be strictly true. Opening fresh copies of books that I’ve designed ranks right up there, too.

The other day I received copies of two books for which I’d done interior design and layout. Both books were published by TSTC Publishing, a college press. The two books are Taking Charge: Your Education, Your Career, Your Life, Second Edition and Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco.

The second book I’ve already blogged about. The first is to be the subject of this piece. As its name indicates, Taking Charge is a guide for students making the transition to young adulthood. As it is a second edition, I decided that, along with the material in the book that had been updated and improved, I would renovate the book’s interior and connect the structures of Taking Charge to the content of its pages.

To accomplish all that, I began by altering the page dimensions a bit. I went from a rather squat 71/2″ × 91/2″ page to one that measures 7″ × 10″. The small changes, adding half an inch of height and subtracting half an inch of width would make the book look more like something one might choose to read and less like something that might be assigned.

For typefaces I chose the Fontin superfamily, containing both serif and sans serif types. Although I generally enjoy the process of matching types for a book—and the Crump mentions in his piece that some purists object to type designers’ own serif/sans pairings—it is sometimes gratifying to set a book with a type designer’s own meticulous matching of types from the creation on up.

Designed by Jos Buivenga for his Exljbris Font Foundry, the Fontins are freeware. I thought this might be particularly appropriate in a book for young adults, an example of how good, useful and attractive things need not be expensive. I had been waiting a long while for just the right book project to present itself so that I might use the Fontins. In addition to being the thrifty choice, Fontin sets nicely a little smaller and is visually appealing thanks to its largish x-height, loose spacing, and darkish color.

Below are a few pages from each for you to compare.

The first edition:

The second edition:

The Subtle Art of Pairing Serif and Sans Serif Typefaces, Part II

Add comment December 15th, 2010

And now the second part of the two-parter on pairing typefaces in books

The second way to pair types is the “hard,” creative way; the doping-it-out kind of way, where the book designer does the matching. And that leads to the two ways to pair serifs and sans serifs: by contrasting or by matching.

Contrasting, at first blush, is by far the easier of the two ways to work out pairings. Theoretically, nearly every difference provides contrast.

Some obvious points to compare are letter height, x-height, stroke weight, character shapes, and direction of the axis (vertical or angled). The most practical contrast, however, when using serifs and sans side-by-side are roman to bold—the more extreme, the better; and size—one of the fonts should be at least a few points larger than the other.

When matching types, there are certain combinations that work naturally, because of the weights, shapes, and proportions of the characters. Oldstyle Serif types, with their angled stress and mild difference between thin and thickness of stroke, pair nicely with Humanist Sans Serifs—Minion and Frutiger, for instance. Some other Oldstyle Serifs are: Jenson, Bembo, Caslon, Garamond, Palatino, and Sabon. Other Humanist Sans Serifs are Eras, Gill Sans, Lucida Grande.

Transitional faces have a vertical stress and the contrast of thin and thickness of a character’s stroke is more obvious than with Oldstyle faces. Some examples of Transitional Serifs are Bell, Bookman, Bulmer, Caledonia, Joanna, Mrs. Eaves, New York, Perpetua, and Times Roman typefaces. Geometric Sans Serifs include Avant Garde, Avenir, Bernhard Gothic, Centruty Gothic, Eurostile Futura, Kabel, and Univers.

Modern typefaces have much more pronounced contrast between the thin and thick of their stroke than the Transitionals, and larger x-heights. Examples of Moderns are Bernhard Modern Roman, Bodoni, Didot. Frnice, New Century Schoolbook, and Walbaum. Geometric Sans Serifs, as with Transitionals, make nice pairings with Modern Serifs.

For book design, I stop here, except for my desire to sometime set a book in Optima, a Near-Serif Sans.

The Subtle Art of Pairing Serif and Sans Serif Typefaces, Part I

Add comment December 14th, 2010

More from the old, corrupted blog, this one the first part of a two-parter on pairing typefaces in books

A while back I wrote about the type I lean toward using in my book design work. This moment I want to move right past questioning ever using sans serif faces for main body text. But I need to comment just briefly about it.

What was once a taboo I see broken more and more. And though never disastrous, I almost always find it annoying. One reason is that the usual relationship—main body text in serif, display heads (and other display elements) in sans—gets thrown off. While I have yet to do a book in which I use a sans for my body text, I have admitted before that I would like to use Optima just that way if the right book comes along . (After that, who knows whether the floodgates might not open and I will become a sans serif-setting fool?)

When that occurs, I will not reverse things and use a serif for display items, but rather variations of the body sans. So the “right book” means one without a great number of different design elements.

There are two ways to pair types. The first simply requires that the book designer locate the correct “superfamily,” a family of fonts that includes both a serif and a sans serif. Two that I admire, have written about, and plan to use when the correct circumstances arise are Jos Buivenga’s Fontins, and Liberation Serif/Liberation Sans. For a terrific list of some forty superfamilies, see Peyton Crump’s Superfamily Font Roundup. I should caution, however, that not all of these are suitable for use in books.

As Crump points out, the purists among us—as well as nagging bits of creative conscience in those of us not so pure—frown on these ready-made matches of serif and sans serif types. Although such superfamilies are designed organically, often from the same inspiration, they lack the seasoned book designer’s application of eye and aesthetic sense. However, that is not to say that any particular type designer is not seasoned and possessed of a superior eye and sense of design aesthetics.

Stay tuned for part two!

The Prospect Always Rings Twice (Not)

Add comment December 8th, 2010

Acknowledgment, I suppose, is always an issue and even an “object of desire” for people who create. Except perhaps for those annoying fellow students in a creative writing course I took in college who wrote “just to express” themselves. I wonder now whether any of them ever went on to make writing their work.

And I’ve begun with a digression.

What I actually mean to get at is acknowledgment from prospective clients. As I often email production managers and the like who answer my inquiries into possible freelance book design and layout work: “You’d be surprised how rare it is that people show the courtesy of acknowledging receipt of my inquiry.”

To be sure, the ease of email and tweeting seriously increased the number and percentage of replies I receive to both my blind inquiries to publishers and to my responding to freelance project postings.

Long ago, before I emailed and had an Internet presence, I would scour Sunday’s New York Times and Newsday for ads seeking graphic designers who worked on computer, specifically the Macintosh platform. If I found three or five to snail mail my résumé to, I considered that a successful week. If 1% got in touch with me, even just to say, “We received your résumé—no thanks!” that was a lot.

In 1998, when I first began to email publishers right out of Writer’s Market, I immediately got a 3% response rate, although, sadly, that first year at least, not a one offered me a book project. My big break actually cam in 1995, the old-fashion way: somebody knew somebody who needed a freelance layout artist. This place was local, too, right in my backyard on Long Island and it started to build my résumé. I freelanced for this place about three years. Before that, my only paying projects had been a handful of résumé designs, a product brochure, and one math textbook layout.

On the heels of that I answered a jobs board posting from a science journals publisher in Florida. Miraculously, a friend who had moved down there from Long Island answered me and I did layout work on a dozen or more quarterly science journals for about three years.

My point is that newbie freelancers need to persevere, need a hearty constitution to help them tolerate rejection and, worse, having their inquiries go outright ignored. If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.


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