Archive for January, 2011

Degrees of Difficulty

Add comment January 31st, 2011

I find myself guilty once again of sporadic blogging, if not outright neglect of this blog. For that I apologize. In my defense, I have been consumed by work. And the latest book, another self-published tome by a professional, has brought some new issues into focus.

Primarily, I wonder why a difficult client is automatically considered a negative, whereas a difficult project can actually prove the best kind of fun. Interestingly, I think there’s something to be said for the ideal combination being a client who is easy to work with—and this does not mean the client cannot be demanding—and a really difficult book to bring to press.

That ideal combination is the one I labor under at the moment. This latest client has written a book that I’m not sure I understand, but that seems to have elements of memoir, spiritual growth, and metaphysical philosophy to it. He also possesses a rock-steady certainty about how a number of things ought to flow across and look on my pages. There are times when I don’t agree; some of his ideas seem jarring to me, like they might interrupt the reader’s flow. But, then, I can’t be sure that’s not intended.

Altogether I have found that whether I like a client’s ideas or not, it is far better to have a client who does not shy from telling you, very specifically, what he’s looking for. And this while I also remember how, as a novice designer, the urge to put one’s own stamp, and only one’s own, on a project, is often overwhelming.

Working at book design and layout as many years as I have, I want to tell new book designers—primarily those who work with self-publishing authors—a few things about situations like this.

It’s okay to have clients who are active in the design process. It’s not necessary that you feel every book you work on is a product solely of your own art. No arguing that it feels a lot more like fun when you get to be The Creative Force. But not every client will hire you for that. You can, of course, turn down such jobs. However, I’m a believer in the desirability of constant paying work. I also think the flexibility you grow by working with these two kinds of clients likely prepares you for a longer career in that it helps you to function under different circumstances. And longevity, after paying clients, is what it’s all about.

Some Things That Affect the Cost of Self-Publishing

Add comment January 9th, 2011

One of the most obvious expenses—or investments—that a self-publisher makes in his or her own book is the cost of printing. Of course, some printing options cost more than others simply because of the way those printers run their businesses. Aside from that, however, there are a few details to keep track of that definitely affect how much one will invest in self-publishing a book.

One of the things that makes the quickest impression is color print, whether for text or pictures. Color often makes for a large jump in expense. Otherwise the amount of paper used is probably the largest material expense.

Page count itself can be affected by a number of details:

  • page size
  • text area
  • typeface
  • type size
  • leading

Page size and text are fairly obvious, but typefaces, even at the same size, can occupy different amounts of space. Here are three samples of typeface not uncommon to books. Here I have them in the common 10/12 set, 10 point type on 12 point leading, on 6-nch by 9-inch page, with half-inch margins all the way around. (Only the type will show, not the page and its margins.

So even within the same size, typefaces will have different characteristics that affect just how the set on the page.

P.S. to 2010

3 comments January 1st, 2011

Here is my cautionary tale and reminder that the freelance game should be fully half about finding the next project, promoting our services, and absolutely not counting chickens before they hatch.

Yes, I am bummed. But I also feel exhilaration at just how in charge of my book design practice I am, while at the same time admitting it is not all about me. Despite how I enjoy playing that it is.

As the closing days of 2010 unfolded, after I thought all activity would finally stop for the year with the holidays arriving—as it always has in the past—I was contacted by five potential new clients about book design and layout, and straight layout, projects. Last year, strange year that it was with both zigs and zags in it when I expected opposites, closed in a way that can happen to all of us who freelance and reminded me that looking ahead must always include promoting ourselves.

Admittedly, looking back, it seems to have fit. As I wrote in my wrap-up of 2010, it was unexpectedly my best year ever, both in terms of earning and the creative energy that successfully surged in me last year. Coming on the heels of a down year, the U.S. economy in tough straits, knowing that traditional publishers were very much tightening their belts, I was not prepared for the burst of really fine self-published work that would propel my year.

At least two of the potential new clients who contacted me spoke of big, big projects, one about 1,800 pages and the other well over a thousand pages, too. Serious money would have been involved. Well before the stroke of midnight, however, the carriage turned back into a pumpkin and I was left thinking about how 2010 went out every bit as unexpectedly as it came in.

First I heard from the academic press. They were interesting and, in retrospect, confuse me a little. Their initial contact presented the price they intended to pay. They didn’t need to raise that number so soon, I thought. But it was a satisfactory number and I told them I would be willing to fully do the project to the other specification mentioned, including any timetable. A second or third email informed me that, well, they first had to field other bids before giving me an answer.

Now, I am fine with competitive bidding and I understand businesses have no obligation to respond instantly. But the sudden change from all the firm details presented puzzled me and reminded me: Don’t expect potential clients to keep the same steady tone once you agree with them, at least while negotiating money. That is their right; but to be shocked by it when it happens, more importantly, is pointless.

So they took a lower bid. Parenthetically, I should say that, again, though competition is fine, downward competition on rates alarms me. I blame that at least partially on the crowdsourcing mentality that seems to pervade the thinking of the new generation of designers. Whether they have been sold the idea or it simply suits their sense that all spontaneity and flexibility in the marketplace is good and example of “power to the people,” I do not know. But when they cannot earn their livings on the skills they picked up in school at so much expense, all the contests, spec work, and crowdsourcing will not seem so empowering.

The second potential client emailed soon after. They would not need my services, nor any other book designer/page composition artist, because the printer they spoke to made it clear they could simply distill PDFs from the Microsoft Word textfiles. If such a solution satisfied them, I did not have it in me to go sour grapes and give my “hammer a nail with the flat side of a wrench” rant one more time. It was clear to me that professional typography was not as important as getting their project done at a modest price. And the printer cared only about locking up their end of the job.

The third turndown was the one that made me laugh. From a New York City concern, they elected to go with a designer on the other side of the country. People familiar with me know how gee whiz I am about the small, 24/7 world we are now, thanks to the Internet, email, and all the rest. More than once I have scratched my head publicly when potential clients expressed a preference for working with a designer in their town. So I certainly won’t whine about someone who chose not to go local. But the irony … well, just is.

The moral of the story, if there really is one, is that the economy makes the freelancer’s security unpredictable. So we should always be looking for the next paying project.


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