Archive for January, 2012

Don’t Work for Free

Add comment January 28th, 2012

I talk a great deal about how I despise crowdsourcing, contests, and predatory jobs boards that encourage freelancers to underbid each other. So I am definitely on the side of not working without a paying agreement in place. But every once in a while a potential client shows up with a possible project that is so attractive and enticing to me that I actually begin to spend time, plan, and even put together some typeface and page samples into a page layout doc.

It’s embarrassing when I find myself ignoring my own paradigm.

Mind you, this does not happen often. But when it does, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about the possibilities for such a project or even more time trying to turn off my thoughts about a book I have not yet been offered.

Just a few such book design/layout projects are: the mini-coffee table book of photoessays about historic Waco, Texas; a novel containing all kinds of text material besides the straight narrative of the story; a series of health-related texts; a new edition of a community cookbook; and a two-book set based on a father’s letters to his children. Each of these contained challenges that had me sketching page shapes and grids; and each prodded me to print combinations of typefaces that might be used in their production.

The enthusiasm that causes me to break that rule I have against working for free—except for the occasional pro bono project or the book that I am so high on that I take for less than the job is worth—comes about only when I am over-ready for a book to work on and something shows up on my doorstep that I have never quite seen before.

But I am always on guard with my back permanently up against those trying to get free work on something they plan to sell.

A Little More On iBooks and iBooks Author

4 comments January 21st, 2012

Although I still have not updated to Lion and gotten hold of iBooks Author, I managed to read a little more about what Apple’s e-textbook initiative could mean. That has lead to a few more thoughts about Apple’s announcement this past Thursday.

For one thing, it is significant that their new app for making iBooks is called iBooks Author, rather than iBooks Designer. It appears they have no intention of opening another avenue to making ebooks more of an artform a la print books. They are targeting authors and the do-it-yourself movement, making the process easy, if not particularly imaginative or unique for each individual iBook. Of course, they have their own business interests and what I am griping about is not their concern.

I find myself in a peculiar position. I definitely remain a fan of Apple and the Apple way. But I am disappointed when I see them promoting ways and means to a one-size-fits-all ebook design mentality. Then again, I certainly have not gotten as far as investigating how much customization the iBooks Author app allows. My hope is that, for a professional book designer at least, there is a clear path away from the one-size-fits-all that many do-it-yourselfers fall into.

Apple Does iBooks … But Good!

Add comment January 19th, 2012

Today’s not unexpected announcement from Apple was about education, ebooks, making ebooks, and making iPad the platform of choice for ebooks. Great good news! I’ve been hoping for all this for some time.

When I was a student it would have been a real blessing to have all my textbooks on an iPad. For one thing, the practical advantage, I would not have had to lug around thirty pounds of books each day. Perhaps more important to me as a student, the multimedia capabilities of the iPad gives access to a wealth of additional material—photos, audio, and video. Linking to newsreel footage when studying current events would have made things a lot more interesting, for instance, as would seeing illustrations of things I was studying in, say, physics class.

And although I have not yet investigated the free authoring tool they also announced today, iBooks author, I am confident that it will prove to be the tool for making ebooks that I have been waiting for. As a book designer, my biggest complaint has been that (human) readers can change the look of  their ebooks on ereader (devices). It appears to me that an ebook created via iBooks Author will be something like an app and permanent in its presentation.

Now along with all this good stuff Apple has set off some alarms for me—again, as I am a professional book designer and page composition artist. The same way they set the price of songs on iTunes, they are unilaterally setting the price of the ebooks they will sell. None will cost more than $14.99. I admit that would have pleased me as a college student. But as someone who earns a good part of his living making books, I wonder about them setting the market this way. Will it sustain professional ebook-makers or make the process one that can only be done in an assembly line fashion at sweatshop rates?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile it seems that Apple has come up with a new reason for everyone who is a student or has one at home to buy an iPad if they do not already own one. And because iBooks Author requires Apple’s latest OS, Lion, to run, as my son-in-law tweeted today: “[I]n Macintosh-related news, @StephenTiano gets his reason to update to Lion… #ibooksauthor”. Additionally, it is time for me to replace the first-generation iPad I gave to one of my granddaughters, because I grew bored that it was only good for consuming content, rather than creating. It seems an iPad is necessary for testing and debugging ebooks created in iBooks Author.

Steve Jobs would be proud. Hell, he must have helped prepare for today’s announcement before his untimely death this past October.

Ten Books I’d Like to Design and Lay Out

Add comment January 9th, 2012

Just looking around and thinking about it, I come up with:

  • A coffee table book of any of Georgia O’Keefe’s work
  • Ditto for Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Julia Child’s classic French cookbook
  • Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
  • The Cat in the Hat Comes Back
  • a Bible
  • Gray’s Anatomy
  • Freud’s A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
  • True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne
  • John Lennon’s A Spaniard in the Works

My Book Designer’s Resolution for 2012

4 comments January 2nd, 2012

Amidst all my kvetching about whether or not ebooks would kill the desire for print books, I always seem to miss an even bigger issue: the possibility that all the short-form reading we do nowadays—blogs, emails, texts—is killing our taste for reading books.

That will most certainly dry up any appreciation we have for print books. Worse, the less we read well-thought out, well-written long-form writing, the more likely it is we will no longer learn how to write well.

I just read a book review that began:

It’s not often that I finish a book.

WTF, I wanted to comment, resorting to textspeak.

First of all, the irony of my commenting about the lack of patience for lasting through reading a whole book by using the kind of texting abbreviation that is so common but also a sign of a perhaps growing disinterest in focusing long enough to write well made me laugh. But then I read the rest of the review, which revealed that the writer has little idea what goes into this kind of writing.

No point in insulting anyone, I decided.

Besides, there are still people out here putting all their effort into making us want to read their writing. And these people are working through their writing to make sure it’s done with an eye toward writing correctly and having deliberate reasons for and knowing why when they break grammatical rules, misspell, and punctuate badly. Aren’t they?

So when I think of the book design and page composition work I have done on self-published writing that manages to get it right, writing done well about things I think many readers would be interested in, I wonder if I am just incredibly lucky, this is the last gasp before the barbarians at the gate win, or my concern is an overreaction.

Either way, if someone takes the time to write well and pays attention to what readers want to read, I hope there is also a growing appreciation for how much needs to go into a do-it-yourself effort that looks professional and not one-size-fits-all. This weekend, reading through a lot of material posted by self-publishers and self-publishers’ help companies, I followed a lot of links to see what these books looked like.

Most of them looked the same. Oh, the type and titles and cover art were different; but they all had that—again I use the phrase—one-size-fits-all look. And they were crowing about their work. Many will say—and I admit, as I always do—that I have a vested interest in the continued need for professional, freelance book design and layout. After all, that is what I do. But I got into all this because I love books, reading, and good writing.

I think there is a growing segment of people writing who don’t know writing from a hole in the ground. Yet they somehow find their way to mastering the marketing of mediocre books. This year I am making it part of my work to get involved with books that really make a case for why books matter and why the printed book is more than a container for words.


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