Archive for May, 2016

Business Upgrading

Add comment May 30th, 2016

One of the continuing expenses for any business using a computer is upgrading software. Now the purveyors of all that software would have us install an upgrade every time they come out with one. But it’s not that simple. Business owners can’t always indulge the tendency, should they have it (and I do) to be technology junkies who always want new and shiny. This may be particularly true for graphic designers and artists, including book designers.

In my case, the inclination is strong toward wanting a new machine—iMac, iPad, iPod Touch—every time they come out with one. The exceptions are iPhone—I don’t own one, as I don’t use a cell phone often enough to care about the familiarity, convenience, and ease of use that having another Apple device would bring me. The Apple computers and idevices I already have fill all my e-needs, from working to monitoring my runs to providing for my television viewing. And the biggie: I will never get rid of my 17-inch MacBook Pro. Apple’s discontinuing the 17-inch size in its laptops definitely puts a damper on my Apple fanboy inclinations. I need the size to display to facing pages at a time of the books I work design and lay out.

Then there are the software upgrades. Having worked for over 25 years as a book designer, my preferences have run the gamut. I started with PageMaker, at the time only capable of single-page documents, and quickly moved over to QuarkXPress when I became aware of it, because multipage docs, books, were possible. I also liked the precise way Quark handled type. Instead of sticking religiously to the pasteboard metaphor, Quark allowed for items to be positioned on a doc by typing in exact numerical coordinates. To me, this was deal-maker.

I avoided InDesign, the supposed Quark-killer, for some years, despite Quark the company becoming less nice and less responsive to its customers than Adobe, because I didn’t care for InDesign’s type handling compared to QuarkXPress when I tried out demo versions a couple of times.

And a funny thing happened, just when I found a version of InDesign that finally seemed to do a better job of handling type, I ran into possibly the nicest person ever to work at Quark. I was working on my first children’s book, Mishka: An Adoption Tale. It’s so long ago, I forget exactly what the problem was that the printer—in China—was having with the illustrations I had placed in the layout—it became my problem, not the illustrator’s—so I wound up contacting Customer Service at Quark and got walked through fixing the problem.

Afterward, the woman at Quark who had helped me off the ledge was very modest about how she saved her day, no matter how profusely I thanked her. In fact, she told me to watch my mail for a little gift “for [my] trouble.” Imagine that, she helped me and was sending me a gift! Well, when it came, it was a CD full of “Extras” for Quark. The only problem was that I was working with version 6.something and these Extras required version 7.

At that point I wasn’t exactly getting enough book design work to spend the hundreds of dollars on software upgrades as often as I would have liked. So I emailed my new friend at Quark, thanked her, and asked if she wanted me to return the CD. She said, “No. Watch your mail again.”

Days later I received a full copy of Quark 7.02. For free. When I thanked her, she said—and this quote is exact; I still remember it—“This is one of the nice things I get to do now and again at my job.” And she went on to say she was leaving Quark for a new job with a new company, so this was a great way for her to close out her time there.

Soon after that, as I said, I started to use InDesign and gradually shifted over to it exclusively. That free Quark 7.02 upgrade was the last time I upgraded Quark until just last year. After Adobe went to its monthly fee, subscription method of selling its software, I was done with Adobe. Like my 17-inch MacBook Pro, I plan to ride my version of InDesign (and the rest of Adobe’s Creative Studio 5.5 suite for as long as it worked on whatever computers I am using). I so dislike being told I must rent their software eternally, instead of purchasing it outright whenever I feel ready for a new version.

That brings me to the last, perhaps most important, of upgrades: Macintosh operating systems. Now, normally, I want to upgrade the OS every chance I get. With incremental, “security” updates I always do so immediately. With big, “name change” OS updates—i.e., from Lion, to Mountain Lion, to Yosemite, and now to El Capitan—I wait a couple of months and read what feedback and reviews that I can on the new OS and then upgrade the MacBook Pro, nominally my “backup machine.”

I did just that a few months ago. I had to install a version of the Java Runtime Environment—not the latest version—for InDesign to work; but I did and it does.

So, for some reason, just before I went to bed last night, around midnight, I decided it was time to upgrade the iMac to El Capitan. I find it easier to do this late like this, so that I’m not in bed and watching and waiting for the pot to boil. Plus I very rarely sleep through the night, so I can check that it’s downloaded, tell it to install, and have it tip-top by morning.

All that went well. I simply forgot about the Java installation. It’s easy enough. Just have to find the correct version. Well, long story short, perhaps I should have waited on this part, as I was sleepy. I wound up installing the latest version of Java. Which left me fuming in the middle of the night. I found something that showed me how to uninstall the latest Java, using the Terminal app.

The Terminal is generally techier than I like to get. I’m not sure why. The few times I’ve needed it, things have gone well. It may be all the warnings I’ve read about the inadvisability of “playing” with Terminal. Well, so I copy and pasted the two lines of code into the Terminal window. Then I went back to bed.

This morning, after a quick Google for the version of Java that I need, I downloaded, installed, and now I’m back in business.

Maybe the middle of the night isn’t the best time.

“Reality Bites!”

Add comment May 2nd, 2016

My apologies to the motion picture makers who first used the title above, but it was the first phrase I thought of when I was informed that Pascha Press, the indy publisher of When My Baba Died and its associated workbook, for whom I served as Creative Director, was suspending operations.

Publishing remains a rough business. When there was only traditional publishing, big companies that essentially decided what books were available for readers around the world—this after globalization and consolidation of many, many publishing companies worldwide left just six then five mega-publishers—would make or break new writers and recycle the same batch of proven bestselling authors and their periodic latest works. Then—the way I see it from my perch as a freelance book designer thanks to the personal computer revolution—desktop publishing came along and led to the legitimizing of “vanity publishing,” which gave way to the self-publishing revolution.

It was said once that, “The power of the press belongs to he who owns the press.” [My apologies for the sexist pronoun, but that’s the quote.] Turns out the real power may have been in the ability to accomplish pre-press and production on a desk in one’s bedroom or on a laptop at the library. And once the ability to publish e-versions became available at—in some cases—virtually no cost to authors, the dogs were let out. Once and for all.

Books that once would have found their way blocked by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing—to be sure, some deservedly so—got their chances to find audiences both in print and on e-devices. To be sure, the absence of gatekeepers makes it all the more important that authors make their best efforts to choose their subjects with some care, write well, get their manuscripts professional editing and design, and develop and execute a targeted marketing plan.

When I began my career as a freelance book designer some 25 years ago “with a net”—that is, “on the side” from my unrelated 9-to-5 job—I worked for a few traditional publishers and some smaller publishing companies that specialized in Catholic literature and science, math, and other professional journals. The past six or seven years, however, self-publishers alone have filled my production calendar. And more and more of those self-publishers have formed their own publishing companies.

I realize that individuals forming their own publishing companies did not result from anything I said, but I have been telling clients and potential clients for some time now that choosing to self-publish is a decision to go into business as a publisher, even if just one time for their one book. Additionally, there is something of an imprimatur given by having the name of an actual business entity, a company or corporation, on the cover and title page of a book.

But as the publishing business democratized, the competition for eyeballs—and, more importantly, for people willing to lay out their hard-earned money for the privilege of possessing and reading print books and their various e-versions—has spiraled ever-upward. That makes the marketing and promotion of book sales most important.

And it doesn’t always go well for these independent and self-publishers, which saddens me, as I don’t just earn a living from book design. I also just plain love books. Especially print books.

So I am saddened by the decision for Pascha Press—the publisher of the very original and vital children’s book, When My Baba Died (and its accompanying workbook)—to shutter its operation.

I would still implore anyone who has or knows anyone with young children who have faced or are facing the prospects of a loved one’s passing to contact Pascha Press directly or Amazon and purchase a copy of, When My Baba Died and the workbook.


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