The More I Get

Add comment March 24th, 2016 01:29pm admin

I find it amazing that in the middle of the busiest stretch that I have ever had in 25 years as a book designer, I still have time to fret that I’m not busier still.

Let me backtrack.

As I have explained before on this blog, I came to freelancing as a book designer/layout artist a bit over 25 years ago. At the time I was already into a 9-to-5 civil service job for over seven years. I would keep the 9-to-5 for almost 25 years more, retiring from it just this past November. I freelanced all those years, I liked to say, “with a net”—that is, with the safety of the full-time day-job.

And I was lucky to have it, because even when the freelance work was plentiful, the paydays were sporadic. There would be the up-front deposit, but then the remainder only upon completion. And that was only with self-publishers. With publishing companies, there was no up-front payment or “deposit” and payment was invariably 30 to 60 days—if I was lucky—after a book was completed.

So the full-time job was needed for any peace of mind and sense of financial security.

But I always wondered how I would have made out if my only work was freelancing as a book designer. The one thing I’ve learned since my retirement from the day job just before this past Thanksgiving is that it is at least possible that I would have been just fine. For one thing, I am in the middle of my busiest and most productive period of my work life to date. I attribute that to the ability to spend more time scouting out potential clients and projects. And finding them, to be able to spend all the time necessary pitching my services and discussing possible book projects with these potential clients.

Right now I have three books in various stages of progress: a children’s storybook, the first in a series of four, awaiting some last-minute copy for blurbs, as well as author’s and illustrator’s bios, and illustrations for the front and back covers; holding until I get feedback from my client on the first pass of pages of a book on child autism; sitting tight until a third client sends me the remaining text on a book expanded on from a transgender reimagining of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

In other words, I am not actually working at this very moment. As always, it drives me crazy. All the more because I have grown used to being busy almost constantly since leaving the day-job.

That part never changed. Nor does the fact that easily half of freelancing is searching for the next paying project.

On Children’s Books

Add comment January 16th, 2016 01:05pm admin

When my grandchildren were young, I used to wish for children’s books to work on, so that I could show them Poppy’s work. But except for one children’s book in 2007, Mishka: An Adoption Tale, my work was exclusively textbooks about different kinds of engineering, and science journals, both loaded with mathematics, equations, and tabular material.


Until last year, 2015. First I got to work on a neat little storybook about a child’s first brush with death. I know, sounds grim—how could I call this book “a neat little storybook”?

Well, When My Baba Died, the story of a child living through the death of a grandmother, placed the experience under a comforting light. Written from an albeit religious perspective by author Marjorie Kunch, described in her author’s bio as “a mother, mortician, and Orthodox Christian,” death comes across as a natural step that closes out a person’s earthly existence, but leads to something peaceful and not at all scary.


Now, whether or not the religious angle is your cup of tea, the story is told in a very comforting manner and the pictures are bright and cheery. This feel of this book was just what I had in mind years ago when I first looked to design and lay out children’s books.

While I was working on Baba I received another children’s book project which I have since finished. This one is titled Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff and is just as fun and quirky as it sounds, even as it drives home a notion of common sense about how the diets of pets ought to be treated with care. Although I’m showing the front cover below, this is one for which I did  just the interior, although I did add the author’s and illustrator’s name to the front cover.


But as welcome as these books were, I must admit they each surprised me with issues and “special needs.” At least compared to all the non-children’s books I’ve done.

Or one thing, page size and type choices—including type size and leading—are a whole new and intense ballgame. As it’s safe to say that children’s books have much less text—and therefore, type—in them, as well as illustrations that take up space, the way text is placed and runs is particularly important for a pleasing look.

Just for instance …

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But then there are issues that cropped up that I had never encountered before. With Mishka, I’m afraid I can’t remember the exact issue, but it had to do with typefaces and an overseas printer. I do not generally give the client my native files, but rather send them only printer-ready PDFs. But the printer in Asia kept telling my client that the typefaces were causing problems and they needed me to send all of them.

I called Quark (the company), because I was using QuarkXPress, and I thought perhaps there was an issue with how the PDF was distilling from their software. I was lucky enough to make contact with someone from Quark’s Customer Support Department who really cared. She walked me through some stuff and took a look at files I sent her. She thanked me for being a loyal Quark customer—I’d mentioned that I’d been using Xpress since version 3.0. She told me to expect “a surprise” in the mail “for [my] trouble].”

Weeks later I received a CD of “graphic extras” to use with Quark. But I found that it would not work with my version of QuarkXPress, 6.something, and I offered to return it. My personal Customer Service rep—for that was how I had come to think of her, as she had taken such an interest, fixed my issue, and then sent me a gift—told me not to bother returning the disk. A week or so later, I got yet another little package from her, the update to version 7 for free. And when I thanked her, she told me that this was one of the perks of her job: she got to do special nice things like this every now and then.

In its turn, When My Baba Died brought a different unexpected problem. For the first time, after working on dozens of books loaded with photographs and full-color illustrations, I ran into an ink coverage issue. That is, a printer returned the dust jacket PDF because the ink coverage on the page was over their 240% limit. That is, each of the four ink colors—Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, black—are part of the formula that make up printed colors, expressed in percentages. For the printer used for When My Baba Died, the total of those four percentages cannot add up to more than 240.

Cutting to the chase … I did some online searching and found an article that explains all this and provides a link to a profile to drop into InDesign that handles the issue, “Force Color Images to CMYK with a 240% Ink Limit.

But needless to say, this is another example of how just because children’s books are clearly shorter than most other kinds of books doesn’t mean there aren’t still thorny issues to contend with.

Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff has been a good project in and of itself. I have no misgivings or sense of what I might have done differently, and better, with this one. It was just one of those that seemed to try to draw me into the book shepherding end of things. I found myself wanting to line up all the different kinds of places an author might speak at to promote a children’s book.

That said, I’m awaiting finalization of a deal on yet another children’s book, one that could be the start of a four-book series. And while I’m always more hopeful of steadier projects and the fun and learning experience that only a bumpy ride can bring, the prospect of starting a book series and helping to establish its brand is exciting.

The Year That Was, The Year to Be

Add comment January 3rd, 2016 02:32am admin

The year just past, 2015, was an odd one for me as a freelance book designer. It started the way it usually does, slowly, but then got busy about halfway through. And stayed that way. It was no help, too, that once I decided to retire from my day-job as a court clerk I deferred all my thinking about promotion.

Of course, this blog suffered. But by this many years into the freelance game, 24 years, I often feel like I have nothing interesting to blog about. Then, too, I have not been the best about promoting the blog and getting the kind of rabid following that would make it easier to want to keep up with it.

Now that I am a freelance book designer 24/7 and with no other work, 9-to-5 or otherwise, my intention is to get as many book projects to work on as I can. That is not so different from how I felt all along. But deep down I always understood there were practical limitations on the time I could commit to freelance work.

Again, in retirement from my former employment, those limits disappear.

So the head of steam I picked up during the last half of 2015, fueled mostly by children’s books, is something I sought to maintain. Even while away for Christmas I monitored all the online spots I look to connect with potential clients. In fact, a handful of contacts bore fruit and I sent out to proposals yesterday, one to a client for whom I have worked on two books already and one to someone new. The latter was for the first in a series of children’s books.

I think these projects are safely mine. Just a question of final agreement on the price, the signing, and receiving checks.

Welcome 2016!

The Perils of Ink Coverage

Add comment December 3rd, 2015 11:31pm admin

You might think that after almost 24 years as a freelance book designer/layout artist the odds of a totally new (to me) hassle in sending PDFs to a printer were, well, nonexistent. Except that there’s always something new to learn.

A few weeks ago I finished the layout of a children’s book. The client had approved and so I uploaded the PDFs to her printer, Ingram Spark. It was a weekend, so I didn’t hear back from my client until the following Monday. She told me the PDFs had been rejected because the total ink coverage was too high and that she really didn’t understand what that was all about.

So I went to the Ingram Spark site and nosed around my client’s account, found the file and the error message. Sure enough, it said that the total ink coverage of the front cover and various pages exceeded 240%.

Okay, so what that means, briefly, is that the “formula” that makes up any color in the CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK) model must add up to less than 240. When the number exceeds 240, the site informed, it can cause cracking of the ink on the page because that ink is so heavy on the paper. Below is a screenshot that shows a spread from the book, along with InDesign’s Separations Preview, indicating the percentage of each of the four color inks (again, Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK) that make up a color on the printed page.


You may not make it out but the blue highlighted areas in the small box in the center show the percentages of each color of an area of the red dress of the figure poking out of the whole on the left-hand page of the spread. Below is that Separations Preview blown up a bit so you can clearly see the numbers.


The total, you’s notice on the top line, “CMYK,” is 242%. Rejected.

What to do?

I admit, the first thing I thought about was to monkey around with the color until I got the individual percentages to add up to a number below 240. But I quickly realized that wouldn’t fly because the art had been done by someone else and approved by my client as is. More to the point, however, that was just one speck of one image. What about the rest of the image? And all the other pages? So I took the easy way out and googled “total ink coverage.” I found a great piece by David Blatner, “Force Color Image to CMYK with a 240% Ink Limit”, on the InDesignSecrets site. In it was a link to a color profile for keeping the total ink coverage within 240%.

I was able to download Mr. Blatner’s “simple” profile, import it into InDesign, and select it for the children’s book I was working on.

As I said in my comment to Mr. Blatner, “ … saved my skin … .”



Turn the Page

Add comment November 25th, 2015 04:42am admin

For some time now—and way too long—I’ve neglected the hell out of this blog o’ mine. In fact, I’ve written and posted just seven pieces here in 2015. That does not mean that I’ve lost interest in making books, book design, typefaces, freelancing, and in writing about all those things.

It would be nice to say that I’ve been busy as all get-out this year, designing and laying out books the whole time. Truth is, however, I’ve only worked on five books so far this year. And two of them were children’s books—books I’m proud of, but short, as children’s books usually are.

But now things take a decided turn.

Those of you who have stuck with me over the years know that I have freelanced as a book designer/layout artist for about twenty-four years, as I like to say … “with a net.” That is, I’ve also held a full-time day job that is totally unrelated to book design and publishing the whole time—in fact, going back over thirty-two years.

Well, in a few hours, at 9:00 AM I begin my last day at that day job. At 5:00 PM I retire from it and throw myself fully and only into the life of a freelance book designer and layout artist. I plan to take on as much book design and layout work as I can. Making books is the work I love to do. I mean to do such work every moment that I can. So I am open to hearing from everyone and anyone about the possibility of such work: traditional publishers, self-publishers, university and independent presses, and everything in-between.

I am finishing work on the second of the two children’s books I mentioned above, Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff. After that I will launch some kind of promotion, perhaps a postcard or maybe an email to every publisher in this year’s Writer’s Market. I also want to complete the two books I’ve begun writing—the first to show self-publishers how to make design choices and apply them to book pages made with the open-source (free!!!) program Scribus; and the second, a retrospective on the books I’ve worked on to date.

Additionally, I will be more attentive to this blog, writing frequently for it. Additionally, I hope, turning it into a platform for “book people” to bring their book design issues to for discussion.

Otherwise all I really want to do is play golf every day. And maybe find a team in an over-50 hardball league to pitch for.

Some Potential Clients …

Add comment October 3rd, 2015 10:26pm admin

And there can be some off-putting experiences in dealing with prospective clients. Gentleman phoned me after I’d evidently replied to his post seeking a book designer/layout artist. He said he had six books written and he needed PDFs for CreateSpace to print.

I began by asking him whether the files were currently in MS Word. He replied in the affirmative and added that CreateSpace had told him they wanted the work done in Word. I asked how come and mentioned that I’d worked on a number of books printed by CreateSpace that had been designed and laid out in InDesign or Quark before exporting to printer-ready PDFs.

So then I asked why CreateSpace wanted the work done in Word, since they’d be getting the PDFs to print from. He didn’t understand and asked why I couldn’t talk to CreateSpace myself. I answered I’d be glad to talk to them once we had an agreement signed and in place. Parenthetically, it occurred to me that they may just have told that one can save a Word file to PDF.

He apparently didn’t see how it was fair of me to want to make sure we had a deal before I put any time into the project, because he told me he had other people to contact.

I wished him well.

Where I Am, Where I Am Heading—One of the Things Freelancers Need to Think About

Add comment August 25th, 2015 08:21pm admin

I have always freelanced with a net—that is, I have run, and continue to run, my book design practice the past 24 years in addition to a full-time day-job in civil service. In fact, I have held the day-job for noticeably longer than 24 years. So I’m now preparing to retire from the day-job, as well as begin collecting social security. But I don’t plan to stop working for myself as a book designer/layout artist.

My issue now is the limits placed on earnings while collecting social security. (This year it’s something like $15,400 or $15,600–I forget exactly which.) I love making books and, as I said, and I do not plan to stop. So I have three options: 1) Continue present rates, earn as much as I earn and if there are penalties, well, that’s the way it goes–pay them; 2) Continue present rates and stop just shy of the amount that would result in penalties; or 3) Lower rates some (at least until age 66, when there will no longer be an earnings limit), perhaps get more work and increase my clientele, think about increasing rates after age 66.

While I have always been against bargain basement rates., I find myself beginning to lean toward option 3, because of the growth possibilities. In these 24 years I have been lucky to work on a wide variety of books, some challenging and some that I felt very strongly about doing my part to help them find their audience. But I continue to look for important books to make—books that may matter to a lot of people, books that matter to me—and I wonder if now is the time to try to increase my volume of work in hopes of finding (or being found by) some “big” books?

Doing Business

Add comment June 10th, 2015 09:37pm admin

Another day, another inquiry to field regarding a book design and layout project, this one a medium-to-longish work of fiction, a novel. We’ve done our initial contact and back-and-forth, questions and answers that I use to assess the scope of the project. This may sound like a no-brainer, something that all parties must be clear on before the design of a book begins, before I even send type sample to the client.

Not always so.

Today I discussed with a client starting anew on a book interior, after she gets the “new final” text back from her editor, with some reorganization of the material. As much as this may sound like a nightmare—and this large a do-over is happening for only the second time in my twenty-four years designing and laying out books; the first time was a long novel, over 1,000 pages and this time it’s a short work of non-fiction—dealing with considerate clients and having an agreement in writing that addresses such a contingency at least in abstract terms can help keep this project a positive experience. So even though the scope of this project has changed in broad strokes, it is on track and the client knows the original price will go up some. By the same token, I will not use this as an opportunity to greatly increase the price just because I can.

And as to the possible new book that I began with above, I gave my estimated price. Should that person agree, the next step would be for me to prepare a formal agreement for signatures and the down payment.

I must admit that as the hours tick on and I don’t receive that assenting email, I get fidgety. Yet our initial exchange began yesterday afternoon and quieted overnight. Perhaps there’s a big time difference. I don’t yet know where this new person is located. I have asked, noting that I need to putting any agreement.

And that’s a big part of freelancing. One thing that never changes in over twenty-four years: I just need to relax when negotiating.

Jules Feiffer at the Parrish Art Museum

Add comment April 18th, 2015 03:38pm admin

We just got back from the Parrish Art Museum a while ago. We went to hear Jules Feiffer speak about his new graphic novel, Kill My Mother and to have him sign the two copies we bought.

First off, the man’s in his eighties and, baby, can he still draw! Pen-and-ink outlines filled in with watercolor, he old my wife when she asked about his method. I found it interesting that he hand-lettered on another layer, maybe vellum—this was no computer-generated book—and, if I understood correctly, the lettering was turned into a font. That’s after each page of art was digitized (I presume by scanning). Even so, he said something to the effect that, at his age, he used none of today’s technology.

My takeaway was that I really do let myself skate just a bit when I number myself, as a book designer, among artists. I mean, I don’t draw or paint, and I definitely feel lacking those skills makes me less than. On the other hand, and I guess it was foolish of me to try to convey it to Mr. Feiffer in ten words or less as he signed—especially after I heard him say he had no use for the high-tech tools available—that if it wasn’t for computers (my Macintoshes, Postscript, and various software packages over the years), I would not be a book designer.

What Goes Around, Come Around … Maybe

Add comment March 19th, 2015 12:23pm admin

Curious thing. Or maybe just what goes around, come around. I mentioned that I was considering–I admit it had actually progressed a little farther than just considering; I was very strongly leaning in favor and giving that impression–a pro bono project. Then something in the way the contact person spoke about having spent previously on the e-version rubbed me wrong. Like they’d pay for some stuff but not for others. Then I switched gears on a dime and tried suggesting an alternate pay method, a royalty on each copy sold. And that was not acceptable. So I wished them well.

What made it easy to walk away from a book I’d really like to have been associated with–just not for free–was that someone contacted me yesterday afternoon, saying she’d been eying me (that is, my work) for some time. As the book sounded interesting, I was pretty happy it had shown up. We still had to come to an agreement and arrive at a price, but I figured that would come—this time I would show more than just a little flexibility if necessary—after I got a look at some of the material.

One of the problems with the first book that the author-publisher wanted done for free or a barter was that there were tons of photos in a non-print format that would have to be opened and changed, in addition to any necessary editing. So the new one would create a username and password for me on the cloud storage service she used and I would be able to have a look at everything in order to put together my proposal including price and milestones. Last night I emailed a reminder that I was waiting for the username and password.

This morning I received an email that things had changed. Her usual “formatter” was now available and would not cost anything, so, of course, she would use him in the first instance.

Now, sure, I was bummed. But this kind of thing happens, I told myself. In fact, I had just kind of done that same thing: pulling up stakes after seeming to be on board with a project. Then I noticed that, although the second potential had an address in one western state, her cellphone area code was not so far from the one I had turned tail on.

A coincidence, I am sure. But maybe it’s the universe sending me a message.

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