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I mean, obviously, books continue to be designed and laid out for print. And even fixed-page layouts of books are produced for e-readers. But a curious thing has happened in the way we speak of book production. Rather than looking for book design, many people, and the ads they post, ask for book “formatters”.

As if all we need to make a book is to arrange the words.

I prefer to assume that we’ve reached this point because ebooks read on electronic device such as Kindle, Nook, iPad, and even smartphones are so ubiquitous many don’t think of print books anymore.

I’ve said many times before that I would have loved to have had all my textbooks on an e-reader when I was in college. But the plain fact is that, for me, an ebook will never carry the same sense that it is an object of art independent of the content of the book the way a print book does.

And, yes e-devices not having been around when I was a child, I grew up with the anticipation of cracking open a new book and sniffing that new book smell. So I’ll admit to a certain amount of nostalgia. However, my objections to reducing book design to mere formatting go beyond that.

There’s something about approaching a book project with an eye toward serving the reader, not just the client who hires me. I always aim to bring the author’s work to print in a way that is easy on the eyes, presents pages that somehow look appealing to readers, and yet are not distracting.

It’s a balance I try to strike with each book. It begins with looking over the material, words and pictures (if there are any pictures), and choosing typefaces that somehow marry with the material, that are appropriate for the reader, and that just plain look nice, do not annoy the reader, and do not irritate the reader’s eyes.

Initially, this means matching typefaces sometime from being from the same era and/or place as, say, a story is set in. But it also requires taking into account the reader—for instance, children or older readers may benefit from and often prefer typefaces with larger x-heights. Beyond that, I always think about the balance between providing enough white space on a page that invites readers in without seeming to “pad” a book’s page count. My preference for such generous white space stems, I think, from memories of slogging through books of densely typeset pages that were dark with all the ink coverage and seemed to tax the eyes.

So even though I wouldn’t trade in any of my e-devices, I lament the tendency not to think of book design and layout as a thing the same way it used to be. I’d even prefer hearing more about the designing of ebooks and not merely formatting them. I hope the train hasn’t left the station on this.

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Corrections on one of the two books I currently have in production, the book on ethics for attorneys, arrived late last night. I saw them a little while ago this morning when I did my first check of email, while deciding whether to sleep late or get up and have a nap this afternoon.

That’s my lot, now that I’m semi-retired—that is, I’ve retired from my 9-to-five employment as a court clerk into book design as my sole non-leisure pursuit—my schedule can only be defined as flexible. I go to bed late, enjoying late-night shows like I never had before. I get up when I feel like it, sleeping as late as I like, but more often getting up normally or even early and taking a nap during the afternoon.

One thing that hasn’t changed a bit is how much I love making books. I think it may be one of those callings that bores deep into a person’s being, goes a long way toward defining who that person is, and for e, only grows in how much fun it provides.

I thought of this just a while ago, because I got up at my usual time to decide whether I’d sleep late, during which time I make my first check of email, and discovered I had received corrections for the book I mentioned above. It struck me that I felt genuinely happy to have this work to do, that the completion of the book is in sight, and later this week I’ll find out whether my proposal has won a really great book project, a guidebook involving my subcontracting map-making work.

With that we’re a little past the midpoint of the year and I need to begin looking at the half dozen or so possible books I’d discussed with people for the second half of the year. It will be interesting to see how many materialize and what newer ones reveal themselves.

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Freelancing as a book designer is a wonderful thing. I imagine it’s the same for freelance editors, freelance illustrators, and … well, you get the idea. But that doesn’t mean we want to go full-tilt forever. In my case, working a secure, full-time day job for over 30 years to pay the bills, for the benefits, and for the pension, enabled me to work at developing my business, which, of course, is what freelancing is.

At some point, however, you want to ease up, slow down, work less, perhaps retire (or semi-retire), and still live a good life. If you’ve had a career all along, in addition to your freelancing, perhaps you were lucky enough to participate in a pension plan that will contribute to keeping you comfortable in your later years. But whether you have a pension or not, there’s Social Security.

Of course, Social Security is not a whole lot and needs to be part of a whole network of savings, investments, and, perhaps—if you still love the work—some continued freelancing. But if you began collecting Social Security before you reached what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls “full” or “normal” retirement age there’s some fine print.

Now, before I go any further, let me make clear that I’m not an accountant, an attorney, or someone who ever worked for the Social Security Administration. You need to do your own homework and ask the right questions of people well-versed in the details of all this. I’m just sharing the little I’ve learned about these issues.

To start with, there’s that matter of when you reach “full” retirement age. From the SS website there’s this:

—————————————————

Age To Receive Full Social Security Benefits
(Called “full retirement age” or “normal retirement age.”)
Year of Birth * Full Retirement Age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943 – 1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67
*If you were born on January 1st of any year you should refer to the previous year. (If you were born on the 1st of the month, we figure your benefit (and your full retirement age) as if your birthday was in the previous month.)

—————————————————

So if you continue to freelance, you haven’t reached that full retirement age and have elected to collect Social Security benefits, you need to make yourself aware of what the earnings limit is for each year until you do reach that “normal” retirement age. If you go over that amount, you will have to pay back to the SSA 41 for every $2 you exceed the limit through a reduction in your benefits.

Last year, 2017, the limit was $16,920 ($1,410 per month). This year the figure is $17,040.

The limit does rise in the year in which you reach your full retirement age. If you reach it in 2017, for instance, you’re allowed to earn up to $4,480 without penalty. And if you collect your Social Security benefits and reach full retirement age next year, 2019, your earnings limit rises to $45,360.

Interestingly, you don’t necessarily lose those penalized benefits permanently. That is, the SSA will apply those withheld (penalized) benefits as a delayed credit. And this will would permanently increase your Social Security benefit when you do reach full retirement age. The catch is, of course, the same as if you waited for your full retirement age to collect benefits from the jump: you need to live long enough to recover what you lost by either delaying collecting or because of penalties.

Oh, and then—as a Social Security agent I spoke with told me—once you’re in your first full year having reached that normal retirement age, there are no longer any earnings limits. “You can earn a million dollars without penalty, she said.”

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A while back I wrote about how I took on a “pay-it-forward” project, designing and laying out a book for a young high school student who had already authored a few books and published them on CreateSpace. That book was The 100 Most Important New Yorkers. While we were in the middle of that, Agatha Edwards’ dad informed me that our young author planned other “100 Most Important” books, the next being The 100 Most Important African Americans. So it seemed a no-brainer to me for them to set up a publishing company. That’s exactly what they did. I signed up as Creative Director and dove back into the design with an eye toward establishing a “100 Most Important” brand for this new indie publishing company, Brooklyn Bridge Books.

We put out a book we were all proud of and I created a look for the series that we could easily adapt for new books.

Now that we’re working on bringing The 100 Most Important African Americans to press, the feeling that we’re a real publisher is hard to deny. Agatha, of course, has her hands full with writing—well, and having a life, too; I mean, she’s a teenager and according to her “About the Author” bio, she has school sports (she’s both an indoor and outdoor competitive runner), debate team activities, as well as music and a composing to occupy her.

But her parents direct the business end of things and edit her, too. And I try to give them a little of the benefit of what I’ve picked up over the years.

For me the “paying it forward” is actually starting to pay off, even though that was not my motivation when we started. Additionally, it’s fun for me to see both the growth of my young author and to participate in the building of an imprint from the ground up. And it’s nice to be appreciated. From the Acknowledgments in The 100 Most Important African Americans:

Most importantly, this book has been produced by Steve Tiano. Steve is a freelance book designer who made this book amazingly intelligent, as he did with my previous book, The 100 Most Important New Yorkers. Steve grew up near where I live and often walked to his grandmother’s house a few blocks away. Steve took a liking to me because I live in his old neighborhood and poured himself into this project. This book is finer than I could possibly imagine because of him. Steve, you are the greatest and I continue to owe you!

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