Stephen Tiano, a freelance book designer, page compositor, and layout artist, wrote a guest blog post here in February 2009 about his blogging and tweeting and how both contributed to his economic success.
I introduced Mitch Joel last week and debuted the Monday Muse column. Here is Stephen for the second week.
What is your background and how do you participate in the world of the web?
I began writing fiction as a 4-year-old and gave it up in my early twenties having failed to write a great novel, but only two-and-a-half bad, unpublishable ones. Within that time I majored in English in college.
I started working in publishing as a copy editor and proofreader, though mostly the latter, at a small legal publisher. Then I moved to a computer typesetter, first as an in-house employee proofreading and then as a freelance proofreader. It was at this place that I really learned about how pages of books should look.
This place was a mom-and-pop operation that got too big without professional management, making me think that with the right equipment, I could do what they did: typeset books if I remembered to keep it in proper scale. As personal computers got powerful and PostScript made typesetting possible on the desktop, I hatched a plan to design and lay out books myself. Noodling on my first Macintosh, starting in late 1989, to learn to work with type on the printed page led to a freelance book design practice.
The web has been a major part of my finding work, connecting with prospective clients, promoting myself, and being found by potential clients. My website regularly attracts people interested in having books designed and prepared for production. I blog to present my “take” on book design, what I do and how I approach such work, and hopefully to give those interested in publishing books reason to consider my services.
How do you define social media, and how has that definition changed?
Social media are simply different venues in which people congregate online for whatever purpose. The trick for me has been to find ones that are most appropriate for presenting myself and my book design practice.
Early on, I admit I didn’t necessarily see the value in social media. Twitter, for instance, was—I thought—about telling people what I had eaten for lunch. I stayed away until it occurred to me — sometime after tweeting became famous for the guy who announced his arrest in Iran —- that Twitter was a live opportunity to engage with people, particularly those in publishing and making books (from writers to editors to designers and artists), to learn and exchange ideas about these things that interested me so much. And I ended up being contacted by people who hired me.
Some social media sites are better than others in the sense that there are more professional people there than elsewhere. Surprisingly, tweeting as @StephenTiano has been the most productive. I’ve gotten more paying project interest and actual paying projects — after my own website and blog — from my Twitter presence. And I’ve developed new and grown already existing professional friendships there.
Another positive is that in working the late, odd hours I do, Twitter has enabled me to have contact with other people late at night in my time zone, when just a little conversation can recharge my batteries and allow me to continue working.
How is the book design field impacted by the web?
Purely from the finding/paying projects perspective, the web has been great, instrumental to my growth, both from the creative and business points of view. I write, of course, as a freelance book designer who’s always interested in finding the next book design and layout project. But I don’t imagine I am unique in that respect.
On the other hand, the web really lowers the bar for entry into the field and looking for projects, just as the proliferation of personal computers — and especially the Macintosh — made it easy for so many more people to decide they were graphic designers and artists.
Its responsible for a great increase in the competition to find creative employment and paying freelance book design projects. And that’s not to mention the lowering of the lowest common denominator of crowdsourcing efforts, contests, and these job bidding boards that encourage freelancers to leap frog over each other in reverse to see who’s willing to work for the lowest rates.
How do you decide blog content to write?
My influences vary. Sometimes a book design project I’m working on will present certain issues that need to be handled in the layout and that will prompt me to discuss such issues. Then there are different things I seem to think about every so often: upgrading hardware and software, or my goals for the upcoming year, or even what I accomplished the past year. Mostly, though, I like to talk about the mechanics of designing the pages of a book.
The thing is, I have no illusions about ever having a wide following. But I write the blog for people who are somewhat like I remember being when I started out, with curiosity and questions about just what to do and how to do it to try and be a freelance book designer.
My decisions on what to blog about are guided to a great extent by what occurs to me in relation to the work. Sometimes it is actually working on a book design or actually laying out and making pages. But other times it’s more esoteric, as I think about typefaces, which I think is kind of like the book designer’s candy store.
Then there’s the premise that I express fairly regularly: that at least half the job of being a freelance book designer is lining up the next project. Even with people often finding me, that means keeping my presence online relatively fresh and up-to-date, a very big part of which is blogging. And that is sometimes a bit of a job, as I can be neglectful of the blog when I’m working on a big project over a long period or, just the opposite, when I am between projects and feel a little underpowered. The latter happens because I find making books extremely energizing.
What is the biggest challenge the publishing industry will face in 2012?
The publishing industry tries to keep print book publishing a viable business, while at the same time maturing the ebook model. I think it’s important that both exist in a healthy, profitable way for all involved: authors, editors, illustrators, designers/layout artists, proofreaders, and marketers.
Print books are more than a container for words and pictures. They are often art objects in and of themselves. (Think of first editions of, say, Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn; or a Guttenberg bible.) But there is no doubt that ebooks are attractive, too, and here to stay. I am concerned that making ebooks will become more the province of coders and that designers may become less important.
Hard to say yet whether 2012 will be the year that ebooks rise to a realistic alternative to print. I hope they don’t obliterate the interest in print books, much as I understand that textbooks are ideal for e-versions. Apple was wise, I think, to start with textbooks, as there will be demand for carrying around an iPad with one’s semester of textbooks on it, rather than 60 pounds of dead trees.
I hope that readers don’t lose that sense that the printed book is, all by itself and without regard to what the book is about or how “good” the book is, an art object when done well. And, in the spirit of self-interest, I am concerned that the economic model be such that it can support paying decent rates to book designer/layout artists.