Are there any questions?
Define your job in your own words: I do for books what an architect does for buildings. I
determine how a book should look. In the process of defining all of the components of the book, I choose the typeface, the style, and location of illustrations and photographs, and how each
page flows from one to the next. My ultimate task is to bring the author and reader together one-on-one.
When did you first become interested in designing books?
In the mid-70s, while working as a production manager for a small Illinois publishing company, we changed from doing our books in-house and started hiring book-building professionals. I was responsible for hiring designers and typesetters for our books. Since this process was new to us and electronic typesetting was in its infancy, I learned the hard way from some very talented bookbuilders. The more I learned about the art of typography and book design, the more I wanted to learn.
As a child, did you make your own books or magazines? I designed and created things like
posters for local bands and sporting events; designed and painted business logos; painted company signs on trucks; and designed and painted real estate signs. All of these things required the
ability to design and work with type. Throughout my life, I always did the newsletter for clubs to which I belonged.
Were you more interested in the way books looked than you were in what was said on each page?
For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed reading, whether it was comic books as a youngster or books and magazines as I got older. Interestingly, I found that the design of
the written page affected the way I read and whether I was interested in reading the page. Because I have always been one that is more interested in reading for information rather for
pleasure, I found the design much more important. The design is necessary to help the reader get in and get out of the pages easily enabling ease of comprehending the information.
What training did you have to do in order to become a book designer?
It is funny, but the most important education I have received, with regards to books, has been from books themselves. I have an extensive library of books on book design, graphic design, book production, and grammar.
I took private art lessons as a youngster. Art was my favorite class in high school. I attended a nationally acclaimed art school, majoring in
graphic arts. Over the years, I have studied under several book design mentors. One of the things that turned out to be an advantage is that I like puzzles. Moreover, I am good at and enjoy
math. I think these skills are critical to being a good designer because, among many obvious challenges in life, the design of the book is dependent on solving many mathematical problems.
What kinds of books have you designed?
With over 1,600 books to my credit, I believe I have designed just about every type of book. I have designed books for children, how-to books, coffee table/picture books, religious gift books, lots of trade books about everything from training dogs; sign language; and learning how to use the internet. I have designed quite a few fitness and sports books. I have designed many biographies, including presidents Nixon and Reagan; Colin Powell; Carl Lewis; Charles Barkley; Dick Vitale; Bob Eubanks; and Michael Jordan, to name just a few.
What is it about this job that you like most? I like the challenge of taking a text file and a
pile of photographs and creating a book in such a way that best helps the reader enjoy and learn from what the author is trying to say.
What is it about this job that you like least? That's a difficult question to answer. I
enjoy what I do so much. Hmmmm. I suppose my least favorite thing is the intense deadline pressure put on me because of delays by either the publisher or unrealistic delivery dates. Working
alone means juggling many deadlines and activities. Keeping them all in balance is tricky and sometimes quite frustrating.
I also find it difficult to charge for what I do. My fees are much less than the industry standard (I know what most design/comp houses
charge, as well as the fees spelled out in the AIGA pricing guide). I have been told that my competitors charge as much as three times what I charge. Of course, they usually have a staff to
support as well as rent and many other costs supported by those high fees. I try to help my publishers as much as I can by keeping their production costs low. I also don’t charge for
many services I provide in the course of production. I try to charge a decent wage in exchange for my product. In return for my modest fees, I am rewarded with long-term commitments and the
terrific relationships I have with my publishers/authors.
Do you have any interesting stories to relate concerning your profession? That is another good
question. Let’s see. Some of the most interesting stories have been production nightmares and how I managed to survive them. There were a couple of “episodes” I thought
would never end. However, I don’t think they are as much interesting as they were dramatic.
However, there was a day, long ago, when I was terribly busy and the phone rang for the umpteenth time and the lady on the phone was asking me
about the game of bridge. I was too busy to listen to another telemarketing call and nearly hung up. But, for some reason, I stayed on long enough to find out the lady was Audrey Grant, the
well-known bridge teacher and was interested in having me design a new series of books for her. Since that phone call, I have designed 6 books for her, as well as her current logo, several
brochures, and other miscellaneous items.
What was the most challenging book you ever designed? What kind of book was it and how did you handle the
challenge? First of all, most of the books I do anymore are quite challenging. Over the years, the biggest challenges have come in a variety of packages. Some have been because of
demanding or incompetent people. Others because of the complexity of the book itself, and still others because of unrealistic expectations and deadlines that failure to succeed meant the life
or death of a successful promotion for a book.
One of the most challenging books I have ever done "production-wise" involved a series of foreign travel books. The design had to
accommodate all of the books in the series. Each was different enough to make life really difficult. Each book required my combining hundreds of photos with run-on, descriptive text. Photos
and illustrations needed to appear in the book in such a way that the words relating to the pictures appeared next to them. Of course, the book was limited to a specific page count. The
result was a continuous changing of the size of the pictures while adjusting the type, but . . . every time something was changed, the change affected everything else. And then, of
course, after the first pass, the text was edited resulting in shifts of text and photos. This book required weeks of laying out pages and working them like a puzzle.
How has the use of computer-aided design changed your job? Are you a traditionalist or have you welcomed
the assistance of the computer as part of your day-to-day job? The design of books is, and should continue to be, based on established principles. The written word and the way we
read has not changed nor will it change in the foreseeable future. The devices we use to create and display the words may continue to evolve and, as a designer, I must be aware of and take
advantage of these devices. Some of these devices (hardware and/or software) improve quality while others improve efficiency. The person to whom a book designer is most accountable is the
reader. Therefore, we do whatever is within our means to help the reader read.
The use of the computer to create the designs and set the type has changed the way we go about our business. I used to draw everything by
hand. Yes, that meant draw each letter in the design. It sometimes took me several days to draw a complete set of layouts. Now the computer can set these pages quickly and help do a lot of
the math that is required to fit the book.
Whenever a typeface change was requested, I would have to draw a new set of layouts. Now we just highlight the text on the computer and click
a button. My computer background goes back to 1970 when I was a computer repairman in the army. I love computers and technology. When computers started making their way into the design trade
in the early 80s, I embraced this technology with open arms. Technology does not change my approach to design, but it merely changes my process. The mental part remains the same, the physical
part changes daily.
Do you do illustrations? If so, by hand or with computer graphics? While I can do
illustrations, I choose not to unless they are simple or the need is sudden and there is no time to contract with an illustrator. If I do illustrations, I generally take a computer graphic
and modify it to the need. Like interior book design, illustration is a specific talent/trade. I always recommend enlisting the specific talents required for the project. Then again,
everything is relative to the expectations, timing, and cost of the project. Ahah! The magic triangle—time, quality, cost.
Describe an average day "on the job."
Since my office is in my home, as soon as I am up, I am at work. Each morning, after seeing my wife off to work and my daughter off for school, I pack my cooler of Diet Pepsi and head upstairs to my office and begin my day. I always start with my “daily list.” Before each day ends, I check my list and make a new one for the next day. As I go over my list, I check and respond to e-mail. Mondays and Fridays find me generating an updated schedule for all of the books in progress for each of the publishers I am working with. I prefer to have each of the production editors start and end each week with status of where I am, what I am doing, and where I hope to go with each of their projects.
After finishing with my morning e-mail, I proceed with working on the book with the highest priority. This usually means the books that have
to have some part of them shipped that same day. It is rare that I can work all day on one project anymore. I am usually working for an hour or two on one book, switching to others as the day
progresses. Because I work alone, I have to wear all the hats of a small office. In addition to answering the telephone and writing my own letters, I have to package all daily shipments and
deliver them to UPS. And then, of course, there is the maintenance, filing, accounting, training, etc.
Throughout the day, I get telephone calls from editors requesting sets of pages, wishing to discuss design changes, or simply wanting to go
over the projects in progress. They will also ask about my schedule and the impact of adding another book or two to the list. I also get calls from publishers wanting to know more about me,
my pricing, and my availability to design their books.
Today, technology allows to me accomplish much of my correspondence via e-mail and it allows me to send and receive documents as well. This
has proven to be time saver as well as an effective way of documenting what was sent or received. It also reduces costs for both me and my publishers.
I have a TV in my office and it is usually on all day. I don’t generally pay attention, but it gives me the feeling of a busy office
with others around. I also play music during the day and the type of music I play depends on the type of books with which I am working.
I usually take time out when my daughter comes home from school. We talk about her day and what homework she has. I then return to my work
until I have to leave for UPS, which is generally around 5 p.m. After returning home, I exercise, eat dinner, read, and watch TV, and spend time with my family until around 10 p.m. Then, if
my workload dictates, I will often stay up working until midnight. This is a good time for me to work, as there are no interruptions. I try to limit as much as I can, but there have been
times where I have worked late into the mornings for days on end.
When I shut my office down for the day, I make sure all of the project folders are back in their place on my big table and, as I mentioned in
the beginning, I take a few minutes to prepare my "daily list" for the next day.
What are the most important traits that one needs to possess in order to be good at your job?
Besides all of the obvious trade skills, which I'll get into in a moment, like any other "job" where one wants to become successful, the passion or desire to do what you do is one of the foremost requirements. I get up every day and look forward to what I do. Others are depending on me to do my job and do it well. Discipline is necessary to keep your focus on the task at hand. Since I work alone, I have no one around me making sure I am doing what I am supposed to. Because I want to do what I do, I don’t need anyone to supervise me. Honesty and the desire to make sure the job is done right are very important. I'm talking about honesty in admitting mistakes (and the reality of the project) and the drive to correct those mistakes, regardless of whose fault it is.
Now for the trade skills. Book design is a specialty trade. It isn’t something you just decide to do one day and off you go. Just
because one reads a lot of books, does not make them a skilled book designer. To be successful at book design you need to study books and study books on book design and reading comprehension.
The design of books is much more than how a book looks, it is how a book works. There are so many subtle things that we don’t see or know that a good designer has implanted into the
design to help us better understand and navigate what we are reading. I also suggest mentoring or apprenticing with a designer.
Finally, a good book designer should know and understand everything from reading, publishing, writing, editing, grammar, design, typesetting
and composition, typography, computers and related computer software, printing, distribution, marketing, and bookstore management. To understand the entire process from start to finish will
only enhance the designer’s ability to make sure their part fits with the overall life of the book.
Is there something that you haven't accomplished or been able to do in your profession? If so, what?
Yes, those books sitting there on my table. Seriously though, I don’t think so. I don’t enter any design contests and therefore I have no awards to speak of. Getting awards or accolades does not motivate me. I am a “working person’s” book designer. There are many designers that thrive and are motivated to win awards. Therefore, these designers become award designers. In other words, they design for the award. It is like a teacher teaching for the test. I have designed more than 1,200 books in my career so far. That is plenty of an award for me. When all is said and done, I have left an enduring effect on this planet. I make a decent living and am able to provide for my family. Moreover, I am very proud of what I do.
Therefore, if there were anything that I have yet to accomplish, it would be the next book on my list.
Ask yourself these questions:
- If I find myself in the position that I longer have to do what I do (for a living) for money, will I continue to do it?
- If I know I won’t get paid for what I do, will I do it anyway?
If you answered yes to the first question, you are doing what you should be doing in this life. So many people work only for money. And as
soon as they don’t need the money, they quit the work. Is that the way we should spend the majority, and most productive years of our lives? Should we not be motivated by what we do
rather than what we earn?
If you answered yes to the second question, you have truly found your passion. To do what we do, regardless, is the ultimate achievement. Many
people work at something they don’t like in hopes that some day they might be able to do what they truly love. But the sacrifice to exchange money for passion is a difficult one to
Okay, I must get back to work now . . .