Archive for the ‘graphic design’ Category

To Book Publishers (Traditional & Self) Who Just Don’t Get It

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

In reading a response to a discussion I started on a writer’s group on LinkedIn, I was struck with the thought that it isn’t just self-publishers who need to pay attention to the quality of their products. Some very big names are guilty of foisting-off crap.

The kind of food you'll find at Cracker Barrel.

Recently I visited a Cracker Barrel Restaurant with my wife. For those who may not be familiar with Cracker Barrel, it serves southern style comfort food at reasonable prices. We like to go there when we just want foody-food. Nothing fancy.  No cooking with exotic spices like saffron or curry. On the menu will be dishes like meatloaf, country fried steak, and catfish. You can choose your sides from a menu that includes fried okra, turnip greens, and corn. For desert there are various cobblers, pie, and ice-cream. Yum.

Before you get to the restaurant part of the place you have to wend your way through kitschy collections of merchandise that change with the season. My wife loves to peruse their tables of nick-knacks, music boxes, and stuffed animals. Now, as I am writing this it is three days from Christmas, so they were all decked out in a torrent of red and green. Santas and gift items were stacked nearly ceiling high. My eye caught an illustrated book of The Night Before Christmas. The illustrations were beautiful. I wish I could say the same for the book. The workmanship, especially on the cover was a disaster. Both covers, front and back, bowed outward from the spine. It was not only ugly, but made it impossible for the book to lay flat on a table. Here was a book that I wanted to buy, wanted to take home and treasure, wanted to read it to future grandchildren, but I couldn’t get past the cover. This was not an heirloom piece; it was a piece of carnival crap. I looked at the spine and was surprised to see that Simon & Schuster allowed this mess to go out under their banner.

I believe that books are a treasure. They last decades and centuries even. It saddens me to think that the noble business of publishing, especially the giant houses like Simon & Schuster, may be more focused on profit than quality.

I have heard authors complain that their traditionally published books were an embarrassment to them. That the cover designs didn’t truly represent the book, and that cheap cost cutting methods were implemented. Authors who have sold their rights to the publisher have no claim on how the book is manufactured. As for The Night Before Christmas I’m guessing it was sent to a sweat shop overseas to be printed and bound for the lowest price possible, a price guaranteeing maximum profit but sacrificing the honor of the book. I didn’t buy it. I’m hoping no one does. If enough customers reject poor quality the publisher will have to ask why. Why didn’t this book sell?

I plead with self-publishing authors to realize that they have total control of their children. Dress them up in their Sunday best and send them out to play. The day may come when the marketplace will select a self-published book over a traditional one because of the value added that comes from your care.

Graphic Designers & Printers–It’s a Love/Hate Thing

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I envy the printers for one thing in particular, they are updated regularly by paper merchant reps who call on them with the latest developments, updates, and changes. I get my information either second hand or by attending seminars and showings hosted by the merchants. In the last two weeks I attended a seminar on preparing art files for printing, direct mail, and the danger of the opt-out initiative, and digital printing advancements. I never know what a customer is going to ask of me and I have to be prepared.

Yesterday, Sappi paper sent Daniel Dejan, their North American ETC Print/Creative Manager to town to speak about graphic design and file prep. I thanked Daniel for his presentation, but didn’t thank him enough. You see the printers depend on the artists and graphic designers to keep the presses rolling. The graphic designers need the printers to produce their products. But to hear them talk about each other, you’d think there is a war going on. The printers say that graphic designers don’t even try to prepare their files correctly, that they think because something looks right on the screen it will print right. Designers on the other hand, think that the printers are screwing up their files, and if they just knew what they were doing the jobs would all run smoothly.

Stop the bickering. Mr. Dejan framed the problem as having its roots primarily in the graphic programs and in the designers failure to take the finishing steps necessary to make sure their files are correct.

I can tell you from my personal experience that computer design has completely overhauled the printing industry. When the first design programs were introduced, they created more problems than they solved. Over the years we have seen definite improvements. The programs are much better but still far from perfect. Could they get even better? Yes. Are they striving to implement technology that would fix the disconnect between printer and graphic artist? Not really. Daniel says that he has recommended changes that are possible, but are shrugged off as being too expensive, or time consuming, and aren’t worth doing. money trashedMillions of dollars every year are wasted in printer and designer time because the needed tweaks aren’t happening. Printers and designers need to get together and insist that the software is improved. Maybe working on changes that would throw up red flags when art is incomplete or wrong isn’t sexy, but it would go along way to reducing wasted hours and angry phone calls.

“The single most important thing a designer can do to communicate the job to the printer,” according to Daniel, “is to provide a hard-copy dummy. Herein lies the rub, most files are now emailed to the printer or go by way of ftp. It used to be that the print rep picked up the art and delivered it to the printer. Hard-copy dummies were more common then. We have gotten away from them today, but they are still critical to successful communication. I hate to say it, but it seems to me that we need to take a step backward and have the print reps pick up the disk and hard-copy dummy to take back to the shop. We’ve lost an important communication opportunity along the way.

The second most important task for the designer is to pre-flight their own files. A good pre-flight program provides information about problem spots like low-res photos, but also tosses all the false starts and junk that accumulate as the design is developing. It’s like delivering a finished statue without cleaning it up or sweeping the debris around it. It’s not just ugly; it confuses the rip and leads to wrong fonts being selected, and other problems.

Every printer in the world would love for Daniel Dejan of Sappi to personally instruct the graphic designers, but that isn’t possible. What is possible is that the word gets out about dummies, and pre-flights and most of the problems would be resolved early.

As for Adobe and the others, come on, give us a break. Listen to Daniel, take his advice, and endow your programs with the tweaks needed to help stop the war.

Sappi’s website is If you would like to discuss other design-print problems with Daniel, his company email is


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5 Proven Ways to Shoot Yourself in the Foot

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
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I am in the process of surveying independent booksellers to learn what they have to say about self-published books and authors. The early returns are very enlightening. Self-published books as a rule don’t sell well primarily because they are poorly illustrated (in the case of children’s books) or are in need of professional editing. Often the quality of the printing is amateurish and whoever lays out the book neglects to put the title, and author on the spine.

Does content make a difference? Yes, it does. The most likely self-published books to sell concern themselves with themes of local or regional interest. Sometimes a folksy, handmade quality improves sales on those titles, but don’t count on it.

Will bookstores buy self-published books? Not usually. Sometimes not at all. There are those who might consider a consignment if it fits their demographic and product mix. They may provide limited shelf exposure and if the book does well they could decide to buy that title in the future, but don’t hold your breath. Independent booksellers are aware of the plight of self-publishers because they too are often self-employed. They would be happy to see a S.P. author succeed, but they will not, nor should not, risk their businesses on the untried and unproven. I don’t blame them, do you?

Let’s examine some of those complaints further.

  1. Poorly Illustrated. Just because Cousin Jimmy can draw pretty well, doesn’t make him a professional illustrator. There is a reason that illustrators, graphic designers, and layout artists are paid a lot of money. What they do adds value to the book. You may buy into the saying, don’t judge a book by its cover, but when considering a book purchase where do you start? Do you even pickup a book that doesn’t catch your eye? Have you wondered why traditional publishers are willing to spend so much money on expensive printing flourishes like foil stamping, embossing, and film lamination? Eye candy. Do you have to incur these expenses for your book? No, you don’t, but you may suffer fewer sales as a result. “The devil is in the details,” after all.
  2. Lack of or Unprofessional Editing. Your third grade English teacher was right, how you say it is at least as important as what you say. In the book business grammar and spelling don’t count for part of the grade, they are the grade. Present a book to a bookseller filled with mistakes and it won’t take a minute for you to be turned down, and turned down flat.  Don’t say that colloquial authors like Mark Twain got away with it. First of all, you are probably not Mark Twain. Second, if you read beyond the dialogue you will see meticulous attention to spelling and grammar. And PLEASE don’t hire someone you know, or someone in the family to be your editor. You want the editor to take a hard-eyed look at your work and not be afraid to tell you where the bear went in the woods. The focus of a professional editor is strictly on the work and your tender ego isn’t a factor.
  3. Book Layout. Are your even page numbers on the left-hand page and your odd numbers on the right? Do you start new chapters on a new page, and is it an odd numbered page? If your chapter ends on an odd numbered page did you leave the next page blank? Do you count blank pages as part of your total when seeking printing bids? If your book is soft cover, did you make sure the title and author appear on the spine? If your book is hardcover with a dust jacket do you have the title and author name on both the hardcover and the dust jacket?
  4. Content. If the book is fictional does the story hold up? Does the plot unveil itself logically? If there’s a surprise ending, did you build a case for it throughout the book? Even some bestselling authors forget that rule. It is almost as if they get tired of the manuscript or their editor is pushing for more pages and they just wrap it all up with an illogical conclusion. One of my favorite contemporary authors, Stephen King, has been guilty of introducing a monster out of nowhere to conclude a novel. If your book is non-fiction, did you do your research, or hire someone to do it? You should be ready to substantiate every fact. If you are ever caught just-making-stuff-up you can say goodbye to your writing career, and do I have to say anything at all about plagiarism? Three words–don’t do it! If you quote someone, make sure you have their permission. The same goes for using trademarked properties, or lyrics, or anything proprietorial.
  5. Ho-Hum Book or Premise. Let’s face it; a self-publishing author can’t succeed with a product that is as good as a traditionally published book. You will have to find some way to be superior to the other material on the bookshelf. I realize that is a heavy responsibility, but if you think about it you will know that it is the truth. There are other ways to market your book, but if you want to go through traditional distribution channels, be prepared to have your excellent book rejected. Make it unique. Make it stand out. Always keep in mind that the traditional publishers are very knowledgeable about all of the tricks. and anything you think of has probably been done before.

The Red Hen Association of Self-Publishing Authors, Inc. intends to assist self-publishers find ways into traditional distribution channels, but if the book is not good enough (see the 5 areas above) there is no way on heaven or earth that anyone can make it happen for you. You as a self-publishing author are your own Red Hen. You have to plant the wheat, care for it, harvest it, mill it, and bake it into bread, but don’t confuse that with editing, art, and layout. I plead with you to hire the right people for those things. It will cost more upfront, but will be well worth the expense if it opens doors for you.

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