Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

05 Apr

mugs Got that kettle on? Good, because I’ve got a great interview to share with you today. Stephen Tiano is a book designer. His original (2012) and 2013 interviews have proved to be popular with my readers, and here’s his update for 2014. This time last year, this was Stephen’s plan for the year ahead: “Well, generally, this never changes. I always hope to have at least two books in process at a time. And I’d like each year to see me surpass the most money I’ve ever made annually to date as a book designer. But as to the work itself, I’d love to begin working with reasonably well-financed new publishers to establish a ‘house style’ for their books. (I guess perhaps I’m too influenced by all I’ve read about Jan Tschichold and his work at Penguin in the 1930s, tho’ I hope to continue to take myself less seriously than it sounds to me like he did.)” So, how are things going for Stephen a year on …?

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I have to admit, no. I thought I was going to continue to pick up the pace after a slower year—the way it’s worked out after most other slow years. But it turns out that my market has changed yet again. I adapted when publishing companies seemed to give way to self-publishing. My business is almost all self-publishers these days. Now I’m having to think on my feet once more and move into ebooks from print in a bigger way than I’d anticipated I’d have to at this point.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Well, as I said above, the work seems to have moved farther into and more quickly to e-versions. It hasn’t been without bumps in the road, my getting to the point where I’m willing to produce ebooks. For one thing, I don’t like the routes that require me to code. I just don’t enjoy that side of things enough to naturally internalize coding skills. It always requires a kind of intellectual “hunt-and-peck” process. But after a couple of false starts—not exactly failed methods or tools that are lacking, just tools that aren’t quite the ones for what I need to do—I’ve been able to progress.

In the first instance, Book Creator, a great little app that works right on the iPad and makes epubs that can be adapted for other environments, suffers for its lack of the ability to flow long stretches of text from page to page throughout the file. Apple’s Pages is not something I would use for prepping a print book. I’d still leave that to one of the big two, InDesign or QuarkXPress; or else I’d make a move into the open-source Scribus (especially since I’m disgusted with Adobe and have no plans to spend another dime with them, because their perpetual-pay subscription model for buying InDesign, Photshop et al. stinks.)

But Pages sounds like it’s got legs for making pubs that can be repurposed for other formats. I suspect it was just me, but I couldn’t pick it up quickly enough to adapt for some of the particularized effects I wanted.

So, like Goldilocks, I needed to try a third tool to find the one that was “just right”. And that led me to Apple’s iBook’s Author. Now many, if not most, designers, artist, and readers will at least have reservations, if not outright opposition to ever using a proprietary format that’s as closed as iBooks. I mean, it can only be sold through Apple’s iBookstore. But iBooks Author provides a rich environment and splendid tools for presenting a complete multimedia “book”.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Well, I confirmed once again that the more technical job of coding can go hand-in-hand with design. But it’s not the work I’m interested in doing. I guess I wish I’d picked up sooner that print really is becoming a tougher business model to sustain. Oh, print books aren’t going anywhere. But I think off-shoring at really cheap prices, as well as the do-it-yourself ethic that drives many self-publishers, are making it less likely that print book design and layout work is the way for a freelancer in the U.S. to earn a living. It’s possible that in a few more years the same might just be said of ebook design and production.

Any more hints and tips for people?

I think the most relevant piece of advice I can give is a real downer: Be prepared to be irrelevant. But don’t live in fear of it, as It’s not inevitable. But depending what stage of your earning life you’re in, keep looking for “the next thing”. Pick up new skills. Make yourself a better value for potential clients.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I’m hoping to be busy again. I want to move on to working in ebooks. But I still love print books and hope to work more of those. In a year … I’m not so sure. I do, however, have a 20-month plan … tentatively. My wife and I are looking to relocate—perhaps staying on the east coast somewhere in the Delaware/Maryland/DC/Virginia/North Carolina orbit; or on the west coast in northern California’s wine country. I’m hoping for a golf community. And I think I’d like to go in-house at a small publisher or university press. We’ll be downsizing some and switching to a slightly less expensive lifestyle, if all goes according to plan. I’ll also be pulling in a pension from another life I’ve lived in civil service. That means I’ll be looking for supplementary income, as opposed to my main deal. In another year, I’d like to have dominoes lined up so that these plans are on their way to reality.

So exciting and changing times in the world of book design, and I do think the advice Stephen gives here is very useful for anyone in any industry – nothing stays the same, and we’re always having to adapt and change to avoid getting left behind. I’m hoping that I’ll have a guest post from Stephen this year about book design, something that I’m not that familiar with, so we have that to look forward to, too. Best of luck to Stephen in looking for his new home and lifestyle arrangements! Find out how those went in 2015 here.

Stephen’s website is at and you can email him or call if you’re in the USA on tel. & fax: (631)284-3842 / cell: (631)764-2487 or Skype him using stephentianobookdesigner. Do have a read of Stephen’s blog and follow him on Twitter!

f you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 


Posted by on April 5, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat


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6 responses to “Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

  1. Stephen Tiano

    April 5, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Liz, thanks so much for the opportunity to be seen and heard once again. I always like to read such follow-ups from the other publishing professionals you’ve interviewed, as I’m always looking for an edge in getting a sense of where the market is heading for freelancers such as myself.


    • Liz at Libro

      April 6, 2014 at 7:18 am

      Thank you, Steve – and thank you for being one of my loyal interviewees who send me a report every year – it’s building up into a fascinating archive, I think. I’m glad you find other ones from around our industry interesting and useful, too!


      • stephentianobookdesigner

        April 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm

        Anytime, Liz!



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