Welcome to another Small Business Update – and today we welcome Stephen Tiano from Tiano Book Design to the blog for the fourth time! His original (2012) and 2013 posts told us all about his double life working in the civil service and then doing book design in the rest of his time, and when we caught up with him in April 2014 he was planning a move: “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, how’s Steve getting on towards that goal?
Hi again, Stephen, and welcome to your fourth interview! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
No, not at all. Ever the optimist, I always start out with the intent that the current year will be better than the year before. That I will make it better than the year before. But last year, in a word, stank. I simply didn’t have enough freelance paydays. If it weren’t for my 9-to-5 civil service job it would have been … well, very uncomfortable. Remember, I’ve freelanced “with a net” for over 35 years—first as a proofreader; and the last 23 years, as a book designer/layout artist.
On the other hand, I finished two book projects and cultivated a few contacts, at least two of which have resulted in book projects this year. Hopefully, there are more to come.
That’s the thing about freelancing, I can never take my eye off the ball—fully two-thirds of the gig is about finding the next project(s). So rather than growing depressed over not having as much work as I would like, I always choose to view such “down” times as opportunities to mine the market. The first thing I remind myself during those times is to stay the hell away from all the freelance “meat market” sites, the ones that always bill themselves as sites for people to find freelancers willing to work for ever-lower rates. The ones where freelancers reverse leap-frog each other to bid less and less for projects.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
Self-publishing has gotten stronger still. To be sure, the traditional publishers still exist—the handful of mega publishers, as well as thriving independents and university presses. But it’s the self-publishing sector that continues to expand and show increase in movement. Sure, a John Grisham book will always sell big, but more and more doors are opening for self-publishers: for legitimate reviews and the possibility of being picked up by a traditional publisher.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
Well, I’ve been working on growing my software skills a bit. It hasn’t escaped me that self-publishers often think their task is to make a DIY project out of making a book. So I’ve been spending some time working with an open-source page layout software package, Scribus, to get familiar with the kind of tools DIY-ers might embrace. I figure that gives me a little more credibility when trying to reach potential self-publishers with my message that the idea is to make books that rival the traditional publishers’ in both quality and value, rather than just making books as cheaply as possible. Thing is with the latter: the product reflects those nickel-and-dime values.
I actually began writing a book about designing and typesetting books in Scribus. I’ll pick it up again at some point, too, because I think there ma be a need for such a book. When completed, it will offer both a step-by-step in using Scribus to design and make the pages of a book, as well as a discussion about the printed book as art, developing an aesthetic for making books that are art (of course, the question of whether any one book a “creative mortal” like myself makes or tries to help others make is GOOD art can only be left open).
I guess I wish I had known how to better find and reach people who are possible self-publishers. But I can’t say I spend much time with such “wishing” I’d done more or done things differently, as that leads to regrets and doubt.
Any more hints and tips for people?
What I said above: The idea is to make books that rival the traditional publishers’ in both quality and value, rather than just making books as cheaply as possible. Book designers need to teach this to prospective self-publishers and self-publishers need to embrace it.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Hopefully, increasing the activity in my book design practice. If all goes according to plan, I hope to retire from the civil service 9-to-5 and, with my wife, relocate off Long Island and out of New York to someplace milder in the U.S.—northern California (near where our granddaughters live with their mom and dad) or perhaps somewhere on the east coast around D.C./Maryland/Virginia/North Carolina, in a university town, where I can perhaps catch on for just a little in-house work at a university press and a whole lot of golf.
The self-publishing phenomenon is indeed growing and growing, and hopefully people will realise the need for a good designer that goes hand in hand with the need for editing, cover design, etc. to make a professional package.
Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist
If 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.