Welcome to another Small Business Update – and today we welcome Stephen Tiano from Tiano Book Design to the blog for the fifth 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. By May 2015 he had even bigger plans – to retire from his day job and take up book designing full time! Here’s where he wanted to be by now: “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.” So, how’s he getting on? Did he manage to retire and relocate?
Hello, again, Stephen, and lovely to talk to you again. So, how’s it going? Did you retire? Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
Not at all, Liz. I figured I’d be spending the better part of this first year after retiring from the 9-to-5 job as a court clerk that I held for over 32 years into my book design practice full-time pretty strictly on promoting and marketing myself. I always say that I “freelanced with a net”—i.e., while holding a secure full-time job. That served me well, as I apparently spent 25 years on just about 100 books simply developing my practice and it was just the lead-up to my going at this and this alone.
Curiously, it appears that merely stating my commitment to going full-time somehow—and I admit that this may sound a bit airy-fairy to some—signaled a new vacuum in my schedule that seems to have sucked work into it. A lot of work. Turns out this is the busiest first quarter of my freelance career, so far.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
Considering that I have worked just about exclusively for self-publishing authors the last seven or eight years, there is a definite consistency to my business. But the turn is that all of them have formed publishing companies. And that kind of underscores what I’ve been saying for a few years now: Choosing to self-publish is a choice to go into business as a publisher, even if just one time for one book.
One giant surprise is how much of my business consists of children’s books these days. It’s ironic, too, because there was a time when I wanted to work on children’s books so that I could show them to my grandchildren, two granddaughters at the time. And I couldn’t even get a nibble, but for one in my first 23 or so years designing and laying out books.
The last year, however, has seen me work on the book When My Baba Died and an accompanying workbook, as well as taking on Creative Director duties, for Pascha Press; Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff for Mascot Press; and Bell Meets the B.EL.L. Pack, the first of a series about blended families for Bellpack LLC.
Now, for all the busyness, one neverending challenge for me that remains is that I will always go through periods of waiting. Patience not being my strong suit, I claw the walls at such times. Right now, I thankfully still have a book in progress, Brave in Leather, the story of a transgender woman who faces challenges but finds happiness for Angry Rabbit Enterprises. That’s after sending off Gear Up for Success: A Three-Tiered Planning Model for Supporting Learners on the Autism Spectrum to my client, AAPC Publishing.
But I’m waiting for a second book on autism from AAPC Publishing—to be fair, as I write this, that one should arrive tomorrow. However that leaves the second in the Bell Pack series of children’s storybooks. A change in illustrators—the one who did such fine work in the first book has retired from freelance work—has slowed things a little. There is also a book, translations of critiques of Beethoven’s works, coming by summer’s end … hopefully sooner. The last one that I know of right now is a book, a kind of recap of one man’s career in sports agenting.
And I am certain there will be more, including some surprises.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
No matter how busy I get, do not ever think the time for self-promotion has reached an absolute end. There will no doubt come a time when I am waiting for the next paying project with nothing yet on the way. That will be the time when it pays to have interviews such as this or guestblog pieces ready to go. Then, too, there’s my own blog on book design (http://tianobookdesign.com/blog/). Though my writing for it has been sporadic over the years, I always come back to it, when I have something longish to say about book design or freelancing.
I suppose I would have liked knowing a year ago that my freelancing would pick up once I went at it full-time. Yet I am enjoying the surprise of how it’s almost magically taken off, now hat I have more time for it.
I’ve had it driven home yet again that the best-looking ideas don’t necessarily make for success. Pascha Press, for whom I’d been named Creative Director and handled design and layout of When My Baba Died and the accompanying workbook, just announced they will close their doors. At least one or two versions in other languages were planned; and now that won’t happen. Although well-received, I guess not enough copies were sold. Too bad. I would have liked to see how their catalog developed over time.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Do not forget the value of social media. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are musts. Post to all of them regularly. Don’t make those posts all, “Buy me; buy me! Hire me; hire me!” all the time. Make an effort to help people out with what they’d like to know about book design and production.
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
Retired from my 9-to-5, I collect a pension. But there is also the issue of collecting Social Security. There are limits on how much income one may earn before penalties (givebacks of $1 for every $2 over the year’s stated limit) kick in. How would you handle that? Not collect social security until the age (70) at which there are no income limits? Collect but stop earning each year just before going over the limit? Charge less so you don’t ever go over the limit? Or simply go over and pay the penalties?
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Well, I’d be okay to be as busy as I am now, with as much work waiting in the wings. I’d be happy to have more. I think for the first time I expect to be busier, to have grown and expanded.
I did watch Stephen’s progress with a wry smile, because I predicted that this would happen. I didn’t retire as such, or wouldn’t call it that, but when I left my part-time day job, I, too, was expecting a lull where I promoted myself. Ironically enough, I was called for Jury Service for the first two weeks of my full-time self-employment (but didn’t end up doing much) and from then on, I was busy, busy, busy, with work definitely expanding to fill the space available, almost by magic! So I predicted this and it happened, and I’m so pleased! Here’s to the next year, to growth and expansion! By the way, I think the extra bonus question is quite US-centric, so if any readers are in the US or have freelancer chums who are, please point them to this and/or comment yourself!
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.