Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

23 Sep
Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

It’s Small Business Update time, so settle down with a cuppa and let’s chat to Stephen Tiano from Tiano Book Design who is here for the sixth time! In his first interviews in 2012 and 2013 we heard about his life working in the civil service and doing book design in the rest of his time, by April 2014 he was planning a move and in May 2015 he was planning to retire from his day job and work on book designing full time. When we caught up with Stephen in June 2016 he HAD retired and his plans to achieve by now were: “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. Here’s hoping!”. How exciting to be planning expansion after two and a half decades in the business. Let’s see how he’s getting on …

Hello, Steve, good to talk to you again! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Definitely not. On the downside is that new jobs had not been coming in as quickly this year as I’d expected after how busy I was last year. On the other hand, I’m shocked at having a rather big, consuming, project, a book of (for want of a better word), philosophical, questions asked by the author, and answers provided by people he’s asked. And each of these chapters or sections of questions is illustrated by five pages of photos my author has taken. He’s a professional photographer. It’s not the first book of photoessays my client’s published, tho, to my eye, it’s the first time he’s had a designer who’s been able to pull out all the stops along with a lot of involvement from my client) to make this book stand out. On my part, this project has been a way for me to expand my image-editing skills in Photoshop. I’ve famously (well, perhaps that’s a bit grandiose of a way to word it) said that not only am I not an illustrator, I essentially CAN’T draw a straight line. So my Photoshop work has been limited to photo editing. But for this book the photo editing has involved working with backgrounds and color in ways I had never approached before.

On the other hand, things started picking up as summer began; and this is contrary to way things have been most of my years freelancing. That seems to be purely because self publishers now fill just about all my workload. And they don’t seem bound to the kind of seasonal schedule as traditional and academic publishers.

Then, too, I’ve gotten involved with another author’s adventure in taking self-publishing and spinning out a publishing company from it. I should backtrack. I have, indeed, employed a new, lower price structure, in certain instances, to help me keep my earnings within the social security limit I mentioned last year, so that there will be no giveback beyond the regular taxes on my income. I’m electing to go that route with certain clients who otherwise would not be able to AFFORD my services, but with whom I want to work, both just to insure that their voices are heard, but also because they have books in them that I really want to see get the best possible treatment and, ergo, have the best chance of finding an audience and succeeding in measured sales.

To be sure, this doesn’t mean taking part in the “reverse leapfrog mambo,” where freelancers bid competitively to see who will work cheapest for projects they find on the “meat rack” jobs boards.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Well, continuing on the track I started down in the first question, I continue to devote some time nearly every day to root around and find interesting, new, paying book projects. But I definitely discuss each potential project with an open mind about what I’ll charge. In preparing my proposals, with books I’ve already made a commitment to in my heart and mind, I work out a price the usual way and then try to get some detail about the potential client’s circumstances, so I can come up with the correct discounted price, sometimes as little as one-QUARTER to one-third of what I’d normally charge.

So what’s that mean in concrete terms? Well, the second project I mentioned above, the author spinning out a whole publishing company idea, for instance. I did that once before for a self-publishing author who formed a company, Pascha Press, that, for a couple of reasons, one being her fighting a serious illness, hasn’t succeeded quite the way we’d hoped, though she’s trying to reinvigorate the business and continue with the few books she’s had planned from the start. This new one began with my answering a posting seeking help getting a book to press from my client’s father, as the client is a young woman about to start high school. She’d already self-published three or four books, but with little fanfare and no real professional design and layout help. Her parents, however, have supported her every inch along the way, editing and advising her.

The book that found it’s way to me was a book of ONE-PAGE, capsulized biographies of 100 impactful New Yorkers, called THE 100 MOST IMPORTANT NEW YORKERS. For this one, to move the process along, I got involved in sourcing photos of the subjects of my author’s biographies. And this has been both eye-opening and a project in and of itself. Although I’ve stated before that I’m leery of the use of stock photography, for a book of such bios, the more recognizable the subjects of the photos, the better. Additionally, a high school student’s budget is definitely limited—so I’m looking strictly at public domain and otherwise free-to-use photos. And my usual proviso about making the choice to self-publish being a choice to go into business as a publisher is not quite the hard-and-fast rule I’d come to regard it. I mean, she and her parents absolutely want to be successful in terms of sales, but they’re realistic about how they’ll need to break through a system that still doesn’t make it a walk in the park to commercial success for first-time authors, especially those who are self-publishing.

Stephen Tiano 100 most important new yorkers

So, then, about mid-way through my work, her dad—with whom I’d broached the subject of their starting a publishing company, as my intrepid young author, Agatha Edwards, was planning a whole series of “100 MOST IMPORTANT …” books—told me that he’d done the initial paperwork to start the formation of Brooklyn Bridge Books. Further, Agatha was already at work on the next book THE 100 MOST IMPORTANT AFRICAN AMERICANS. I immediately sourced a logo—again, a public domain image is perfect, as we want the image instantly connectable with the company name. Agatha is still writing and rewriting this one and her mom and dad are editing her.

Stephen Tiano Agatha

I’ve finished sourcing photos for this new book. I’m actually knee-deep laying out the first 50 bios. We’ve got a look and a plan to reuse the framework of the first cover, with subtle distinctions, for the whole series and I am again a publishing company’s Creative Director, with a stake in the business.

Here’s the front cover for the new book, THE 100 MOST IMPORTANT AFRICAN AMERICANS:

Stephen Tiano 100 most important african americans


All great stuff! What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Well, that changing circumstances—I was NOT immediately 100% happy with the idea that lowered prices were the way for me to go—opens up new avenues for work and making work a dream adventure. I’m trying to use the phrase “semi-retirement” as a mantra of sorts to get me to focus on looking ahead and not backward too much with wishes I’d done things differently. I’m finding there’s a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility in embracing this idea that, more than ever, I work on exactly what I want whenever I want. At the same time, however, I’ve started to become a bit more vocal online about what I dubbed above the “reverse leapfrog mambo,” actually commenting a couple of times on one such jobs boards blog.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Keep your eyes open for new ways to promote. For instance, blog interviews like the one you and I have now made an annual occurrence. And then, too, there are other media. I was interviewed a few months back by an Internet radio station, Paperback Radio. Every effort has the potential for greater reach. It’s not the same old world and way of doing things with paper résumés sent out to prospective employers by snail mail. We’re in a gig economy where all the new media, including social, are part of a whole arsenal of ways to approach prospective clients. (Funny … this reminds me that I want to cold email every publisher listed in the current year’s Writer’s Digest to see if they might have projects for me. I used to do that annually and haven’t in two or three years, as self-publishers have so filled my dance card. But I would like to try get some work from traditional publishers again.)

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

Well, I certainly hope to be building on these new directions—busier than ever, of course. And another year closer to the point where I no longer have limits on how much I can earn without a penalty. I’d definitely like to continue to work with self-publishers, as it’s really exciting to be part of bringing new, undiscovered authors, who, in years past, would not have had an opportunity to make their voices heard.

At the same time, I’d like to get a foot back in the world of traditional publishing. I can’t say enough about how fortunate I am to have cultivated my “freelancing with a net” for so many years at the same time that I worked a full-time day job. The independence it gave me to pick and choose clients, to remain staunch about getting paid like a professional and not accepting pennnies-on-the-dollar and the same prices that only someone living in a third-world economy can live on was a gift. And now, in my semi-retirement, even more secure than when I was working, I love that I can accept new opportunities that don’t pay my full price and give some back to the publishing universe.

Lots of exciting stuff and also thoughtful reflections on the state of the publishing industry and its associated industries – I do love and appreciate the level of effort and detail Steve puts into his interviews. I love Agatha’s work and hope that project goes on to further success!

Stephen Tiano
Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

tel. & fax: (631)284-3842 / cell: (631)764-2487
Skype: stephentianobookdesigner
FaceTime: Stephen Tiano
email  website:
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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. 

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Posted by on September 23, 2017 in Business, Small Business Chat


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