We are thrilled to interview book designer and new board member, Jenny Putnam of J. Putnam Design for this edition of Learn from Your Peers.
1. When did you know you wanted to be in publishing as a book designer? What does a book designer do - what are their responsibilities?
I think I always wanted to end up in publishing. I grew up in a family of bibliophiles - my dad is an editor and a writer, my grandfather was the law librarian at Harvard Law School for many years, and my great-grandfather was the head of the composing room at Riverside Press, so I guess you could say it's genetic. (laughs)
A book designer brings a book from manuscript form to a fully-formatted, print (or eBook) ready file. Basically, we make a book look like a book, instead of a pile of typed pages. The responsibilities of an independent designer generally include cost estimating, creating and maintaining a production schedule, designing and creating templates for interior pages and covers, image research, creation and correction, 'pouring' a manuscript - that is, formatting the manuscript into the design templates, print buying, and print management.
The following page samples are from the upcoming book, Cooking Through History by Claire Cabot.
2. What does your designing process look like?
I prefer to first meet with a prospective client in person, if possible, to discuss their vision of the finished book. We talk about trim size, the cover, how and where images will be placed, the design and printing process, some basic administrative issues, and I try to answer any questions the author may have. Next, I work up a detailed price quote based on our discussion.
Once the quote has been accepted, I will create a formatted sample chapter for the author's review. It may take a few iterations to get to exactly what the author envisions; once the design has been finalized I will format the rest of the manuscript and return a pdf for proofreading. Often I will also be finding and/or manipulating image files before adding them to the layout.
Simultaneous to this process, if I am providing print management as well as design services, I will be gathering printer quotes for the author. Once a printer has been chosen and the book is ready to go, I will act as liaison between the author and the printer.
3. Tell us about one of your projects. What does a typical timeline look like?
I'm working on several projects right now that I'm really excited about. One is the memoir of a woman who married a man from another country and subsequently spent twenty-five years living and raising a family in a different culture. It's a fascinating story and I feel so privileged that she's trusted me to help her bring it out into the world.
There really is no typical timeline. It very much depends upon an author's timeline and style. Each of the three authors I'm working with right now have very different ways of working: one is very methodical and prefers to receive a proof of each chapter separately, so that he can take his time over the proofreading, another is anxious to have her book printed as soon as possible, and the third is fairly laid back.
Generally, however, the process, from initial meeting to the author having a bound book in their hands, will usually take from four to six months, depending on the complexity of the manuscript.
4. How long have you been in the publishing industry? When and why did you decide to go off on your own?
I've been in publishing for about 15 years - I've worked at large publishing houses like Houghton Mifflin, and tiny houses with less than 10 employees. I had been considering going out on my own for several years when, in late 2013, I was laid off from the last place I worked. I took it as a sign from the Universe that it was time to take the leap, so I got myself a business license and never looked back.
5. How do you find your clients? And how do they find you?
I talk to EVERYONE! (laughs) Word-of-mouth and networking are very important, but so are trade shows and conferences. I have a website, but use that mostly as an online portfolio. It's really about getting the word out there, so I just try to make myself as visible as possible, and people do find me.
6. Are there organizations beside IPNE that have been helpful with networking?
Bookbuilders of Boston is a fantastic networking resource. There's also the annual New England Author's Expo, presented by Pear Tree Publishing - I met the three authors that I'm currently working at this conference. The Newburyport Literary Festival is also a wonderful place to meet independent authors.
7. How do you balance being a mom and an independent book designer?
Obviously, any parent who works full time can find it difficult to balance home and work life. I'm lucky because I can make my own hours, up to a certain point. In my line of work there will always be deadlines - that's unavoidable - but I have some strict rules for myself to adhere to when I'm not on a deadline. I always stop work at 5 PM, no matter what I'm doing. The evening is devoted to my son - homework, dinner and spending time together. As a divorced mom, I have a bit more freedom, in that my son is with his dad every other weekend. This is great for me because I can work non-stop if necessary on the weekends when I don't have to be mom, and then dedicate the entire weekend to my kiddo when I do have him. The best of both worlds!
8. What advice do you have for other independent book designers?
Train your authors well!! (laughs) Seriously though, the more you can de-mystify the entire process for authors, the more likely they are to trust you with their precious work. Always remember that you are there to bring the author's vision to light.