Book Clients: Winners, Whiners and Wanderlust

Prairie Journey - Pyragraph
Multi award-winning book Prairie Journey, by Frances Bonney Jenner. Book cover designed and illustrated © 2012 Mariah Fox. Published by Irie Books.

I am not a book client. But I do know book clients well. They are the cornerstone of my freelance business.

You could think of me as a mediator or channeler, who art directs, designs, and helps authors and artists navigate the new publishing landscape. I have a growing list of unique writers and artists who have taken advantage of the current indie publishing movement, and work with me to create interesting books.

While doing this work, I wear many publishing hats, including graphic designer, illustrator, art director, typesetter, project manager, production artist, copywriter, proofreader, brand creator, editor…hmm. Sounds rather outlandish to claim all of this, but it is in fact the landscape of today’s publishing world to take the reins with it all.

Sometimes I feel that if I charged for the totality of my work, my services would be clearly out of range for the typical first-time author.

It is possible to run a one-man show. I won’t lie, it’s also a lot of work.

Traditionally, things used to move rather slowly. But these days, books are printed, bound and made publicly available for purchase in as little as 48 hours. We now have a large suite of easy-to-access publishing, printing and selling options in both digital and printed formats, and I expect the offerings will only become better as time goes by.

This new, ever changing landscape includes e-books, POD (print on demand) books, open-licensed books, limited edition books, offset printed books, pirated books…the list goes on. People can also choose to self-publish without a publishing company to back the project. Anything is possible. But I digress…back to the book clients.

Book clients come in all shapes and sizes, now that there are so many publishing options.

I’ve helped make it possible for all kinds of people to see their precious labors of love be “born” to the world. While they are all very different kinds of people, there are some things that all of these clients have in common. They all dream of seeing their words and thoughts in print. They are intelligent, driven, and have an entrepreneurial spirit of some kind. They care about their subject matter deeply.

I enjoy helping authors — so much so that I usually go above and beyond the typical services covered by my fees. I don’t really mind going the extra mile, it’s partly the perfectionist in me. It’s great to help people make their dreams a reality, and for that reward, it’s about much more than money or even time investment.

The extras that I build into my services might be after-hours consulting calls, faster turnarounds, a more elaborate or extra illustration, or free photo retouching, proofreading and corrections that don’t appear on the bill. These are just the things that I do for my book clients because I want to, and because in a way, I have to do them, in order to ensure a near-perfect product — a book that will be treasured rather than read and discarded.

Sometimes I feel that if I charged for the totality of my work, my services would be clearly out of range for the typical first-time author. I bill what I feel is reasonable for each book client, even if I might earn more in other markets. The depth and span of my experience is where the biggest value lies for someone who hires me to bring up their indie publishing project, and it’s hard to put a price tag on that.

Working with less-experienced authors requires a vast sea of patience. But I enjoy it.

The fact is, I grew up toddling through publishing company offices, had my first book illustrations published in the early 1990s, experienced the economic collapse of commercial publishing, and the meteoric rise of the digital book market since then.

In today’s book world, any kind of author without good consultants or quality service providers is going to need to be very resourceful, confident and driven to succeed out there with no help or advice at all.

Working one-on-one with less-experienced indie authors is totally different than working with a large or small publishing company.

It takes a Herculean effort to finish a manuscript. These authors are amazing people, people who lived and navigated fascinating experiences and events. They are enlightened spiritually, creative and gifted in their first careers. They have admirable human qualities, and are inspiring to work with, especially when they are able to relinquish a certain amount of trust in my ideas, experience and artwork.

However, it must be said that after inspiring me, some book clients will also add like, 25 spaces after a period at random and forget that in today’s world you no longer need to add a carriage return at the end of each line. They’ll spell the same character’s name 10 different ways throughout the chapter. Or edit a beautiful layout into numerous drafts, risking destruction of the most perfect design elements.

Some of my indie authors have gone on to win awards or become bestsellers in their categories.

They might send zillions of emails per day with directions for layout changes…and then miss the typo in their own title. Others express that they just want me to design it “so they’ll like it.” Another issue I’ve seen repeatedly is to edit one’s own edits, over, and over, and over, back and endlessly forth.

Of course, I am aware that newbie authors are usually innocent in nearly all of these eccentricities, and lack some of the understanding that has taken me years to acquire in the business. Following the progress of a book from concept to completion is a grueling task for even the fittest expert in the field, and I know this. But it’s still tedious and tiring for me to repeatedly brief them on proofreading, what a final draft really is, that additional changes take time and cost money to execute, price comparisons between 80- and 100-pound text weight paper, the difference between matte versus gloss laminate cover, and much more.

Working with less-experienced authors requires a vast sea of patience. But I enjoy it, and it’s satisfying.

Throughout the process, I seek to patiently recognize and massage the temperament of a client who may not have the confidence or experience yet to truly comprehend what is going on with their project. Sometimes they get strong-willed and hard-headed about my advice; other times they give in, worn out like an exhausted fighter on the ropes at the end of Round 12.

While it might sound odd, book publishing really is similar to helping someone deliver a healthy baby that’s long been incubating. Sometimes I must step in and say to my book client, “I think there is a better way to do this.” Or, “You are concerning yourself with something that may not matter to the big picture, however it will hurt your production schedule and bottom line.”

Still others never reach such plateaus or walls, and sail through easily, whether they end up earning back their investment or not (most do)! Some of my indie authors have gone on to win awards, become bestsellers in their categories, attend successful book tours and get top-notch press coverage. Certain clients are over the moon when they lay eyes on the physical, printed book and hold it, and that alone is enough to give them great satisfaction. Triumph! In the end, once our “book baby” is born, there is an infallible gratification that validates all the hard work, challenge and patience that my clients and I invested in the project.

So whether I have a winner, a whiner, or simply a case of creative wanderlust to tame, I’m willing, ready and conditioned for any book client challenge…just come and see all the hats I have in my closet.


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