It was December 2008 when out-of-the-blue I received an email from Nikki McDonald, senior acquisitions editor at US-based publisher Peachpit. One year later, in December 2009, I received a box filled with copies of the resulting book Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities. Here are some of my experiences along the way.
Self-publish or work with an established publisher?
By self-publishing I earn all profits, but by working with an established publisher I get the experience of people who know what they’re doing — copy editors, marketers, production staff.
I’d been reading about the experiences of designers Mark Boulton and Eric Karjaluoto. Both chose to self-publish their most recent books, but both had more design and writing experience than me. So I also turned to friends for advice. I was told not to expect riches from the sales of a design book — fine by me, that wasn’t my motivation — and that as a first-time author I should use the experience of a proven publisher, trading what possible financial gain might result from self-publishing for the ability to reach a wider audience, helping share my thoughts with more readers.
I saw the project as a challenge and as a way to establish a reputation as a brand identity designer who knows what he’s doing.
I had to submit a book proposal before a contract was signed. The proposal included draft chapter headings and details of my design background and writing experience.
A proposal form was supplied by my publisher, and there was some back and forth before it was finalised. I’d use these details to help grow my thoughts about the book content, and it’s worth noting that the proposal can be quite different from how the completed book turns out (looking back, mine definitely was).
It was during the proposal stage that I started getting in touch with potential contributors. I didn’t want to write a book filled with my work, because readers would get more help by learning from a range of designers from around the world.
I contacted studios and independent designers, pitching my idea and asking for specific logo contributions. Those interested were asked for EPS files, sketches, and the rationale behind each design. From concept to completion, I sent a total of 1,330 emails (touch-typing a bonus).
I’d seen a lot of design books that were poorly designed and difficult to read, so I designed the layout: cover, title page, copyright page, resources section, index. When the content was final, I’d give Peachpit’s production team the packaged InDesign files and print-formatted imagery.
With the completed proposal in the hands of my publisher, we’d then negotiate the contract offer. Everything is negotiable, and if you’re thinking about becoming an author make sure you’re happy with the terms. You’ll be taking on a huge amount of work and you don’t want to get second thoughts halfway through because you’re being underpaid.
The offer I received included an advance payment of the book’s royalties. This figure was split into four, with a cheque for 25 percent mailed to me at the start, and the remainder paid at pre-determined stages of completion. A one-off fee for the book design was also agreed (to be paid upon completion).
It was four months after the initial out-of-the-blue email when I signed the contract.
And so, in April 2009, the deal was official.
Setting a schedule
When we were ready to begin actually writing, my copy editor sent me a submission schedule, mapping the time frames for each chapter pass (1st pass, 2nd pass, 3rd pass, etc.). I was told upon receipt that we were already behind schedule, so no pressure, David.
The initial writing stages
The process worked like this: I would email a Word document to my editor, and a day or two later she would ask me to rewrite it completely, and I’d receive guidance about where I was going wrong. During the first few weeks, not only was I off-target with the writing, but none of my draft content was suitable for use. Twice I was asked to resubmit the first chapter, and although I was told how the initial chapters were always the most difficult, it was a little demoralizing.
Once the first chapter content was finally agreed upon, I needed to transfer the text and images to InDesign, then supply Peachpit’s design team with a sample PDF. This was so my preferred design and layout could be given the go-ahead.
They were happy with my design proposal, so from there on, we would edit the chapter content using Microsoft Word documents.
Keeping track of chapter drafts
A basecamp-style FTP site was created to keep track of the documents, with all content being uploaded to a central server. The folders on the FTP site worked a little like this:
- A: 1st pass Word file (to my copy editor, from me)
- A1: 1st pass copy edits (to me, from my copy editor)
- A2: 2nd pass Word file (from me)
- A3: 2nd pass copy edits (from my copy editor)
- A4: 3rd pass Word file
- A5: 3rd pass copy edits, ready for setting in InDesign
- A6: 1st pass PDF (set in the actual design, from me)
- A7: 1st pass copy edits (from my copy editor)
- A8: 2nd pass PDF
- A9: 2nd pass copy edits
- A10: 3rd pass PDF
- A11: 3rd pass copy edits
If you consider that every chapter, from one to eleven, needed to pass through these folders, there was a lot more work than I first anticipated. With each pass, however, the content became tighter, more focused, and in much better shape than it was when I first wrote it.
I owe a great deal to my editors Jill Marts Lodwig and Robin Drake, without whom the book would be a shadow of what it is.
It wasn’t until we passed the halfway stage when I ditched the second thoughts I was having. I knew I’d be taking a cut in earnings to write the book, but didn’t appreciate how much work was going to be involved, so when things weren’t running smoothly I questioned myself until I could see the finish line.
I’m glad I stuck with it, and I have nothing but praise for those I worked with at Peachpit.
Print production choices
Production was handled by Peachpit, but I got to make choices about the book’s size and cover stock. The size was determined back in the proposal stage (physical dimensions and page count), and I was asked whether I wanted a matt or gloss finish on the cover.
After the book was printed (and just a week or two ago) I asked Cory Borman, production guru at Peachpit, for specific print info:
“The cover stock is Matte UV with embossing, 12pt color 1 side. The interior is 60# Influence Matte (88 bright) 588.
8,000 copies of the book were printed for the first run, with 1,800 of those sold prior to release.
Promoting the book
When the writing, editing, and production was complete, the promotional work began. I was told the most successful books are those where the author takes an active role in the promotion, and of course I was only too happy to help.
Working with Peachpit’s product marketing manager, Glenn Bisignani, I did what I could to get the word out, including the following:
- I launched a book-specific website at www.logodesignlovebook.com
- I created a Logo Design Love Facebook page and gave free copies to fans
- I showed my readers the book’s table of contents and asked which chapter they wanted for free, then, once their preference was learned, I offered a free PDF chapter download
- I supplied my publisher with a list of review copy recipients around the world — designers I know and trust
- Coming soon, I’ll be giving away signed copies (as soon as my box of books is shipped from my old address in Ireland to my new home office in Scotland)
What you’re saying
Judging by people’s updates on Twitter, book orders are now being received every day, and I’m seeing some great feedback. You can view a number of reviews on Amazon.
Would I do it again?
Peachpit has kindly asked me to think of another project for this year, and it’ll be a pleasure to work with the team again. I’ll see how I get on with this first book before deciding to write again, though.
My biggest is contacting too many potential contributors. Many designers took the time to send me artwork and explanations, but I ended up with too much content for the page count that needed to be set at the beginning of the project. Choosing who to cut wasn’t easy. Not at all.
To those who helped, but weren’t featured in the book, you have my sincerest gratitude, and I hope to feature your contributions on the Logo Design Love site before too long.
To the thousands who have already ordered a copy, thanks so much. I hope you enjoy the read, and if you have any questions — about design or writing in general — please ask.
More info on the book website.