frequently asked questions
How did you get your first job after college?
I received a BA in Graphic Design from Portland State University and moved to New York City a month later seeking a job in publishing. I had experience working in a camera shop and had worked at PSU's The Daily Vanguard for 4 years as the Photo Editor, then Creative Director and had done the branding, collateral, and ads for a clothing shop on Mississippi Street called Pin-Me Apparel. I had not done any internships during college, although in hindsight I wish that I had. After applying to about 50 jobs and interviewing for three entry-level design positions with various publishers I was offered the position of Art Assistant at Potter Craft, a new DIY and craft book imprint at Random House, Inc. I was thrilled!
Although I had no prior book design experience I think that I was offered this position because the Art Director and I clicked in our music tastes and on a personal level and she appreciated that my portfolio was a hand-bound book since she herself was crafty. The starting salary at Random House in 2005 was $32,500 which sounded like A LOT of money at the time but was, in fact, very hard to live on in NYC.
The Art Assistant's duties involved assisting the Art Director with her daily tasks, managing large art programs, scanning images/slides, retouching images, making text corrections, scheduling meetings, communicating design notes to outside designers, assisting on photo shoots, ordering supplies, and processing invoices. Oh, and printing things. So much printing. I learned an immense amount about workflow, efficiency, and managing multiple deadlines in this role.
I was also assigned one book per list to design on my own and had the opportunity to design additional covers as needed to grow my skills and improve as a designer. I worked at Random House for 6 years, being promoted to Junior Designer and then Designer at Clarkson Potter, the cookbook imprint. During my time at Random House I always put in the extra hours (frequently sleeping on an office couch because I had worked until 3am); I was eager to take on more responsibility and tried my best to prove myself as a competent designer and art director. I learned so much from very talented mentors and colleagues and am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn within such an extraordinary team.
how can i break into the book design world?
Although I own a design business now, I began designing books while working in-house at Random House in NYC. Nearly 80% of my clients have come to me through word-of-mouth and the connections I made while working in New York. But I understand how challenging it could be to break into publishing without having had those opportunities and without a portfolio of books you have designed.
In order to build your portfolio, my first recommendation is to make things on your own. Build up your book with the kinds of work that you want to be doing. As a creative person I bet you have creative friends who are making cool things that could be turned into a book or magazine. Ask writer friends if they want to work with you to create a zine or redesign existing book covers as an exercise. Post and share all of this work and tag your friends; it is incredibly invigorating to receive support from your community and eventually people will begin to think of you as a "real" designer of those things. You never know what opportunities can come from sharing your work with the world!
As a professor, I often take real-world content from sources like The Willamette Week or The Great Discontent and ask the students to write a creative brief for an imaginary publication and redesign the content for that space. As an Art Director I hired designers based on their potential, liking them personally, and believing in their abilities. I didn't always hire the candidate with the most experience, but with the most possibility to thrive and grow in the role. Think of your portfolio as your opportunity to show what you're capable of and, of course, always cite where you got your content and images from and whether the project was done for pay or as an exercise. Never plagiarize or misrepresent your work.
If you are flexible in where you can live I would highly recommend moving to New York City or another city with publishing opportunities, even if just for a few years (spoiler: it will probably turn into longer than a few years). New York is home to the Big 5 Publishers as well as countless smaller publishing houses. Ipso Facto, a majority of book design opportunities exist in New York. Chronicle Books is based in San Francisco; they make some of the prettiest books around and are pleasant to work for! Quarto Knows is a hard-working publishing house based in Minneapolis and although their budgets are small, their team is fantastic. Sasquatch Books is located in Seattle and they will often spend the extra money on printing techniques and packaging, which sets their books apart. Timber Press is located in Portland, OR although they do not have a large in-house design staff and their turnover rate is low.
what was it like to work at buzzfeed?
BuzzFeed was a great place to work and OMG so fun LOL! They encouraged creativity and risk-taking and I always felt supported by my bosses and coworkers. Essentially, we were paid to make fun stuff for the Internet everyday and use our imaginations and the tools at hand to engage with people and that was pretty cool.
The role was at times nebulously to "make fun shit that will go viral," which can be daunting AF. I started as the first and only designer at BuzzFeed and my title upon hire was Viral Media Designer, as my role and responsibilities grew, so did my team and I was promoted to Art Director.
In the early years, as the sole designer at a startup there were a ton of projects that needed a designer's eye like Branded Content tailored specifically to appeal to the BuzzFeed audience and Sponsored Homepage Takeovers in addition to writing and designing my own posts as an Editor and helping other Editors' posts about a Ryan Gossling Protest or Angelina's Right Leg.
BuzzFeed gets the Internet in a way that not every media company does; they understand social reach paired with custom branded content to drive revenue and they make both content and advertising live harmoniously together (for the most part). If you're interested in having fun and experimenting with what works on the social web, hands down work for BuzzFeed! In my experience, your creativity will be rewarded and your voice will be heard—especially if your boss can be Scott Lamb. They're hiring.
i'm a first-time author, should i hire you to design my book?
The answer is, maybe! It depends on what your intentions for your book are. The first big question is whether you are hoping to self-publish and then have your book picked up by a larger publisher and redistributed later. If this is the case, a warning:
Editors buy the rights to existing books when they can prove to their bosses that the book has the potential to sell with the help of their editorial, design, copyediting, and marketing teams. If you self-publish and your book is successful in your market, then the Editor can use your good sales numbers to help convince their team that they should take a chance on you and your book's ability to find an expanded audience with a little help. Consider, though, if you self-publish and your book sells a meager amount of copies. Publishers could see this low sales rate as a sign that the book doesn't have a wide reach and they may pass on your book, even if it is amazing.
Another factor in getting your book bought by a publisher is your 'author platform;' how big of a following and how many connections you have. Humans are social creatures and we tend to purchase things based on recommendations from friends or people we admire.
- If you want to self-publish and are willing to both write the book,
- If you are willing to accept that print-on-demand services like IngramSpark have diminished quality compared to traditional offset presses.
Thousands of submissions can cross an Editor or Editorial Assistants' desk in a given week. So you can understand why there needs to be a vetting process.
I would never take on a design job that wasn't in the best interest of both parties.