I Get Letters … and Other Communiqués—October 21st, 2009

June 1, 2021

    I found your webpage while looking at some information on typesetterforum.com. I had a friend mention freelance typesetting as a possibility for work. I am currently out of school, with no education focused on design; however, I am a bit of a photographer and have dabbled in web design for some time now. Just recently I started getting familiar with inDesign, I tend to learn programs quickly. Do you have any recommendations as far as what I should read, or how I can get started into this?


Dear Dan,

My initial thought was to tell you how offhanded your friend’s suggestion sounds. It reminded me of how, a lifetime ago, a friend of mine mentioned that I might be more attractive to girls if I grew myself to six feet tall.

But the issues you raise deserve serious consideration, too, not just my wisecracks.

a friend mentioned freelance typesetting … Truthfully, it sounds like you come to this work entirely too casually. I know it’s not nuclear physics or brain surgery, but it certainly matters to all the clients, prospective and actual, out there. In book design, you are charged with doing what you can to make the client’s final, edited files into readable, attractive pages that, hopefully, stand out a little from all the other readable pages out in the world. You may be well paid for this; you are certainly obligated to give the client your experienced, educated best.

a possibility for work … Before you invest your time and, possibly, money, let me assure you that even as an active freelance book designer and layout artist of more than a few years’ experience, work is always just a possibility. That is, it is a most competitive field. Success is not guaranteed. And for the successful, riches are not guaranteed.

out of school … So you have been plying a trade somewhere already? Are you earning a steady living? Mark well whether you are ready to enter a field where fully half your time—at least—will be spent scouting the next jobs. Not working? Well, you have ample time to polish the skills and pick up and practice the good habits necessary to succeed at this. (Whether you actually will succeed or not involves a roll of the bones, however.)

with no education … Oy! Never mind polishing skills; you need to learn what those skills are and then actually learn them and how to use them. It doesn’t really matter whether you get those skills in a formal school setting or by teaching yourself, but you need to be able to use the tools, think on your feet when difficulties occur, and how to quickly seek solutions when you cannot (even at 2:00 am).

a bit of a photographer … Are you now? Do you actually have an eye for how things should look on paper—pictures and type? Learning the tools is the craft; having an eye is the art.

dabbled in web design … For starters, being a “dabbler” may not be the best pedigree. More importantly, web design is quite a different animal from print. Likewise, being “familiar with InDesign” is not the same as knowing how to use it.

I guess I still managed to wisecrack my way through this, Dan. But that does not mean I haven’t also spoken seriously. I hope I at least hinted at the nature of this work.

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