Thoughts on Turning 10

POSTED ON Jan 13, 2020

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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By Joel Friedlander

It was late in the fall in 2009 that it all started.

Book publishing had changed dramatically in the 5 years leading up to that point. While I was off doing other things, Ingram introduced print on demand technology that promised to transform the industry.

At the same time, ebooks were on the horizon and looming larger every month.

Digitization in typesetting, book layout, illustration, and just about every other part of pre-press printing technology was in the midst of disruptive change.

Meanwhile, the so-called “blogosphere” was expanding rapidly, with new blogs being launched incessantly, on one niche topic after another.

Looking around at what all this change was doing to book publishing, I thought I would add my voice—and my 30 years spent in book publishing, printing, advertising, and graphic arts—to the mix.

An Industry Just Feeling Its Wings

But let me stop here for a moment.

Part of this story involves the clamor of authors suddenly freed from “gatekeepers” at traditional publishing houses. For a small investment, it was now possible to publish your own book quickly and at a decent level of quality.

Great! Woo Hoo! Just Do It!

Yeah, not so much. At least not so fast.

Books, the most commonplace objects in our lives, look dead simple. Words on a page. What could be easier?

But it doesn’t take long for an author to realize that what went into that book was many detailed and well-informed decisions.

Decisions about things like

  • what size to make the book
  • how many pages it should have
  • how the book will reach bookstores or other retailers
  • what the cover should look like to maximize sales
  • how to present the information or the story in the book in the way that readers would appreciate
  • whether the book should be illustrated and, if so, in what style
  • … and all the other decisions that go into a book

Birth of a Brand

It was into this maelstrom of change and confusion that I launched The Book Designer.

Drawing on my experiences in the trade; the two years I had just spent in a daily free-writing practice; and my desire help the authors who were already contacting me looking for guidance, I took the plunge.

Even after all these years, I can still put myself back at my desk when, having finished my first blog article, I contemplated the “Publish” button.

At the time there were less than three dozen sites dealing with “independent” publishing. I know this because one of the first articles I wrote for my blog was a roundup of these sites.

In fact, this began a long process of linking out to other sites in the field, something that we have grown and institutionalized in the years since.

Through our curated posts like This Week in the Blogs and our Carnival of the Indies blog carnival, we’ve sent thousands and thousands of links and visitors to sites run by our colleagues.

In 2011, we also started publishing our monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards which is a great way to see what other self-published authors are doing with their covers, and to show why some covers work better than others.

At the beginning I wrote 5 articles a week to ramp up visitor traffic as fast as possible, and that’s where all that practice with free-writing became invaluable.

As the years passed Shelley Sturgeon joined me, first as a virtual assistant, then as the editorial director of the blog, which she continues today.

Evolution—Change or Die!

Besides gaining the assistance of Shelley, I started trying to turn the popularity of the site to financial advantage.

After all, by writing articles about exactly the questions in my list above, I had acquired a steady readership of authors, editors, designers, and others who came to the site for the “practical advice to help build better books” that our tagline promised.

In 2011 (or was it 2012?) I launched the very first extensive online course in self-publishing, and it was very successful.

I started writing short guides on specific subjects like ISBNs, copyright, and other basic concepts, and they have continued to be popular over the years.

Then in 2013 I fulfilled a dream that had been percolating for several years at that point: interior book templates that would drastically cut the cost and time involved in typesetting a book.

The catalyst for starting Book Design Templates that year was meeting Tracy Atkins, a technologist and Microsoft Word expert who was able to translate my book designs into Word files.


Since then, we’ve sold over 20,000 templates and made many many authors very happy by giving them a simple way to take control of their own book production.

Tracy and I then started producing toolkits to help authors organize their publishing and sell more books. Author Toolkits was born, and another way to help authors with the intricacies of the publishing process.

A couple of years ago we took on independent cover designer extraordinaire Tanja Prokop so we could offer covers at fantastic rates, too.

And for years, I traveled and spoke at dozens of industry events all over the country.

And So It Goes

As the publishing world has changed, so has The Book Designer. These days most of our content comes from a dynamite panel of publishing industry experts, our Contributing Writers. Just to refresh your memory, our current roster includes:

  • Judith Briles, book shepherd and author of 30+ books
  • David Kudler, editor, ebook designer and author
  • Amy Collins, book distribution, sales and marketing expert and author
  • Lee Foster, publishing innovator and author of 18 books
  • Sandra Beckwith, book marketing expert and author
  • Nate Hoffelder, digital publishing news expert and web developer

We’ve greatly expanded the template line, and now deliver beautiful designs for Word, InDesign, and Pages too. Check them out to see our latest designs.

Thousands of visitors come to this site every day, and that’s pretty rewarding for me after 10 years.

It kind of proves the raw power of expert information; the natural attraction of conversational writing; and the identification with a market that comes from being part of that market oneself.

Although I don’t write as much as I used to for the site, we are robust with content, still publish three times a week, and have no plans to slow down.

After all, the changes in book publishing aren’t slowing down either, are they?

That’s why we’ll be here, offering the best, most reliable information on book publishing anywhere.

So, reader, thanks for making it all possible.
Photo: BigStockPhoto

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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