All posts by Tom Robinson

An interview with Jonathan Baker

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[intro]Jonathan Baker, one of the graphic designers we’ve worked with over the past two years, set up Seagull Design in 2001. He currently runs the business from Marbella, where he lives with his family.[/intro]


Let’s start with the most fundamental question. When and why did you start working as an independent freelancer?

Oddly enough, apart from some summer jobs I had when I was a kid, I’ve always been a freelancer. Many years ago I blagged my way into working for an employment agency as a freelance desktop publisher because the hourly rate on offer was so attractive. (It was something like £25 per hour, which was a small fortune for a teenager back then.) The first job I got through them was with Citibank, who needed someone to design some brochures using an early desktop publishing program called Ventura. I more or less knew my way around a computer and I’d done some record sleeve design work, so I thought I was eminently qualified to do the job. Luckily when I turned up at Citibank the job was delayed and I was paid to sit around for a couple of days, during which time I read the manuals for Ventura and taught myself enough of the basics to be able to impress (or at least con) the people I was working for. From there it was only a few accidental encounters in central London bars and a smattering of lies before I had convinced a book publisher to give me a book to design. And it was in book publishing that I made my home – banks and brochures were good for paying the bills, but they were deadly boring.


What do you most enjoy about being a freelancer?

Being able to work and live with my family by the beach in Marbella, Spain, where an average day involves building sandcastles on the beach with my son and drinking cocktails by the pool with my wife – oh, and some work, of course. I’ve never been an ‘office’ sort of person and I readily enjoy all of the freedoms that being a freelancer gives you. Seriously, anyone who works in an office should QUIT NOW and become a freelancer!


There are a few irksome parts the job – aren’t there? How do you keep track of finances and invoices?

There are no irksome parts to the job. Sometimes a job depresses you because it’s boring (and that’s usually because you can’t relate to it, not because it really is boring), but the beauty of working as a freelance designer/typesetter in publishing is that each project passes quite quickly and there’s always something new coming up. Some months you may have lots of money and some months very little. But after working as a freelancer for as long as I have you know there are ebbs and flows. Keeping a reasonably large client base is always sensible. Don’t place all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes.


Let’s get specific. Do you find it easier to quote yourwork by the hour or the project?

Sometimes I quote by the hour, sometimes by the day. Sometimes I quote by the the week, the page, the job, its fun factor, its kudos rating, whether someone I like is involved, et cetera, et cetera. There aren’t any real rules. I’m still making it up as I go along.


Have advances in digital technology affected the way you do your work?

Unquestionably. A job that used to take a month can now be done in a few days. I used to have to be in central London to be close to a quick courier service; now I can be anywhere in the world. Everything changes all the time and change is exciting.


Do you feel you get good feedback from your clients?

Yes, I have lovely clients. (Even the horrible ones.)


Does your work come mainly from existing contacts within the publishing industry or from writing speculative emails? How do you approach a publisher who doesn’t know you?

Almost all by word of mouth or people moving from one publishing house to another and me tagging along for the ride. I am exceptionally bad at selling myself as I feel end results should speak for themselves. I rarely pitch myself to publishers – and when I do it’s always cringeworthy.


Do you think specialising in a particular area is important for freelancers?

It isn’t so important for book designers, since engaging with the subject matter is core to the design process and part of what makes each job a challenge.

The App Review: Invoicing Tools For Freelancers

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[intro]Invoicing, invoicing, invoicing. It doesn’t exactly make the heart sing. At whitefox we’d rather spend our time revolutionising the publishing industry, but just like every other startup we seem to spend an inordinate amount of it quoting, invoicing, chasing payment, being invoiced…[/intro]

Division of labour in a large organisation allows editors to be editors, project managers to be project managers and accountant to be accountants. But for us – and you freelancers, too – all of those roles have to be combined in a single person. That’s why we’ve decided to review selection of apps that could make one of those jobs a little easier. One of them even has a cute squirrel for a logo.

Don’t yawn yet! If you’ve never used a modern invoicing tool, the range of features on offer might surprise you. For example, if you currently raise your invoices manually using Word, aren’t you tempted by the prospect of creating, saving and sending an invoice in a few clicks? Wouldn’t it be convenient to be able to do that on the go, as well? These three apps do both of those things and more. And did we mention that some of them are completely free?



The squirrel appears on the welcome page, squealing that NutCache is “simple and free!” It does have a very easy-to-use layout, and it is entirely free. (There isn’t a catch or a premium service: a company called Dynacom Technologies bankrolls the entire operation as a PR exercise.) After receiving their invoice via email, customers can pay you directly via PayPal, Authorize Net or 2Checkout. You can have as many customers as you like. (Some free invoicing apps only allow you one customer. Who has only one customer?) Other useful features include time sheets, time management, apps for Android and Apple devices and multi-user functionality.


Blips: The NutCache logo (that squirrel again) appears on every invoice you send, and the invoices aren’t that customisable: all you can do is add a logo. 

Verdict: A very simple, user-friendly invoicing and time-tracker app with some useful features for small businesses. If you like squirrels, it might even cheer you up during a slog-like accounting session.



Invoiceable is another tool that’s free-to-use – but this one does want to make some money so it offers an optional upgrade to get rid of branding. It’s quite popular – it boasts an impressive 56,000 users – and as well as offering unlimited invoicing, you can create reports, add discounts, create a product list, accept partial payments, and even set up recurring invoices on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly basis. There are apps for Apple and Android.


Unavoidables: Invoiceable has its equivalent of NutCache’s omnipresent squirrel: a note at the end of every invoice reading “Powered by Invoiceable”. You can pay a one-off fee of £49 to eliminate it – that’s how they make their money.

Verdict: A very professional invoicing service that seems to be popular among freelancers and small businesses. Special commendation for support for recurring projects.



Debitoor has a three-tier price plan, but the free version allows for unlimited invoicing and sending out estimates to clients. If you decide to spend a little bit of money (€10/month) on the Premium Plus subscription, you can turn those quotes into invoices. It also offers an expenses tracking feature.


Weaknesses: Like the previous tools, Debitoor stamps your invoice with its own logo; unlike the others, there are other features that can only be unlocked with cash.  This can be removed by paying €5/month for the Premium package. Its most interesting feature, the ability to match your bank statement to invoices and expenses, comes with the Premium Plus subscription, which costs more. There’s an Apple app, but no Android app.

Verdict: A savvy invoicing app with some useful features – but you’ll have to pay for even the most basic ones.

An interview with Kathy Steer

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[intro]Kathy Steer became a freelancer in 1998, after working for a number of years in-house at Hamlyn and Quintet. She has specialised in cookery, gardening, health, home décor and crafts and works for a number of publishers in the UK and abroad. She’s one of our favourite Americanizers. We spoke to her last week about  finding and managing work as a freelancer.[/intro]


So, how did you get into freelancing?

I secured a couple of work placements in London after I graduated from university. I didn’t know whether wanted to go into magazine publishing as a sub-editor or into book publishing, so one of the placements was at the BBC’s Good Food Magazine and the other was at Hamlyn, which at the time was part of Reed International. After finishing at Hamlyn I was offered a full-time job as a cookery editorial assistant and after a year I was promoted to assistant cookery editor. I learnt how to proofread, copy-edit, Americanize and project manage my own titles. After one more year I became a project editor for another publishing house in London, and a year after that I took the plunge and went freelance. I worked in-house for a number of magazines at first (though I had the opportunity to decide where I wanted to work and for how long). I then started to get proofreading and copy-editing jobs from some book publishers, which meant I could work from home –and I haven’t looked back. I did enjoy working in-house but the overriding factors that made me go freelance were the flexibility and the varying types of work and subject matter.


What do you enjoy most about being a freelancer?

I love the flexibility of working from home as it means I can choose my own hours instead of working a nine to five job with a commute to and from London. I live by the sea, so I can go out for a walk on the beach in the middle of the day to clear my head. And I also get to work on a lot of varied projects, which are extremely interesting. I could be Americanizing a book on gardening one week, then proofreading a health book or copy-editing a cookbook the next.



What about the irksome parts of the job? How do you keep track of your finances?

Keeping track of finances can get out of hand, especially if some invoices take a long time to be paid, so I log all my invoices and expenses on a spreadsheet. When an invoice gets paid, I mark it up. I also keep two folders: one for invoices that are awaiting payment and the other are invoices that have been paid. I also keep all my receipts in that folder. I’m very disciplined in keeping up to date with this.


Let’s get into the specifics. Do you find it easier to quote your work by the hour or by the overall project?

It’s a lot easier to quote by the hour as I have set hourly rates for proofreading, copy-editing and Americanizing. Sometimes a project takes longer than expected so quoting for the job may not be so financially beneficial. Some of the publishers I work for have set budgets and they seem very fair, so I am happy to work to their budgets instead.


Have advances in digital technology affected the way you do your work?

Yes, definitely. I used to have to wait for the work to arrive by post on a CD then I would have to send the completed work back on a CD, but now this is all done online almost instantly, either via FTP servers or via the large file transfer websites. It makes life much easier. I occasionally proofread and mark up corrections on PDFs. That’s great if the schedule is very tight, but I do still prefer to proofread on paper as reading on screen all the time can get very tiring.


Do you feel you get good feedback from your clients?

Yes I think so. I find feedback invaluable, whether it’s positive or negative, as I want to make sure I do the best work for my client. If I have made an error I would like to know so that I can improve and avoid making the same mistake again. It’s also great to get positive feedback on the work one is doing.


Does your work come mainly from existing contacts within the publishing industry or from writing speculative emails? How do you approach a publisher who doesn’t know you?

Now my work comes from existing contacts I have built up over the years, but when I started as a freelancer I sent out lots of emails with my CV plus follow-up calls to prospective publishing houses asking if there was any work. I still like to send round a few emails to publishing houses just to let them know that I am here and still working as a freelancer.


Do you think specialising in a particular area, such as food or business, is important for freelancers?

Yes. I have specialised in certain areas and have got to know my subjects very well.

If you would like to be listed on our database and receive not only leads but also useful tips on finding and managing your work as a freelancer, write to us at with a copy of your CV.



Show me the money (first)

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This blog post by John Bond was originally published on the FutureBook blog.

When we started our company two years ago, we were often asked why we were called whitefox. I mean, not a pun on books to be seen. The working title for the whole idea had been Maguire, after the 1996 Tom Cruise film Jerry Maguire. Specifically the scene at the beginning where the hard-headed commercial sports agent wakes up from a bad dream with a new business vision: one based on quality, not quantity, based on better, deeper personal relationships. He writes a mission statement in the middle of the night and calls it The Things We Think And Do Not Say and gets it copied up and given to every delegate at the conference he’s attending. He heralds the fact that he has “ lost the ability to bullshit”. He is, of course, promptly fired.

I loved that idea as the starting point for a new business. I loved the film, the script of which I defy anyone not to find some use in as a mantra for management in publishing (come on, how many times, publishing executive, have you wanted to lean over that desk two hours into an appraisal and say ‘ help me help you ‘). But my co-founding partners dismissed the idea of christening a start-up with anything so redolent of the 1990s and with even the slightest whiff of short Scientologists. So whitefox we duly became.

whitefox as a concept was about practical work that made a tangible difference, which could adapt to any environment and, if required, remain below the radar. A business that could blend into the background. It was always intended to be a symbol of trust and quality for our clients and suppliers. Our original assumption was that we would gradually be seen primarily as an opportunity for traditional publishers to outsource nitty gritty publishing expertise as the industry contracted and overheads lost the battle between fixed and variable costs.

That has happened. But simultaneously, even in the brief time we have been trading, new areas have opened up where publishing sensibilities are becoming increasingly relevant. No one seems to worry about using the ‘c’ word any more. Content is everywhere. Whilst trade publishers still see themselves as the arbiter of what should and should not be made public and endorsed, content owners and brands are choosing to look at their assets through the other end of the same telescope. And whitefox are helping them. Whether you are a newspaper or broadcaster, management consultants or breakfast cereal, brands are starting to use e-books for either marketing engagement or to create revenue streams through new channels.

The concept of brands becoming publishers, as Jens Bachem christened it at the Digital Minds Conference in 2103, isn’t new. Sales departments over the years have had custom publishing units, and rare is even the smallest chain of restaurants or cafes that don’t have a dedicated recipe book, often published on mainstream lists. But digital has opened up new opportunities for more DIY and cost-effective experimentation. And organisations are able to produce and share better quality, less ephemeral and more engaging material because companies like whitefox allow access to trusted publishing specialists. Our largely UK based network has started to play its part in what Mike Shatzkin over in New York has defined as the “atomisation” of publishing.

For some, this will all seem a rather alien concept. A distraction even. But in an uncertain world for some publishers, we would argue it represents a positive endorsement of having access to relevant, individual expertise, unbundled and available to anyone. So what if it is for content marketing. There is a commercial value in good writers, editors and designers.

The e-book explosion has seen traditional publishers look inwards first, obsess about understanding consumers of their books, differentiating themselves from their competitors and focus on digitising and selling their own copyrights as profitably as possible to offset any decline in physical sales. But there is a whole world out there. A world of words that can benefit from the skills that have long been traditionally associated with good publishing.

In the US, the successful self-publishing platform Blurb have just announced that nearly 40% of its revenues now come from businesses, who are using both illustrated and e-books, as marketing collateral or to commemorate events and anniversaries.

Its all just another way of being open to new opportunities. You had me at hello.

When a Brand is not a Brand

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[intro]Yet more conversations last week that made us feel as though mainstream trade publishing really were happening in an air-tight, members only bubble, the rest of the world going about its business outside and occasionally stopping to peer in out of curiosity.[/intro] At a debate in a central London university, where we discussed branding with a group of students on an advanced publishing course, we listened to a successful author talk about the subtle nuances of creative interpretations of her book’s jacket from different publishers in different territories around the world. Some she liked. Some she hated. Some, to her, captured the essence of her book. Some were positioned to appeal to a sales person or a retail buyer, neither of whom would ever read the book but who wanted their customers to pick up clear signals that it contained a certain kind of fiction.

For most authors the question what the cover of their book will look like takes on a disproportionately high significance. It is the window into their creation. They want to sell millions of copies – but often via a design brief that says, ‘this needs to look like nothing that has gone before it’. It enrages and delights them in equal measure. It is also the closest anyone in the chain of influence will get to affecting what they perceive to be their  brand. Some authors have a modest above-the-line spend, but not many. So, what we’re really talking about here is not branding at all but packaging. No less a skill, though one which is inextricably associated with production rather than imaginative entertainment.

But publishers don’t employ packagers. They use cover designers, in-house or outsourced, clever interpreters of briefs that say such useful things as ‘like the last one, only, with a twist’. Designers who will hold covers up in a meeting that could have up to fifteen participants, the vast majority of whom will not have read the book in question but enjoy attending one meeting in their working week where they feel they can influence the physical manifestation of the companies output.

The reality is that with shelf space squeezed and more sales taking place online or in the form of e-editions, conversations with authors about ‘branding’ tend to centre on covers because that is all the publisher can cost-effectively influence. It is a small, physical canvas that might appear in a shop window, will appear on Amazon, but almost certainly won’t represent something with clearly defined values, something differentiated from its competition. Like a brand.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. The conversations will continue with authors and their publishers in their bubbles. Or maybe one day one of the few really identifiable author brands will start working with a packager. From the outside, looking in, that would be interesting.

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