October 14, 2008

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

Posted in advice, books, Design, Rants, Typesetting, typography, Work at 9:47 am by India

pond scum

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I should feel jazzed that a person I used to work with, who at that time did not know InDesign from Address Book, is still using my files as templates for new books today in his busy freelance design business. Being a spiteful, negative, unforgiving person, however, I instead find it just kind of disgusting. Because even though this person is apparently now making a nontrivial chunk of his income by designing and typesetting books (and perhaps double-billing for it, too), he clearly still doesn’t know typography from a hole in the ground.

Look. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m too unimaginative a designer, but, you know, I can still recognize my own H&J settings four years later. I can recognize my endnote styles, and my footnotes, and my chapter heads. If you reuse them for a different book, for a different publisher, and change only a couple of details about them—let’s say, the typeface of the chapter numbers—when I flip through that book I still recognize my own work, and I’m reminded that you’re a lazy, dishonest, passive-aggressive lunk. I’m also reminded that you don’t know how to fit copy, set margins and indents, style running heads, design a table of contents, hang punctuation, clear a numbered list for tens or hundreds, tell the difference between fake and real small caps, kern, fix bad breaks, or check your own work for glaring, obscene, howling errors. A running head that’s so long it actually turns over and crashes against the text block? Come on, man, make a little effort. To call you a hack would be an insult to hacks everywhere.

(And shame on the publishers who hire you, who clearly don’t know how to check page proofs, either.)

If you’re going to steal my work, fine, whatever, knock yourself out. But while you’re at it, could you please also steal a copy of The Elements of Typographic Style, and maybe an InDesign instruction book, too? Steal a ruler. Steal a pair of eyeglasses. Steal a couple of hours from your salaried workday to learn a bit about your lucrative new freelance career. And maybe one day you’ll have stolen enough to learn how to set up your own files from scratch.


And while I’m ranting? Authors who take credit for their own book design—jacket or interior—when all they in fact did was make the actual designer’s life a living hell? Should be brutally remaindered unto death. Major fail.

Why do people suck so much?

Photo: Pond Scum by otfrom / Bruce Durling; some rights reserved.


  1. Amanda Mae said,

    I’m sorry. People used to steal my Flannery O’Connor papers and call them their own, and get rave reviews. I eventually had to take them down.

  2. India said,

    There’s a special place in hell reserved for people who take credit for other people’s work: it’s where they get to take the punishment for other people’s sins.

  3. Hah, I thought that was a beautiful piece of marbled paper until I clicked upon the link and discovered the real message… good one.

  4. India said,

    Well, and really, what is marbled paper but a pond scum–print? It’s traditionally made using moss, right?

  5. I’m quite disappointed, India. This is incomplete journalism. WE NEED NAMES.

  6. India said,

    I’m not journalist, so I’m allowed to be elliptical. They know who they are, anyway.

  7. fogfish said,

    India, fakes are easily sussed out and stars always shine.

  8. Steve Tiano said,

    You’re right to be angry, India, but don’t let it ruin too much of your time. You are, of course, correct on all counts. I’d like to think that weasels such as your “imitator” end up revealing themselves before too long. And, of course, the publishers who use him are also at fault for not spotting the misuse of your template—he’s bound to mess up on copy fitting without knowing how to adjust your plan. I’d bet the color of his pages varies and is a giveaway that he doesn’t know how to work with the tools you provided.

    All of this, I imagine, is small comfort. But you have the talent, he doesn’t. And you’ll likely be demonstrating it long after his work reveals him as the impostor he is.

  9. India said,

    Oh, Steve, how optimistic you are—“the color of his pages”?! Not only would he not know the difference, but I’m quite sure that no publisher I’ve ever worked for would, either. That’s the absolute rock-bottom least of his problems.

  10. SC said,

    … the publishers who use him are also at fault for not spotting… the color of his pages varies…


    I’m pretty sure it’s been ten years since I’ve heard a publisher mention the color of a text page. I’d be willing to bet that 100% of my clients assume that text color means ink color.

    The one publisher I can think of who did comment on the color of some sample pages, years ago, mentioned that his eyesight wasn’t great and so I should ignore his suggestions. He’s still doing a little publishing but he’s pushing 100.

  11. diamondgirl said,

    Just stumbled across this post (google searched “Flattery will get you” and I’m glad I did. This post is hilarious. I’m not into graphics or typesetting and I have close-to-zero knowledge on the topic, but I did layout for a magazine once so I at least understood your vocabulary. I repeat, HILARIOUS!

  12. India said,

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    Strangely, I’ve yet to hear from the person I was actually addressing. Oh, wait—I forgot: he has absolutely no curiosity about design or typography, so why on earth would be be looking at my blog?

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