When we reviewed John Clifford’s proposal in 2012, we knew we had a winner on our hands. John had a big idea: an accessible, visual overview of graphic design history, profiling the modern era’s most influential designers. Continually frustrated that this book did not exist in the marketplace, John did the enterprising thing—he set out to create it himself. Luckily, he had the tools to do so. He’s an award-winning graphic designer, teacher, and creative director at New York’s Think Studio, focusing on the design of brand identity, websites, collateral, and books. By fall 2013, his book, Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design was published by Peachpit Press.
Tell us about your path to publication.
I went after a traditional publisher. This book needed to be very visual, so I knew I needed an image budget. I also wanted a publisher’s support and expertise throughout. I was already taking on roles outside my comfort zone—writing, researching, negotiating usage and permissions—so I wanted help with publicity, distribution, and everything else. Graphic design books are a small niche in the publishing world—there aren’t many publishers putting out books like this—so I didn’t think an agent was necessary. I sent out proposals myself, and I was lucky—there was interest right away, and I had to decide between two offers. No complaints.
Why were you inspired to write this book?
It’s all about me: I’ve always wanted this book for myself. It’s an easy reference on history, and provides great design inspiration. When I teach, I want students to have this—I think it’s easier to understand some of the basics of graphic design when there are human stories involved. Mainly, though, I want people to know the names of these designers. Many people are familiar with some of the famous architects, artists, and fashion designers, but nobody knows the graphic designers. I hope my book can change that in some small way. I thought about this book for years, but figured that someone else (who knows how to write) must already be working on it. After a few years of not seeing it come out, I knew it was time to get serious and try to do it myself.
What professional services did you seek out in the process?
I ran the proposal by my friend Nancy Eklund Later, an editor in the design world, and she had some great input. I then hired Jen and Kerry, who helped make the proposal more lively, and also helped me think beyond publication and consider promotion and marketing. The publisher connected me with an excellent editorial team: development editor Bryn Mooth, copy editor Elaine Merrill, and production editor Tracey Croom. I did all the designing myself (because I’m a designer, not because just anyone can do that). While I love the idea of the DIY approach, I’m a big believer in working with people who know what they are doing.
What surprised you during the publishing process?
I’ve been designing books for years, so I knew something about the process already. This book relies heavily on imagery. The expense and hassle of securing the images and permissions was pretty shocking. It took a lot of creativity and time (and an obsessive nature) to find ways to make the book I wanted with a limited budget. Also, this didn’t surprise me, but writing is hard!
What’s been the best moment/aspect about getting published?
It may sound corny, but I think it was seeing my 4-year-old find my book in the bookstore. There they were: my two big accomplishments together.
What one piece of advice would you offer to burgeoning authors?
Only one piece? I guess beyond the “just write” and “keep at it” and all that, I’d say learn everything you can about what a publisher would want from an author like you. Look at your proposal critically and objectively: why would someone want to invest in your idea? Oh, and hire a good designer! And pay that designer. Your book should look great. Don’t put it out there with crappy type on the cover.
What’s next for you?
I hope to write and teach some more about these design icons. Fortunately, my design work is keeping me very busy right now, which is great. That means I never really got to do the “I just wrote a book and now I can sleep for days” thing, so I maybe I can do that soon.
You can learn more about John Clifford and Graphic Icons here: