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I'm glad you could stop by. Pull up a chair and pour a cold one. (BTW, it's pronounced "sawl-ya", which is Irish for "S") Scroll down to see what I've been up to, lately. Leave your comments, but understand: all comments are moderated and spam is deleted, unread. Site design information is all the way down at the bottom of each page, as is direct contact info. Sign up for our email news for latest titles and advance review availability. All of our titles are always available in print and in every eBook format from a variety of book sellers.

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Jul 3 15

Online reviewer offerings falling like a hard rain…

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There are so many online book discussion and reader interest sites now offering to review an author’s book, that it can get really confusing… or expensive. Advance Review Copies are never free, but the cost is felt more acutely by a self-published author. The greater industry has known what a phenomenal marketing tool a good review can be, so they have taken to the time to learn about who their reviewers are before they send out “Free Books”. I was reading through an appropriate review offering section on Goodreads the other day, when I came across a new “reviewer” offering to review books, but keeping their profile private with no way to check to see if they even enjoy the

Somethin' fer nuthin'?

Somethin’ fer nuthin’?

genre I write in. I then posted the following short article about what reviews are and why they are needed, as well as how a self-published author can use industry standards to find the right reviewer to send a free copy to…

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/12084774-what-an-author-should-look-for-in-a-reviewer

Jun 14 15

And The Winner Is…

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One Author’s unique experience with cover design…

Mike Jastrzebski, the author of The Storm Killer, a compelling historical thriller, has just released a new novel, Stranded Naked Blues from his tropical writing desk in the Florida Keys. I found his first book The Storm Killer was a well-paced romp into the pulp mystery fave genre of my own youth. It reminded me a lot of the late, great Elmore Leonard’s work as well. Seeing that he was releasing a new title, I thought about his unique developing brand. Along with the endless rewrites and polishing, comes the need to plan the book’s marketing. One of the key components of marketing fiction is the book’s cover. I’ve addressed my own take on cover design and production several times in these pages, but today I wanted to talk with Mike about his perspective and the design process he just completed…

Author & sailor, Mike Jastrzebski

Author & sailor, Mike Jastrzebski

 

 

 

 

 

Mike, I’m glad you had the time to share your experiences with my readers. Creating an original cover for a new book can be a lot of fun or very intimidating. let’s start with revealing your new cover itself…

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I understand that you’ve gone through this whole cover design process before, and that the process that culminated in this newly chosen image was very different from your previous cover projects. Let’s discuss those earlier covers before we reveal the unique way the new one came about. How did you begin the process with your very first book cover? Did you go it alone, or did you bring in the big guns right away?

A: When I published my first book in 2010, The Storm Killer, working on a book cover was completely out of my comfort zone. I had no experience or any idea how to find an artist, so I turned to a fellow writer I knew from the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers’ of America, Vicki Landis. Vicki is a writer, but she is also a professional artist. I was glad to have Vicki’s help with that first cover, but it was a first for her too. That cover was a learning experience for both of us. I paid her $200.00 for that cover and she did the next four covers for me. I was happy with all of them.

On your blog, Write on the Water, you posted that you wanted to find a new designer for the current release. What prompted you to consider a new approach and new hands in the mix?

A: Vicki’s cover for Key Lime Blues is still my favorite cover, but there were two factors that led me to look for another artist.  First was the fact that Vicki became much busier not only with her cover business, but with her art business in general. The second reason was that I was having trouble visualizing a cover for Stranded Naked Blues. In the past Vicki and I had sat down together and came up with a basic idea for each cover. This time, I just didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted for a cover.

I understand that you “auditioned” 38 different designers to find the perfect cover design. It sounds really complicated. How did the logistics work?

A: I guess I just wanted someone else to come up with the idea for the cover, leaving me with only having to suggest minor changes like fonts and coloring. I got a referral to a design service called 99 Designs from another writer. Their premier level service costs $499, which was a bit rich for my wallet, so I chose a lower priced contest approach that still let me have many different versions to choose from. Auditioning 38 different artists for the new cover was quite easy through 99designs. I paid $299.00 to fund a contest. 99designs keeps a part of that money and the rest goes to the winning artist. 99designs had me fill out a form, including a description of the book and any input I wanted to add. They have a list of designers that they invite to enter into the contest, and within a week or so I had 38 artists enter who, in all, provided over 330 designs.

Now these were not all completely different designs. When I received a design I was able to instantly turn it down or offer feedback on the cover. Many of the 330 designs were redesigned covers based on my feedback. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the results.

What design concepts did you provide the artists before they began?

A: In the contest applications I stated that I wanted a cover that was slightly humorous with a nautical theme. I wanted a slightly humorous cover to tie into the humor in the previous two covers. I gave them a brief description of the book and I sent along copies of the first two covers in the series.

How did the presentation happen? Was communication an issue?

A: We had no contact until the first covers came in, then we were able to email back and forth. All emails were done through the 99designs site. I could tell them what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I thought they could do to make the cover better for me.

After the presentations, once you made your final choice, did you find the designer chosen fully conversant in the technical details of production? Did they also render the illustration or was that from another source?

A:The designer I chose was very easy to work with and knew what she was doing. The fee I paid to 99Designs included everything, including the photography.

Were you satisfied with what you got for your time and money? How long did the entire process take?

A:Everything from start to finish took less than two weeks but could have been done in 7-10 days. The price included an eBook cover, an audio cover, and a paperback cover. All covers and a written ownership of copyright for the covers were delivered through 99designs as part of the flat fee. All fees were included in the contest and the contract was drawn up by 99designs and digitally signed by myself and the artist. The contract gives me the right to use the images as I see fit. I don’t know if there would be a fee if I wanted the image changed, I think that would depend on the artist. I did ask each artist that I was interested in if the price included an ebook cover, a paperback cover, and an audio cover. Each of the artists I asked this question said yes. As for other marketing graphics, bookmarks, etc. I would expect any artist to charge more for that work.

My chosen artist also did a paperback cover with an estimated spine width. She has agreed to change the spine width to whatever it turns out to be on Createspace. It will be a couple of weeks before I get to that point and I have only her email assurances that she will do it, but since I’m sure she wants me to do more covers, I trust she’ll do it.

Are there a few preparatory steps you can recommend to other authors looking to begin the cover design process?

A: Talk to other writers about their artists. If you find a cover you really like, email the writer and ask for contact information on the artist. I have no problem reaching out to writers who contact me.

I learned several things. First, most artists are willing to work with you. When I didn’t like a font, the size of my name or a color both final artists were willing to make changes. I would not want to work with an artist who was unwilling to offer changes.  I was working with both artists on complete designs and I did not hit them with one change after the other. There are places out there where you can buy a pre-made cover and I wouldn’t expect them to make changes beyond font and color of the title and author info.

Now that the project is complete, have there been any “take-aways” that you can share with other authors engaging in their own cover design projects?

A: Well, don’t go with the first artist you find unless they have good references. Ask for changes, but don’t be over demanding. If you want an artist to be reasonable and work with you, you need to do the same. If you have an idea of what you’re looking for in a cover let the artist know that from the start. Finally, paying top dollar doesn’t necessarily get you the best cover.

Would you use 99 Designs again?

A: I would use 99designs again, but I’m happy with the artist who did the Stranded Naked Blues cover and would use her again. In fact, she’s completed a brand new cover for my first book, The Storm Killer. Anyone can go to the website for 99designs and check out their cover contests.

Well, your experiences through the process have certainly been interesting and very productive. Other authors in the beginning stages of cover design will certainly want to consider following your example. Thanks for all your time. Your new book released June 14th on Amazon for Kindle. What are your plans for print or additional booksellers for more eBook format marketing?

A: Stranded Naked Blues is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google play, and I’ll be releasing a paperback edition in the near future.

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Mike Jastrzebski

Author of The Storm Killer, Key Lime Blues, Stranded Naked Blues and several others…

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Author’s Web Site: www.mikejastrzebski.com

Author’s Blog: www.writeonthewater.com

Author’s Page on Amazon: www.amazon.com/Mike-Jastrzebski/e/B003V0B58M

May 30 15

Port

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This non-fiction short dates back a couple of years before we sold our sailboat and became shore-bound sailors. It is one of a series of articles I wrote for a variety of marine publications that I uncovered when doing the recent housekeeping…

In harbors, all over the Northeastern US, my wife and I have met quite a few really memorable people. Many of these are cats. Harbor cats generally are friendly, self-reliant and well-fed. Whether it’s the fisherman emptying the remains of the bait-box in a carefully selected location, or the regular meals obtained from a loving home, harbor cats we’ve known, don’t seem to display any neglect.

Negotiating the constant flow of trucks, tourist automobiles and motorcycles surrounding harborside taverns keeps most of them really fit and smart. As does keeping away from the tourist dogs – although too far and all the fun goes out if it. A warier group of cats that can still curl up on your feet, I’ve never seen.

We’re always very grateful for each meeting, especially when the friendships are renewed during regular visits. After a few days aboard, even arriving at our favorite destinations, we get a little homesick for those we’ve left, waiting. As a result, scooping up or rubbing down a friendly harbor cat can really put us in the right mood. It connects us further with the destination. Much more than just hooking into the bottom and rowing ashore would. Among all of these, we’ll always remember Port.

Port, and his sister, Starboard (yes, red and green collars) were a pair of starved kittens rescued from an alley near Greenport, NY’s ancient wharf area. The owner of a chandlery that has been selling shackles at the same spot for well over a hundred years brought them in and his wife, a local Veterinarian nursed them both to perfect health. They grew up comfortable with lots of customers and attention, often hiding in sea boots in the front showcase windows when they needed some private times.

As the genders do vary, the siblings grew into different routines. Starboard, eventually preferring the piles of sweaters or the woven decorative throws where she could safely snuggle up beneath the floor racks while keeping her eyes on the floor action. Port, on the other hand, took up different duties.

Port became the official greeter dockside, across the boardwalk and one of the useful hands inside near the cordage and lines aisle. Whether he was adding his opinion for customers querying which shackle would be best used in their particular situation, or running up as a new boat pulled up to the fixed piers, he became a regular seaside attraction.

We made it a point to pay him a visit each time we were spending time on the boat as Greenport was our homeport for many years. A little bit of time with Port’s special magic would guarantee us a pleasant voyage, and we’d often visit the chandlery, whether we actually needed to make a purchase or not. Occasionally, Port would convince us to overpay for some item or another, so it was clear he was earning his keep. On the rare occasion that we didn’t see him inside or out, we’d always get a full update from one of the rugged men behind the counter.

Port grew into a muscular adult cat with the glow of health and the wisecracking look about the face that Tabbies are known for. He was always friendly to us and everyone else. Knowing that, though, made us uncomfortable. We knew that not everyone he’d run up to on the docks would be glad to see a big Tabby cat run up. But Port behaved as magnanimously to all. On the occasional night when we’d get in long past business hours, we’d click on the glass of those big, dark front windows, until he’d come bounding up, rubbing his head against the glass as if to ask, “Why are you so late? You should have been here earlier!”

One fall, after we’d known him some sixteen years, I caught this shot of the long pier as he came down with his regular greeting. After a few rubs and a purr, he walked off to attend to his waiting cat business. We unloaded and winterized the boat, and although we stopped by during the next six months while the boat was laid up, we never saw Port again, inside or out.

The next Spring, after we commissioned the boat and got ready for the coming season, we’d visit the chandlery on business or just to see Port, but he was not to be found. One day, I asked the man behind the counter how Port and Starboard were doing.

“Starboard’s over under the rugs and throws if you want to see her.”

“How ‘bout Port?”

At my mention of the cat’s name, the big, burly guy behind the counter grew angry. His face reddened and he gripped the edge of the counter as he told us, “Some sumbitch poisoned him last Fall”

Our faces fell and holding onto as much dignity as we could, we extended our condolences. It was all we could do to leave. We walked over to where Starboard was hiding and we could tell she wasn’t quite herself either.

The next trip, I brought the chandlery this image of Port, framed, for the good times and it was tearfully accepted.

Port, the dock cat checking the morning's arrivals...

Port, the dock cat checking the morning’s arrivals…

Animals live their lives either in contact with humans or not. They can display many kinds of emotion and connection, or they keep themselves hidden away and relatively safe from confrontation. Whatever they are, whatever they are thinking, I am certain that intentional cruelty is not among their behaviors.

To this day, Port is still with us in memory, and even if no one sees him, he still patrols those Greenport docks. I really believe it, and I would guess that there are a few others that do, too. If you know a harbor cat, try to spend a little time and give it the acknowledgement and affection it deserves. Their lives are short and fragile but they will repay every kindness many times over.

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As always, your comments are most welcome…

 

May 22 15

Do-It-Yourself, Book Cover Image Checklist

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Old tools make new tools effective.

Old tools make new tools effective.

Many self-published authors want to create their own book covers. It can certainly add to the satisfaction to see a cover you’ve designed wrapped around a book you’ve written. But most of the skills and knowledge that it requires aren’t from the same toolbox as those needed for writing your book. Many writers I’ve spoken to about cover design are apologetic about not being conversant in the language and requirements of the design and the production processes. I certainly don’t expect them to be, unless, like me, they come from an extensive graphics background. Many of the concepts are ones that must be learned hands-on. The art of effective cover design requires a lot of trial and error and learning to use specific tools. I won’t cover the mysteries  of the design process here, except to say that the cover is a critical component of your book’s marketing and needs to be as effectively produced as possible within budget considerations.

Producing an effective cover is more than just choosing the best photographic image or illustration, and putting the titling and author’s name on top of it. There are conflicting technologies at play, so to that end, I’ve assembled a check-list and primer for do-it-yourself-ers to improve their chances of producing a cover to be proud of.

Images selected, now what?

Copyright: Be sure that you own a working copyright release for the use of the image you have chosen. Be aware that when a stock photography or illustration dealers says an image is royalty-free, that it isn’t the same as a creative-commons, public use free license. Royalty-Free means that you pay only once for the use of the image, not each time the image is seen or re-used in your marketing, etc. Some images will release only if such royalties are paid, in addition to the fee for the initial use of the image. Make sure you know exactly which kind of image you will be using and if there is a fee to use it. Don’t try to cut corners by not paying the fee. Infringement lawsuits are no fun at all and are very costly. Even when using Creative Commons (CC) images, or an image you found online, make absolutely sure that the use you have in mind is allowed in the image licensing.

Many CC images don’t allow commercial uses, and a book cover is certainly a commercial use. In cases of original images, contact the artist or photographer and ask them if you can use it. Sometimes, if you offer to publicize their name and work along with the book, they may be willing to release the image to you without hitting you for a fee. Always ask, though.

If you are the photographer, try to obtain releases from any people in the image or the owners of any recognizable properties. While news photos generally don’t require releases for journalistic uses, a book cover is a different kind of use, so it makes sense to protect yourself and get the releases.

Bitmap Resolution: Resolution in a bitmapped* image (a jpeg, gif, tiff or png file) is expressed in dots per inch (dpi). The highest resolution an image viewed on a screen or monitor requires is 96 dpi. Often, 72 dpi will work for thumbnail images in online booksellers listings or reviews, but I prefer 96 dpi for the better detail retention. Resolution and size are different concepts. If you take a 96 dpi image and resize it to a larger print size, it probably won’t look good. It will become jaggy, fuzzy and look worse in print than it did on screen. That’s because a higher resolution is required for print use.

Today most color process book cover printing requires 300 dpi resolution . When I do a book cover design, I always produce it first as a print cover, unless the book is only being published as an eBook. The reason is that an image of high resolution (300 dpi) can easily be scaled down in size without losing detail too much, but if you up-size a low resolution image, the results will be a disaster in print. Most stock photography houses offer images on a sliding scale of fees depending upon factors including size and resolution. They are always expressed separately. If you try to save money by buying a 72 dpi image for use in print, you will end up with a mess (unless that was the style and appearance you wanted. My rule of thumb is to purchase the highest resolution image is as close to the actual printed page width as possible.

Color Model: An image viewed on a screen makes use of a different kind of color technology than one produced for print on paper. The screen image uses transmitted light and requires the RGB (Red Green Blue) color model. Print uses reflected light and requires the CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-blacK, named after the inks used in process — full color — printing) color model. A CMYK image will not look the same on a screen as it will printed, and an RGB image will not look the same in print as it does on a screen. For that reason it is very important to use the proper kind of color image and to print a color proof of your print cover, to adjust the colors to your satisfaction. I use a Canon Photo printer for my own proofing. A lot of tweaking can be done to the way colors will print, and it pays to take the extra step so that you’re not disappointed later on. CMYK files are also larger than RGB files as they have more color depth and more information in them.

Size: a good size to work with for eBook covers is 5.5 x 8.5 inches (or 14cm x 21.65cm). Be sure to lock in the proportion when re-sizing the images so that the resolution won’t get screwed up in the process, say 96 dpi in width, but 135 dpi in height. This proportion approximates a “portrait” printer format. Thumbnails can provide a lot of extra annoyance. When you plan your cover design, be sure to consider the smallest version of the cover art that will appear online say, in a review post or an online bookseller’s listing page. Make sure your design isn’t so “busy” and cluttered that it plugs up into a muddy mess at small sizes. The tile and author’s name should be legible all the way down to thumbnail size. Plan your typography for good contrast with the background areas and remember that the less detail behind the type, the easier to read it will be.

Print covers, require a larger size. In print, a book cover is printed on a sheet that wraps around the book. It includes a back cover and a spine, as well as an extra 1/8″ (3mm) in both height and width, to allow the cover image to be trimmed off all four sides. You’ll need to know your exact page count to get the actual width of pages the spine has to wrap. Thus, the 5.5 x 8.5 inch cover on a 314 page book has become 12.0625 inches wide and 8.75 inches high. The spine width is 0.8125 inches when CreateSpace does the production, but other Print on Demand producers may use different paper stock, so it’s important to get the exact spin width for the exact number of pages from your specific producer. Once you can print a proof copy it’s not wasted effort to take your cover, trim it, glue it to a book of the same page count, and see how it looks on a shelf with other books in your genre, in a real bookstore. Be sure to ask first, so the bookseller won’t get annoyed with you.

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Here is my basic completion check list for book cover artwork:
Copyright protection & Model/Property releases
Color Model
Resolution
Size

If you double check these before sending up an image file, you’ll be able to relax a bit, knowing that when you get your proof, it will look the way you expect it to. Usually. Except… stuff happens, so always be prepared for tweaks and finesses before you finalize and sign-off on your book proof. Leaving a little time in the planning for contingencies is always the best idea. If you employ a designer to produce your covers, make sure they provide you with a selection of sizes, models (think: bookmarks, etc. ) and resolutions for your own marketing needs. Now get back to work! Your readers deserve the best you can provide, and they’ll appreciate the extra effort you put in.

*Bitmapped image — there are two kinds of images used in computer-generated design. Bit mapped images and Vector images. To envision a bitmapped image, remember the first time you looked at a newspaper photograph with a lens. The photograph was actually made of tiny dots of black ink. Bitmapped images are made of dots of varying tone (greyscale – 8bit) or color (RGB – 24bit, CMYK 32bit) depending upon their color model. Any given “bit” or dot in a photographic image or illustration will carry a color, tone of grey or black or white. They are collections of actual dots made to order for the size, color model and resolution to be viewed or printed.

Vector images are not size dependent for clarity as bitmaps are. They are expressed not as “map” of dots, but as specific lists of mathematical formulas that describe an object in terms of space occupied, line weights, lengths, angles and shapes filled by specific tones or colors. They are most used for typography and logos or any other non-continuous tone image (not photography), but images that might be re-scaled and must hold their detail with no loss. Vector software is especially useful in building up a design in layers that can be moved independently of each other for the best contrast relationships, layout, etc., then exported combined, as a bitmapped image in exactly the best resolution for the intended use. Vector typography is especially clean for book covers in varying sizes.

Your questions and comments are always welcome…

May 19 15

Mad Men: Toasting the Pitch-Men

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Courtesy AMC Media

Courtesy AMC Media

 

 

 

Spoiler Alert! Don’t read this until you’ve seen the Series Finale. Click on Don Draper above to link with the episode streams at AMC…

The seven-year miracle of 60s nostalgia that was AMC’s Mad Men ended Sunday night, on a song and a dream of redemption. Having worked in that biz myself during most of the 1970s and 1980s, I enjoyed immersing myself each week. I recognized people I’d worked with, people whose company I dreaded and those who I listened to intently, trying to improve my art and make a better living. The unfocused bull-pen sessions as depicted in the Art Department coven of Sterling Cooper actually took place and in my own experience became the resource we’d all turn to when our creative juices were ebbing. Sometimes it worked beautifully. Effectively. Sometimes it led us into alleys with no room to turn around once you hit the big dumpster.

While the “pitch” remains ever-present in all our lives, somehow the improved efficiency of multi-level barrage pitching through every medium in play carries less grace, less hand-crafted elegance than it did back in the day. I applaud and lift my beverage of choice towards the creators, writers, cast and crew of Mad Men for the entertainment they’ve given us of course but also for reminding us that many of the values we hold dear as American consumers, came out of the fingers of creative human beings. As richly decorated or magically transporting they might have been, they were at their heart, always about dollars and reducing the number of them in the wallets of those that were targeted.

The last frame showing Don Draper radiating a beatific smile while meditating in a half-lotus high above the Pacific, surprised me, at first. I instantly responded to the idea of Don having found some peace in his constantly reinvented life… but think again. Instead of the smile of Nirvana, maybe Don’s smile had more to do with his figuring out the next angle. Always the consummate pitch man, he always had an eye for trends, didn’t he? He also usually recognized a ready mark. The series writers have led us into a masterpiece ending that began spinning new questions, for me at least, as soon as the strains of the ending music flowed over me. Their consistently high level of quality in both scripting and production deserves several drinks on us all. As do the actors for their performances and ability to commit to a long-term project.

I’ve read lots of comments that refer to Don Draper as a con man. I can’t argue with that, but we love a good con, don’t we? A well crafted game, that keeps participants engaged yet surprised when the expected outcome is reached, is nothing to sneeze at. It has an amazing symmetry all its own. Of course, in the world we’ve built, it’s imperative that we retain awareness of the pitching we are subject to, even if we still kindle a grudging respect for those who can get a message to resonate the way the Greats of Advertising did. Ending the series with the definitive Coca-Cola commercial soundtrack from 1970 was the icing on the cake. Only those of us who remember those days of turmoil, moral upheaval and anger can recall how that entire campaign felt like medicine for the soul… exactly the way it was supposed to.

Coke, anyone?

Be sure to read Advertising Giant Richard Kirshenbaum’s take on the finale, HERE.

May 5 15

Housekeeping Completed!

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800px-FEMA_-_40836_-_Workers_cleaning_up_tornado_damage_in_ArkansasAfter several days of slow loading, incomplete upgrades and a few other illnesses, Saille Tales much-needed housekeeping is complete. Please accept our apologies for the delays and the general annoyance of how the site had been running.

We have several systems now in place to prevent future problems. We all worked up a solid sweat and wore out the knees of our jeans, but it’s finished. Whew! Thanks for your patience.

Apr 22 15

Earth Day: Tell your mother you love her.

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Spring brings new beginnings...

Spring brings new beginnings…

This morning, I sat in the sunshine, surrounded by our oaks and watched as the very industrious squirrels climbed high in the neighboring Maple branches to nibble the tender green flower clusters.  A number of birds were dipping in and out of my field of vision, hopping along branches, dropping down once they knew it was safe enough, to find something tasty on the ground. It’s Earth Day, today, but as my wife reminded me over our breakfast, it should be every day. She added, “it’s the only place we’ve got!”

It is. More than our home, it’s where our lives began. Where, in the narrow range of our current knowledge, it may well be where all life began. From its icy peaks to the depths of its seas, living things have made their homes and livelihoods, raising their families under it’s skies. Many ancient cultures of our peripatetic species refer to the earth as our Mother. Of course, our more advanced civilizations, being in possession of documented evidence of our species ascendancy in the form of religious dogma and tradition, feel that we are the end-point recipients. Owners of all of creation. It’s a terrible, self-serving mistake that will continue to be very costly to our own survival.

While worldwide commerce and technical progress continues to be linked to the exploitation of natural resources, individuals can make a difference on a daily basis. It can begin as simply as spending a few moments every day, just being aware of the natural world. Get outside, and if it doesn’t come on its own, clear your thoughts of the day’s obstacles and activities then focus your mind to assume a feeling of thankfulness for life itself. It’s easy. Over time, if practiced regularly, it will become your natural, base-level attitude towards our planet. It’s a simple way to tell our Mother that you love her, and soon, you’ll feel a closer connection to the rest of life.

The Lakota have a phrase they use in ceremony to send prayer, “Mitakuye oyasin.” It translates in a simplistic way, to “All my relations”, but the full meaning is a widening spiral taking in your blood family, then spinning outwards until it encompasses all living things. All your relations. We share the same mother, whether we are aware of it or not, and she needs to feel our love in return for all we’ve been given.

 

Apr 19 15

Once…

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earth3Once. There was a verdant planet which held living things in every possible wrinkle and fold. As many different kinds of life as there were colors for the living to see. One of them, a particularly capable species who liked to cover distance, also enjoyed observing the world around them. They found joy in both the sunrise and the rising of the moon. Both the warmth of the sun on their faces and the feeling of the rain on their backs. They shared their lives with each other and respected what had come before and what lay ahead equally. Life around them unfolded in glory and wild profusion. The power and beauty of all Creation surrounded them and they were in awe. They recognized other living things as their partners. While they watched, they learned. They found patterns and cycles they could use. They held their knowledge in memory and gave thanks with each breath. There was knowledge and joy and reverence.

Then someone came up with the idea of religion, and it all went to hell.

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I wanted to add a few more comments to this post.

While I’m not a fan of organized religion, I am not an atheist in the sense of the definition of the word. I believe very strongly in the existence of some abiding, overarching spark of the creative presence, or God, for want of a better word. There just is no ready name for my own belief system, and I don’t think that trying to define that presence in terms beyond the visible, engaging evidence of creation itself, is part of my job description as a human. I also recognize that while we’re one big family of homo sapiens, we are all very individual.

Depending upon our location and bloodlines, we all have very different needs and ways of living. This means that each of us will have their own, personal method of finding a connection with that presence — something larger than themselves. Making that connection is a good thing, as it expands our consciousness and makes us generally better people. If we treat each other with fairness, love and concern, it doesn’t matter how we came to that place. Because of that, I find the need many atheists seem to have, to bash other people’s religious beliefs and systems, useless and mean-spirited. It comes from exactly the same place in our rather limited mental framework, as seeing other people and needing to convert them to our own systems of belief. Of course, adhering to similar stated values relieves members within a group from some of the need to truly strive to understand each other and keep an open mind. It’s much simpler than having to deal honestly with everyone at face value and limits your exposure to the unknown.

All religious beliefs were created by people in the attempt to make a better spiritual connection with God, no matter the name they choose to give it. That alone deserves respect, but throughout our history, there has been so much divisive, evil done in the name of faith, that each system of belief, on its own, has little to recommend it as a single, one-size fits all solution to our suffering. Since each of us has different paths to tread, I can respect those who actually are trying to reach that destination of connection peacefully, no matter the means they use to get there. I also have nothing but disdain for those who take on the mantle of faith for purposes of personal gain, political power or amassing wealth and whose expressions of religious truth are hypocrisy. These actions have been historically-proven to be very dangerous to the survival of specific communities and destructive to our entire species.

I also respect the need for ritual and even magic. Religious ritual has been devised to give us a taste of the raw beauty and power inherent in creation. It helps focus the mind along the pathways that help us connect with those things greater than our ability to understand. Of course, I realize that the actual value of the ritual is not in the prescribed actions, but rather in the spiritual state of the person engaging in the process. I think that’s also worthy of respect. We all need to learn to respect each other on the most basic level, recognizing that we all share a common origin. Our paths may vary, but they will all lead along similar byways. If we can learn to extend that respect and love to all living things, we will have managed to return to what has been called Eden. The garden we all were born into. We lost track somehow, of how to return there, but the signs are all around us if we choose to read them.

Thanks for indulging my occasional need to get all preachy and philosophical. Your comments and ideas are always welcome…

Apr 14 15

An Open Letter to Book Cover Illustrators, from an Old-School Designer…

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Man-painting-artwork-by-Jean Francois Phillips

Man-painting-artwork-by-Jean Francois Phillips

In the mid-1970s, when I worked in the ad game as a graphic artist and packaging/identity designer, we brought illustrators in on projects from time to time. Most of our projects required photography, as we were doing a lot of corporate work and consumer packaging, but there were always specific areas where illustration was the better solution. Of course, we always had to weigh the realities of the cost of original illustrative materials in both turn-around time and in art fees, against the budget the client agreed to. If the budget could not be tweaked to afford it, we would instead search out stock material or flat color illustration, as opposed to full-color for process printing.

There were always lots of variables, just as there are now, but those days were long before the advent of video gaming and CGI graphics. Those two sea-shifts in technology and the resulting consumer awareness have made it a Golden Age for original illustrators. Still, some similarities to the earlier industry remain and those are the reason for this letter. Illustrators now have more opportunity than ever before, especially in the publishing industry. There are quite a few, high-sales genres that almost require illustrated covers, so between the needs of self-published authors and small presses, who normally use outside talent for illustration, there are lots of ways to keep busy. For the purposes of this letter, we’ll assume that you are familiar enough with your own creative process that you can safely estimate the amount of time you’ll need to develop a project, but also an acceptable amount of time spent in tweaking the results, which is inevitable. So, moving forward from the point where you can ethically offer your professional services, there are a few things that need to be addressed, at least in this old marker-jockey’s mind.

Book cover illustration is a collaboration between the images and emotions a writer creates in words and the images that proceed from an artist’s process. However, unlike art created for purely personal reasons, book cover illustration has one more silent collaborator — the reader who is the target of everything that emerges from the mix. There may only be one or two opportunities to engage the reader, so in cover design and illustration, there is little room for haphazard thinking or accidental solutions. The goal should always be motivating the reader to want to read/buy the book. To that end, the post-creative production processes involved, should be players from the beginning and that should include an idea of what the target reader will respond to.

Back in the day, the illustrators we always preferred working with were those that kept the actual needs of production, as opposed to the vagaries of the creative process, in the forefront of the entire process. We always provided extreme detail in speccing out a project to provide all the working knowledge the illustrator would need, but also to elicit possible discussion if the illustrator had additional ideas that might affect cost or the final work, based upon what the client’s needs were and the illustrator’s prior experience. Thirty years ago, in only rare cases when a package was going to be shot for TV advertising, did how it appeared on a monitor even enter into the discussion. Those were the days of expensive full-color ink proofs and small runs on sheet-fed presses to tweak color and coverage.

Today, of course, the monitor is where the work is created and viewed, until it’s ready to proof if it’s going to be produced in print. But color on a screen doesn’t look the same as color on a reflected surface — then or now. Today, I would hope that an illustrator working on a book cover which will appear in eFormats as well as print, would take the extra step of proofing their work in the CMYK color model, on paper, to their own satisfaction as well as in RGB on screen. Final files should be submitted in both RGB and CMYK full resolution versions, adjusted for the best appearance. For print use, the resolution at the trim size, plus bleed should be 300 dpi. For screen use only, a smaller file in RGB is adequate, but the 300 dpi resolution will give maximum flexibility for a series of optimized cover files for various online uses from thumbnail to large size listing art.

The fact that there may be substantial variations in size should also be a key element to the composition of your illustration itself. Too much detail, especially in low-contrast situations will provide plugged-up, muddy results in small sizes. Use enough detail to hold the reader’s eye, but not so much it destroys the effectiveness of the subject. Keep it interesting and fresh. It’s a tough balancing act, but part of the illustrator’s job.

Another important consideration is a book covers’ typography. In fact, the title and author name blocks are often important selling points on their own. Your illustration is actually there to support the title and hold the reader’s eye long enough to inspire some response and a specific behavior — to find out more, and click the buy button. Your illustration, therefore, needs to be conceived to allow room for that typography during the conception, not as an after-thought.

Of course, the type will “float” above the artwork, but what lies beneath is critical to how legible the results are. If the type — especially a somewhat busy typeface — floats over a complex, detailed background, it will fight with the typography for the reader’s eye, which is not a result anyone wants. In small cover sizes, it may make the typography illegible or hard to read, so think of the type block areas from the beginning and keep the illustration behind where the type will go as simple as you can. Consider also the relative brightness of these areas. If the mood of the cover will be bright, then the typography selected to superimpose over the background should be dark enough to create contrast, “popping” the typography out into the foreground. The reverse holds true if the mood is dark.

One technique that I especially appreciate is when an illustrator plans for the typography from the beginning, allowing some interaction, visually between the illustration subject and the type. Especially effective in Fantasy and SciFi illustration, where a portion of detail can actually fly out, into or above the type to suggest some extreme motion and further engage the reader. It may take the form of a composition that holds the eye on a circular pattern, for example, working with both the type and the subject to suggest eye movement folding back in upon itself. In any case, the longer a reader’s eye and interest is held, the more opportunity for emotional response and reaction.

Which brings me to my first request. Learn how to work with typography. Know the names of fonts, and where they can be purchased. Understand the difference between a font designed for the screen and one designed for the page and a range of display and text families. Learn how to make a title effective with the right line breaks and the right size. Learn the tricks that can highlight type against an active background. Too often, I’ve seen a perfectly good illustration ruined when the typography is applied in an amateurish manner. Keep in mind what the “picture” you’re rendering is for. It’s not to be hung in a gallery (although it may indeed be fine enough for that) or used as a screen-saver. It’s packaging for a book, and it should be designed to engage readers, give them pertinent information, hold them long enough to suggest reactions and sell books. If you prefer working with a designer for typography, make sure your client knows that. If adding the typography after the fact is an option you can hand-off to the client, make sure they know that as well. Finding out, after the fact that the illustration is not proportioned to fit the print format with typography added is an expensive discovery that should have been taken care of when you began to conceive the overall composition.

For the best results when I’m working on a cover, I generally import an illustration into a vector-based program for the final design, adding of typography, etc., because bitmap-based paint programs do not handle typography as well as a vector program with its layers can. They always provide clear, sharp edges in any needed size, that can easily be seen once exported as a bitmapped image again. If you’ve never used a vector program for page composition and design, my second request would recommend that you learn to do so to offer your clients a more professional range of services.

Finally, ask questions. There will be many things that an initial meeting may not cover, that will need to be nailed down in order for you to work most effectively. Try to familiarize yourself with the kinds of illustration styles, tones and moods are working in the genre this cover will be used in before you begin. The client, may or may not be fully aware of all the variables, but you should be able to add to the discussion based upon your own process, and how much information you need to move confidently before you commit stylus to pad. This will minimize the do-overs that can turn a profitable project into a disaster. Remember, your client may not be conversant in the area of graphic arts, so part of the entire project will be to educate them as much as to absorb what they need and what they want. Several productive meetings will always be well worth the time as when conversations flow, ideas do, too. Time spent before the creative part of the project begins is never wasted, and much less expensive than going back to plug the holes. Keeping that in mind leads to my third request. Please don’t underestimate the time this all will require in order to get a job. Rush jobs are never a good way to begin any relationship.

In the circumstances that you have an edge for a particular project that will allow you to pare off some of the time required, you will need to consider carefully if you will pass this along to the client or if you will be a hero and come in faster than you initially estimated. Every client wants the work tomorrow. Agreeing to a severely limited period of time to produce a project almost always guarantees that it will not either be what the client has in mind, or your best work. Neither of those will instill confidence for future consideration. Many self-published and small-press writers write in series. That means they will be establishing (if at all possible) a product brand with some recognizable level of uniformity in cover style and design. It is in everyone’s best interest for the initial project to be beyond the client’s expectations and within budget. Don’t make the mistake of low-balling a project to get your foot in the door only to find you don’t want that door open. This is a business of referrals, and a disappointed client won’t recall whose fault the whole mess was, only that the project failed.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for the fine work that you are doing. The new reality as self-publishing establishes more choices for every reader, will mean more projects for accomplished illustrators. Sure, those at the top will find video and gaming applications much more profitable than book cover illustration, but for those who enjoy collaborating with writers and expressing stories in a single frame in shorter-term commitments, opportunities will be there for you. Know your gifts as well as your limitations and go forward into the security of a career doing what you love. I am still quite moved, after all these years later, when I see my own work on a shelf in a bookstore, or in an online listing I didn’t set up. Books endure, and with some focus, ongoing learning and applied business considerations, so will your contributions.

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Your comments and questions are always welcome…

Mar 26 15

Marketing Consultant Michael Barry on Branding

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PCM New LogoMy friend Michael Barry is the originator of Holistic Marketing. It’s a more organic approach to getting the word out and his monthly newsletter from Princeton Creative Marketing is always sure to include very useful points. This month, he discusses the concept of branding. While this is primarily directed towards service and small consumer businesses, many of his concepts can be easily adopted by Indie Authors and small press publishers…

Branding: It’s Not Something
You Do to Cattle…

Michael Barry

Michael Barry

You know how important the quality of your product or service is to your customer. Your customers judge their experience of your business through the product or service they receive from you. But there are many other indirect and subtle ways in which customers interact with a business. Businesses can foster positive impressions from their target markets through applying smart branding strategies.

Successful and cohesive branding can tell your audience immediately who you are and how you want to be perceived. For example, do you want your audience to see you as a cutting-edge innovator or as experienced and reliable?

One critical aspect of successful brand messaging is consistency. You want your target audience to readily recognize you based on a logo or tagline or certain color combinations. The audience associates an impression or feeling based on your branding. If your message is not consistent, your audience will keep changing what they think and feel about you. You may be perceived as confused or even dishonest and lose your audience.

So how do you create successful and cohesive branding? It all starts with some essential components:

Name – The name of your business can, of course, have a strong influence on impressions. You want your business name to reflect your uniqueness and value. This is likely the first brand asset that you created for your business.
Logo – A great logo can be a powerful asset for fostering brand recognition. Once you have a great logo, you can place it everywhere. You want to make sure you have several versions and formats of your logo available for different uses: color, black and white, on a white background, on a black background, JPEG, PNG, EPS. It is also helpful to have a printed reference sheet to show how the logos should look.
Color Scheme – In addition to your logo, you can use consistent colors in your materials to help support or reinforce the look and feel of your brand. Make sure to select colors that complement and do not clash with your logo colors. Once you have determined a color scheme, use it on your website and on printed items such as postcards, newsletters, business cards, etc. Again, you will want to be consistent in using your chosen color scheme to help strengthen your brand message. Make sure you know the exact values of all the colors you are using in both RGB and CMYK models. (If you are not familiar with RGB and CMYK color models, speak with a designer or someone who can explain this or obtain the correct color values for you.)
Font – The consistent use of chosen or specified fonts helps reinforce your branding message. Fonts and typefaces can actually have a significant impact on how customers relate to and perceive your brand. Make sure you utilize font faces on your website that are easy to read online and align with the impression you want communicate about your brand.
Usage Guidelines – In case this concept has not been repeated enough, the key to successful branding is consistency! Creating and adhering to a set of Usage Guidelines will help ensure you and your staff are absolutely clear about how to use all the branding assets listed above. Your Guidelines can contain specific instructions on how to use your logo such as where and how often your logo can appear on a page, minimum and maximum size boundaries, etc. You can also create instructions on how colors in your color scheme are to be used, how text should be formatted for different uses (e.g., bold, underline and color for headlines), and include formatting templates for standard documents.
Photos – Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words so make sure you have a good digital photo library that can help support the story you want to tell. Make sure you have different available formats too. For example, high res for print, low res for web, color versions, black and white, and different sizes. But please make sure your photos are good quality, preferably taken by a professional photographer. And, once again, it is important that the quality of all your photos is consistent. The one terrible and blurry photo among a dozen great ones will stand out in the customer’s mind!
Boilerplate –This is the short blurb or key message you want to communicate about your brand. This should be similar or identical to your short-form value proposition and every employee should be familiar with it. Keep your boilerplate statement in a Word or text file so it is ready to send instantly to anyone (e.g., designers, media) who might need a quick description of your brand. Don’t leave it to an outsider to create this statement for you!
Digital Document Library – Keep a digital library of all your printed materials including newsletters, white papers, articles, marketing collateral. It is always a good practice to keep all your materials organized in an easily searchable and retrievable format.

The proper – and consistent – use of brand messaging is essential to establishing your business identity and differentiating you from your competitors. Good branding strategies help your customers take the guesswork out of figuring out who you are and what unique value you offer.

Creating your branding strategy and setting up the key branding assets listed above can seem a complex task. A designer or marketing expert can help guide you through some of the initial setup. But once your assets have been established and organized, it is up to you and your business to regularly apply these strategies to clearly communicate who you are.

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