Friday, July 31, 2015

Cover Art

When I looked out my kitchen window on Dec. 23, 2010, I was stunned by what I saw. The sun was coming up and the sparse clouds had a rose-tinged golden glow. I stared for way too long before it sunk in that I was looking at a perfectly recognizable cross.

It took even longer for my brain to kick in with “Get a photo of it. Now!

I got several shots before the cross drifted off toward Galva, leaving me overjoyed with my good luck. I had some amazing images of something I’d never seen before. When I checked online, I found my photos held up remarkably well to those taken by other people.

My first thought…I have to use this in my book.

Easy enough. I worked it into some early action. It fit perfectly.

Second thought…which came somewhat later…I have to use this for the cover.

Major problem…when cover design time came, it’s obvious the photo was taken in December—there’s snow on the ground—my novel takes place the end of May through early June—college graduation time—there shouldn’t be any snow.

After sending my cloudy cross photo to the cover designer, Ken Small, I get a couple of samples to look at. It’s obvious—there’s snow. Not good.

I spent the weekend with the problem on the back burner, while my husband and I walked the Bix7.

The easy, best solution presented itself as I sat around the house recovering: crop the photo. Simplify the whole thing.

That’s where it stands: blue morning sky, cloudy cross that’s mostly there, and the title for my mystery—Clouds Over Bishop Hill.

Everything still fitting together very nicely.

Friday, July 24, 2015


The time has come. I’m checking into the world self-publishing.

My writing group meets at the MWC two Saturdays a month and Lori Perkins and Lyle Ernst, local representatives of Absolute Publishing Services, came in earlier this year and made a presentation about the services they could offer.

This last week, I finally got around to making an appointment to meet with Lori and Lyle to open the discussion and begin the process.

Even with some idea of what might happen, I still wasn’t prepared to have to make so many decisions so soon.

Decisions such as:

·        Book size: 5”x 8”, 5 ½”x 8 ½”, 6”x 9”

·        Type: font style and size

·        Chapters: always starting on the right, starting left or right

·        Margins: wide, narrow, in between

·        Photos: color or black-and-white

·        Paper: white, off white, buff, etc.

·        Copy editing: the final fine tuning

·        Cover design

I figured there was probably more, but they wisely waited to spring it on me. That was quite enough for an initial exposure.

Since I really had no firm preferences, I did my usual thing…I asked for other people’s opinions. People who would probably be in my target audience—the infamous “Ladies Who Lunch” crowd.

I picked out three representative paperback books and polled my neighbor ladies on book size and type style. The results were enlightening:

·        Book size: one vote for each size. Initially not too helpful, but listening to their reasoning was worthwhile.

·        Font size & style: they all voted for the same, most readable one. That was good to know we agreed on a key issue.

With the information I’d gathered, I sent off my preliminary choices. Lori, of course, turned around and asked, “Could I give her something for the back of the book? Anything would do.”

This is no small request. Back of the book blurbs and info form the hooks that can make a sale. I’ve been struggling with that for ages. This stuff is important and it took quite awhile to put together something I didn’t cringe at…too much.

I’m not good at self promotion. Sad, but that’s what selling books is all about any more. Even those with a traditional publishing company behind them have to go out and do the heavy lifting of marketing.

Anyway, the process has begun and I will see where it leads.

The really good thing about all this…it feels right.

Now is the time for this step. And the chances are good that I will have books in hand before Ag Days in Bishop Hill.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Another Way to Edit?

There are a few ways to read:
·        Slow #1-trying to savor the experience
·        Slow #2-having to stop to look up words, or, worse yet, trying to figure out who’s talking
·        Out loud-preferably to a youngster
·        Fast-speed reading to get it done and out of the way

Similarly, there are different ways to edit:
·        Slow & meticulous-trying to stay alert to every possible problem
·        Reading out loud-listening to your words to hear if they flow, or not
·        Reading backwards-trying to trick your brain out of automatically “filling in the gap” instead of recognizing a mistake
·        Fast and furious-only hitting the high points that need the most attention

I’m not sure this last one is a valid tool or not. All I can say is that I happened upon it pretty much by accident and it worked for me.

I had started an editing read for my novel a couple of weeks ago, but couldn’t quite muster up the momentum for an in-depth, motivated, and all out thorough editing read.

After all, what I wanted most was to add a few tidbits of color here and there by using the tips on sheriffing terminology I’d gotten from talking to Donald Harstad. I also wanted to add a couple of other small “adjustments” I’d discovered through my recreational reading. I sometimes come across a word or phrase that sounds just perfect and wish “I’d thought of that.” I use them when I remember, and I remember to make them “my own” and not simply copy verbatim.

So, I noticed that as I was picking up speed for this quick read through the heaviness lifted, it didn’t feel like a chore any more.

Another odd thing happened. I was able to pick up some long standing mistakes: like finding a “the” that should have been a “them.” That shouldn’t have happened. All I can figure is that the subconscious mind is an amazing tool. It works best when you let it loose.

In the end, I was able to pleasantly accomplish a great deal with this fast and furious approach to editing.

Did I stumble onto something new?

Probably not.

But it was all new to me.

And that’s what matters most for me and my novel.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Where to Write?

I spotted someone taking advantage 

of a small shady spot.

Where's your favorite place to write?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ladies Who Lunch

I began my experience with the Midwest Writing Center by driving into Davenport from Bishop Hill for the Pen In Hand mini-conferences. I could handle the travel and the work load of the one day events.

It took me awhile to work my way up to the three days of the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference, an annual June event that turned 10 years old this year.

After I had a couple of DRC conferences under my belt and a nearly finished manuscript in hand, I felt ready to approach the visiting pros during the pitch sessions for the 2014 conference—a pitch session being 10 intense minutes of talking up my book to an agent or a publisher. Of course, that also meant pitching myself as well as my book. Both would be difficult, but, thanks to working on this blog, I felt reasonably ready.

My first appointment was with Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press. He runs a small publishing company that looks for “writing that better explains how we can best live in the Midwest.”

I didn’t know if he would consider Bishop Hill part of his Midwestern range, but I needed the practical experience.

Everything went well until the very end when he asked me one of his stock questions: “Who do you see as being your audience?”

I had pages of notes about characters, themes, plots and subplots…I had nothing on the marketing aspects of publishing. It seemed too far away to plan for at that time.

Since I knew I’d be on display, I tried to dress the part. Instead of my usual jeans and t-shirt, I had on dress slacks and my best new jacket. And since he caught me by surprise, I tugged at the shoulders of my nice jacket and ad-libbed: “Ladies who lunch.”

It failed to impress.

Afterward, I spent some time trying to figure out where it came from. How, in a pinch, I would have thought of that line.

I had to think back to my time in Bishop Hill and what the main attraction was during those years. It was tea rooms.

Bishop Hill in the 80s and 90s built up an impressive supply of tea rooms for family, friends, and other groups. The day in and day out staple: ladies. So, yes, that was a valid response. However, it was not complete. It didn’t answer the question of how does one market to “ladies who lunch?”

I left the issue unexamined throughout the past year as I went through extensive rewrites and revisions. Only in the past month have I spent time thinking about how to reach potential customers. Book buyers are customers.

I signed up for a different pitch session for the 2015 DRC Writers’ Conference and a requested element for the presentation was to have a marketing plan. I fell back on my experience as a craftsperson. I had operated booths at craft shows & fairs before eventually opening a shop in Bishop Hill. I brainstormed a page of ideas. Again, I felt ready.

As a bonus feature of the conference, Steve gave a free workshop at the MWC on what to expect from an independent press. I attended. I was struck by something he mentioned: He relied on events and gift shops for selling books.

When I went home to check my list of marketing ideas there they were—events and gift shops—as my top items.

I was on the right track to finding those elusive “ladies who lunch.”

Now, I just have to refine my sales pitch and broaden my range of appeal.