SUCCESSFUL COVER ART: The Product of Teamwork

In November 2018, Murder on Mokulua Drive [the second Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery] won several awards. Notably, it won Second Place for Published Fiction in the 2018 Arizona Literary Excellence Contest. This was due in large part to the superb editing of Viki Gillespie, who has helped to refine each of the books in the series. Like Prospect for Murder, MOMD also won First Place for Cover Art Design in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, where it was also a Finalist in the Cozy Mystery Category.

 Let’s examine how the winning cover art for this series has been achieved.

 TEAMWORK
Regardless of what you do in life, one of the major keys to your success is teamwork. Even when you are the primary producer of a product, you will be relying on the merchandise, talents, and skills of others. If you are an artist, you utilize a variety of products to create your art, and usually employ a framer to present your finished work to the world. Authors, whether self-published or working with a publisher, are likewise dependent on the output of others to finalize their creations. First, capturing their thoughts depends on a variety of manual and electronic tools. Succinct editing services are also required. Then there is the issue of layout, fortunately provided to me (along with overall publishing skills) by Geoff Habiger of Artemesia Publishing. Of course, he cannot complete his work without the final art designs brought to fruition by fine and graphic artist Yasamine June.

MY APPROACH TO ARTISTIC PROJECTS
While I possess some skill as a design consultant and can produce certain graphic art elements for marketing materials and my websites, I lack the tactile skills to produce truly refined artistic images. So where do I begin art projects? First there is the overall concept, generally driven by text I have already composed. For a book cover, the first consideration is determining the images that will evoke the essence of the story I need to highlight.

Fortunately, when I began writing the series, I composed timelines, chapter synopses, and descriptions of settings and characters. Even a cursory review of these elements reveals a list of those that may be appropriate to a book cover and supportive marketing materials. While some authors create new art for each of their works, I chose to present certain images with consistency including Miss Una, Natalie’s silent but fleet-footed feline companion and images like palm trees and ocean waters reflecting Hawai`i. In addition, I have conceived a recurring gold frame based on Hawaiian heirloom jewelry. I also utilize pagination folio art that I designed, and a gold hibiscus flower that Yasamine has refined. At the point that I have a list of elements that might be good for book jacket art, I begin roughing out a tentative layout in a graphic art software program.

ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT
As I examine my list of suitable artistic elements, I manually draw a few pictures that fit the requisite portrait layout of a book cover—knowing that the final product can easily be converted to a square layout for an audio book. So where did the award-winning cover of Murder on Mokulua Drive begin?

First of all, Natalie’s life has shifted from a high rise in Waikīkī to a cottage in the beach community of Lanikai on the windward side of the island of O`ahu. Next was consideration of the fact that the murder in this story occurs at night. What does this add up to? A nighttime beach scene which includes the Mokulua islets, the moon, a palm tree, footprints in the sand, and Miss Una. Additionally, although I will not be completing the design, I try to allow space for the insertion of Titling in my signature Peignot font so that there will be no overlapping of images and text. Here is the initial layout I sent to Yasamine.

How did Yasamine’s magic polish this concept?

Since this is the second book in the NS mysteries, I had been through the publishing process for the series once. Additionally, I was able to draw on my experience as art director for the well-received multi-author anthology, Under Sonoran Skies, Prose and Poetry of the High Desert. For that project, I featured a picture I shot of the desert at sunset from my back lānai.

Whatever your artistic needs may be, I urge you to be involved in the process, even if you are unable to finalize the images yourself. The input you provide to a professional artist will ensure a product that reflects your own work and the goals you may be setting for future projects…Here’s a look at the before and after images for the forthcoming Murders of Conveyance, being released in early 2019!

Wishing you the best,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, author, narrator, and public speaker

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at Imaginingswordpower.com.

To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

PUBLIC SPEAKING FOR BRANDING: IV A Post-Mortem

This is the fourth blog in a series addressing an author’s travel and public speaking engagements [see Effective Materials for Public Speaking, All the World’s a Stage, and Public Speaking to Enhance Branding III].  

In September, I had the opportunity to make a promotional road trip to my home town of Portland, Oregon. There I attended the 50th reunion of my high school graduating class and introduced myself to several audiences via speaking engagements at creative writing classes in my old high school and a combined meeting of American Association of University Women book clubs in Lake Oswego. How did my planning for Public Speaking engagements mesh with the actual experiences? Were my own preparations adequate? What were the final results?

TRAVEL
~ I found that shipping books and marketing materials in advance really proved useful. Not only was I assured they had arrived safely, but once I had completed my appearances, I was able to pack the remaining items into the spacious luggage I had taken for that purpose.

~ During my research for this trip and future ones, I opted to join an international hotel group that awards points for each stay. The one I chose provided: Transport to area restaurants and businesses; buffet breakfasts which provided quality nourishment that lasted most of the day and permitted taking food back to one’s room; and, there was also a 25% discount for all dinners, including those for which I hosted guests.

~ Since the penalty for altering flights was the same as emergency rescheduling, I did not purchase airline tickets that allowed changes to be made…but I would have done so if my itinerary had been more complex.

~ With today’s complex public safety rules, I had to carry multiple small containers of toiletries, snacks, and food supplements, which I divided between carry-on and checked baggage. And, in case my checked bag failed to arrive, my carry-on pieces included: clothing, accessories, and necessary paperwork for public appearances.

~ Because I was having dinner with a friend [and former theatre director] shortly after my arrival, I was not able to schedule an initial day without activity. But the following day I enjoyed a delicious lunch at the O`hana Hawaiian Café and a memorable tour of the city with my editor, while moving from a hotel near the airport to one near my engagements.

~ I was truly grateful to be able to avoid renting a car. Although I tried using share-ride transportation, I found it too awkward to schedule repeat transport with drivers I liked, and the cost was not substantially less than a highly rated traditional cab company.

~ Financially, I travelled with ample cash for tipping those who rendered excellent service. As I encouraged readers to purchase books through their favorite local stores or on-line, I made only a couple of cash sales, even though I was capable of taking credit card payments.

PUBLICITY AND MARKETING
~ Since my events were not open to the general public, there was no reason to generate Media Releases.

~ I did add a news page to my author website and referenced my travel on Facebook.

~ At the reunion, I followed the organizer’s suggestion and served Hawaiian macadamia nut candy and discussed the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.

~ I will soon post a picture with my editor taken at a book club meeting I addressed.

APPEARANCE
~ I followed my own advice regarding maximizing the expression of one’s personality and profession. Because my writing focusses on Hawai`i, I wore tropical print jackets and a large name badge throughout my trip—with ample business cards at the ready. I’m happy to report that this facilitated my conversing with numerous people I would not have otherwise met!

 ~ One of the greatest impacts on selecting appropriate clothing for the eight days was the weather, since the Northwest was becoming colder and wetter than in my home of Tucson, Arizona. Despite necessary increases in the number of items I carried, my planning for multiple events proved to be appropriate.

~ Except for when my editor joined me in speaking to the book club, I was the sole presenter and did not need to coordinate my attire with that of other speakers.

~ In addition to my tropical-themed wardrobe, I accessorized with a necklace of my design and the name badge that features my personal logo. I also wore a realistic appearing artificial orchid in my hair, which I wore pinned to one side and heavily sprayed to remain in place for several hours. 

 SETTING THE STAGE
~ While it was not appropriate to hang a banner from podiums, my colorful attire proclaimed my personal style and the nature of my writing.

~ I positioned my presentation outline, large watch, and water appropriately.

~ I set up a colorful display with marketing materials, books, and information request sheets. These items were placed within clear acrylic stands on a multi-level tablescape covered with purple and gold tablecloths, and a scattering of shell leis and tropical flowers.

BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER PERFORMANCES
~ I provided event organizers with my bio and a short introduction in advance of each event.

~ Since the venues at which I spoke were small, I did not need overhead projections or a sound system. I merely arrived with a spiral bound binder with my presentation, potential readings, and handouts. [I also carried notes for unexpected issues that might arise, and backup electronic files.]

~ Merely walking through cold air provided physical warmups; I was limited in my ability to warm up vocally.

~ By using an annotated outline rather than scripted presentation, I was able to make periodic eye contact with my audience…Letting attendees feel I cared about them individually.

~ Despite allergies affecting my breathing, my voice was strong enough for the demands of my public speaking. Having trained for the theatre since childhood, I am fortunate to have a skill set that is compatible with vocal projection for one to two hours! One of my favorite activities was sharing the voices of characters from Prospect for Murder [available as an audio book], Murder on Mokulua Drive and the forthcoming Murders of Conveyance.

~ While I had practiced reading from my annotated outline as well as the handout I had prepared, the free-flowing dialogue that developed in more than one presentation precluded adhering to a strict time table. My primary challenge was ensuring I had covered each of my main points before the conclusion. Fortunately, with a large watch positioned beside my presentation material, I was able to pace myself…allowing appropriate time for Q&A to maximize audience interaction.

 ~ I concluded each presentation by holding up a pin with a single inspiring word…IMAGINE!

~ I carried Thank You cards and gifts of Hawaiian candy to maximize each event’s long-term branding value.

Let me close my report on employing public speaking as a marketing tool by encouraging you to consider venues and events in which you can express yourself personally, as well as professionally. I had a wonderful time in my recent journey to the city of my youth. I saw friends and acquaintances with whom I have had little contact for decades and reaffirmed my love for the work I do. If you decide to embark on promotional road trips, I urge you to choose your trips carefully, plan each aspect of your journey as much as you can…and have a wonderful time at each juncture of your experience! You never know what you’ll encounter, or what may emerge from such explorations. I’m delighted to report that I may be appearing at an author night in Hawai`i in 2019…

For more ideas to maximize being memorable, see Wearing your Brand at my marketing website.

Wishing you the best,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, author, narrator, and public speaker

Drawing on Sense Memories

Most of us think of the five physical senses as we are experiencing them. The toast looks and tastes all right, but it has a slightly burnt smell. I wish the kids would stop screaming, my ears are starting to hurt. I love this faux fabric, it almost feels like my cat’s fur…

The Creator’s Sensory Perception
As a writer, or other creative person, sensory perception can be an important element in preparing a stimulating picture via words or graphic images. One of the most effective devices for creating believable images is drawing on our own memories. This is because referencing something we’ve encountered personally provides a depth of authenticity to any work we are undertaking.

The Truth of One’s Experience
This does not mean that we have to reveal our personal circumstances in order to truthfully share a sensory experience…unless we are presenting a work that is a memoir or similar personal expression, for which we are obligated to reveal this aspect of our lives. The truth of our sensory experiences can be shared without revelation of the circumstances in which they occur.  In fact, isolating the experience from its original circumstances, can encourage us to revisit the specifics of what we saw, smelled, heard, touched, and/or tasted with greater accuracy.

For example, while we may wish to describe the beauty of a star-lit night from our honeymoon, we do not need to provide details of the circumstances in which we viewed it. Even when we need to describe something we have not experienced, it’s good to seek out the concrete memories of those who have. In describing Shanghai in the 1920’s for Prospect for Murder, I drew on images shared by people whose fascination with the city transcended the actual era in which they traveled. And despite their degree of positive or negative reactions, I was able to utilize their perspectives to provide images of the bustling streets and even the scents they encountered in their sojourns.

In Murders of Conveyance, the third book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mysteries, my heroine overhears a conversation in Chinese from outside of the building in which she stands. I’m sure we can all think of times when we’ve  accidentally overheard a conversation, whether in a language we speak or not. When I moved to Honolulu at the beginning of the 1970s, there were many occasions in which I heard languages I couldn’t understand, nor even identify. Because I needed my heroine to feel connected to foreign dialogue, I inserted phonetic sounds that allowed Natalie to guess the speakers might be referencing someone she knew.

Stimulating Vocabulary
Sometimes we are fortunate to be able to utilize vocabulary or pictures that effectively mimics the images we wish to share.  I find the following words and phrases can bring clarity to a description, sometimes reaching beyond a single sense: wispy; screech; a snapping branch; wrinkled; razor’s edge; staccato; fragmented; shrunken; glassy; whispered; fiery.

The perception of other words often relies on those who read or hear them. Reference to an Upscale dining experience may arouse the taste and ambiance of a five-star restaurant to one person, and a fast-food joint to another. While the phrase Opulent jewelry signifies a strand of synthetic pearls with rhinestones to one reader, someone else may envision weighty crown jewels. Vintage clothing could generate a disco scene from the 1970s for a millennial, whereas someone my age may picture a flapper dress from the roaring twenties—the 1920’s that is. Similar variances can arise with an author or artist’s use of color and shape, as well as a composer’s insertion of pauses, changing rhythms, and escalating tones.

I’m fortunate that many of the images I wish to share in the O`ahu setting of the Natalie Seachrist mysteries practically write themselves: the sparkle and whooshing sound of incoming surf on a moonlit night; the stickiness of teriyaki sauce on a barbecued chicken thigh; the fresh fragrance of a flower lei, the stench of rotting plumeria blooms beneath an aging and neglected tree. But although I bring personal insight to such images, I must avoid cliché verbiage that will bore the veteran traveler. 

Your Target Audience
This brings us to a brief discussion of one’s audience…one’s target market. If you’re working within a recognized genre of literature, art, or music, there may be standards to which the majority of your audience will expect you to adhere. If you are striking out on your own to create a variant or wholly new artistic expression, you can move in any direction you wish…keeping in mind that you will need to attract some degree of a following in order to achieve any degree of success.

Accordingly, I sprinkle snippets of pan-Pacific and world history across my mystery plot-lines.  And while I present a fair number menu items within each book, I place actual recipes on my author website, rather than completely bogging down a story.  As to the cast of characters, folio art framing page numbers, chapter aphorisms, and linguistically and historically detailed glossaries, the reader can choose to appreciate or ignore them…

Wishing you the best on your own creative ventures,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at Imaginingswordpower.com.
To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

 

MEA CULPA

Your book series is doing well!  This truly is an accomplishment to cherish!  What must you do to ensure your writing career continues on an upward trajectory?  Regardless of whether you have a publisher or self-publish, problems can arise during the complex process of production.

Publishing Errors

I’ve previously discussed issues an author faces in publishing a series—regardless of genre.  Fortunately, the process of publication is seldom the responsibility of a single person.  Of course, as the author, the quality of the final product reflects on you—for it is you who will be facing the public.

As a reader, as well as an author, I have not heard of a book that arrives in a reader’s lap without flaws of one type or another.  They may be barely perceptible, and actually may be a matter of choice rather than outright error.

Whose Fault?

In truth, no matter how much effort [and sometimes treasure] you invest in maintaining the quality of your work, unexpected flaws can emerge.  They can arise from both overt errors, as well as from actions you failed to take.  Most of my errors come from copying and pasting text and repeating favorite words.  Unless one closely and repeatedly reads the edited text, words may end up out of sequence, or can be wholly missing.

Discovering Flaws

The process of finding errors can be simple or complicated.  In writing a series, you probably have a written or mental list of flaws you’re prone to make.  As I prepare for the publication of Murders of Conveyance and work to complete Yen for Murder, I’ve found that the following errors appear frequently:

~  Repeated words and phrases
My favorites, myriad and R & R.

~  Overuse of prepositional phrases
Mine frequent the beginning of sentences. 

~  Complicated action
I’ve found scenes in which a character would need three hands to accomplish what I’ve described.  I’ve also struggled to explain how hidden compartments are accessed…

~  Character flaws
Misspellings of names, and their pronunciation in audio books can easily occur, and did in the audio edition of Prospect for Murder.  Titles of officials and their organizations can be misstated or may change over time.  Evidently my love of British police procedurals produced my mixing of the word detective with the ranks of police officers.  In actuality, most police forces in the U.S. [including Hawai`i], do not do that.  A sergeant with the Honolulu Police Department who becomes a detective is simply referred to as detective, with higher ranking officers being referred to by their rank.

Major Errors

You might think that writing fiction means that few errors unrelated to grammar will materialize.  But issues of consistency still need to be addressed.  My own inconsistencies have included changing the floor on which protagonist Natalie has a condo and the color of the truck of her boyfriend and detecting partner Keoni.  While regretting even these minor mistakes, at least they do not interfere with the reader’s ability to follow the story.  I’m not sure the same can be said for the two lines of crossed-through text in Murder on Mokulua Drive.

One thing that cannot be ignored or casually dismissed is the erroneous reporting of a historical fact.  I was particularly embarrassed to discover that in copying and pasting text in the Glossary of Prospect for Murder, I mistakenly dropped a sentence relating to Hawaiian Princess Ka`iulani into the description of Queen Kapi`olani. This is an obvious mistake to readers who are familiar with the lineage of Hawaiian royals and a serious detraction from my desire to share Hawaiian history with a global readership.

Making Corrections

Having determined the cause of a problem, you face correcting it.  This can be fairly easy with the publication of a digital book, and other on-line pieces…That is, if you are capable of altering the text within the template that generated it. If you cannot do so yourself, you may have to return to the typographical artist who originally laid out the book. If you are not able to reconnect with them, you will have to find a new source of help.  Fortunately, my publisher is working to correct the MOMD Ebook error regarding Queen Kapi`olani.

Matters are more complex in correcting flaws in printed editions. Unfortunately, the error regarding the Queen can only be corrected when further batches of the books are printed.  I wish I could send out errata labels to everyone who has a copy of the book…The one thing I have done is to publish a message of Mea Culpa on Facebook!

Avoiding Repetition of the Crime

Once you’ve pinpointed the sources of flaws, you can seek appropriate ways to dodge their recurrence. This challenge is exacerbated in the production of a series.  To keep my projects separate but harmonious, I’ve prepared and continually update detailed reference notes listing aspects of appearance, voice, attire, movement and behavior. I also have spreadsheets that pinpoint chapter elements [such as when Natalie has which vision] and the family trees of major characters.

I’m glad that most of my readers enjoy references to daily life in the Hawaiian Islands—especially food.  There are, however, some who would prefer little discussion of food, beverages, relationships, history and cats.  At this point, I don’t foresee removing these elements from my tales—nor would I detract from plot lines by inserting actual recipes.  However, recipes  that reflect Natalie’s life, local restaurants and menu items one might expect at an Island gathering, do appear on my author website.  This has necessitated my keeping records of the food and beverages I write about for review during the writing of each book.

Variations…Not Errors

As a series unfolds, it is to be expected that improvements in writing style and changes in book layout may occur.  This doesn’t mean that earlier editions of books are necessarily flawed.  Happily, my publisher opted to offer embossing on the vibrant cover of Murder on Mokulua Drive.  And, as I like reference material to be readily accessible, we are enlarging the font that introduces Glossary sections.  Similarly, we are inserting spaces before and after the hyphens between author birth and death dates in chapter aphorisms.

Fortunately, while outright flaws need to be addressed, developments in an author’s style of writing and the presentation of their work can be things of beauty!

Wishing you the best,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at ImaginingsWordpower.com

To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.