A cover that works
Last week I submitted the cover for my book, A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing, for a public, online review by a publishing company.
You've seen the early sketch.
Because I'm self-publishing the book, I was interested in getting feedback from professionals in the book business. More than 600 covers were submitted. Yesterday I watched the webinar, wondering if my cover design would be selected. It was.
Of course my initial excitement was quickly tempered with the knowledge that I had to be prepared to hear the good ... and the bad, so I braced myself.
Would it be a good review?
Yes, it was. And I have to admit, it felt good.
What did they say?
"Really nice. It's got a retro vibe."
"This has that cohesion, that gestalt ... where it just feels really tight."
And two suggestions: remove "by" in front of the author's name, and "make the author's name bigger." Done.
Of course the cover is just one element in writing and pulling together a book. It's a lot of work. If you've got a book, ebook, report, or magazine idea simmering and need help with the structure, inside layout, or editing, let's talk.
Look like the professional you are
digital (and print) publication design
ebooks • books • magazines • reports • catalogs
Feeling out of sorts or know someone who is?
It happens to all of us. Those days when we're just not ourselves. When we're not quite sure why, but we feel edgy or bored. A little antsy. To feel better, we lounge on the couch, we watch too much television, take (another) trip to the kitchen for a snack, or grab the mobile phone and scroll (endlessly), barely absorbing what we're looking at.
But it doesn't help.
So what can help?
Try doing something. Something that engages your mind, your body, and your curiosity.
Turn things around
I wrote this ebook because in the last few months I've had good days and not so good days. Along the way, I had a revelation. The days when I'm able to turn things around are the days I do something. When I take action and challenge myself.
At least for a little while.
It's the distraction that makes things better. To step away from my routines, the news, my work, and worries.
Even if things are going well for you today, consider downloading the book and passing it on. Maybe it could help someone you know. Share it with them ... and let me know what you think.
Look like the professional you are
digital (and print) publication design
ebooks • books • magazines • reports • catalogs
If you recognized the headline from this post as the title of a Rolling Stones song, you're right.
You can't always get what you want.
I’m in the final stages of finishing my book and discovered a problem. A new problem. I’ve already worked out other issues: a new book title and new book cover. I’m pleased with the new title and cover, but it's the layout that’s causing me fits.
So what’s the problem?
It’s a workbook and I wanted to design the book in landscape format with a spiral binding it so it would open flat and offer plenty of elbow room for practice writing.
But I also want to publish the book through two self-publishing houses: IngramSpark and Amazon’s KDP. IngramSpark offers the landscape option, KDP does not. Neither offer spiral binding.
From the beginning I knew I would publish and sell the book from my own websites, but I want it to go further than that. Publishing through IngramSpark and KDP will broaden the book's reach and get it into more hands. After all, that's the reason I'm writing the book. So I made the decision to reformat it. Ugh. That means reformatting every single page. It’s a lot of work.
Get what you need
So yes, it’s true. You can’t always get what you want. But, as the song goes, “if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”
Turns out, I like the cover better and though it’s been time consuming, the portrait layout is working well.
And getting what I want? When the book becomes a best seller, I'll think about a special edition ... horizontal format with a spiral binding. Wouldn't that be something.
p.s. Here's the new cover.
digital (and print) publication design
Write today to start looking like the professional you are.
Book design: working small to go big
Thumbnails - sometimes smaller is better
Early in my graphic design career I was taught to use thumbnail sketches to work through ideas. They're small (as the name indicates), and a rapid way of generating prototypes and work through ideas. This is the thumbnail of my latest (and final!) cover design.
This week and the coming weeks mark the final stretch for getting my book done. It’s gratifying to be so close.
A new cover design
I wasn’t as thrilled as I should have been with my early cover designs—I knew I was close, but something was off. When I put the covers out there and asked for your feedback you came through. The cover that got the best response was the one that featured a cursive letter with arrows indicating how to write the letter.
A new title
The title needed work, too. Ultimately, it’s a workbook that suggests the better, more interesting way to practice and improve your cursive writing skill is to do it with snail mail: to send letters, cards, and notes. It was clear from the feedback I received and reading I’ve done that cursive writing and snail mail needed to be in the title.
When I played around with titles and the order of the words, it sounded better and more interesting to start with “A Snail Mail Guide ...” rather than "Cursive Writing Practice..."
With the new title, it all came together. The A is a beautiful letter that has movement and style, providing the cursive example I needed that worked with the title.
The next step is to have a few people read through it. I got feedback on an early draft of the book, but this time it’s for the whole book. I’ve been doing a lot of research on self-publishing and this is a big part of getting it right. Beta readers: readers who read your book when it’s ready to go—but before it’s published. I’ll ask for feedback and reviews. The reviews can be used to help preview and promote the book.
There’s so much to consider, but as I learn more, it becomes less and less intimidating and overwhelming. Of course, being nearly there helps, too.
There are three sections to the book:
1) a detailed guide to writing cursive letters,
2) the I Write Letters to Say section that features handwriting samples from different people—apparently, if you haven’t been taught cursive writing, it can be difficult to read it.
3) and the third section—all about snail mail: how to address an envelope, where to put the stamp, and of course, the elements of a letter and who to write to.
Thank you for your encouragement and kind words. You’ve helped me sort things out and make a better book. I can’t wait to share the finished product with you ... in September(!)?
Spelling is complicated ... and easier than ever. Spell-check is a great tool, even if it's always correcting me, fixing my mistakes, and schooling me on the proper spelling of this word ... and that one.
But, despite its know-all application, I know it's not perfect.
Do the spell-check double check
Spell-check catches a lot, but a regular check on spell-check is good practice.
Proofread your writing
Your book, ebooks, essays, and emails could all use a good proofing before being shared.
Give your writing (no matter the format) a good review; eyeballs on each and every word.
Read your writing out loud
When you've got your final draft, read your writing out loud. It's one of the best ways to catch awkward phrases and confusing sentences.
This simple infographic was designed to help you visualize three words that spell-check, and your memory bank, might struggle with: their, they're, and there.
The first clue: they all start with the same three letters: t-h-e.
It's a good tip. Especially when you're trying to remember how to spell their. Is it "i" before "e"? Not this time.
Wondering if it's their or they're? Just remember their is possessive. The clue here is the possessive "i" tucked in there, just right of center.
What about they're? Break it apart and look at the two words it represents to get your answer: they're = they are. Is that what you're trying to say? It's a good tip for figuring out if it's its or it's, too. Separate the words and you'll know.
And finally, there. It, too, holds a clue, it's got the word "here" nestled comfortably inside itself. Remember that and you'll know if it's here or there where you want to be.
If you need help with words, let's exchange a few. Maybe I can help.
I write words, edit words, and arrange words, online and on paper. Helping you look like the professional you are.
Call 207-252-9757 today, or write.
p.s. I did the spell-check double check on this email and my fingers are crossed I didn't miss anything. But let me know if I did.
Much of my work revolves around words: arranging words, writing words, and editing words.
Last week I considered the word racism. And then the opposite, respect: to show regard or consideration for.
As I considered the words, I imagined editing them, replacing one with the other. Then illustrating the idea with red line editing; crossing out the unwanted word, writing in the new one.
Spell-check and track changes in word processing documents have replaced red line edits done by hand. A hand-drawn line through a word with a loop at the end indicates the word should be taken out. Removed. The arrow indicates what it should be replaced with.
If only it were that easy to edit and change behavior. To replace racism with respect and acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.
New work brings new perspective
I was struggling with how to write and present an article about maps. But nothing was working.
I was beginning to feel lost and frustrated, so I decided to go in a different direction. To combine my collage work and hand lettering. To present it as an online article in a long scroll.
When I finished, it occurred to me that in these days of the coronavirus we're all navigating new territory.
There's no map to tell us which way is the shortest, best solution to get us from here to there. But maps can still guide us:
Cartography and the days of the coronavirus
Map terminology as it applies to the challenges of staying home:
It's your internal guidance. If you pay attention to how you feel, you'll find your way. Getting tired? Maybe it's time to take a break. Frustrated? Take a left. Or right. Abandon course and do something different.
This is where you map your survival strategy. Maybe it's creating a routine: getting up at a reasonable hour, getting dressed, and saving your comfy clothes for later in the day.
Exercise. Because it helps. But does it fit better in the morning or afternoon?
Work. Begin and end when you normally would, if you can.
Meals. Keep it simple most days. But once in a while, make something different or special. Plan a three-course meal. Or a special dessert.
You've got a lifetime of experience, knowledge, and know-how. Make a list and run through things you've done, things you want to try, and things you miss.
You may not be able to go hiking, but you could plan hikes for the future. Explore documentaries about hiking. Journal or tell stories about the hikes you've completed. What do you remember? Waterfalls, wild animals, blisters ... the heat?
Not a hiker? Replace the word hiker with whatever suits you.
I resisted the urge to try something different. It took three attempts at failed experiments before I convinced myself to go with hand lettering for the illustrated article. It took more effort than I initially wanted to commit to, and I stumbled more than once along the way. But I'm glad I did it.
The project kept me occupied for quite some time and while I was doing it, that's all I thought about. (What a relief.) It's done, I've accomplished something, and that feels good.
I hope you're able to find things that bring a sense of calm and comfort. To stretch yourself when you don't want to. And I hope this helps.
p.s. The map article is part of the April Playbook: This State of Mine posted on my hobby site, Waystation Whistle. It's an experiment. I'm not sure how well it's working, but I figure the only way I'll know is to try.
Take a break ... and be better for it
I've been wondering what I might do to help in these difficult times.
To begin, I want to share an article I wrote about being bored and frustrated and what I did to change the situation.
It was a game changer. You can read the article here.
The article is posted on my new site, Waystation Whistle.
At Waystation Whistle my mission is to help you see the world in a new way. To take a break. To explore hobbies, passions, and pastimes that lift your spirits.
Why this, why now?
We're curious beings. We need challenges and activity.
Binge watching your favorite show is a fun (and often necessary) way to unwind. But being actively engaged in a project that you find interesting brings a different sort of distraction and calm. Especially in difficult times.
These are difficult times.
Taking a break can help you perform better in life and business. I know recipes and baking may not be your thing.
There are other things.
Click on the map below for the April playbook ... and other things.
I know this is a tough time for business, let me know how you're doing.
p.s. I'm also here if you need help with your business. With writing and design, with your website, email marketing, and ebooks. If there's something you need help with, send me an email.
I was in a lather ...
Sometimes it's easier to learn or remember something when there's an example to follow.
We're all watching the news about the spread of the coronavirus, and one piece of advice we're all hearing is, "Wash your hands." It's good advice, but it got me in a lather.
Why? I thought a few prompts might be helpful.
So what's a writer/graphic designer to do?
Make a poster. A public service announcement. This poster reminds us all to wash up ... with some key markers to make it routine throughout the day.
A Free Download!
Click on the poster to download and print the PDF.
Go big with an 11" x 17", or print it on a standard 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper. Post it at home ... in the kitchen and bathroom. And in the office ... on doors, in the stairwell, the elevator, and in the loo.
Share this email with friends and family and soon enough, we'll all be in a lather.
I lost the bid on a job recently. A website redesign. I lost the job because I’m not familiar with the platform the site was built on.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out for either of us.
Not just because I didn’t get the job, but because the people who did get the job, while familiar with the platform, are not as familiar with best practices for web design or copywriting as they should be.
After looking at the new site, my disappointment at losing the job morphed into disappointment for my would-be client.
The copywriting on the new site is ineffective and the user experience is one of confusion and missed opportunity.
Here are two reminders and one takeaway from the experience.
Remember, it’s not all about you. At least not right away.
When a visitor comes to your website, they want to know if they are in the right place and they want to know if you can help them. As quickly as possible.
They're looking for the solution to a problem. They’re not interested in knowing how long you’ve been in business or how many awards you’ve won. That’s important information, but information you can share later on.
It’s like when you cut your finger. You’ll grab anything to stop the bleeding: a napkin, a paper towel, or a clean hanky if someone hands one to you. Only later will you think about a proper bandage or the best antiseptic cream.
You need to tell visitors how you can help them. And you need to tell them right away.
2) User Experience
Is your site easy to navigate, is it interesting?
When people search for what you offer and find you, tell them what they want to know.
Do you sell products? Services?
Is it easy to figure out what you offer? Is it easy to place an order? To get in touch with you? Want people to join your mailing list? Make sure there's an incentive for them to sign up.
Remember, people have lots of options. Do you have resources on your site that add to the user experience? That make you stand out?
Consider blog posts, articles, and white papers where you can share your expertise and bolster your credibility—without sounding like you're bragging.
Having a site that's easy to navigate and chock-full of helpful information is the best way to convince someone you know what you're doing.
Team up with someone who knows what you don’t.
I was disappointed when I lost the account. Partnering with someone familiar with the preferred platform would have been the thing to do.
Do you need more tips to build a better website? Read this:
Five lessons in project management.
Last Sunday I bundled up and went outside to clear the six inches of snow that fell overnight. Six inches is not a lot of snow, and with a temperature of only 12°F, it was light and fluffy. The problem was, and usually is, the end of the driveway. The snowplow snow.
It’s a messy mix of snow and ice left behind after the city plow comes through. It's heavy and chunky and challenging to move.
Because it was only six inches, and it was early (just seven o’clock in the morning), I decided to forgo the snowblower and shovel my way out.
Like most projects, there are things to consider when starting out, and I realized my plan for clearing the snow was really an exercise in project management.
Lesson #1: Assess the situation
Shoveling a path out was the first step. After the porch and stairs were clear, I needed to tackle the driveway surface, remove the snowplow snow from the end of the driveway, and clean off the car.
If it's time to renovate your website, assess what's working ... and what's not.
Lesson #2: Make sure you have the right tools for the job
Snow shovels come in as many varieties and flavors as ice cream. There’s the big scoop and the small scoop. Metal and plastic varieties. And varying weights. Some shovels are light and easy to handle, others are heavy.
After years of testing, my preference is a light-weight, flat scoop.
Do you maintain your website? Have someone do it for you? Is it easy to make changes? Would some professional advice make it better or easier? Review how you build, change, and maintain your site.
Lesson #3: Make a plan
Once the porch and stairs were clear, I decided to use an alternating pattern of removal. Because snowplow snow is so heavy, I devised a plan: shovel, brush, dig.
I shoveled a third of the driveway, moved on and brushed off half of the car, then dug a two-foot section of the snowplow snow. And switched again. More shoveling, brushing, and digging.
The plan allowed me minimize exertion (recommended), make slow and steady progress, and vary the tasks at hand to avoid frustration.
Do you want to be involved in maintaining and creating your site or do you want to hand it off to someone else? The best approach may be a little of both.
Lesson #4: Check your progress
When I started, it seemed it would take forever to get through the end of the driveway. But when I stopped to take a breath, I could see I was making progress. My plan was working.
Websites are like houses. They need upkeep and renovations. Sometimes it's as simple as mowing the lawn (or changing a headline). Other times new windows (blog posts or feature articles) are needed.
Lesson #5: Find pleasure in the doing
When I stopped to check my progress, I took a deep breath and looked up. I saw that the sky was robin’s egg blue. The sun was still rising and it put a glow on the horizon and tree tops ... and the underbelly of a seagull that flew overhead.
Reward for a job well done.
Your website is a must for your business, but it doesn't have to be a chore. Use your site to share what you know. A revived blog may rekindle your interest in sharing what you know. A podcast or video series could get your creative juices flowing.
Is it time to renovate your website? Click on the button below to get started.
The winner is .... Cover #1
Most of you thought it best reflected the subject of the book, cursive writing.
Thank you for voting and sharing your thoughts.
I need your help.
I'm in the final stages of designing my book, Cursive Writing Practice by the Letter and I need your help.
There are three cover designs to choose from, and I'd like to know which one you like best.
(voting has ended)
Cursive Writing Practice by the Letter is a workbook. It includes instruction for writing each letter of the alphabet and introduces a more creative, engaging way to practice and improve your writing skill: writing and mailing letters to your friends and family.
Inside there are tips for who to write to and what to write about along with detailed instructions for how to address an envelope ... and where to put the stamp(!).
It also includes writing samples from over 20 people (so students can learn to read, as well as write, cursive), and a selection of writing prompts from the popular "I Write Letters to Say" series.
(voting has ended)
So which cover do you like best?
To make your selection, just click on the cover you like, and it will generate an email that will come directly to me ... just type Cover #1, Cover #2, or Cover # 3 in the subject line and your vote will be counted. You can also add any comments or suggestions.
Next week I'll reveal which cover got the most votes and share more details about how you can order your copy of Cursive Writing Practice by the Letter.
(voting has ended)
Thanks for reading along (and choosing the cover you like), I really appreciate it.
P.S. If you know someone who would enjoy this email, you can forward it to them.
P.P.S. If you're writing a book, get in touch if you need help with developmental editing, design, or project management.
I put it off as long as I could.
It was a side project I was working on and I was having trouble settling on a theme. A theme and an illustration. I'd done a lot of thinking, but had done nothing concrete to move things forward.
So I sat at my desk and started mapping out ideas. A list of words. A list of images. And (no surprise, really), it worked. Ideas started to materialize.
I settled on a theme.
A snowy night. A night when snowbanks shimmer like sparkle snow in a storefront window.
And with a theme, things shifted.
The ideas started to flow.
The snowy night led to the idea of adding animals. But what kind?
Animals that turn white in winter (there are fewer than I expected). The Peary caribou is one and it would be the first of four I would include in the drawing.
Things were finally coming together. I had the shape of the caribou defined and most of the night sky around it was filled in.
But something was wrong.
The nose. With a pointed eraser, I rubbed it out. And something happened. The area I erased looked like the breath of the caribou. I was so surprised at the sight of it. Serendipity had stepped in and transformed the drawing.
The relief I felt was audible. This was going to work.
The drawing came together, I met my deadline, and felt good about what I had created.
And (fingers crossed), I learned something.
Start before you're ready.
Procrastination is hard to eliminate entirely, but sometimes a deep breath, a pencil (and an eraser), and a list will get things going.
On the final panel, I added a line from a cut-up poetry exercise. The original pencil drawing along with the hand lettering was scanned. Color was applied in InDesign.
Click on the drawing to enlarge.
If I can help you move forward with your project, let's do it.
Call 207-252-9757 or email me to get started.
At Composition 1206 we make you look good. Online and in print.
websites • books
I'm writing a book.
Here's the working title:
The Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice
I'm fairly sure the title isn't catchy enough, but it tells it like it is. Maybe that's good? I'm working on it.
It's an instruction book for writing in cursive and using letter writing as a way to practice.
But why write a book about two outmoded topics?
I believe they still matter.
My deadline for the first draft is the end of this month.
After that? I've got a few letters to write.
P.S. Are you writing a book? Or thinking about writing a book?
I can help you with organization, structure and flow, copy editing, and design. Call (207) 252-9757 or email me today to talk about your book project.
P.P.S. Need some letter writing ideas or encouragement? Take a peek at my letter writing site: Postmark1206.
* Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-term Comprehension
**Why Don't the Common-Core Standards Include Cursive Writing?
What would it be like if we couldn't vote?
That's what I think about on election day. I think about it because voter turnout can be dismal.
I think about it because there are four amendments to the Constitution related to voting rights. Amendments that give people who were denied the right to vote their voting rights. People like Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton had had enough.
It was unacceptable that as a woman, she was not allowed to vote. For more than 50 years, she fought for the right to cast a ballot. And she died nearly two decades before the 19th Amendment would pass. That's 70 years.
It took far too long.
Today I will vote. I will vote for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and all the women who fought alongside her. And I will vote for those who fought for the 15th Amendment, the 24th Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act.
I will vote because I can.
One person, one vote. It matters, and it counts.
I created this infographic to inspire more people to vote on election day.
If you have information you'd like to share in an infographic, write today to talk about how we can work together.