Thursday, January 26, 2012

Having your a ha moment

Tree of Life by Hartwig HKD 
Oprah calls it an a-ha moment. That moment when you "get" something that makes you snap your fingers and say, oh my God, that's it! That's what I've been waiting for! I get it! I finally understand!

In his interview with Oprah for her new Next Chapter series,  George Lucas said people are always asking him "how do you know what your passion is" and he said, "if you get up to do something in the morning and have breakfast at 7 AM [then look up again only to] realize it's 7 PM then THAT's your passion."

What do I wake up thinking about every morning? In Sister Act 2, when Whoopi Goldberg's character talks to Lauryn Hill's character about singing in the choir when her mother says it's not worth her time, Sister Mary Clarence says, "if you wake up every morning thinking about singing, then you're meant to be a singer, baby!" That quote has stayed with me since I first heard it. I've always struggled with identifying my passion, though. What do I get excited about doing every day? Am I doing it? It's not just what you're good at, but what your heart's desire leads you to do without thought or persuasion. I'm passionate about my clients, their talent and successes. I wake up thinking of ways to help them sell new projects, break into new markets and expand their reach. I lie awake at night thinking about the manuscript, I had to make myself put down so I could get a few hours' sleep and the editors I want to send the work to. I'm passionate about doing a good job for my clients.

Do your dreams and what you're passionate about, include your partner's hopes and dreams? Talking with my husband, I realized we hadn't talked about our hopes and dreams in a very long time and whether what I am excited about interferes with what he is passionate about. We both looked at each other and realized... And vocalized at the same time how we didn't have a unified, defined dream for our relationship and our family. THAT was my a-ha moment. That was the moment I realized I've always chased one dream or another but never really stopped to think if my dream was at odds with my husband's. Thankfully, my aspirations never got in the way of our relationship and we have been good about keeping the lines of communication open between us. Now, I'm more mindful to share my hopes and dreams with him. To vocalize them and ask him to do the same and soon we will sit down and talk about our hopes and dreams for our relationship and our family again.

So what happens when inevitably your head and heart won't agree. Now, I'm a firm believer in having and fulfilling your "heart's desire" but it's important to remember that when you allow your heart to guide you, your head will likely be at odds with it. Our heart is the free-loving, risk-taker that makes us see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but our head is usually more conservative. Insecurities pop up, fears grow and the future starts to look grim. That's where balance comes in and for some, balance is not easy to come by on their own. If you have a partner, open up to them about your fears and your dreams. Share the good and the bad while bouncing ideas off of them to keep you off the ledge. Remember though, that no desire can become real without hard work, determination and above all, perseverance! 

As I was typing this entry, Morgan Freeman's episode on Oprah's Master Class started and his interview couldn't have come at a better time. "It's not just about having a dream," Oprah Winfrey says at the start of the show, "it's about working to make your dream come true." Here's what I walked away with from his interview about making your dreams come true:
  • Let providence be your guide - Your fate lies in that. Even in the most dire of times, providence can show you the fork in the road where you're supposed to take the off ramp. Look at every apparent stumbling block as providence guiding you to where you're supposed to be.
  • Declare who you are - don't accept what those around you call you or "title" you to be. Be who you are! Declare it! Then live by that declaration! Don't just fake it, till you make it! You can't fake what you are! You can't fake authenticity! Be your most authentic self!
  • Be irreplaceable - make sure no one can do what you do better than you. Believe that no one can do what you do better than you.
  • Listen to learn - how can you learn if you can't listen? If you're spending more time shouting at the wind than you are experiencing its melodic sound, you're not learning anything! Spend more time listening to the universe all around you and LEARN from it... then make sure to leave a lesson behind for someone else to hear.
"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking too much space!" — Morgan Freeman

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Judging a book by its cover

We all do it, right? We scan the shelves at the bookstore, grocery store, or online bookstore and if we don't know the author, we make our decision about a book purchase solely on the cover of the book.

Publishers know how important good cover design is and those with a strong budget and staff, hire freelance cover artists whose works can help them sell books. Some have an entire Design department with a  Design Manager overseeing the cover art requests and assigning the work to various cover designers. These folks take the time to not only ensure the cover design is aesthetically pleasing but also meets photo and digital rights requirements as well as marketing scopes which will help sell the book to the right demographic. Not all publishers have the budget or staff allocated to do this but those that do, I've found, tend to sell more books than those who don't.

Regardless of whether your publisher has one of these nifty Design department managers on staff or not, it's important to remember that as the author of the work, you should have approval of the design and a say-so in what will become the visual representation of the work you've spent years perfecting for public consumption. Don't "settle" for a cover you're not happy with simply because you're afraid to "rock the boat" with your publisher.

Make your opinion count and learn to pick your battles. Start with a strong cover art request. It should be distinctive and straight-forward. Cover designers do NOT read your book before designing your cover but it should look like they have. Best way to ensure your cover will reflect the message you're trying to convey is by avoiding "symbolism" or obtuse descriptions in your cover request. Keep it simple! Most authors do well with the character descriptions but when it comes time to explain the context of the book, their flare for the dramatic can be the detriment of their cover design. 

Characterization: What do your characters look like? Don't say tan, blue-eyed, blond hero and brunette heroine if your hero is really Hispanic but blond and blue-eyed or you may end up with a very Nordic-looking hero that looks nothing like what you describe in the book. My biggest pet peeve (and my clients will attest to this) is misrepresentation on the cover of any book. It doesn't take much to describe your characters in your cover request. Include body build (gym rat muscle build, swimmer's body, marathon runner, tall and lanky, short and stout), hair color and length (long blond hair versus buzz cut, for example) and nationality if it's prevalent to the story.

Location and theme: Where does your book take place and what is it about? Is it a paranormal thriller set in present-day England or a contemporary romance set in the Caribbean? Knowing the setting and theme of the book will help the cover artist choose the right color palette. If it's a dark, erotic tale, make sure this is clear in your cover request or you could end up with a pastel color palette on your BDSM novel. If it's a contemporary romance set in Arizona, the color palette and setting should reflect the vibrant colors of the Tex-Mex region not the blues and grays of an urban are in Seattle.

Genre: Make sure your cover reflects your genre especially if writing in Sci-fi, high fantasy or paranormal subgenres. If your story takes place in space but your cover has a hilly countryside setting in the background it can be avoided by the readers you're trying to target simply because they don't know it's their type of book. If you're an unknown author or a brand new one, this is could hurt your initial sales.

If you're a self-published author, you know and may appreciate the value of a good cover more than traditionally-published (including dig pub) authors do. When you're the publisher, you have to hire your team and likely design the cover on your own. Unless you're a graphic designer at heart, artist or have some cover design experience, please don't attempt to design the cover on your own. If you have the funds, hire a professional and like any contractor you hire, do your research. Don't base your decision solely on their web portfolio, website or business card design. Send them a cover request for your book and try them out. Choose the graphic designer who conveys your vision on that cover best and for the best price.

As a published author you're part of a team and you need to be a team player, but remember you're the quarterback not the water boy. You call the plays and your team helps you to carry it through to score the winning goal: sales!