Category Archives: Writing

Tales from Indie Publishing #3: The cover

The importance of a book cover cannot be understated—especially for a book the author is publishing himself. A poorly and amateurishly designed cover can immediately identify a book as self-published and make the whole work—no matter what appears on the inside—seem unprofessional. So, it was with great thought that I approached the task of designing the cover for We Regret to Inform You: Stories.

My initial idea for the cover was to have it be wholly typographic, including hand-drawn letters. I thought this best since it was a collection of short stories without a clear unifying image. I went as far as to take a class online on hand drawing letters and mocked up several ideas. I still like the idea and the typography I came up with, but after doing some research and further learning about book cover design, decided that I needed photographs of people. At the same time, I also began to really see and arrange the themes of the stories and it was easier to see how images could communicate those themes.

2014-11-14 11.24.19As I searched through stock image databases for images to go on the cover—images that would communicate the themes of boyhood, manhood, and masculinity that I was trying to draw out in the collection—I became particularly attached to this image.

shutterstock_188783483The boy’s expression is puzzling; I thought it portrayed the feelings of a lot of the characters in the stories, child and adult. I went so far as to play around with fragmenting the image in Photoshop in order to communicate much of the dissatisfaction the male characters feel as they try to connect with others. I tossed this idea in the end because I thought it gave the false impression that the book was only about childhood. The picture of the boy remains in the final cover, though.

test cover frag boyOne night, I sat down and decided to just hammer out a few cover ideas. I briefly went back to the idea of an all-text cover and used some letters I found online.

Screenshot 2015-01-19 18.39.43

I liked the result but was still drawn back to the picture of the boy and decided to make a cover with him and an older man.

Screenshot 2015-01-19 18.39.56The result was a step in the right direction but still not quite far enough, so I went and found a picture of a young man and sequenced the pictures from top to bottom to coordinate with age. I settled on the three faces, representing the three stages of life. I used Photoshop for each set of eyes to create effects. For the boy, I created a comic-y, newspaper print effect. For the young man, I added blur to indicate speed, time, movement. For the older man, I added an effect to mimic stone. Readers will recognize some of these effects in the stories in the book.

we regret front coverFor more information on We Regret to Inform You: Stories, check out the product description page and preorder the paperback or ebook (epub or mobi) today!



Tales from Indie Publishing #2: Designing the book

In my last post, I detailed my reasons for publishing my short story collection We Regret to Inform You on my own. Part of the publishing process, obviously, is designing the interior and cover of the book. From my work as editor of two journals (one academic, the other literary), as well as experience as the production manager of my college newspaper, I felt that—with enough further education and trial and error—I could adequately design the interior and cover. My main goal was for it to look professional, and for that to happen, I’d have to learn more about book design.

This is where free online resources really came in handy (in addition to some paid articles and books). Skillshare is a site that offers great, free video instruction on a number of topics, including graphic design. I “took” three classes on book design that proved vital.

First, “Book Design Basics: Styling Novel Interiors” provided superb instruction on using InDesign to layout and design the interior. If you do not know how to use InDesign and are publishing your own book, I highly recommend searching for a basic class on InDesign; there are plenty in existence.

An Online Skillshare Class by Neil Swaab

In this course, Neil Swaab shows you how to layout and design the book in a way that is easy to understand (again, given you know some basics about InDesign). I knew a lot about how to do this already, so the class served as a good brush-up and clued me in to some book basics I didn’t know about, such as the elements needed for the front matter and how to avoid stacked hyphens and widowed and orphaned lines.

Second, I watched the great Chip Kidd’s “Introduction to Book Cover Design: Making Stories Visual.” Less instructional and more inspirational, I found it interesting to learn how he thinks about book cover design.

An Online Skillshare Class by Chip Kidd

The Skillshare class that was most instructional in terms of creating the book cover was “Read, Think, Design: Create Stunning Book Covers” with Peter Mendelsund. He goes much more into the how-to, specifically demonstrating his process from reading the book to brainstorming design options to final design.

An Online Skillshare Class by Peter Mendelsund

In the end, to design the book cover, I used Photoshop in addition to InDesign—there are also plenty of free classes online for Photoshop.

Designing the interior and cover of We Regret to Inform You forced me to consider how I was thinking of the book as a whole because I needed to communicate themes and tone through the visual elements of the book. From the cover images to the font selection for the interior, the design elements communicate something about the content of the book. As a writer, it was intriguing to have to consider the question “How will I represent my work visually?” This is not a question most writers think about. It was further complicated for me as I am publishing a collection of short stories that were not conceived of en masse. Here, the process crosses over with developing a marketing plan for the book, which asks the question the questions “What is this book?” and “Who will read it?”

Through the process of deciding which stories to include and what the whole thing would look like (and thus communicate visually), I came to see how the writing process and design process are not only similar, but can be recursive in nature. Naturally, an author is not going to write and design at the same time, but one can design and edit and revise and market at the same time. When these processes—all the processes involved in making a book—are completed by the author him- or herself (advised by others, of course) rather than disparate people (working together, but still in a fragmented kind of way), the final product can be a more complete version of the artist’s vision.

Later this month, I will be revealing the cover of We Regret to Inform You after detailing the design process and various iterations of the design. The book will be published in March 2015.

For more information on We Regret to Inform You: Stories, check out the product description page and preorder the paperback or ebook (epub or mobi) today!

Tales from Indie Publishing #1: Putting together a collection of short stories

Credit: Connie Ma / Flickr / License: CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Credit: Connie Ma / Flickr / License: CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Not too long ago, I tried my hand at writing a novel. I developed a character, set out the plot, and decided on the voice. I wrote several chapters.

It sucked.

The process. The writing. The whole friggin’ thing. I hated writing the novel, and I hated reading what I had written.

I sighed.

How in the world was I going to be a published writer if I didn’t write a novel? My passion, short story writing, is not a lucrative business (as if writing anything is a lucrative business). I’ve had several short stories published, read them at local reading series, and even received many compliments on my work. But, I had never been paid—not one single pennyWhat’s more: if I ever wanted to have a book published, it was going to have to be a novel. Publishers and agents aren’t interested in short story collections. Maybe—just maybe—you can get a short story collection published, if you have a novel that you sell and the collection comes along for the ride. And that’s a pretty big maybe.

Given this reality, I decided that I would publish a collection of my short stories on my own, despite the stigma of being “self-published.” I have the experience of putting together a publication, being the editor of Newtown Literary, as well as the former editor of a teaching journal. What I couldn’t do on my own, I would pay someone else to do. It’s an investment, sure—but what better investment to make but in one’s self.

As I looked at the short stories I had written and had been published elsewhere, I started to see a pattern. Many of my stories, especially those written in the past couple of years, were about myself as a man and all that entails. From being a son to a brother and from being a partner to finding myself newly single, I realized that I was writing about making connections with others and how my gender and sexual orientation impacted that process. The stories that didn’t adhere to that theme, I put aside for a later collection. I sought feedback from friends and considered for a long time what stories to include. My inclination, of course, was to include everything, but that was not going to make it easy to market.

This process is making me be more than just a writer—I’m also becoming a businessman. In my work putting this collection together, I have to think not only as a writer, but also as a marketer and salesperson. I have to think about what I’m going to tell people when they ask me what this book is about. I have to think about where I can publicize the book. I have to think about the cover and how will I visually represent the contents of the book into an attractive cover. I have to think about my “brand.”

Ultimately, I’m enjoying the business side of being a writer. It’s forced me to think about my writing—and myself—on a whole different level. Looking at the short stories I’ve written and trying to find a common element has shown me what I’ve been “doing” the past couple of years as a person, the reflective and intellectual pursuits I’ve been engaged in as well as how I’ve grown. As I design the book and finish the editing, I’m now confronted with the real scenario in which I will be putting my work out there and not just saying, “This is who I am as a writer,” but also, “This is who I am as a person, as a man.”

I’m aiming to have the collection out March 2015, leaving myself enough time to publish a professional piece of work (both in the writing and the visual design) and market it properly. Follow this space, my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, and sign up for my mailing list on the right side of this page to be kept up-to-date on the process.

For more information on We Regret to Inform You: Stories, check out the product description page and preorder the paperback or ebook (epub or mobi) today!

Sound and Rhythm: A Writing Exercise

In this second of two posts sharing the writing I did during a writing class this past weekend, I experiment with poetic techniques of sound and rhythm. The prompt involved completing the scenario of a couple having a fight then going for a drive, happening upon a deer in the middle of the street.

Jasper drove his usual 10 miles above the speed limit and Nancy kept her usual silence even though it was a particularly winding road. This time, her silence was punishment—punishment for the things he had said. If he had an accident and damaged his precious car, it served him right. She look out the passenger side window, watching the forest blur past, green streaks punctuated with streams of light from the setting sun.

She felt him accelerate, bait for a trap, a trap she was not going to fall for. She kept her mouth shut tight. They rounded a corner, and she noticed he didn’t let up. She turned her gaze to the road—silent, but ready to sound a warning.

As they rounded the turn and the grocery store came into view, she saw it. Brown. Standing there. She opened her mouth, but there was no noise. Jasper said, “Shit” and turned the wheel hard to the right. The deer stayed in its place as they drove onto the shoulder of the road. Gravel, like bullets, hitting the underside of the carriage. Ptt, pttt, ptt.

Clear of the deer, Jasper turned back onto the road. Nancy kept her mouth shut, trying to calm her breath and heart. He said, “Sorry.” She nodded and put her hand on his khakied thigh.

Ekphrasis: Van Gogh’s “Two Figures in the Undergrowth”

I took a writing class this weekend focused on incorporating poetic techniques in writing that isn’t poetry. This is the first of two posts sharing the writing I did during the workshop—it is an ekphrastic work inspired by Van Gogh’s Two Figures in the Undergrowth, pictured below.

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Undergrowth_with_Two_Figures_(F773)Here, on this side, the familiar looked fragmented. These woods, all green and brown on the other side but changed here, were recognizable to her. She had played there with her little sister, bounding through the wildflowers that somehow managed to grow under the canopy of green filtered light, floating down upon the yellow, white, and pink flowers.

Here, though, the quality of the air was thicker, heavier. She could feel the air molecules, as big as grapes, brushing against her skin. They refracted the light, revealing the blue and red within the brown tree trunks and turning globular flowers into colorful streaks.

And, all around, on this side, stood apparitions, figures, glimpses of people. The enlarged molecules revealed the ghosts that haunted this wood, the people she and her sister must have entertained, or annoyed, or disturbed when they were bounding children.

Now, here, she was herself a figure—forgotten and brushed past. She exhaled, expelling the smaller molecules of the other side, the thin air escaping her lungs. She breathed in the larger molecules, becoming a glimpse among the apparitions.


Screenshot 2014-06-30 11.06.41

“Adventures in Droneland” is up at Inkshares

I’m working with to crowdfund my short story collection Adventures in Droneland. If I make the minimum funding goal, Inkshares will publish my book by pairing me with a leading editor and book designer and print, distribute, and market the book. Please visit the Adventures in Droneland page on Inkshares to read more about the book and support me by pre-ordering your copy (for as little as $10!).