Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Covers, speaking in public & the magic of Castlemaine

Design by Committee
The last two weeks have been filled with some amazing and fortuitous experiences. I drove to Castlemaine the week before last and stumbled across a really good book designer, Josh Durham of Design by Committee, who has agreed to design some templates for the interior of The Light Heart of Stone, my new fantasy novel.

The really amazing thing about finding Josh was that: a) I literally knocked on his door without knowing anything about the graphic designer within, only to discover he was a book designer; and b) one of the book covers that Michele and I had particularly admired, when we began discussing cover designs, turned out to be Josh’s design! (See the Hale & Hardy cover below)
Hale & Hardy by Paul Carter (Pan Macmillan Australia)

So, last week I sat down with Josh and we discussed my self-publishing project. I had the draft cover designs with me and showed them to him, along with some examples of fantasy book covers that I liked (so that he’d see what Michele and I were trying to achieve). I was pleased that Josh’s preferred cover was the cover Michele and I like best. I felt as though Michele and I were on the right track.

Our preferred cover design
(Oak tree image derived from an image by Rachel Wintemberg, based on a photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot)

Josh talked about the advantages of having a cover that brands the series, a cover that can be adapted to suit other volumes, which the preferred cover achieves. He encouraged us to play around with colour schemes – to consider something warmer and less stark. He also said that you need to be as careful with white covers as you are with black: they both damage easily.

Josh and I then spoke about the design for the interior and I learnt something in the process. I had thought that book designers designed the interiors of books and implemented those designs: inserting and managing the text, sorting out widows and orphans and rivers of white space. Josh had to explain to me that the text is dealt with by a typesetter, using templates created by the designer. For some reason, I thought typesetters had completely disappeared. I guess I was focusing on the original meaning of the name “typesetter” and not considering the specialised work that goes into managing text. I felt a bit stupid for not knowing, but “not knowing” is an inevitable experience if you are going to self-publish.

I asked Josh to design me a very simple, plain and readable interior and showed him my model book, Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares, which is beautifully designed and a real pleasure to hold and read.

Marketing in Libraries
About half an hour after meeting Josh, I walked into the Castlemaine Library to discuss the possibility of putting together some sort of promotional workshop program for The Light Heart of Stone. I came across Robyn Annear working on the loans desk. She is an author I admire and it was lovely speaking with someone so welcoming. She encouraged me to make a time to come in and discuss my ideas.

Public Speaking
The real problem with self-publishing doesn’t have much to do with editing, designing and printing your own book. The real problem involves distributing and selling your book. I haven’t yet tackled the problem of distribution, but I have been thinking about sales and about how vital public speaking and public readings are for any writer wanting to encourage readers to buy their book.

On Wednesday last week, I had the chance to speak at a regional Red Cross conference about my visual arts and writing projects. I talked about working full time as a writer, then giving it up to work in the visual arts, before returning to writing some ten years later.

I read a piece about family life and an extract from The Light Heart of Stone. I was nervous. I was worried that the piece of writing about family life was far too explicit given the age of the audience, but it was received with lots of laughter (as it was intended to be received). So speaking and reading ended up being a tremendously rewarding experience and it gave me the opportunity to begin collecting an email notification list for people who are interested in buying a copy of the novel when it comes out next year.

Remembering my mother and her mania for thanking people (thanks mum because that was a good thing to be manic about), I wrote to thank each person on the notification list and also wrote to the person who invited me to speak. And really, it seemed very natural to say thank you because it was a lovely experience, one that hope I get to repeat.

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