Monday, December 22, 2014

Just Monkeying Around: Newsletters So Easy ANY Monkey Can Do It!


Okay, here's the deal.

I love visualizing what my newsletter will look like.

I love having done a newsletter.

But mostly I don't like creating a newsletter. That's because it takes a lot of work to make it pretty and eye-catching. And deciding what to put in a newsletter is a pain. No wait...deciding what to leave OUT is the hard part.

Personally, a newsletter needs the following five things to catch my attention.

1) It needs to reflect the personal style or the brand of the sender
2) It needs to point people to the product (i.e. our books)
3) It needs to be short and simple
4) It needs to be visually appealing
5) It needs to be easy

The first three items on the list (personal style, product and short) are easy enough to achieve. And for some of us, if you like longer newsletters, that's okay. But people are busy, and I don't want to bore them with too much in a newsletter.

Way back before newsletter software like ConstantContact, MailChimp, and SendBlaster, I attempted to send newsletters via email. It was really hard to design something attractive quickly and easily and dump it into an email program and it would come out on the other end looking like a newsletter. It generally looked like what it was ... an email.

So, when I made the jump to MailChimp (newsletter software providor) last year, I thought all my problems were solved. I thought I'd have a gorgeous newsletter with great photos and content, and it would meet my most pressing needs: visually appealing and easy to create.

Even though MailChimp seemed to have all the bells and whistles I needed, the results felt bland...cookie cutter...and I felt like I was coloring within the lines. And it still took hours to create something that even when I was done, I just wasn't satisfied with how my newsletter looked.

After studying a couple of my favorite newsletters, I had an aha moment, and my latest newsletter was fairly quick and easy compared to previous ones. And I loved how it turned out.

The Key....

All the prep work was done BEFORE I opened my newsletter software. Yes, that's right. Instead of dumping a few pictures and book covers into MailChimp and writing content in the newsletter software around the pictures, I created my entire newsletter in PicMonkey in FOUR images (or sections), then uploaded the images to MailChimp. I linked the images to wherever I wanted each to go, and after checking things for accuracy, I was done with my newsletter.

Quickly, for those who might not know what it is, PicMonkey is a free online graphics design program. There are other more advanced programs, but PicMonkey does the job for me. I've blogged about PicMonkey before so for a quick tutorial on how to use PicMonkey to your advantage, check out Memes, Monkeys, and Me. The learning curve is not that steep and for me, I can visualize what I want a lot quicker than in MailChimp, and I have a lot more control over my layout, backgrounds, fonts, and style.

Now, here comes the fun part, some photos and instructions to explain all this. :)

I wanted the top of my newsletter to look like a 2:1 column, and I will probably stick with the same basic layout for a while. So, visualizing that, I started with my website header at the top and some cute borders and boxes for my content. Here's a template I created in PicMonkey. By saving the template, I'm already ahead of the game for the next newsletter. Or, I can create another template if I want to change things up. But I still need to stay on brand by using this color scheme, especially my header.

See the texture in the background templates in the empty text boxes? I worked up that parchment look in PicMonkey about a year ago and I've used it over and over again. That's not a background look I could get if I tried to design this directly in MailChimp.

Part A: Newsletter Template for Header Section
990x773 px
Now, this next part is what takes my newsletter from blah to wow. Or at least wow to me! :)

Think about any newsletter software you've ever worked with. Anything and everything in any given column or "block" is SEPARATE and contained, correct? In addition, the above layout isn't really even an option in MailChimp that I know of. You can do 1 column, 2 column, 2:1, 1:2, 3 column, etc, but not a combination like I've done above. That's because even though the layout above looks like three parts, it's not. It's one photo/jpg/image.

Below, you see the result of Part A of my December newsletter using the template above. Again, I wanted simple but gorgeous, with just a bit of content for the readers. I didn't want to bombard them with too much information, especially during Christmas. So, ignore the prettiness :) for a moment, and let's look at the content of this section...


Part A: Final Newsletter Header for December 2014 Newsletter
990x773 px
My newsletter header matches the header on my website, so that keeps my brand consistent. I incorporated a cute picture from my own Christmas decorations (didn't hurt that the colors were very complimentary!) and a short Christmas message. Then on the right, I gave thumbnail sketches of what I would be doing in December, January, and February.

Next, notice my name and the gold/tan swirls? Since this is all ONE image, I can "tie" what looks like three blocks of images/text together because I'm creating it all in my design software as one image. I originally planned to use a Christmas wreath, but ended up with the signature and the garnish. Finally, when I uploaded the above image to MailChimp, I linked it to my website. So, when subscribers received this newsletter, they could click anywhere on the above image to go directly to my website.

Again, remember I wanted to keep the newsletter simple, so now that I've wished my readers a Merry Christmas and told them what I'll be up to in the next couple of months, I wanted to tell them about my current release. Well, I could use the same 2:1 column layout, or I could use a square, but instead, I thought a banner style block would catch the eye more...

Part B: Announcement of Current Release
990x300 px
I used the same color scheme for this section to keep the flow, but as a long, narrow banner. I used the gold and tan background image, flipped it on its edge in PicMonkey, added The Evergreen Bride cover, and worked a bit of magic with the snow globe :) and this was the result. Notice how the cover bleeds out of the square just a bit, and the snow beneath the snow globe falls out of the image? Those were my attempts to give the newsletter more personality and less of a cookie-cutter feel. Since The Evergreen Bride was an ebook only, the link for this banner ad sent readers to Amazon. On various newsletter campaigns, I'll rotate links to CBD, B&N, Lifeway, etc. to spread the love just a bit.

Next, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak at what's coming up in 2015, but I wanted the visual to be different, so I chose a 2 column layout with two pictures side-by-side. But what else to put with the 2015 releases? I had blogged about my family's Burlap and Bows Country Christmas last year, so I decided that would be perfect for the Christmas newsletter. And I already had a postcard-sized image with the covers for 2015, all I had to do was resize it and pop it in.
Part C: December 2014 Newsletter
500x386 px

Part D: December 2014 Newsletter
300x332 px
Now, I could have combined Parts B, C, and D into one huge image, but I needed them to be separate so that I could add the links that I wanted. Because you can only add one link to an image/jpg.

So, to recap. I ended up with FOUR jpgs (images) in my newsletter. The entire newsletter was made up of images, not text. I linked each image to a specific spot on the web.

Part A linked to my home page on my website.
Part B linked to The Evergreen Bride on Amazon.
Part C linked to the Burlap and Bows Country Christmas. (the most clicked on link, btw)
Part D linked to my Books page on my website.

For those who are interested, I included the pixels in the captions above on each picture. You'll notice that the width across of both A & B are 990 px. That was about the right length to fit well with MailChimp.

As always, there are pros and cons to anything. Pros for doing a newsletter on this format is that you have more control of the visual appeal of your newsletter. Maybe that's not that important to my readers, but I personally like a pretty newsletter. I hope my readers do, too. And from the open and click-through rate, I think I'm on the right track. :)

One con is that you can only link ONCE to each image you upload. But, even though I didn't add any simple text in MailChimp, I could have, and I could have had links all over the text if needed. Another con would be that since you're typing your text directly onto your pictures and saving them, if you make a mistake, then you'll have to go back to your graphics design software to fix your jpg, then re-upload your graphics.

Here's a small screenshot of the finished product, but to see the REAL thing with the links, click here to see Pam Hillman's December 2014 newsletter. And, I'd love for you to Subscribe to Pam's Newsletter in order to receive future newsletters. Who knows what tricks I'll have up my monkey-sleeve next month? :)

Screenshot of Pam's December 2014 Newsletter

A couple of things I didn't mention before. I intentionally left a small white border around my graphics for extra eye-appeal, and then added the deep red background in MailChimp along with the narrow tool lines separating the sections.

So, there you have it. Newsletters so easy this monkey can do it! I hope today's post jumpstarts your creativity and ideas for a newsletter that reflects your personality and the image you want to present to your readers. Feel free to ask questions and I'll do my best to explain or clarify.

God bless and Merry Christmas!! :)



Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Weekend Edition



We Have Winners

THIS JUST IN!!! BELLE CALHOUNE ASKED US TO PULL THREE MORE NAMES FROM THE HAT FOR A PRINT COPY OF HEART OF A SOLDIER! THOSE WINNERS ARE JACKIE LAYTON, CATMOM AND RHONDA STARNES!!! CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU, BELLE. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Did you claim your giveaway from LAST WEEK?

Giveaway rules can be found here. Please drop us a line to claim your giveaway at seekers@seekerville.net. All prizes not claimed in 8 weeks go back into the prize vault. We wish we could contact all our winners individually, but we'd rather write books!
Giveaway rules can be found here. Please drop us a line to claim your giveaway at seekers@seekerville.net. All prizes not claimed in 8 weeks go back into the prize vault. We wish we could contact all our winners individually, but we'd rather write books!

 On Monday, Love Inspired Historical author Janet Dean called “All aboard!” the Publication Train. We hopped on before steam engine 9670 pulled out of the depot. We wore running shoes to keep from falling to the tracks as she led  us from car to car. The winner of a $10 Amazon gift card is The Artist Librarian.


Love Inspired Historical and indie author Lacy Williams was with us Tuesday sharing a facet of herself you may not be aware of with her post, "Secrets of an Indie Author Cover Designer." Winner of a $10 Amazon stocking stuffer in honor of her visit is Rachel Koppendrayer ! Winner of a print copy of A Cowboy for Christmas is Natalie Monk.

Debby Giusti
blogged on Wednesday about "Advent Anticipation," with a look at the Nativity story and writing techniques used in scripture. In keeping with the Christmas spirit, Debby held a drawing for a copy of Holiday Defenders and a special surprise gift. The winner of Debby's drawing is Sandy Smith! 



  Belle Calhoun returned to Seekerville today with her post, "Thinking Outside the Box and Trusting your Instincts as a Writer."  She shared the behind the scenes of her latest Love Inspired release Heart of a SoldierThe two winners of her print release from Belle are Marianne Barkman and Jill Weatherholt. The two additional winners of print or ebook are Connie (from Kentucky) and Jennifer Smith.


Friday Walt Mussell returned to Seekerville with , "A New World For Writers...And Fans." We checked out the new world of fan fiction and Kindle Worlds. To celebrate,  the release of his latest Kindle Worlds fan fiction, he's giving away five copies of Even Bodies Fall From Trees.  Winners are: Vince, Mark Abel, DebH, Chill N, and Sherri Shackelford.

 Next Week in Seekerville

Monday:Pam Hillman is your host today. Pam and the friendly monkeys from PicMonkey and MailChimp will show you how to create a newsletter that’s so easy any monkey can do it. You’ll be saying, “Now, why didn’t I think of that!”


Tuesday: Sandra Leesmith will talk about "Ways to Show Love." We write romance after all. And to show her love, she will offer e-copies of Hope for the Holidays Contemporary Collection and Hope for the Holidays Historical Collection.  Each winner will receive an e-copy and also an e-copy for a friend. If you already have your copy, then you can name two friends. By next weekend we ought to be able to kick back and enjoy a great Christmas read.


Wednesday: The Best of the Archives and a giveaway!


Thursday: Seekerville is closed to celebrate the birth of Jesus!


Friday: The Best of the Archives and a giveaway!




Seeker Sightings

Ruthy is on hand over at Coffee Cups & Camisoles: Coffee Chat with Ruth Logan Herne! for the next few days! Come by, check out the giveaways and get your name tossed in a high-tech style cat dish for a chance to win Her Holiday Family (Kirkwood Lake) and Hope for the Holidays, both editions!

Random News & Information

Congratulations to the 2014 ACFW First Impressions Winners with a special shout-out to Anna Weaver Hurtt and Tanara McCauley.

Check out the Kindle Voyage e reader!

 Don't forget to enter the 2015 RWA Golden Heart® Contest. Entered works and related contest fees must be submitted to RWA's contest site by the deadline of January 12, 2015: The Golden Heart contest is open to 1,200 paid entries. Once again Seekerville is offering two entrants in the inspirational category a refund of their entry fee. The goal is to keep that category open. Once you enter, submit proof of entry to seekers@seekerville.com. Share this information with your writer friends. Winners will be announced once RWA announces that the category made it.   


Twitter Tips for Today's Authors (The Future of Ink)


What Traditional Publishing Learned in 2014 (via The Passive Voice)


12 Ways to Create a Mailing List That Will Sell Books (Author Marketing Experts, Inc.)


Library Journal Announces Christian Fiction Awards (Christian Retailing)


My Favorite Digital Tools in 2014 (Jane Friedman) 


Consistency Can Trump Problems (The Editor's Blog)


 Write Better: 3 Ways To Introduce Your Main Character (Writer's Digest)






Merry Christmas, Seekerville!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A New World For Writers…And Fans

with guest blogger, Walt Mussell.

Have you ever dreamed of visiting a world you’ve read about in someone else’s book?

I have. I would love to sip ale in The Shire or fly aboard the Enterprise. In my own manuscripts, I’ve tried to create a world that I hope people would want to visit (though, in my case, avoid the guys carrying swords because they’re pretty good with them). 


I recently learned that it is possible to play…TO WRITE…in a favorite author’s world.
In October, I received an e-mail from Amazon, asking if I wanted to participate in a Kindle Worlds launch for an author whose work I’ve been reading for years.



My reaction was …huh? I nearly tossed it as spam, but instead e-mailed the author who confirmed it was legit. From there, I asked myself the following:
What the blazes is Kindle Worlds? 


I discovered that Kindle Worlds is a fan fiction offering run by Amazon. Authors license their creations, allowing fans to create their own works based on characters created by the author. Those authors set rules on what’s allowable. Amazon reviews submissions to make sure rules are met. From there, the fan fiction stories are sold as e-books, with the fan fiction writer earning money from his/her story. 


There are currently 31 worlds to choose from. Anyone can submit. (Click here) And though all the worlds are secular, Amazon does have its own rules, most of which center on keeping submissions relatively clean.


As I mentioned, I was asked to participate in a launch. When Amazon launches a new world, some authors are contacted in advance and asked to write stories to be available for the launch or soon afterwards. For me, I joined the most recent launch: Body Movers by Stephanie Bond. When it comes to hilarity, Stephanie occupies the same rarefied air as Mary Connealy. Her funniest work is likely her Body Movers series. 


Body Movers is the story of Carlotta Wren, a young woman growing up rich, until her father, under criminal indictment, skipped town with Carlotta’s mother, leaving then 17-year old Carlotta to raise her nine-year old brother, Wesley. The series begins ten years after Carlotta’s parents left town. The parents are still missing, the police are still looking, and Carlotta’s life is still upside down. (Click here to see the books.)
I have two items out related to this launch.


The first is a short story titled Revenge Is A Body Best Served Cold. It takes place in an interval between two books in the series and is told primarily from the POV of the now college-age Wesley Wren, Carlotta’s younger brother. 


The second one is a novella titled Even Bodies Fall From Trees. Assuming everything is on schedule, it should be out this morning. This story is a prequel that occurs at the time of the initial arrest of the father. However, to indulge my fascination with Japanese history, I set the prequel in the Yokohama foreign settlement of 19th century Japan.  


A number of published authors have also written wonderful books for this launch. Please click here  to see them. 


So, in the comments, let’s try anyone of several topics.


  •  If you could enter the favorite world of any author, what world would it be and where would you take the story?
  •   Pick a favorite Seekerville story and move it somewhere else. What would you do?
To celebrate, I’m giving away five copies of Even Bodies Fall From Trees. Please note that current Kindle Words’ works can’t be purchased/sent outside the U.S., but they’re working on it. Also note this is obviously not inspirational romance. 

In the meantime, since this is Seekerville, virtual food is a necessity. The virtual food of the day is red velvet cake and Baroida coffee. (This coffee is so good, you’ll drink it black.)








Walt Mussell primarily writes historical fiction with inspirational and romantic elements. His favorite setting is medieval Japan and he refers to his writing as “Like ‘Shogun,’ but the heroine survives.” His Kindle Worlds Body Movers novella, Even Bodies Fall From Trees, debuts today.  He also has a Body Movers short story, Revenge is a Body Best Served Cold. Walt also writes Biblical fiction and is working on a manuscript with a 19th century American setting. He has one published novella in the Christmas anthology, Hot Cocoa for the Heart.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box and Trusting Your Own Instincts as a Writer


Happy Holidays everyone!  Belle Calhoune here, wishing everyone all the joys of this blessed season.  Today I'm going to talk about writer instincts and thinking outside the box, two things I did when I wrote “Heart of a Soldier,” my January 2015 Love Inspired book. 

Back in 2012 when I wrote my first Love Inspired book, “Reunited with the Sheriff” I created a secondary character, Holly Lynch, who was paralyzed after a reckless driving accident caused by her best friend, my heroine, Cassidy.  I was trying to break in with Love Inspired during their “Speed Date with Emily” pitch on the Harlequin community forums.  Side note: if you're trying to break in to Love Inspired, watch those forums for contests and pitch events.  My big idea for that first book was to create a heroine who had done something so monumental that she couldn't walk away from it, even though for many years she tried.  Being the driver in an accident that makes your best friend a paraplegic seemed fairly huge to me.  Little did I know then that the character of Holly would burrow herself so deeply into my heart that I couldn't stop thinking about her and wanting to create a Happily Ever After for her. 

By deciding to feature a paraplegic heroine I was thinking outside the box. I was going out on a limb when I wrote the first page of the book and started out on this journey, not knowing if it would be accepted by readers.  And then it hit me!  What exactly do I know about being a paraplegic and the daily issues that surround that condition?  I had done research for the initial book, but if I was going to write a romance novel featuring a paraplegic I had to do major research.  So I did...lots and lots of intensive research about nerve pain, medication, wheelchairs (manual or power?),  mobility issues, driving as a paraplegic, riding horses as a paraplegic and the emotions that go along with it.  One of the most personal issues I researched was whether a paraplegic can bear a child, which was very important to Holly and is an issue in the book. 

As most writers and readers know, there's always a black moment.  Cue the spooky music.  During the edit phase I had a random copy editor who attempted to convince me that I'd

pretty much done everything wrong.  I felt powerless and demoralized.  And angry.  I'd worked so hard and given the book my all.  I prayed about the situation and asked God to lead me in the right direction.  So, I decided to speak up and let my editor know how I was feeling.  This wasn't easy for me because it felt like complaining when it reality it was protecting my vision of my book.  There's a difference.  Now comes the good part.  My really cool editor, Emily Rodmell told me that I could STET all the copy editor's suggestions.  STET is a fairly magical word for authors.  It basically means we can reject the edit/suggestion and keep the original words or descriptions we used.  It meant I had my voice.  To have my editor give me the power to keep the work as my own creation was a miraculous feeling.  I think I may even have been Snoopy dancing. 

This experience taught me a memorable lesson.  In going against the copy editor I wasn't being rude or bratty.  I was using my writer instinct to protect my work.  I knew instinctively that I'd created an accurate, moving portrayal of a paralyzed heroine.  And what I learned by speaking up and voicing my concerns was that my editor had my back and supported me. 

In many ways this book has changed me as a writer.  It was a little scary taking it on, knowing that I might be facing criticism if I didn't get it right.  But in creating a non-traditional heroine, I set myself free as a writer.  I allowed myself to write the story of my heart.  At some point I told myself that as a writer it was my mission to write this story.  As a human being I believe that love isn't reserved for physically perfect people.  It felt powerful to have a book reflect that belief and to know that I would stand behind the work no matter what.

Validation as a writer comes in many forms.  As writers we always love hearing our editors say we wrote a good book.  If “Heart of A Soldier” hits the readers as emotionally satisfying and well crafted, my job is done.  A few days ago I received a message from a reader who I've known for a few years.  What I didn't know is that she is in a wheelchair, has nerve pain and takes daily medication like Holly.  To have her tell me I got it right is probably the most moving thing that has ever happened to me as a writer.  Her letter brought me to tears.  And although I don't live or die by reviews, receiving a 4.5 star review from RT Book Reviews was a celebratory moment, mainly because it showed me that you can rely on your writer instincts and have it pay off big. 

My advice to writers or aspiring writers is to write the book of your heart.  Don't rely on the ordinary.  Or what we feel is the norm. Sometimes in letting go of our fears and the things we believe are expected of us, we reach a state of grace where we truly can achieve a personal best.  

 Have you written the stories of your heart, the ones that are just begging to be told?  If not, what’s holding you back?




Belle Calhoune  grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, one of five children.  One of the best things about her childhood was growing up across the street from a public library and having a summer house in Cape Cod.  Although her mother was a Psychiatrist and her father a Biologist, Belle gravitated towards literature and writing.  Married to her college sweetheart, she is raising two lovely daughters in Connecticut.  A dog lover, she has one mini poodle and a chocolate lab.   Writing for the Love Inspired line is a dream come true.  Working at home in her pajamas is one of the best perks of the job.  A French enthusiast, she dreams often of her next Parisian escape.  Belle also enjoys summers in Cape Cod, traveling and reading.



Today Belle is giving away two print copies of "Heart of a Soldier." Leave a comment letting us know you want your name in the Stetson. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!


A Soldier's Unexpected Homecoming

Returning soldier Dylan Hart heads to Texas to finally meet pen pal Holly Lynch. When he arrives, he's shocked to discover the plucky beauty he fell in love with has kept a very big secret. Scarred emotionally by his past, Dylan is deeply hurt that Holly didn't trust him with such a vital truth about herself. When he's hired as a cowboy on her family's vast ranch, he's committed to staying in town. And as he slowly reconnects with the woman whose letters once saved him, he'll have to take a look inside his heart to discover what matters most.



This is such an exciting story behind the story, that Seekerville is also going to give away two Merry Christmas copies. Print or ebook. Winners choice. Ebook releases on January 1 from Amazon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Anticipation

Advent blessings from Debby Giusti!

Advent is a time of anticipation when we wait in expectation for the birth of the Baby Jesus. The story has been told and retold down through the ages whenever Christians reflect on the coming of the Christ Child. Luke and Matthew both include the infancy narratives in their gospels, and in keeping with the season, I thought we'd look briefly at the various techniques the evangelists use to build a sense of excitement and wonder that invites the reader into the story.
           
At the beginning of his gospel, Luke sets the timeframe “in the days of Herod, King of Judea” and introduces Zachariah, a priest from the family of Abijah, who has been chosen to burn incense before the Lord. Devout Jews of the time would understand the honor afforded to Zachariah as he enters into the Holy Place within the temple, separated only by a curtain from the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the Law.
           
Inner conflict is revealed when Luke writes that, although “righteous in the eyes of God,” Zachariah and his wife, Elizabeth, had no child and were advanced in years. Their struggle serves to highlight the specialness of this particular moment in time as Zachariah steps before the Lord.

           
As we know, an angel appears with a message from God that Zachariah’s prayer has been heard and that Elizabeth is to have a child who will be named John. As much as we want Zachariah to accept the angel’s word as truth, we know he hesitates—just as many of our fictional characters do—and doubts the Lord. In life, as in fiction, mistakes often bring negative repercussions. Zachariah is struck dumb. He and Elizabeth return home, but the Lord does not withhold his mercy, and as foretold, Elizabeth conceives a child.  

Luke uses comparison and contrast to pick up the story six months later when the angel Gabriel is “sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.” Again, Jews in that day would recall the foretelling of a Messiah in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”


As was foretold, the angel announces to Mary that she will bear a son, “and you shall name him Jesus.” He also reveals Elizabeth’s pregnancy, with a final “nothing is impossible for God.”
           
While Zachariah doubted, Mary readily proclaims, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” She quickly travels to be with Elizabeth, and to underscore Mary’s “yes” to the Lord, we hear Elizabeth’s words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”   

           
The second chapter of Luke’s gospel tells of a decree that went out from Caesar Augustus that requires Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. How well we treasure this part of the story as Mary gives birth, wraps her baby in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
           
An angel again appears--this time to shepherds--and proclaims, “A savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” As heavenly hosts praise God, the shepherds go to Bethlehem and find the infant child. They share what the angel said, and scripture tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

           
Matthew’s narrative gives us a glimpse into Joseph’s concern when he learns Mary is with child, but again, the angel appears in a dream and tells him to take Mary as his wife. The angel repeats the prophetic message that foretells Christ’s salvific mission when he says, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save people from their sins.”

Matthew also adds the visit of the Magi and shows how they thwart the evil attempts of King Herod who fears the infant and wants to do him harm. The three kings are led by a star, another great sign, to the tiny babe, where they honor him with gifts to signify his kingship.


Like modern writers, Luke and Matthew use foreshadowing, secrets, repetition and comparison and contrast in their gospels as they tell the story of Christ’s birth. Foreshadowing allows the reader to pick up clues of what is to come. Those clues build anticipation and point the way—just as the star did for the Magi—to an important plot point or revelation that is to come.

Secrets increase reader expectation, especially if they’re revealed to one of the characters, but are kept hidden from the other. In Matthew’s gospel, we learn that Herod meets with the Magi and claims he wants to pay homage to the infant Jesus. Mary and Joseph are unaware of his evil plot to hurt their infant son until an angel warns Joseph to take the child and flee into Egypt.


Repetition serves to underscore certain parts of a story. The appearance of the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds highlights the importance of this moment in history. God is getting their attention and ours as he sends his messenger to announce the coming of the Christ Child.

Comparison and contrast show two sides of an issue, played out in different ways. Zachariah, a priestly man of God, doubts, whereas Mary—a young, humble virgin—accepts God’s will for her life and gives herself totally to the Lord.


One of our family traditions is for my husband to read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s gospel on Christmas Eve. Share your family traditions or leave a comment about Advent anticipation to be entered in the drawing for a copy of HOLIDAY DEFENDERS and an additional Christmas surprise.


May the wonder of the Christ Child’s birth fill you anew this holiday season with peace and joy and love!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Debby Giusti


HOLIDAY DEFENDERS

THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, THREE MILITARY MEN OF HONOR MUST DO EVERYTHING THEY CAN TO SAVE CHRISTMAS

Mission: Christmas Rescue by Debby Giusti 
On the run from a killer, Elizabeth Tate must accept U.S. Army Captain Nick Fontaine’s protection for the sake of her young niece and nephew. Now her life is in the hands of the very man who broke her heart years ago.

Special Ops Christmas by Susan Sleeman 
Researcher Claire Reed’s top secret project is stolen, putting her at risk of being kidnapped to unlock it. Her undercover bodyguard—her former love, Green Beret Travis Chapman—is on his most dangerous mission yet.

Homefront Holiday Hero by Jodie Bailey 
When someone tries to kill the daughter of a military official, U.S. Army major Tyler Rainey must keep Kelly Walters from harm…while guarding his own heart against very unexpected feelings.

Click here to order your copy. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Secrets of an Indie Author Cover Designer

with guest blogger, Lacy Williams.

 Hi, Seekerville!

A huge thanks to Tina and the ladies for hosting me, I’ve always had fun when I visit here.

One thing you might be surprised to know: in addition to being an author, I am also a freelance cover designer.

Some of my covers:





I loved the post you had back in July with one of the Love Inspired cover designers (http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2014/07/inside-cover-design-with-love-inspired.html ) and I thought it might be fun to show the difference in how one indie author/freelancer does it.

The biggest difference: I use stock art, not models at a live shoot. Although I’d love to, when I grow up…

It’s really important to understand copyright for photos, the difference between commercial and personal use, and licensing on the different stock art websites. That’s a whole ’nother post for another time. I will leave you with this sage advice: Read. The. Fine. Print.

Finding the right piece of stock art is one of the longer parts of the process. Not only does it have to be the right price for my budget, it also has to have a certain feel depending on what book the cover represents.

(Before I started creating cover art myself, I used to make funny faces at the cover art questionnaire for my traditional publisher, especially the question where it asks, “what is the mood for this cover?” and gloss over it quickly with some unhelpful statement, like inspirational, sweetly romantic. No longer. Now they get detailed information. Because there is a difference between, “they’re probably arguing, so sparks flying” and “she’s secretly in love with him”.)

I will spend hours browsing for the right stock photo to use as the backbone for my cover. Last year I stuck to sites like www.istockphoto.com and www.shutterstock.com but when iStock changed its plans and got pricey, I had to go elsewhere (hey, I have a budget and so do my clients!). This year, I found www.depositphotos.com, they have a great selection of photos and very reasonable prices.

Once I’ve found the exact right photo for the cover, say, this one…

 



…I create a new image file in Photoshop Elements and drop the stock art in. Don’t they just look lovely? This is actually a great image because it doesn’t need any tweaking before I get going on the cover. But sometimes the couple is right but the background is wrong. Or she’s supposed to have brown hair instead of blonde. In that case, I’ll spend time fixing what’s wrong. I can erase the background and drag a new one in, if needed. I can use the Color Replacement Tool to change the color of her hair (or dress, or his shirt). When you’re using stock photos, sometimes you have to accept something in the photo that doesn’t completely fit the story exactly… or find a better photo to work with. Because I don’t have models and because I don’t get to choose the clothes that these people are wearing, I’m more limited in what the final cover design will look like. However, you can always use a well-placed title to hide something you don’t like in the photo… :)

This photo is really great, and I’m going to use it as-is. Next, I need to have some idea where the different pieces of the cover will go (title, author name). This is a branded cover for Inspy Kisses, an author co-op that I belong to, so there is a flash line with our logo across the upper one-third of this cover.

 


It’s also part of our branded look to have the title in the upper part of the cover and the author names at the bottom.

 

Okay, the top half looks great, but those author names are impossible to read. What’s a girl to do? There are several tricks out there, like using a solid-colored box to highlight the names (or sometimes the title, if there isn’t a clear space on the cover for it). However, we used a Gradient on the first two covers in this series, so that’s what I’m going to use here. A Gradient is a way to fade something on the cover. It can add transparency if you’re folding two photos together, but in this case I’m going to use it as a solid color. I also use a small white gradient to made the blue sky behind the title disappear a little, so the title is more visible.

 


It’s looking pretty good, here! We’ve got a romantic couple, all our author names and a title.

But wait. This is a Christmas collection, so maybe we want to go even more wintery. I know! Let’s add an effect to get snow on the cover.

Um… but I don’t know how to make snow. I’ve never done it before.

Okay, I’m going to let you in one my Super-Secret, never-before-shared cover creator tip: YouTube. Don’t laugh! It’s a treasure trove of tutorials. Within a couple of seconds I have found two videos that look really promising, and I follow the instructions and voila:

 


This is actually just a picture of the Layer that has my snow. When all the other layers (titles and pictures) are visible, you get the full effect, but this is the snow by itself.

Now, just to add to the fun: That big, red gradient looks so… Plain. I use some special paintbrushes to create some snowflakes

 


and we’re there! Here is the finished product:

 


This is the final cover for our USA Today bestselling anthology, Mistletoe Kisses. We actually used this cover in a 3D boxed set cover, but I prefer the full-on cover shot myself.

Creating covers isn’t usually a step-by-step process for me (other than I have to find the stock art first!). Sometimes it gets circular. For instance, I flip-flop the placements of the title and author name. I go searching for fonts because what I have isn’t working. I try a different background.

And sometimes, I spend three hours working on a cover, and the author hates it.

But this is a process that I really enjoy. It uses a different creative part of my brain than writing or editing a book. For my own books, I’ll often create a cover while I’m still writing the book. Having the visual part of the book is a motivator for me and spikes creativity as I write.

So here’s a question for discussion. I recently stumbled onto a Facebook discussion where people were almost getting into fisticuffs over the answer: Do you love/hate covers with cutoff heads (borrowing my friend Regina’s cover as an example)?


 


Or prefer covers with the full hero/heroine on display?



 



 A Cowboy for Christmas 

 After an accident leaves her injured, Daisy Richards stays secluded at her family’s Wyoming ranch to avoid the town’s gawking stares. Yet handsome cowboy newcomer Ricky White insists she can do anything she dreams—ride a horse, decorate a Christmas tree…even steal a man’s heart.

Once a reckless cad, Ricky is to blame for what happened to Daisy. Now reformed, he wants to make amends by setting things right for his boss’s beautiful daughter in time for the holidays. But Daisy doesn’t know Ricky’s responsible for her predicament. When the truth is revealed, will he lose the greatest gift he’s ever received—her trust?

 Comment today for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card stocking stuffer. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition. And we're throwing in a print copy of A Cowboy for Christmas as well. Merry Christmas!

 

Lacy Williams (www.lacywilliams.net) is a USA Today bestselling author of 19 books and novellas. Her December 2014 release, A Cowboy for Christmas tells the story of one cowboy’s quest for redemption—and how it leads him to fall for the woman he handicapped. If you’d like to get a free ebook, sign up for Lacy’s newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/Tk-rn . Lacy is also the Managing Editor for Redbud Press, a new inspirational romance publisher. Find out more at www.redbudpress.com



 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Publication Train


I know what you’re thinking. How can you take a train from Unpubbed Island?
Think Polar Express. This train carries both unpubbed and pubbed. Its first stop—Seekerville. We all need to get on board.

Yes, there’s no free ride. Do you have your ticket? That ticket is desire. Wanting to be published badly enough that you’ll make changes in your life, in yourself, in your writing. Study the market, the craft. Finish the book. Enter the contest. Submit and submit some more. If you don’t have the ticket, somewhere along the line you’ll topple from the train.

This train circles our tree. Not a train you want to board.
Before we examine the train, let's look at the tracks—that path that’s in place to reach traditional publishers via contests, submissions and conferences. Indie publication may be the route you plan to go, but be sure the story is ready. You may need to hire an editor, have the manuscript formatted and a cover designed. Don’t be derailed by releasing anything less than a top notch book free of errors. After all, your name will be on the cover.

You’re the Engineer of your train. No one can make you climb aboard but you. You may need to switch tracks (different genre perhaps), see the places to slow down (make sure that manuscript is as ready as you can make it before submitting), and the places to go full speed ahead (if you never send it, you’ll never attain your goal.).

Engine—this is a steam engine, the “I think I can, I think I can” Little Toot variety. One that never gives up no matter how steep the hill, no matter how daunting the odds. Think of the engine’s wheels pumping, getting up steam. This engine doesn't coast, doesn't quit. This engine will get you to your destination.

Coal Car—this is what powers the engine. It’s a gritty place, not for the 
faint of heart. I love Anne Lamott’s bird by bird. In her book, she tells about her brother waiting until the night before a report on birds was due, totally overwhelmed by the task. Her father put an arm around his son’s shoulder and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Makes sense. Start with a paragraph, a sentence. In other words, be the fireman and shovel that coal if you plan to go anywhere. That’s hard work that requires planting your behind in a chair. Set up a writing schedule, make a realistic daily goal and stick to it, even if it’s only a paragraph. If you’re doing this, but you’re getting closer, then try something different with your writing. Get on fire. It’s the only way to move that engine down the track.

Dining Car—I’m not totally talking chocolate here, but it helps. Feed your soul with things that energize you. Take time each day to do something you enjoy. This will revitalize you. Feed your brain positive thoughts. Expect good things to happen. Find ways to make writing more fun. Perhaps write or edit in a cafĂ© or outside on a pretty day.  

Passenger Car—we’re not on this train alone. No one understands a writer like another writer. Meet with other writers. Keep in touch by e-mail. Establish relationships so that on the dark days, someone will understand and care. If you don’t write well in a vacuum, find a critique partner or group. Be a mentor to someone with less experience. Judge contests. You’ll benefit from teaching and helping others along the way. Compete only with yourself. Comparing yourself to others is defeating and pointless. Aren't we thankful God doesn't do compare us to others?

Freight Car—the place you stow the equipment for the journey to publication. Suggestions for what to take with you: Fiction—to read and study, “How To” books/magazines/tapes, movies to watch. All these will help hone your craft. Don’t forget to pack pencils, pens, paper, computer, printer, AlphaSmart—whatever keeps you writing. Keep paper/pens on the nightstand and in the car. Listen to tapes while you get ready or drive. Edit hard copy while waiting for appointments. Be productive whenever you can. Don’t waste that precious commodity, time.

Baggage Car—not all the stuff you’re lugging around is good for you. Toss anything that’s dragging you down and refuse to put it on the train. Don’t listen to the negative voice in your head or coming out of others’ mouths. Kick time wasters out the door. Don’t let others sabotage your goal. We want to be there for those who need us, but we can’t let them gobble up our time.

Caboose—I don’t know about you but I miss that red car at the end of the train. My train is steam powered so the caboose still exists and with good
reason. Here’s where the men slept, ate, relaxed. The caboose represents the balance we need in our lives. Allot time in your twenty-four hours for taking care of your spiritual, emotional, and physical well being. Spend time with God. Take a walk. All work and no play leads to burnout.

As I mentioned, you’re the Engineer on this train. If you’re teachable, work hard and don’t give up, then I believe you’ll get published or be multi-published. Now here’s the disclaimer: I took a train a few years back and learned that everyone on that train from the engineer on down to the lowest man is under the authority of the Conductor. You guessed it. The Conductor is God. Remember the journey itself is important—not just the destination. God may have lessons He wants you to learn along the way. Enjoy it. Write because you love it and don’t let your quest suck the joy out of your gift.

In bird by bird, Lamott says: “I look into my students’ faces and they look solemnly back at me.
“So why does our writing matter again?” they asked.
Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
  

I don’t always take my advice, especially this time of year. If you're feeling your schedule is a lost cause, don't get discouraged. Each day dawns anew, bringing a fresh start. Do you hear the clack of the wheels over the tracks, the haunting sound of the whistle as the train passes through the countryside? If so, you’re on the train, doing the best you can. 

If a train is too slow for you, maybe Santa will give you a lift!
I brought egg, ham and cheese breakfast sandwiches, tomato juice, tea and coffee, along with an assortment of Christmas cutout cookies. Leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.