Friday, September 30, 2011

"If you love what you do you wouldn't charge money to do it."

by Aidana WillowRaven

I had planned on continuing the What does the Art Director mean by “I need you to clean-up your work for print”. But, I've decided to continue that next week while a pet peeve of mine is on my mind.

promotional illo for Aldric & Anneliese
Social networking has changed a multitude of things for the freelance illustrator/artist/designer (as well as any type of freelance career). It has broadened our exposure and our job prospects. This is a good thing. But as with every good, there is a bad. It also means you going to run into more of those types of "clients" that think you should work for them for free proclaiming that if you love what you did you'd do it for free. 

I encountered another such wanna-be-client this morning on Twitter. Check out the two day exchange (it started last night):

(anonymous): Bro Do You Use Illustration? Are You Proficient?. My Brother (anonymous) Need Some People For a Project

*Being very familiar with Twitter lingo, I immediately got the vibe it's most likely a CD cover or something of that nature*

WillowRaven: I'm an illustrator if they are looking at several people ...

(anonymous): @WillowRaven You Chargin?

WillowRaven: Lol. Of course. I am a pro and it's how I make a living. Don't you charge when you work?

(anonymous): @WillowRaven Not If You Love What You Do.. :-p lol.. Could You Just Work With Him And See Where It Takes You... It'd Be Helpful

(anonymous): @WillowRaven I Actually Don't Charge

WillowRaven: i'm willing 2 negotiate a fair rate w/ him, but I cnt volunteer my time, supplies & years of training & experience.

WillowRaven: Loving wht I do doesn't feed my kid ... lol. I luv wht I do enough 2 protect my industry & charge 4 illustration/design.

How many times do you see this kind of exchange on Twitter or Facebook? Somebody requesting free or almost free art work in exchange for nothing more than "credit".

Being an artist of any tradition, whether it be illustration, design, animation, fine art, or crafts (whether it's digital or traditional) has rather high expenses high time consumption. It takes years of training &/or practice to gain proficiency. Requesting someone to work for free, though, is highly unprofessional and should be unacceptable. Especially when the requester actually has the audacity to condemn or insult the pro for expecting compensation.
Working pro bono is fine if the return is just as beneficial, or more so, than what a fee would have given you (I've done so on several occasions for various reasons). But we need to be aware and careful about what spec projects we accept.
Another way people will profit from you working for free will be to announce a "contest". Oh, there are legitimate and prestigious contests that the winning artists get a great deal of exposure and acclaim, and most of them you have to not only submit free work, but also pay an entry fee. Those are fine too, if you can afford them. But the ones you need to look out for, however, are the ones where the contest host will benefit personally (like a book cover or T-Shirt design). Those are just ploys for someone to benefit from your skills and abilities without having to pay for them.

If you are a newbie or trying to expand into a new style or genre, it is understandable that you may have to "pay some dues" and do a few projects purely for portfolio and publicity building. Just make sure those dues don't hurt you or your industry. Try to remember that every time you take on a spec project, that it lessens the value of the industry as a whole and people begin to expect that low rate more and more, making it tougher to raise your rates and expectancy later. 

Always make sure the "client" understands the value of what he/she is getting and that your willingness to work for less than standard rate "this time" is because it benefits you in whatever way, but it at least educates them as to what is standard and expected in the future.

Of course, there are always those who will chastise you for "pushing your opinion on them" (another Twitter exchange response when I pointed out how shamefully the free work was being requested), but those are the ones you want to avoid anyway if you ever hope to make a livelihood out of doing what you love, rather than only enjoying it as a hobby. After all, shouldn't we love our work?

Art Director & VP of Operation

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time Management Woes by Katie Hines

Right now, I am both a writer and an editor, a wife, and a mom who is an empty-nester. Of course, that doesn’t mean family matters don’t come between me and my writing/editing, because they definitely do. In some ways, I feel like my children are young again as I spend time babysitting my two preschool grandchildren--boys, and my are they busy! I also have the regular duties of things that must get done. You know, the obligatory cleaning, cooking, shopping, and laundry, etc. Whew, and you thought staying at home was a cinch.

I’ve read on the internet and in emails different ways to manage your time, from making lists, to mental lists, to setting aside blocks of time, and so forth. Whichever I decide to try first, I’ll just dump some laundry in first. Slacks needed for tonight go in the dryer, and my husband’s permanent press shirts go in the washer.

Now I can concentrate. At first, the whole list thing sounds good, so I try that. Excited about the possibilities, I dutifully create a list and record on it all the activities I want to accomplish. Then I promptly get overwhelmed by the length of it! What to do? I decide I will make two lists: one for the writing/editing, and one for household and wifely stuff. But I still get overwhelmed because now there are not just one, but two lists staring at me.

What to do? I decide that I would put one of the lists in the drawer, so I don’t have its beady little eyes piercing me all day long, and its mouth yammering for me to pay attention to it. Problem is, whichever list I am working on, I am still conscious of that one whose priorities I haven’t even touched upon.

Forget the lists.

How about blocking out times for writing/editing, and another for family/house related activities? Sounds good, doesn’t it? But herein lies the question: Do I concentrate on household things first, or write first? No matter whichever one I choose, the other is going to hover in the back of my mind. Then I get serious. And doggone it, I am going to write first, then work on house and family.

But here comes another problem: Do I read my writing emails first, or actually write or edit first? If I read through my emails first, then I don’t feel like writing at the end of it because I take the time to read the articles and blogs, all of which can consume a lot of time. Scratch the emails. I decide to write first. Open computer, open Word. Open document. Sit and stare. Where is my muse? Turns out, I haven’t had any coffee, so I go make some and drink it thankfully.

Sit back down, open my computer again. Open document. Am sitting and staring again. Geesh, muse, just show up, okay? So, in order to jump-start my muse, I backtrack in my document one chapter, and reread what I’ve written. Fortunately, that is enough to get me going again, and I begin to write.

Then another problem occurs to me. I haven’t set a specific amount of time to write. So, how will I know when I am done? I could just write until I got “written out,” but that’s not always good because sometime you have to persevere to get past a tough spot. Sigh. I decide on a time frame, and begin to write again.

My cell phone rings.

The dilemma: Do I answer the phone and stop writing for a little bit, or do I ignore it and keep writing? I peek at the screen. It’s my eldest daughter. My fingers hover over my keyboard. The phone keeps ringing. What if she has an emergency? What if she just wants me to keep the boys? What if she’s just saying “hello?” I agonize. I have voice mail. I decide to not answer it, but wait for the voice mail signal to come through. Nothing. Guess it wasn’t important after all. I turn off the cell phone. I reread the last paragraph.

I hear a buzzer. It’s the dryer, letting me know its cycle is finished. If I don’t get the clothes out now, they will wrinkle, and I’ll have to do them all over again, or worse, iron them. Okay. I leave my computer, and head to the laundry room. The clothes are dry and I’ve averted a wrinkle catastrophe by hanging them up. Unfortunately, it takes longer to wash the clothes than it does to dry them. It took me about five minutes to hang the clothing up, so in about five more minutes I’ll need to go put the freshly washed clothes in the dryer.

Back to my computer.

Now where was I? I reread the last couple of paragraphs, check a detail earlier in the story, and am in the middle of typing a new paragraph when the washing machine beeps. Doggone, I HAVE to have those clothes dry and ready for our evening out tonight. Harrumphing just a bit, I leave my computer and go put the wash in the dryer.

Back to my computer. Again. I’m staring cross-eyed at my document, wondering what is going to clamor for my attention next. All of the sudden, a Skype picture pops up, superimposing itself over the document I’m working on. It’s my youngest daughter, checking in from college. I haven’t talked to her in two weeks. I chat with her a few minutes and we catch up.

Looking at my document. What can go wrong now? I stare at it. My muse has disappeared, along with my desire to even try to write. So, I work my way through my emails and associated blogs/articles.

I glance at the clock, and realize my favorite daytime show is about to come on. Deciding to further manage my time, I take a TV break. I’ll get back to my story later today, after things have settled down. Maybe. Whatever. Tomorrow is a new day, and I'm sure it will go better than today.

Closing my computer, I head to the living room. Surely, nothing else can disrupt my schedule now. I’m worn out from such a busy day of writing...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing the Picture Book

Many illustrators are asked by self publishers to illustrate their picture books.  There are reasons why many of them decline.

In all fairness to the authors, the process of writing a picture book is not something that takes place quickly. Illustrating a picture book is also time consuming. If the illustrations are going to help "sell" the book they need time, care, and appeal.

This is a craft that has many thinking it is easy.  Take a look at what goes into a good picture book.

It will be under 1000 words.  Perhaps, if it is really polished it will be 500 words or less.  Each word must be chosen carefully and must belong to the story.  Because picture books are usually read to younger children the type of word does not need to be "readable" by the child.  But with the combination of words and great illustrations, a young child can "read" the book to him or herself after hearing it once.  The words may not be the same but the essence of the story is there and the pictures lead the child from page to page and event to event.

If the author has read their book to their family, children in the neighborhood, their own children or grandchildren and everyone "loved" it, there is still more to do. Maybe it is a great book. Maybe not.  The advice many illustrators will give is to submit the book to a traditional trade book publisher.  Yes that may mean rejections, long waits, and disappointment.  But, it is really the first step that should be taken.  The author does not need to submit illustrations with the book unless  they are also a  professional illustrator. The job of choosing an illustrator for any book is the job of the art director and editors of the publishing house. Some few houses will allow an author to request or suggest an illustrator, but that is up to the editors not the author.

Some authors really do want to self publish.  If they do, then there needs to be a reality check.

They need to know that they will be paying the illustrator a fair market fee for the work.  Normally it will be a flat fee that can be divided into smaller payments at each stage of the work. An ISBN number and perhaps a Library of Congress number will need to be purchased.  The self publisher needs to know that they will be paying a printer to prepare the books.

Some will choose a Print on Demand book publisher. This usually drives up the price of the book in order for the author to make a profit.

If they are using a printer who prints many books at a time, they will most likely need to commit to at least a run of 1000 books. The price per book is small, but there is shipping and storing to be considered. And still the author is not done with the self publishing process.  There is marketing to be considered.  How this is done and whether a PR firm is hired will determine the cost of marketing.

Once all those costs are considered the price of the book needs to be determined.  Too high and it will not sell, too low and the profit margin is dismal.

If truly determined, truly talented, and all of the above are considered carefully the self publisher is still not ready to launch their book.  Why?

Because there needs to be one more element in the process.  A good editor, proof reader or professional needs to take a look at the manuscript.  It may be hard to do but words will most likely have to be sacrificed.  Scenes may have to be truncated or moved around.  It might be a really good idea to put that manuscript away for a month or more and come back to it with fresh eyes and see if improvements can be made.

There is magic in a picture book that holds the attention of a young child and appeals not only to them but to the adults that may have to read that same story over and over, night after night.  That's what you want from your picture book?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Keeping It Easy For Kids by: Stephanie Burkhart

My son, Joe, in his kindergarten class

I volunteer in my son's kindergarten classroom each Thursday. The experience is especially rewarding because I love watching my son interact and grow with his classmates.

The children love having books read to them. Their eyes really light up when its reading time.

After reading my story to them this past Thursday, my son's teacher began asking questions. It was a nice reminder to me, as a writer, how important it is to keep it easy for kids. Most five-year-olds appreciate how you, the author, put story elements together and the proof is in their smiles. Some elements to keep in mind:


The setting should be a place that children have some experience with – a house, backyard, forest, lake, or beach.


Characters should be easy to relate to. For example: Mom, Dad, a dog, a cat, or bugs. What makes them easy to relate to? Heartwarming qualities such as kindness, sharing, and giving. Characters should embody emotions children see everyday including sadness, confusion, and anxiety.

The Problem

The kids in my son's class had a harder time indentifying the problem of the story when the teacher asked, but when she stated what it was, a lot of them said, "Oh, yeah!" The problem should be one the kids can understand. For example, frustration or loneliness.

The Solution

The solution has to be something they can identify with. Examples include an act of kindness, sharing a toy, or even a smile.

Being a children's writer can be challenging, but hanging around children, reading to them, and even watching a children's show with them can help to give you the perspective needed to craft a special story they can relate to.

My children's book, The Giving Meadow, was released with 4RV Publishing.
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Friday, September 23, 2011

What does the Art Director mean by “I need you to clean-up your work for print”.

by Aidana WillowRaven

In the world of book illustration, you’ll typically find two types of artists: those who are fine art trained, and those who are graphic design trained. I am seeing more and more artists crossing and blurring those lines and performing tasks in both the “fine artist” and “graphic designer” traditions (often calling themselves ‘‘graphic artists’’ or ‘‘graphic illustrators’’ or some other combination), but the basis of the training for each is very different. Each approaches an illustration in a different manner and from a different perspective. They may sometimes use the same tool, but the way they use that tool can differ greatly. 

Understanding this difference is essential in my dealings with the artists at 4RV, and I assume it’s much the same with most ADs (Art Directors). I often have to explain to a fine artist what I mean by “I need you to clean-up your work for print,” where as a graphic designer usually knows what I mean already. This need to explain what “clean-up” means can frustrate an AD or publisher because to him or her, it seems stupid-basic-simple, unless they have a background in both traditions.

Hopefully, this post will help a few fine artists feel less flustered when their AD says, “I need you to clean-up your work for print.” It may also help your AD’s sanity if you already know what they mean when they say it ... lol.

Why does the AD think my work is “dirty”?

Let’s start with showing you what the problem is and why. When working with traditional mediums on artist papers, there tends to be a little bit of “dirt” surrounding the main elements of an illustration, especially if it has a lot of negative space surrounding it. 

When an artist uses lead or charcoal, for example, there is usually telltale dust from the medium that scatters on the paper surrounding the main elements in the drawing, or maybe there are faint sketch lines that were used in the building of the work.  In the graphic design world, these things would absolutely need to be removed unless the telltale dust or sketch lines were somehow desired for the work’s final effect; so most designers already know how. In the fine art world, these faint attributes add character and charm to a piece. It’s simply part of the art, and really isn’t even noticed or given much thought. Go to a gallery that has framed drawings (not prints, but originals), and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll notice similar bleed or run “dirt” on original watercolor or pen-n-ink work, as well.

 But, to get a fine art piece into a book, it must be scanned and made into a digital file. The scanning process involves a high intensity light to basically shine through your work and catch every bit of color, shade, and variance on the paper and interpret it in pixels on the screen. That means it picks up every finger print, every dust particle, every line, every smudge, then visually emphasizes it like a sore thumb. To make matters worse, once the finished layout goes to print, the printers emphasize that “dirt” even more, making the illustrations look muddied and unrefined. Can you see how art “dirt” could be a problem with the look and quality of a finished book?

So artists, don’t get offended when an AD asks you to clean-up the work. Nothing is wrong with it, other than it’s not ready for print, okay? So, if you’re not willing to pay a graphic designer to clean-up your work for print (designers in my area pull $45 an hour or more), then here are a few tips on how you, the fine artist, can do it yourself with the help of a photo editing program (like Photoshop) and a little patience and time. I’ll be using Photoshop for my examples and descriptions, but most photo-editing software does primarily the same thing; so edit these tips according to your own needs.

First step: cleaning-up the negative space.

If your illustration is not a “full bleed” illustration (which means full color or imagery goes past the edge of the trim line), then there is going to be some degree of negative space (area where these is no color or shading). Clearing these areas from medium debris and "dirt," even dust particles that got transferred from a dusty scanner, is the first and easiest step, though it can be quite time consuming.

In the chapter heading illustration below, you can see a lot of “dirt” surrounding the main elements. By the looks of it, the upper left quadrant is possibly due to scanner streaks left over from the last time the scanner was wiped down. On the three other quadrants, you can see paper edge. For the book’s purposes, all we want to see is the bat, ball, and chapter number. Everything else has to go. There are many ways to do this, but I am forever in a rush trying to meet a deadline, so I look for the fastest, yet effective ways to use the many tools PS (Photoshop) provides.

*Illo: a3 chapter 1*

 If you look on the left, you’ll see I’ve started with the polygonal lasso tool. This tool allows me to surround the main elements in a loose fashion (not to close to the image, just yet) by clicking at key spots and creating a series of straight edges. I then go to the top and Select-Inverse, which selects everything but what I surrounded, then I either erase or delete the space, or, if I want to be sure I don’t have varying shades of white, I’ll use my eyedropper tool to pick-up the paper's color and paint the selected negative space with a big brush size to ensure I fully cover the space. 

You can also use the paint bucket tool to dump large amounts of color at once, but sometimes the computer reads darker shades as separate colors, and it won’t cover as well, needing several dumps or odd variations, which is what we are trying to remove to begin with.

Once the bulk of the negative space is clean, now it’s time to refine the elements. Zoom in to get a better look and avoid potential damage to the illo (I should say now – SAVE OFTEN – I’ve lost hours of tedious work because I was too involved and focused to remember to save every few minutes. Unlike some other programs, PS does not auto-save nor does it keep a temp file that remembers what you were doing).

I am still using my digital pencil tool, but this time with a smaller brush or head size. I carefully paint over the remaining “dirt” so that the only thing my eye wants to stray to is the scene elements. 

Second step: adjusting brightness and contrast.

As I get to the upper bat section, I realize that this illo is really too faint to transfer into print well, so next, I adjust the brightness and contrast. A soft image is appropriate at times, but not in this instance. We really want the reader to see the bat, so it has to pop. Go to Image-Adjustments-Brightness/Contrast to get the pop-up window that allows you to adjust smoothly along two dials. In this instance, I darkened it by -50 and upped the contrast to 100.  Compare the before and after: *

before ~ after

Since this is a more personal sense of aesthetic, the settings will vary for each piece. Do try to remember, however, that all of the illos in a book should complement each other. So although each will have slightly varying settings, at some point you’ll want to view them side-by-side in groups to make sure they are set at similar contrasts and brightnesses.

In my next post I’ll cover what clean-ups need done in the positive space (in the area where there is actual art work).

Art Director & VP of Operation

*This post is meant to be a basic tutorial, not an in-depth course. Not all aspects of clean-up are covered here, just some basic ones.
*Today’s illustrations were drawn by the late Kipp Davis, for the soon to be released 4RV publication Girls Love Softball, and cleaned by WillowRaven since he passed before he could complete the task himself.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Can You Do on a Whimsical Wednesday?

What Can You Do on a Whimsical Wednesday?
by Joan Y. Edwards

What to do on a Whimsical Wednesday?
Fun! Mid-week Whimsical Wednesday?

On a whim, you can go shopping in the mall.
You don’t have to buy anything at all.

Go to the bank.
Add more money to the rank.

Go to a park and swing.
Walk a nature trail and sing.

Visit a library. Sit in a comfy chair.
Read 3 children’s books while you’re there.

Sit on your deck. Watch the birds fly to and fro.
Throw them a few bread crumbs before you go.

Take a flashlight to the attic space.
Look through toys, pictures, and lace.

Make paper airplanes in the den.
Fly them to a friend and watch them spin.

Climb up to the top of an apple tree,
Just to see what you can see.

Visit a church in town.
Turn a frown upside down.

Bake a cake.
Swim in a lake.

Snuggle close to a friend.
Pray your friendship will never end.

Thanks for reading my poem. I hope you enjoyed it. Do something fun today. It's Whimsical Wednesday. Fun is food for the writer's soul. Let life's fun experiences soak through your skin, into your writer's soul where new books begin.

Celebrate being you!

Joan Y. Edwards

Monday, September 19, 2011

4RV adding to eBook list

by Vivian Zabel   

          4RV Publishing is formatting and adding books to the eBook lists as quickly as possible. Not only will the electronic books be available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but also from the 4RV Bookstore. Although the available list is short at this time, we will add as quickly as titles are ready.

Children's Books by 4RV in eBook (Kindle and Nook Color)

A Wish and a Prayer                         Beth Bence Reinke (author) Ginger Nielson (illustrator)      $4.99

In My Bath                                       Beth Bence Reinke (author) Ginger Nielson (illustrator)         4.50

Lion in the Living Room                 Caelaach McKinna (author)  A.R. Stone (illustrator)                4.99

Being Jacob: Day at the Zoo           Suzy Koch (author)  Aidana WillowRaven (illustrator)           4.99

Young Adult Books 

Bubba & Giganto: Odds Against Us   Lea Schizas (author)                                                              2.99

Guardian                                              Katie Hines (author)                                                              5.50

Just Breeze                                            Beverly Stowe McClure (author)                                          5.50

Second Chance                                     Galand Nuchols (author)                                                        9.99

Prairie Dog Cowboy                             V. Gilbert Zabel (author)                                                       4.50


Aldric & Anneliese                               Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. (author)                                              5.50

Being Formatted for Release

The Art of Science                                Ransom Noble (author)

Sparrow Alone on the House Top        Jean James and Mary James (authors)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Promotion: Review of Aldric & Anneliese

by Vivian Zabel 

          The Midwest Book Review sent the company the tear sheet of the Katherine Boyer review of Aldric & Anneliese. This is the second review posted in their online book review magazine "Reviewer's Bookwatch."

           Anyone can send two copies of his/her book to The Midwest Book Review, along with a media kit, and any good book will be reviewed and posted online.

           Now, for a sample of Katherine Boyer's review:

Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. has written a thrilling novel set in the 6th century titled Aldric & Anneliese. This book depicts 6th century Eastern Europe when chivalrous knights abounded and ladies supported them. It was a lawless age where barbarian tribes traveled the countryside killing and plundering as romances flourished and knights fought wars with honor.

Aldric is raised with Edmund who was to become king of the unified regions. Unfortunately, Edmund's life ended soon after he became king ... After Aldric recovers from the wounds he received in the same battle, he sets out to avenge the death of his friend and king.

          Boyer ends the review with the following:

I found this book to be a "page turner" that will entice several age groups. I hope Mr. Gilleland will follow Aldric ...

          The only thing I would have liked to see, or not see, would be for the reviewer not to reveal details that spoil the book for others to read. Somethings need to be found only when the book is read.

          Aldric & Anneliese can be found through most bookstores,,, and the 4RV Bookstore. It is also available on Kindle and Nook.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When research dictates a re-vamp ...

by Aidana WillowRaven

Sometimes it just can't be avoided.

I try to create a book's cover before starting on a book's illustrations, which gives the author and publisher something to use when building hype for a book's pending release, while I work on the illustrations and layout. But once in a rare while, a cover art and design re-vamp is needed.

One such instance is my latest children's book, Strangers in the Stable by Jim Laughter. It's a sweet little early reader that was extra fun because I got to explore the whole visual interpretation in digital paint vs traditional mediums. I did the cover first, as I usually do, and both the author and publisher loved it (always a good thing ... lol). One problem I learned while doing research for the following illos, I had the architecture all wrong (not such a good thing).

As is often the case, the story itself has a little more room for 'creative license' than the visuals do. The original title said 'Barn,' so I made the setting a barn, as most westerners think of it. Upon further research, I found that not only does ancient Bethlehem not use wood buildings to house their livestock, they also don't refer to such structures as barns. They used, and still use for the most part, stone structures and tents. Not wood and lumber barns ... lol.

Now, many publishers and artists would have just let this pass. As they say, time is money. After all, how many six-year-olds would notice? But 4RV has a high standard, and so do I. My own sense of aesthetic and accuracy just wouldn't let me let it go. So I talked to Vivian, and she agreed, and in a matter of minutes a decision for accuracy over convenience and time was finalized. Re-vamp it was.

And, as with most re-vamps, as much as I grudgingly hate them, I think they always turn out for the better. I assume it's much the same way with authors (dreading edits, but happier with the final result, none the less).

Here is the re-vamped cover. You tell me which one pulls your mental awareness into ancient Bethlehem better? Which one puts you more mentally 'there,' at Jesus' birth? See the difference just the architecture makes when it come to the mood of an illo?

Next question, would you be as willing to go through a re-vamp? Or would you have thought: 'The publisher and author approved it. I don't have time or money for a unnecessary re-vamp. I won't bring it up.'

As artists, especially illustrators, we need to remember even if the illustration 'looks' right, it could still be 'wrong,' and its our responsibility, if we discover an error such as this, to bring it up with the publisher or author. You never know, it may take the book from good to better.

Besides, how often have you criticized the cover artist on their choice of visuals if you know something portrayed way inaccurately? Heck, that's why I took art in college (my pet peeve is proportion, ie: legs too small for the rest of the body, scale wrong, etc).

Try to remember, each piece should be worthy of being 'a portfolio piece.' And misrepresented images are not good portfolio pieces. So when a re-vamp is needed, don't resist. Pull up those sleeves, dig out your tools, and get to work happily, knowing you're about to create visual

Art Director & VP of Operation

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Buttoning Up Your Characters

by Ginger Nielson

Your ideas have come quickly and centered around a plot you have wanted to develop for some time. Your characters, however need to be more uniquely defined.

Have you ever noticed the unique quality and design of a particular button? In some cases a button can be so intricate or finely designed that one could create an entire outfit around just that one amazing button.

I have a box of buttons that have been collected and added to over the years. Many of them came from street vendor sales on Canal Street in NYC. But there are notions counters, flea markets, and even online sales of button collections that can contain many fascinating varieties. Using the buttons to develop a character can be more than a fun exercise. It can actually help to create an entire cast of characters.

Put a handful of buttons on your desk or work area. Take a look at them. Separate out some of the most unique. These are your main characters. Who are they? Let me explain.

Right over here is a velvet button. It is dark blue and so soft on the outside. If you squeeze it a bit, however, you will feel that it is only covering a very hard interior. Ah, this character may have all the smoothness of velvet but inside there is a heart of stone.

Next to that is a wooden button. It is very plain and worn on the outside edges, but here in the center a little brass piece has been added. The shine and sparkle draw your eye in at once. This character has seen pain and heartache, but keeps that glow no matter what has occurred in the past.

What about this button? It is a simple pearl. There is a decided pinkish tinge to this one. Maybe it is a character with great potential that has yet to be realized. This individual is beginning to become the person it was meant to be.

There is that silver button. A brushed metallic coating hides the glow that should be there. This character is struggling with some inner demons. The shine has been worn off, but it was there at some point before life intervened with problems.

Those problems were not nearly as bad as the character who was developed from the broken button. Made of cheap plastic, it cannot be stitched, glued, or taped back together.
It might be useless unless something intervenes. Perhaps your character is searching for a cure, or remedy for a problem so large it seems insurmountable.

The last two buttons are direct opposites.
The first one is large, black, and shiny. It was most likely used on someone’s coat long ago. This character has a mystery connected with it. What happened in its past to create such a dark yet dramatic appeal.

The second is a finely crafted crystal. It is one of a group that once belonged together as a family. Even if you take one away from the family it still glows brightly. The light shines through it, around it, on it, and can not be overshadowed. This character is your hero or heroine. Overcoming darkness with a light from within. No tragedy is too great for this character to handle. This character has the ability to shine light in the darkest places.
Perhaps the shiny black button and the finely crafted crystal are opposing personalities you will want to develop.

Who is living in your button collection?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Writing for Free – A Means to a Visibility End

I have come to the conclusion that the most time consuming aspect of writing is keeping up with all the useful information that is made available through everywhere from business sites to personal blogs. It seems everyone is offering free information. I have already spent entire days just surfing through sites and reaming ideas, strategies, tips, and so on. It really is endless.

In the writing world everyone tries to and actually needs to keep their work and names visible. Whether you’re selling books, or services, or another product, you need to reach the potential customers. Providing information is a primary means of accomplishing this. The information you provide creates an informational funnel leading readers back to your site/s.

One useful tool to create an information funnel is the blog. New blogs are popping up everyday with free tips and advice. According to statistics from August 2011, there were 131,709,724 active blogsites.

The blog has become a great vehicle to bring you to the reader. It is an excellent way to show readers what you have to offer. The information you provide will hopefully not only draw readers, but keep them coming back for more. Using my own blog as an example, I found that if I don’t offer beneficial information, I lose followers.

Another vehicle to bring you to the reader is the free online magazines. This is where you can write and have your articles published. While you don’t get paid, you do get published. Although it doesn’t have the credibility of paying markets, it is a great way to hone your craft, expand your visibility, and establish yourself as an expert in your niche.

One more source of visibility is writing guest blogs or articles for other blogs or sites.  Often the writers are looking for new and fresh content for their sites or newsletters.  If the offer arises take advantage of it, or ask bloggers if they would be interested in a guest blog from you.

Every marketing teleseminar and workshop I have been to encourages writers offer information through blogs or free online magazines. According to marketing experts the name of the game is visibility. Free information draws readers. I can confirm that this is true because I make it a point to attend all the free teleseminars and teleclasses possible. 

The businesses that offer this free information want to draw you there so they can sell you their services. This is understandable. It is a win-win situation; they acquire some new customers and you, whether you take advantage of their services or not, receive valuable information.

The best strategy is to start out offering free tips and articles until you can provide your own expert information and advice.  It’s important to remember that this free information will draw readers and show them that your posts and articles are helpful and needed. Once you feel comfortable enough that the information you are providing is of substantial value you can offer it in the form of e-books, newsletters, teleseminars, workshops, or other means for a fee.

But, to what extent should a writer offer their services for free? 

While taking this path of visibility it’s important to remember that submitting to free ezines or guest blogging is not just a lack of financial gain, it’s the time loss incurred while preparing these articles – this is called opportunity costs, the cost of choosing one path over another, and the related loss of opportunities because of that choice.

You should consider writing for free as an investment in your writing career and as an effective tool to attract clients or buyers.

It should also be noted that even when you reach the point of being considered an expert, it’s still a good idea to publish articles in the free ezines for continued visibility and as a means of drawing new readers/customers to your sites and services. And, don’t forget that while you’re providing free information you can also be submitting articles to paying markets.

Karen Cioffi is an author, ghostwriter, and freelance writer. For writing and marketing information visit Karen at and sign up for her free newsletter: A Writer’s World. You’ll get 2 free e-books on writing and marketing in the process, and two more just for stopping by.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Promotion: Reviews of Time Pullers

by Vivian Zabel 

          Time Pullers, by Horton Deakins, is 4RV Publishing's first science fiction novel. The cover, designed by Aidana WillowRaven, represents the altered view readers will have about UFOs and other staples of SciFi.

          The novel has received many reviews and comments, all positive. Personally, I found the book intriguing, and I'm not an avid science fiction fan. However, I'll have to add Horton Deakins to my list of favorite writers in this genre: Anne McCaffrey (and with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough), Edgar Rice Borroughs, and Terry Brooks' earlier books.

          Let's read some of the reviews and comments about this "different" science fiction novel.

From Lew Silverberg :
I have finished reading the Time Pullers and want you to know how much I enjoyed reading it.  The book was full of surprises for me.  Not just the plot and the character development, but the originality and creativity that is evident.  Also evident the amount of research you put into it.  Different languages, different cultures, the military – all show how much you had put into the writing of the book.  Interestingly I also found much in it that I saw as auto biographical – much of you is in the story.  I guess you write about what you know, and what you know is often yourself, so it comes out on paper.  I was lost in a lot of the science –I take it on faith that there is something in there but it was over my head.  Nevertheless, I found it an exemplary work and I want to congratulate you for achieving it.  But the final twist I never saw coming!  Perfect! 
I guess you feel great pride at having completed it – or at least you should be proud.  So on behalf of me and my cousin Willa Silverberg here’s a salute to you!!!
(Author’s note: Willa Silverberg is a character from the book)

From Marian B.
Very compelling story! I had a hard time putting the book down this morning so that I could get a few other things taken care of! Very inventive!
From Suzanne M.
My son and his family left last Sunday and my brother-in-law and his family left on Wednesday, so I finally had the opportunity to start your book last night.  I am only 50 pages in, but I’m REALLY ENJOYING it!   
Your writing is very readable and the imagery works for me.  I could hear the brakes on the big rig as Clark Gable tried to stop at the gate.  I am visual, so I pictured the ’76 Trans Am as red and Dr. Dubois’ Citroen as black. 

I’m looking forward to diving into the story this weekend.
(note: Suzanne went on to finish the book and said she enjoyed it and would recommend it.)

Amazon Reviews: 
Five stars (by Jerry):  A great hard science fiction time travel book. Very intriguing and hard to put down. The scientific theory explanations are what sets this book apart from other sci-fi books. The detail of the time travel theories and the process leaves you convinced, and you have to remind yourself that this is fiction. Interesting characters, suspenseful storyline. If you enjoyed “Contact,” you will enjoy "Time Pullers"

Five stars (by Larry):  Very interesting book with some local color. A thinking person's book with intrigue and action. Moves along nicely. At each chapter's end, you want to know what is coming next.

 Reviews on the cover:

“Intrigue, duplicity, parallel universes and alternate realities combine to make this a novel that perhaps hits too close to home. Thank you Mr. Deakins for a fun read!” 
Wayne Harris-Wyrick, Celestial Wizard
Director, Kirkpatrick Planetarium
, Science Museum Oklahoma

“Full of logistical details on how to deal with a threat from the past that can seriously ruin your day in the future.”
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Author of more than a dozen novels
and co-author with Anne McCaffrey

          Time Pullers can be found through most bookstores,, and the 4RV Bookstore.