Novel Noshing: Foods Inspired By Our Novels and Characters, Part 4

october-cutting-board

Welcome Back!  Today’s headlining picture makes me think of my favorite thing about autumn baking…apples and cinnamon.  Here in the North Country, Autumn is in full swing.  Cool, crips nights, and sun-shiny days illuminate the colorful trees here in the Adirondacks.  It’s the season for steamy drinks, comforting casseroles, warm breakfasts to get us started in the morning.

Which brings me to our featured author of the week.

For this fourth installment of my series, I present to you author Melody Winter, and her soon-to-be-released novel, INIQUITY.  Here is Melody, with a bit about her upcoming release.

melodywinter

Village life for my characters in Iniquity is hard. Food is limited, and meat scarce. But the one meal that’s made every morning is a hearty bowl of porridge. The men need a filling breakfast to see them through a day working at the fields, and the women usually eat their fair share as well. The weather is cold, miserable and it often rains, hence a stomach full of warm porridge is a good start to everyone’s day.

oliver-twist

Athena mentions having to soak the oats overnight. This was a traditional way of making porridge. For each serving, the equivalent of 50 grams of oats was added to a mix of 300ml water and goats milk if it was available. The following morning it was cooked in a large metal pot over hot coals, stirring constantly until it boiled, and then stirred again for a further ten minutes.

Unfortunately, in Iniquity there isn’t much else you can add to the porridge as fruit and other plant growth is severely hindered by the lack of sunlight. The villagers only grow the necessities.

INIQUITY is due for release on the 25th October, available through amazon, or a signed paperback direct from Melody. The ebook is currently available for pre-order at a special discounted price on amazon:

Amazon.com: Link to Iniquity on amazon US  

Amazon.co.uk: Link to Iniquity on amazon UK

Email Melody: melodywinterbooks@gmail.com

About the author:

Growing up, Melody showed a natural ability in art, a head for maths, and a tendency to write too long English essays. Difficult to place in the world when she graduated, she pursued a career in teaching, but ended up working in finance. Melody is convinced the methodical times she spends working with numbers fuel her desire to drift into dream worlds and write about the illusory characters in her head.

Melody Winter lives in York, North Yorkshire, England with her husband and two sons. When not dealing with football, rugby, and a whole plethora of ‘boy’ activities, she will be found scribbling notes for her stories, or preparing for another trip to the nearby beaches at Scarborough and Whitby. With an obsession for anything mythical, Melody revels in reading and writing about such creatures, and creating her own.

 

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Book Review: Hide The Elephant by Jonathan Dunne

EXTRA, EXTRA!!!  HIDE THE ELEPHANT RELEASES TOMORROW!!!

It’s not every day that this North Country Girl is afforded the opportunity to read an advance copy of one of her favorite author’s upcoming novels, so when Jonathan Dunne, author of Balloon Animals, Living Dead Lovers and The Nobody Show, asked me if I would be willing, I jumped at the chance.  I have interviewed Mr. Dunne a number of times (just click on the book titles just above for more information about him), and our conversations always have surprises in store.

What follows is my review of HIDE THE ELEPHANT, the upcoming release from dark humorist Jonathan Dunne.  I hope you keep an eye out for it.  It’s a real gem!

HIDE THE ELEPHANT by Jonathan Dunne: Expect The Unexpected

Any fan of Jonathan Dunne will come to expect certain things when he releases a new novel.  They will expect to be entertained.  They will expect to be startled at its many oddities.  And they will expect a dark humor that only Jonathan Dunne can deliver.  But if his new book has proven anything to me, it is that with Jonathan Dunne, the reader has to expect the unexpected.

I am a fan of Mr. Dunne’s novel’s.  I have been from the first moment I read a single page of his first book.  From Balloon Animals, to Living Dead Lovers, to The Nobody Show, I have grown accustomed to his dark yet unbelievably funny scenarios that split my sides from the laughter.  But in his latest work, HIDE THE ELEPHANT, Mr. Dunne shows us a side to his writing that I believe will further cement him in my arsenal of writer’s whose works are not to be missed.

Like his previous novels, Jonathan Dunne artfully pulls the reader into the world of his main character.  He does this by addressing The Reader directly in the text from time to time, which may seem taboo, but I find it charming.  You become part of the story in this way.  Also, like his other works, the setting is often something from way out in left field, but always in Ireland.

HIDE THE ELEPHANT has something different, though, in that the plot was incredibly sweet, almost heart-wrenching at times.  Our hero, Mick Munroe, is a zoo keeper, spending the better part of forty years caring for an Indian Elephant at the zoo.  When Altzheimer’s Disease begins to take its toll on Mick’s memory, he is forced into early retirement.

HIDE THE ELEPHANT tells the story of Mick and his elephant, Sinbad, as they escape from captivity; Mick’s captivity, in the form of senility, and Sinbad’s, in the form of literal bars.  With nothing to lose, they take off on an adventure across Ireland to find freedom.  And this Reader found herself admiring the way that Mr. Dunne mirrored Mick’s life with that of Sinbad’s.  It was beautiful to see how the two captives leaned on each other for support, through all of the tough times, lucid or otherwise.

This is not to say that humor is lacking in HIDE THE ELEPHANT.  There are plenty of places where poor Mick struggles just to get through the crazy thing his life has become, oh, mercy!  And his Snicker’s-eating elephant is quite delightful at times.  To put it bluntly, this book has something for just about everyone.

Not to be overlooked is my other favorite thing about Jonathan Dunne’s novels, which are his references to the places and character’s from his previous novels.  I really like the cameo of Arthur Lawless from The Nobody Show, as well as the mentions of other citizens of Old Castle and Limerick City.  These references pull The Reader further into the world of Dunne’s mind.  Brilliant.

In my previous reviews for Mr. Dunne’s books, I encourage the readers of my reviews to check out his work.  But this time, I would also mention that Jonathan Dunne has now shown that he is a writer who is evolving, embracing more sensitive issues, and doing so with finesse.  I look forward to my next Jonathan Dunne read, although after this one, I really can’t imagine what to expect from him next!

Writerly Advice: Keeping Busy While In The Query Trenches

Hello Readers!

Thank you for stopping by my blog today 🙂

Today’s post finds me at a time where I am waiting to hear back on some important information.  So I thought I might share some of my diversions which are helping me deal with the wait.  Since you are most likely a writerly type, this will pertain to you, and you will most likely be able to relate.  But many of us wear multiple hats, and some of this might ring true to other areas of your lives as well.  I know it does for me.

Diversion #1:  New Manuscript.

once upon a time

As many of you are aware, I recently started a new manuscript.  I know, I know.  I broke my policy of finishing my fall NaNoWriMo project by the end of the summer (see my Summer Bucket List post for proof).  But this new manuscript couldn’t wait.  I swear.  So in the back of my head, I feel a little bit of guilt about shelving my 2015 NaNo, but it’s okay.  No Biggie.

I mention the new manuscript because working on it has kept me busy.  Really busy.  It’s not keeping me completely sidetracked while I wait, but seriously, it’s helping.  And I actually love the fact that I had to let my NaNo sit a little bit, because when my mind feels like the new manuscript has to gel some, I can switch gears back to it.  Which is good, but sometimes I feel a little bit like this:

stressed with post its

Except unlike this picture, my sticky notes have things written on them; things that occasionally help me keep ideas organized, but not always.

Diversion #2:  This Blog.

There is nothing more gratifying to me as a writer, than connecting with other writerly types.  This past couple of years, I have spent time with authors, poets, screenwriters, and industry professionals all right here on this blog.   Waiting to hear back as a writer can be tough.  When my mind starts to think the worst, I try to take the bull by the horns and learn something new or share something useful.

Blogs are great for that.  Through them, you can pose questions, share helpful information, interview other writers, etc.  All of these things aren’t going to make the time go any faster, but they might make the time more pleasurable, and divert your attention somewhat.

Diversion #3:  Read something new.  And review it.

This isn’t rocket science.  We like to read.  It’s what we do.  It’s what we hope to give our own readers.  By taking the time to read the works of others, we help to pay it forward.  By reviewing the books, perhaps on your blog, you can get a conversation started, thereby helping to pass the time as well.

Diversion #4:  Plan a trip.

journal coins, map

You don’t actually have to take the trip, mind you, but I sometimes got to a travel site and make plans, down to what excursions I’ll take once there.  On my “To-Visit” list is The Pacific Northwest, South Dakota, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Austria.  There are plenty of other places I’d love to see, but these are just what I have been thinking about as new stories and world’s swirl around in my head.

Hopefully this helps.   And as an added bonus, writing this post tonight has helped divert my attention from the waiting game for about an hour or so!  To that end, I’m going to get myself a couple of Oreo’s and get back to Diversion #1:  my new manuscript.

Happy writing and waiting, everyone!

Spring Cleaning: A Chance To Take Stock In What We Have

Spring Cleaning is an annual ritual my family undertakes, literally, once a year. As much as I dislike the enormous chore of deep cleaning the house, it feels good to clear things out, take stock in what we have and what we might repurpose or pass on to someone else who may need it.

This past week, as part of this Spring Cleaning process, I took a look at all of my blog posts. Every single one of them! I discovered some real gems in there once I dusted off the cobwebs and reminded myself what had inspired each post.

I can honestly say I have grown quite a bit as a writer since I first began this blog. One of the nagging thoughts I had during the earliest posts was, “What gives me the right to post anything for other writers?” Another was, “What makes me think I can post anything that another writer may find valuable?”

I have gotten over those feelings of self-doubt over the years, thankfully!

My first posts were basically throw-aways, as I tried to navigate the way WordPress worked for blogging. But then I found something of a focus, and I began to reach out to other authors after reading their books. New relationships were formed as I would interview each one.

And I must say I adore doing interviews. My interview style has developed through the years into something that I take a lot of pride in. I have a lot of confidence in my questioning techniques now, which translates into some very interesting discussions!

Another thing I discovered is that some of my posts now fit into blog series and mini-series. My Writerly Advice topics continue to be great to write about, as well as my NaNo Mini-Series interviews. I can’t wait for next year’s NaNo Mini-Series!

…Which brings me to the biggest discovery during my Blog Spring Cleaning: Flashback Time Machine!

Flashback Time Machine is a series I started, then forgot about. In the series, I write about some literature classics, and come up with questions I would have liked to ask the author if they were still alive today. I enjoyed writing those posts a great deal.

Well, it’s time to resurrect the Flashback Time Machine! In the coming weeks, I will be working on the next installment of that series. I won’t divulge the book or author yet, although I already have the plan in place.

For now, thank you to all of my blog readers and followers! It means the world to me that we can connect in this way. Spring Cleaning can be awesome! Not only did I take stock of the written content on this blog from its earliest posts, but I also took stock in the many views, comments and followers that grew out of it.

If you have a topic for this blog that you would like me to cover, please leave a comment below!

An Interview With My Readers!

On this very blog, I interview a lot of writers and people involved in the publishing process.  But today I’m going to try something different!  Hang onto your hats 🙂

As I work on writing a manuscript, I find that the characters and scenes play out like a movie in my mind.  I’m not sure that is particularly unique to me, but I do think it’s an interesting phenomenon.  As the scenes and conversations go by, not only do I have the visual in mind, but also the soundtrack and sometimes even the score.  Again, not sure if other people experience this, but I suspect they do.  You might think that my being a musician and having all of these ideas, musical and non-musical, in my head as I write, my prose would contain amazing detail and imagery.

It doesn’t.  In fact, I struggle with it sometimes (But I’ll save that for another post!).

For today, though, I’d like to interview you, my readers, about you novel’s soundtrack.  Your novel can be published or not, complete or not.  Those silly details don’t matter for this!   If you would like to take part, and I’d love it if you did, please write your responses to my questions in the comment section.  Include some links, if you want!  Here are the questions:

1.  Does the music you personally listen to influence the books/stories that you write?  If so, can you give us an example?

2.  When you think about your latest completed novel or work in progress, what music comes to mind?  Have you put together a playlist for it?

3.  Do you use specific music to help you “get in the zone” for a writing session?

 

I’ll go ahead and answer first.

1.  I do think that the music I listen to can influence what I write.  For instance, before writing my first novel, Muse’s song Citizen Erased was on constant repeat.  That novel has a definite “Musey” vibe.  A little dark, and introspective.  Here is the lyric video for that tune:

 

 

 

2.  My latest novel is quite different from my first.  I wouldn’t say that I have a full playlist for it, but Bruce Springsteen’s Fire would definitely be on it!

 

 

 

 

3.  I definitely use music for “getting in the zone”.  If I know I only have a certain amount of time to write, I may prep myself by listening to the music that I know can get me ready, mentally, so I can maximize my time.  And sometimes, like I mentioned about my first novel, a song can literally throw me into the zone!

 

So, now it’s your turn!  Tell us about your soundtrack!  I love connecting with my readers 🙂

Thanks for playing along!

 

Completing the Trifecta: A Publishing Chat with Summer Wier, Marketing Director with REUTS Publishing

Summer Wier

All this month, I have been fortunate enough to feature REUTs Publishing’s Behind-The-Scenes talent. Beginning with Editorial Director, Kisa Whipkey, and then with Cover Artist and REUT’s founder, Ashley Ruggirello, we all got an  inside look at the inner workings of a small publisher, following the process from acquisitions to print.

Kisa’s interview can be found here.

Ashley’s interview can be found here.

I highly recommend checking those out, whether you are looking for a publisher or if you’re just plain curious about the process of publishing, like I am.

 

But today is a big day, as I complete my mini-series trifecta interviewing

Summer Wier, Marketing Director for REUTS Publishing!

Susan: It’s so nice to have you with us on my Writer’s Block, Summer! Welcome! Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background? Do you have a degree in marketing? If not, how did your path lead you to where you are today, career-wise? How did you end up as the Marketing Director at REUTS Publishing?

Summer: Hi, Susan! Thanks for having me. Let’s see, where to start. I have a wide variety of experience under my belt and consider myself a jack-of-all-trades. My educational background includes an accounting degree and an MBA. So while I don’t have marketing degree specifically, it was a focus of both my undergrad and grad degrees. Over the years (I won’t tell you how longs it’s been since I graduated), I’ve had the opportunity to work in various capacities contributing to experience in marketing, graphic design, web development, SEO, sales, contract drafting…you name it. I’m one of those people who isn’t content doing just one thing or specializing in one trade, I want to know how every “part” works and contributes to an organization as a whole. As the Finance and Marketing Director for a chain of retail stores in the DFW area, I’ve had a chance to really understand how essential it is for departments to coordinate efforts in pursuit of success. It’s this perspective and experience that we incorporate at REUTS. We all wear many hats.

I started at REUTS as a Jr. Editor and acquisitions assistant in an effort to gain some experience in the publishing industry. When Founder Ashley Ruggirello put out a call for a Marketing Guru, I responded “I’m your gal!” And the rest is history.

 

Susan: During the acquisitions process at REUTS, I have learned that the four directors chime in on each manuscript. What are the things you look for in a manuscript? On the other hand, are there things that would be red flags to you as the Marketing Director?

Summer:I assess marketability based on things like genre, voice, originality, and complementary titles from our current library and outside sources. Of course a manuscript has to have “that special something” whether in spades or as a glimmer of potential; it really is all about the manuscript. We realize that very few authors have experience doing marketing, or knowing what that really entails, and that’s also where I come in.

As far as red flags go, unoriginal first pages top my list. You’ve probably seen the list of don’ts: waking up from a dream or starting off in a dream, getting ready for school, describing characters using a mirror. I am immediately turned off by those things (unless the execution has original elements or is spectacular). It also makes me wonder if the rest of the manuscript has anything new or unique to offer. Publishing is a tough industry; you have to create something that sets you apart from everyone else. Another red flag can come from the query or even a person’s behavior on social media. I think Ashley mentioned this in her interview, but we stalk people. (YES! We look you up.) It’s hard to visualize working with someone who is less than professional or down-right jerky, no matter how fabulous their work may be.

 

Susan: I asked a similar question to this next one to Ashley Ruggirello recently, but I am curious about your response. When reading a full submission, can you tell early on about its marketability? Are you able to begin formulating a plan for its release strategy from the get-go, or does the “master plan” reveal itself later on?

Summer: First off, I always have a master plan. It includes everything under the sun, but it usually tweaked and honed to each author based on their strengths, time, and budget. But in the early stages, when reading a submission, there are definitely times when I visualize a favorite quote as a teaser or think about how the story would translate into a trailer (more on this later). Bottom line, I definitely have a strategy from the get-go, but nothing is set in stone until I’ve had a heart-to-heart with the author.

 

Susan: That’s awesome about the teaser quotes! I am very interested in this next question. Can you tell us about the path a book takes from the time it is acquired by a publisher until it can be found on the virtual and physical bookstore shelves?

Summer: This is quite the loaded question as it could be answered from many different angles, but since I’m here to talk about marketing, that’s what I’ll focus on. Once we sign an author, each of the departments sends out an initial letter. I put together a “master plan” marketing document that outlines everything an author could do from the very first moments of their contract through release and beyond. From that list we target efforts that the author feels comfortable with and move forward from there. So while an author is simultaneously working with staff on cover design and editing, they’re also laying their part of the groundwork for marketing and promotion. Behind the scenes, I work on promotional materials and press releases, initiate social media strategy, with the help of the extremely talented Tiffany Rose who distributes ARCs, coordinates blog tours, helps with teasers and trailers etc. We start rolling everything out a few weeks before release, and when pub day hits, there’s no holds barred.

 

Susan: During the process of getting a book out into the world, what is the best part, from your perspective?

Summer: Release day is hands-down the most exciting day, and I love seeing an author’s words come to life via teasers and a trailer. It’s great to see all of our efforts come together, and the resulting support and praise for an author’s work on his or her big day is phenomenal!

 

Susan: When I think of marketing a book, I think about all of the things that an author would be doing from their end. What types of things can a Marketing Director do from the publisher’s side to help an author’s manuscript have a successful release?

Summer: Well in the case of many debut authors, I coach and guide author’s efforts from behind-the-scenes. As you can imagine, there’s a wide range of experience (or lack thereof) between authors. Some need a little coddling, others just run with it. But aside from that, and some of this was mentioned above (pushing press releases, distributing ARCs, coordinating blog tours), I coordinate post-release promos, social media content, swag design, potential event outreach, online and print advertisement, and Ashley and I work together fielding film inquiries and vetting other subsidiary rights opportunities. Multiply that by umpteen authors…yea, you get the picture.

 

Susan: What, in your estimation, are the three most important things an author can do to promote their brand and their books? How can an author best prepare for that, especially if the novel is a debut?

Summer: You know the saying, “What goes around, comes around”? That. I truly believe in karma. If you help others in a constructive way, without ulterior motives, without expecting anything in return, others will help you right back. But let’s see…you asked for three things and here are my professional answers: Be organized. Be consistent. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. (And I’m adding a fourth.) Be resilient. Whether debut or not, an author needs to be organized. Keep track of reviewers, fans who reach out to you, guest posts, etc., etc. Reach out as much as possible to those who are interested in being in touch with you. Maintain a routine schedule, whether it’s 30 min twice a week, or 15 min a day. Be willing to try new things. It’s no surprise that many authors are less than excited about doing in-person events, we’re introverts by nature (a lot of us are anyway), but there is no substitute for making personal connections. And lastly, you have to bounce back. Writers deal with negative reviews, poor turnout for an event, pirated materials, and the list goes on and on. It’s okay to be disappointed, sad, angry, but when the sting wears off, you have to get back out there and try again. Just keep swimming.

 

Susan: On the REUTS webpage, there is mention of something called a “street team”. If you could, please tell my readers what that is, and how it can help the author.

Summer: A street team consists of individuals who want to show support and help promote an author’s books, or in our case books from a publisher’s library! They can get behind-the-scenes info or a first peek at news, but really it’s just a group of people who are excited about a book (or books) and want to help get the word out!

 

Susan: You have touched on this a little bit earlier. I have seen some amazingly intriguing book trailers. Is that something that you would do as a Marketing Director? If not, do you feel that creating a book trailer is something that is necessary for a book’s success?

Summer: It makes me so happy to hear you say that! And yes this is something we provide our authors. They can, of course, choose to do something on their own, but we want to make sure that everyone at least has the choice to have a professional trailer for promotion. The fabulous Tiffany Rose and I collaborate and create each trailer, then send it to the author and Sr. Editor Kisa Whipkey and Ashley Ruggirello for feedback. If you haven’t noticed by now, REUTS’ success is highly attributed to teamwork. We’re a well-oiled machine, if I do say so myself. Now is a trailer required? Is it necessary for success? No. There are those who say they aren’t worth the time or expense to create, but from our perspective a good-looking trailer can’t hurt!

 

Susan: As expected, you have provided us with some amazing information. Thank you so much for being here today, Summer!   The answers to these questions are so helpful to aspiring authors, like me. I am grateful to the REUTS family of directors for being so candid with me and my readers! Is there anything else you think my readers would appreciate knowing about marketing their brand or book?

Summer: Thanks for having me! The biggest advice I can give authors is: Don’t think you have to do everything. There are many, many platforms, online and offline options, events, blogs, ad sites etc., etc. Figure out what you can do (without stressing or over-extending yourself) and make it work for you. Mix it up. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. Every effort is an opportunity to learn something. And keep writing!

 

Summer Wier is an MBA toting accountant, undercover writer, and all around jack-of-all-trades. Link is her debut novel and the first in The Shadow of Light series. She has short stories appearing in Fairly Twisted Tales For A Horribly Ever After and co-authors the Splinter web serial. Summer is the Marketing Director and a member of the acquisitions team at REUTS Publications. When she’s not digging through spreadsheets or playing mom, you can find her reading/writing, cooking, or dreaming of the mountains in Montana.

Connect with Summer on Twitter @summerwier or visit her website at http://www.summerwier.com.

Artistically Speaking: With Cover Artist Ashley Ruggirello

ashley ruggerillo
Ashley Ruggirello is an author, designer and doting wife living in beer and cheese land, WI.
When not lost in the fictional world of Skyrim, she can be found exploring typography, manipulating responsive DIVS, or with pen & paper in hand (figuratively though, as she uses Google Docs much more often), writing her New Adult novels.
She considers herself a designer by nature and writing at heart, though she always wanted to make video game walk-throughs as a child.
Ashley’s favorite color is chartreuse, and she has an undeniable attraction to moss (not of the Kate variety).
For my blog today, I’m thrilled to introduce Ashley Ruggirello.  As founder of REUTS Publications as well as a freelance cover artist, Ashley has enthusiastically agreed to hang out on my Writer’s Block for a bit to talk about her roles in the publishing realm.  Welcome, Ashley!

Ashley Ruggirello: Thank you so much for having me, Susan! I’m excited to share an inside look at what I do, why I do it, and how REUTS differs from others, so thank you for the opportunity 🙂 I hope my ramblings make sense…

Susan: Tell us about your background, and what brought you to become a cover artist and founder of REUTS Publications.

Ashley Ruggirello: To be honest, my educational background is in web design and IT. After I completed my education I entered the advertising industry working for one of the top 25 largest independent advertising agencies, located in Wisconsin. All my design experience is self-taught, if you’d believe it! I’ve been going at it for over ten years now, learning and adapting to the changes in design and business as I go. Being a writer for even longer, starting REUTS in 2012 just seemed like the perfect coupling of my two passions: writing and design.

Susan: I read in another interview you did recently, that you started REUTS Publications out of a personal desire to build a publishing company that filled the gaps of what you felt was missing in the industry.   Have there been any surprises along the way, good, bad or otherwise?

Ashley Ruggirello: There have been a lot of positive surprises and learning lessons throughout the two years of REUTS’s existence, though I have a feeling the negative will be a little more insightful. I think what’s hardest to realize–and avoid–is becoming cynical and jaded toward the publishing industry and author expectations. That’s not to say I hate, or even strongly dislike either, being an author myself I could never, but it’s the conscious effort to–in light of negativity, delays, pestering, etc…–to stay positive. The whole point of REUTS was to be a beacon of light, an escape, if you will, from all the iron clad, locked-tight companies who make up the publishing industry. There’s a lot of talent out there, on both sides of the book, but sometimes it’s easy to forget where you started, and where you’ve come from. That’s something I hope I never lose, no matter how the industry changes. It’s an important part of REUTS, and an important part of who I am.

360: a few positives–the way the community has embraced such a unique, young boutique publishing company such as REUTS has been overwhelming. I still have to pinch myself (or request the pinching be done by our Editorial Director, and one of my best friends, Kisa) because all the love and support is incredible.

It’s also very cool to see a book from start-to-finish. When it’s your own book it’s exciting, but when it’s someone elses and the excitement just seems to jump off your computer screen, it’s nearly impossible to not be happy and excited.

Susan: As a cover artist for REUTS, what is your conceptual process? Do you automatically begin to visualize a cover concept as you read a manuscript for the first time, or do you wait until the end of the manuscript to make a plan?

Ashley Ruggirello: I can’t say I really have one. Each cover design project is unique in its own way, with unique challenges and creative opportunities. To put each book into a boxed process and try to make it work wouldn’t be fair to the author, my inspiration or the book itself. Although I approach each cover design the same way (which I’ll mention more in the next question), the process to follow is completely dependent on the creative direction we agree upon.

To answer your second question, yes! I gather ideas as soon as I start reading, sometimes from the title alone (which I know isn’t fair, but I just can’t help it!) There are many times when discussing a manuscript I’m quick to announce “I CAN’T WAIT TO DESIGN FOR THIS,” usually in all caps, too. That’s one of the factors I judge a manuscript based-upon, though I’ll get to that, later 😉

Susan: How involved can the author be in the cover design process?

Ashley Ruggirello: I’m sure it’s different for other pubs, big or small, but when it comes to REUTS’s cover design process the authors have a say from the get-go. When an author is working with me, each cover design process begins with one simple (albeit broad as all heck) question: What would your ideal cover look like? See; one sentence, only seven words, and it’s meant to encompass so much. How are you supposed to fit–let alone describe–a complete story in one image? That’s the most exciting and most terrifying challenge to cover art and, to be honest, I put that on the author, first. Before I share any of my own ideas I like to see what an author would like, and then further discussing what’s best both for the book and the intended marketing, I work directly with an author to tweak and perfect their brand. That’s what it really is–a brand. Given my background in advertising I’m able to treat it as such and create the author’s best first impression for both themselves and their story.

Susan: I’ve said this before, but REUTS covers are amazing, and in the world of books, the cover can be the most important aspect. For example, I am more likely to pick up a book in a store if the cover grabs me from the shelf. What do you do to keep your cover ideas fresh?

Ashley Ruggirello: Thank you so much 🙂 There’s a lot of self-doubt when creative a new cover, so the positive feedback is always appreciated and is absorbed to my core. I always feel like my designs look like they’ve been designed by me–as if they carry my “signature style” or something–so I’m not sure how fresh they might be considered in the grand scheme of things. I guess if you were to check out the REUTS book page, no two covers look identical, huh? So I must be doing something right 😉 I think it all comes down to spending all day, every day on the computer, and looking at pretty pictures. That’s sort of the broad way to put it, but it’s essentially true; I’m on the computer about fourteen hours of my day, and that leaves me with a lot of time to browse for inspiration. I frequent websites like DeviantArt.com (for all around artistic inspriation), WebCreme.com (for website-based inspration) and Goodreads.com (for book cover inspiration). There are so many different styles and options and directions, it’s easy to get lost in the world of pretty pictures (I know I do on a daily basis).

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is to constantly evolve to something new–don’t do the same thing you did last time, but instead push outside of the box and just see what happens. I’ve found that some of the best experiences/designs/etc… come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. I try to do that as much as possible, even when it comes to cover art.

Susan: Kisa Whipkey, REUTS Editorial Director, commented in our recent interview that when a submission comes in, the editor, marketing specialist and cover artist, chime in to determine the manuscript’s fate. What makes a good submission, from the point of view of the cover artist?

Ashley Ruggirello: I started mentioning it above, and it’s if, while reading, I can visualize a book in my mind’s eye. There’s a level of intuition that comes with working in both acquisitions and the creative department. If I’m struggling to find a central image, or even the beginnings of what might be the cover art, it sets off my Spidey Senses and may not be the best fit in my perspective. In publishing a book there are so many pieces of the puzzle that need to come together–editorial, marketing, cover art, etc…–and if one piece of the puzzle doesn’t fit, you can’t force it.

Susan: You also work as a freelance cover artist. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Does that role differ from your role at REUTS?

Ashley Ruggirello: They don’t differ much, though what I’ve found to be the most challenging is designing for a book I’ve never read. Because I’m a part of the Acquisitions Team at REUTS I read every book we eventually sign. Most of the time I’m designing while I’m reading; picking out scenes, symbols, imagery I can eventually use when it comes to the cover art phase. That’s different as a freelance cover artist because I simply don’t have time to read another full manuscript, so I’m left to design off of a synopsis and the author’s interpretation. Sometimes it’s great! I can create exactly what the author requests. Other times it’s a bit more difficult because we can’t seem to line up the images in both our mind’s eye.

Susan: Do your cover designs have their genesis with pencil and paper, or mouse and screen?   Does it depend on the book?

Ashley Ruggirello: I know a lot of artists begin with a sketch. For web design (my educational background) it’s with a website wireframe. Of course I tend to go against the grain when it comes to design and I absolutely have to just jump right into the creation process. I’ve never been one to sketch, outline, etc… You could say I’m a panster opposed to a planner, in all aspects of life. So after I have even a loose idea of what a cover might look at, I have to just get started messing around in Photoshop. To channel a little bit of Bob Ross, a lot of my designs end up being “happy little accidents;” just me, tinkering in Photoshop to see if something will look good. Most of the time it doesn’t, as any guess-and-check process goes, but when the pieces do come together–it’s magic!

Susan: Is there anything else you would like my readers to know, either about the acquisitions process at REUTS, or about your experiences as a cover artist in general?

Ashley Ruggirello: We try to break free of the industry norm, but in all the good ways. Sure, it takes a lot of time, but dedicating time to each manuscript, to treat each author as a human being, not just the shell that created something, is really important to me, and to REUTS. And it does. It takes a lot of time responding to emails individually, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The moment you become a robot, which is essentially what a form response turns you into, you lose a little bit of your humanity, your compassion, and that’s very hard to gain back.

And then, I think if there’s one thing I could tell someone entering the cover art phase with their artist, it’s to not sweat the small stuff. Most of the time a piece will be rough for many, MANY rounds. If something looks off in round one, and it’s still there by round three, know that your artist is aware of it, and is waiting to put the final polishing touches on once they have your design approval. The reason designers don’t get the polishing done at the start is simple: things change. A lot. It’s more important to get the BIG idea down and then fine tune the details, than create a print-ready cover for each version. It just makes sense! So have no fear, your cover artist is looking out for your best interest. Always. 🙂

 

Thank you so much for having me, Susan! You may not think much of it, but you’re really awesome at interviews, and your questions are inspirational! I appreciate the space to let me go on and on and on about what I do, and I hope others found it useful 🙂

If anyone wants to keep the conversation flowing, I can be found on Twitter (@amRuggs) and like to tweet about memes, cats and booze, sometimes all at once!

Susan: This was a real pleasure, Ashley. I appreciate the time, and I’m sure my readers do, too!

 
Ashley Ruggirello can be found on:

As Ashley suggested, let’s keep the conversation going! Are there other aspects of the publishing world or writing in general that you would like to see here on S.M. Nystoriak’s Writer’s Block? Let me know in the comment section!