Freebies: TSR Banners and Wallpaper

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Who doesn’t like free stuff?

I thought it’d be fun to give away some desktop wallpapers, which incorporate some of my drawings from my notebooks with the book’s graphic design. The result is 5 different wallpapers that you can dress up your computer with to show your Kili-Boranna spirit.

And if you want to go a step further and tag your blog or website, you’ll also find a full range of banners (including HTML code for the true geeks among you).

Check it all out here.

If you want a wallpaper or banner that you don’t see, let me know. I might be able to make it for you.

Thanks for all your support in prepping for this book’s launch into the skies above Aria-Prime.

Fly or die,

ch:

Two New TV Ads from New Life Media

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Very proud of two new television ads that New Life Media just put together for two of our clients. I love being able to make beautiful things for our clients, and change peoples’ perception of our region. Second-rate is not acceptable, and cultures that value beauty value life. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence, and such simple, Kingdom fundamentals should show in everything we do, whether we’re serving the Church or serving secular companies.

Craftsmanship counts.

A big thanks to Jason Clement, Clarissa Collins, David Seaman and all our support staff. Great job, team!

ch:

A Guide to Self-Publishing: Cover Design

Looks don’t matter.

If that were true, God would have made sunsets various shades of brown, restricted us from any lofty vista viewing, and ensured woman were completely unattractive to the male species.

It’s a total lie. Looks do matter, have always mattered, and will continue to matter.

How your book appears – whether on a physical bookshelf or a digital one – could be the difference between selling and not selling it.

But when hasn’t that been the case? I think the only exception might be the Bible. Although some people really dig all-suede covers with gold embossed crosses.

The point is, your book cover needs to look good.

Here are a few important points to consider when thinking about the functions of your own cover:

1.) A cover needs to highlight the book’s title. It might seem like a given, but you’d be amazed at the amount of amateur book covers I see that make the title almost impossible to read. The designer got carried away with their favorite new typeface, and never once stood 15-feet away to try and read the title.

2.) The author’s name is probably the second most critical piece of information. Resist the urge to be ultra artsy here. People instinctively connect last names to reputations; don’t make them have to hunt for it.

3.) The general graphic and artistic elements that make up the visual concepts need to reflect a key “hook” of your story.

One tip here is to keep it simple. A lot of people feel they need to highlight every character’s face, or show the family’s prairie house, along with all their livestock, farm hands, and a bolt of lighting that started the fire that killed Uncle Ned, and the warrant the unjust Sheriff put out for innocent Jim Bob’s arrest, and maybe the waterfall where Jim Bob fell in love with sweet Martha May. And don’t forget the oil pump that made the family rich at the end.

Can we add some doves?

Um, no. Just no.

Pick one solid idea that provokes people and execute it well. Making any design too busy with colors, images or typefaces screams “lack of professionalism.”

Recognize that the cohesiveness and integrity of your design will build instant credibility with readers. Most people can’t articulate why they like something, but our modern eye has been conditioned to know good design when we see it.

Likewise, bad design can and absolutely will be detrimental to a story. I have books that sat on my shelf for years that I simply couldn’t bring myself to read because the covers were so atrocious. Turned out a few of the stories were quite good. Pity.

Make sure that you get good critical reviews from professionals or art teachers, or higher a cover designer to do it for you. After all the work you’ve put into your manuscript, the worst thing would be to brand it with a poor cover just because you think you can design, or you really wanted to use that painting you did 10-years ago that probably shouldn’t been seen in public.

If you have a good eye, iStockPhoto.com and ShutterStock.com have thousands of incredible images you can purchase with rights to duplicate. Combine the right image(s) with solid title and author typefaces, and you could be well on your way to crafting your own covers. While I’ve seen stuff done using text boxes in MS Word (the Lord knows I was a master text-boxer before I got better software), you really need something on the level of Photoshop or InDesign for true control and output integrity.

If you’re formatting for a print book, you will need to consider bleeds (like the interior), as well as how colors are going to print. One reason I love CreateSpace so much is that you can buy proofs to review before you finalize the files in their system. This is great for checking your interior and exterior designs.

Print books also demand a spine (as well as “back matter,” or what’s on the back of the book). While the spine may seem small and insignificant, pay attention to it. Both in stores and on peoples’ bookshelves, the spine will get the most long-term traffic of a book. Clear title and author texts need to be featured. CreateSpace can automatically assign and place a UPC bar code for you if you use their templates for layout. (Obtaining a template during your title upload phase with CreateSpace is exactly like obtaining a template for the interior design portion covered yesterday).

As for typefaces, any good designer will tell you that one typeface, maybe two, is what you should stick with. If you’re using a third typeface in a composition you better have a darn good reason. Beyond that your book will scream inferior and second rate (if not worse).

I would highly suggest employing the services of good graphic designers, if not for the entire cover at least for consultation. StreetlightsGraphics.com does amazing covers for dirt cheap with a fast turnaround. And The Miller Brothers and Jason Clement of New Life Media helped craft covers for the 2011 Editions of The White Lion Chronicles.

Here’s a look at some unseen cover concepts for Athera’s Dawn that I developed early on:

Eventually we decided on a Dairneag for the cover of Rise of the Dibor, a taken warrior for The Lion Vrie, and the statue-plaque of the White Lion’s face for Athera’s Dawn.

Here is the final cover, front, spine and back:

This cover printed the darkest of all three books, but the purple is still very striking.

Tomorrow we’ll start in on the technical, financial and legal processes of publishing through CreateSpace. ch:

New Life Media: Staff Training Week

One of my latest co-creations is coming to life today. I do wish I could enjoy it a little more – 15-hour work days for a week straight leaves the sensory capacitors a little numb – but I’m thrilled regardless.

New Life Media is a marketing firm specializing in public image design, and is the brain child of master designer Jason Clement, business guru Kirk Gilchrist, marketing sensation John Cobb, and myself – master guru of sensational something or otherness.

While the company’s website won’t be public for another week or so, we have employee orientation and training all this week. We’ll be unwrapping new iPads, playing with toys, trying on apparel, talking tech and design, smelling new business cards, and diving into our sales strategies and delivery models.

As with any new for-profit venture, I get fired up about having the ability to employ people (something I’ve learned I can do much better than the government, thank you very much). One of my greatest joys in life is to help provide income earning positions that fit with peoples’ dreams. It’s truly a privilege, and I’ve fallen into it by sovereignty, not on purpose.

Many good things await New Life Media. And many organizations will be better for her existence. Here’s to another Kingdom business birthed for God’s glory. ch:

UPDATE 5:54pm ET – What a fantastic first day for all involved. I’ll be posting pics tomorrow. Lots of laughs, and lots of good content. Very proud of our new staff. Thank you Travis, Kristen, Nina, Rebekah, Candy, Theresa, John, Kirk, Jason, and Jamie for doing our office build out! Peace.

Need Inspiring Church Graphics?

I’m sitting on a big project right now. So stoked. Can’t say much. But I can at least ask a very cool question:

Would you or your church pay a small fee to have professional print collateral (weekly handouts, handbills, response cards, business cards, letterhead, posters, billboards) custom designed for your church?

I know, I know. Your church isn’t that big. But it should be thinking big. Because we have a lot of people to reach. And let’s face it: we reach them – in part – through how things look. We are a visual-value based society. And the Church is not exempt. If anything, She’s called to lead.

I know lots of small churches would love to move beyond Microsoft clip art, multicolored copy paper, and Papyrus and Times New Roman typefaces. (Or someone should inform them). But hiring a full-time, or even part-time, graphic designer is pretty low on the Board’s priority list.

So what if you could hire us?

New Life’s Creative Team helps your church standout in your town’s culture in a big way, you help keep our staff employed.

Every business venture, Kingdom or not, must be a win-win to work. This could be your church’s chance to radically change the way it presents itself to the community. And this is our chance to invest into the Body on a global scale, and fund the development of the creative arts within the Kingdom.

Open to all your thoughts and comments, especially if you or your church would like to chat. No pressure. ch:

Automated Wonder

Responses that address the individual, not the masses, take time. And are therefore expensive. Personal attention, versus corporate attention, is the new commodity.

I recently joined an online class, one that boasts some pretty amazing performance improvements (no, it’s about marketing). The first 4 emails I received, however, were auto-generated. In fact, the dates for the classes were a month old!

Just hours ago I was excited for the new opportunity–and happy to pay for it; now I’m dreading the quality of the content, and wondering if I made a monetary mistake. If it weren’t for my friend’s recommendation of the program, I’d be long gone.

Fair or not, the way we chose to communicate says everything about our content. What we present and the way we present it forecasts the experience that our audience is going to have. And the more personalized we can make it, the more prone the client will be in receiving it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product to the nation or giving advice to a friend, showing that you’ve thought ahead by the way you speak, by what you print, and by how you display something has everything to do with your audience’s willingness to buy-in. In fact, the greatest way to keep this generation from committing is to automate.

Seriously, how many of us are tired of automated phone help? Or worse, getting switched over to someone who asks how to spell the word “street” when typing in your address? From SPAM email to group texts on holidays, our culture has refined the art of mass communication. And subsequently abhors it.

Writing personal emails, replying to every comment, responding to every phone call, learning names, building relationships (and not righting off online friendships ones as “fake”), is 2011’s proof that your content is valuable. Because if you control perception, you control value. ch:

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Placenta Marketing

One of the things you learn early on about communicating in other countries – especially as a keynote speaker – it’s many anecdotes just don’t translate.

Especially your clever acronyms or Christianese scriptural devices.

Likewise, some marketing ideas ought to be left in their country of origin.

Jenny texted me this pic with a caption left to the imagination. (Keep in mind she just gave birth).

Before you go announcing your next big idea, or spouting of your new opinion, do everyone a favor and remember who you’re speaking to. Effective communication begins with intentionally acknowledging your audience.

Mothers around the world will thank you. ch:

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Waving Goodbye

Are you waving goodby to the publishing industry as we know it yet?

If you aren’t, just try flopping your hand around so you don’t look ignorant (but maybe slightly dysfunctional).

Last night I posted a progress report on my self-publishing journey thus far with CreateSpace. Writing it all out took longer than I thought it would; there’s a lot to putting a book out.

I should rephrase that.

The steps and skill sets need to execute the basic process of putting a book out are fairly simple; the time and cognitive energy needed to keep track of the slew of details is a lot of work.

Margins, headers, consistency, spell-check, where’d that extra indent come from?, did you remember the bleed?, wrong file type, someone found another typo?, what’s the cover art path again?

While we’ll never say goodbye to the need for hard work, it is time to say goodbye to legacy publishing. At least it has been for me.

In one of my comments to Nathan Reimer on yesterday’s comments section, I said:

“I felt a little euphoric clicking submit [on my manuscript upload]. Half fearful I’d missed something catastrophically minor; half peeing my pants that I was publishing a book all by myself without a major publisher holding my hand.”

And that’s the truth of it. As a self-published author, the buck starts and stops with you. You have the tools, and the choices to make it awesome, or to make it a failure. Whatever support staff the traditional publisher provided – dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s – that’s all gone. Bye bye. But so is your expense of parting with a huge portion of your profits to do so. If you felt it was worth it, bravo. I didn’t.

In another comment last night by my friend Christian Fahey, he said:

“I read an interview with Jeff Bezos [founder and CEO of Amazon.com] recently where he stated his vision–swallow this–is to make every literary work known to man available in any language (primarily in ebook). Such extraordinarily big thinking is one of the reasons he, and Amazon, are at the pinnacle of this colossal shift.”

It’s forward thinking like that that’s caused traditional publishers to become a meaningful but isolated relic of the last century.

If you’re still with a traditional press, I’m sure you have good reasons. But I feel a little sorry for you.

If you feel like you’re supposed to be writing a book that others should read but you’re not, I’m sure you have good reasons. But I feel a little sorry for you.

I’m about to re-release my first novel, make it available forever, and make six times the money I’d ever made before. All this while maintaining 100% creative control, and releasing it far sooner then the typical 16-18 month turnaround period of legacey publishers.

Did you hear that? It’s the sound of the self-publishing bus taking the traditional publishing industry to school. ch:

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The Hard Work of Mattering

You know a place is old when their main sign advertises “air conditioning.” And if said establishment is still open for business today – without updating their sign – you probably have the same crusty feeling that I do in assuming their AC isn’t the only thing that needs some serious updating.

But think about this:

The day someone approved that sign for production, air conditioning was clearly worth advertising. It meant you were a cut above the competition.

And yet, today, that very thing that made you notable now makes you notorious.

I’ve found that it takes a considerable amount of energy, creativity, and money to remain “current.” Market research, software updates, new purchases, color wheel shifts, hardware upgrades, vocabulary additions, style conformity, and a strong attention span, to name a few. And with all that work, it’d be very easy as leaders to throw our proverbial hands in the air and just assume an audience – whether buying a product or buying into a belief – will just “get” the value of our venture, regardless of it’s presentation.

This is precisely why so many businesses and so many churches fail to endure the leap from one 20 year generation cycle to another.

They failed at mattering.

Sure, the opposite can be argued: that an organization focuses so much on “being relevant” that they forget what they’re selling. But I would fault the core values of the leadership before I’d fault their efforts.

If you truly have bought in to an enterprise – from Jesus to making a better pizza – you’ll make it your Gospel. For someone of this caliber, being current will never change your Gospel, but it will provoke you to make your Gospel applicable to the day in which you live.

At it’s core, fighting hard to remain current is fueled by a desire to connect with people. And win their hearts, not just their pocket books or their approval.

But this is hard work. And often we disengage due to fatigue, fear, or often because we don’t have people around us helping us stay up-to-date.

It’s a cop-out to think, “My new energy drink is so effective I’m not bothering to print labels or use new bottles,” as surely as it’s a cop-out to say, “Jesus will speak for himself the moment people walk into our church, so who really cares about our carpets or our musical preferences?”

True, you could have the best energy drink ever; also true, Jesus can prove himself magnificent all by himself. But clean bottles with labels and inviting church atmospheres go a long way in forecasting the experience a person feels they are going to have with what you’re selling.

The day that we value how we’re communicating, as much as we value what we’re believing, is the day we embrace whatever generation we’re living in, and use every creative means at our disposal to reach it. ch:

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Art & Business

Success within the artistic world of expression and communication is often elusive, even to those creating and speaking in it.

Create something so abstract that people don’t know what you’re trying to say, and you’ve missed the point of that art form; create something so generic for the sake of making a buck, and life gets–well–boring.

But creating something that speaks to a collective heartbeat, while still making individuals feel uniquely awed, is one of the greatest successes a creator can have.

I’ve seen paintings so terribly abstract that I’m convinced not even the artist knows what he was trying to paint (mostly likely because he was on some bad hippie lettuce). I’ve also seen song writers throw out their classical training and write the most predictably pathetic worship sings simply because they knew the mass-market would buy it and everybody could sing it.

The earlier drug reference aside, both scenarios are faulted.

For one, artists need to be thoughtfully specific. They need to have an audience in mind. “I’m creating for __________.” And secondly they must have a motive. A destination in mind. “Before he or she experienced my piece, the person was at point A, but after my offering, he or she should at least be on their way to point B.”

This is the business side. Art must connect with people if it is to be sellable, if it is going to reach a wider audience than just someone’s grandma or college roommates. It needs to have a certain packability that can be simply expressed and communicated in such a way that the public wants more.

But too obvious, and art risks its greatest foe: being cliché.

All artists I know, whether audio or visual, want to be original. They want to be ahead of the curve, authentic, and pushing boundaries.

This is the artistic side.

Art displays life as it could be, in a more perfect sense. A well written and executed worship song elevates our perception of and experience with God (arguably all good art does this); a powerful painting depicts a brighter sky than the one we are presently under; a moving dance stirs the core of a person’s soul to love their spouse more deeply; a drama convicts us of error and endorses a more steadfast line of integrity.

The problem? Art was never meant for your sketch book. Such a terminally ill condition is the lifelong lot of some humanity’s great creative ideas. In short, your art has to sell. Whether it’s your lack of motivation or your unrelenting pursuit of the obscure, you’ve get to bend to the fact that your gift needs to be shared if it is to ultimately glorify its Creator.

We all know our fair share of “broke artists.” But more often that’s the case of an artist that doesn’t know how to “market” themselves than a public who’s unwilling to purchase. Or it’s the case of an artist who has never fully embraced the confidence that God has in them to create meaningful works of art.

He should know. He put it there.

Because God made us to create life-symphonies that impact the whole world just like His have. ch:

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The Future of Print Books

putting it in context

Vinyl.

I have very fond memories of sifting through my parent’s record collection as a boy, and my dad teaching me how to handle the large black discs “only touching the sides” – as if my finger tips had the ability to annihilate the music forever if I slipped and touched the center. Zeppelin. The Who. Peter, Paul & Mary. The Yard Birds. Earth, Wind & Fire. Peter Frampton. Cream. All subject to me touching only the sides.

But vinyl was on its way out (with the strange 8-track obsession quickly averted) and cassettes were in. Of course seeing tape made more sense to me as that’s all I saw in the studio. I watched my dad splice thousands of feet of tape for an album, all whizzing by at 30ips (inches per second). So shrinking a 2″ tape down into a hand-held version was nothing short of miraculous.

Then CDs came along, and the digital age was born. Even though I knew that I was trading true sine-waves for digital bits, there was something sexy about them. That, and I never had to use a pencil to wind the music back in. Sure, there was the whole scratch issue, but that would be solved in the next iteration.

Digital music files.

No tape to unravel, no plastic to scratch, and most of all, instant access and ultimate portability.

Perhaps you’re asking what this has to do with books? But you’re an intelligent audience: you’ve obviously gathered that the example of ingenuity, invention, and marketability played out in the music industry is exactly where the publishing industry is headed. And you’re right. In fact, most of my generation was willing to accept the digital transformation of books long before publishing companies did (and have yet to).

So is that as far as the comparison of music and books goes?

here today, gone tomorrow (or just later today)

If you’re even remotely interested in the book-world, you know publishing companies are scratching and clawing to make up for lost time (which most will never get back), and are being crushed beneath the weight of high overhead as they’ve failed to account for the consumer’s low tolerance of high price points and the author’s ability to take control of their own work – conception to delivery.

Amazon reported that Kindle sales exceeded hard cover sales last July, and just surpassed paperback sales in January. Likewise, digital ebook sales are exploding, with year-to-date percentages moving into the hundreds, and dollars amounts into the tens and hundreds of millions. Trends are changing so fast, numbers are being reported on a weekly basis.

And while traditional publishers are busy trying to push $15.99+ digital book price points to meet the needs of their bloated budgets due to an outdated means of mass production, new entrepreneurs are dropping prices to $1.99 – with others, like authors JA Konrath and Cory Doctorow, giving away certain titles in order to win readers who will be more likely buy the next book.

And it’s working.

Not only are the most affluent, highest spending demographic of consumers excited to ditch the cumbersome tomes in exchange for the sleek e-reading status symbol of their preference, but authors are making more money than they ever dreamed. By themselves. And they deserve it. [I’ll do a raw numbers break-out of my own accounting in a tell-all forthcoming post].

With what once was the trademark term of an author that didn’t have the goods to land a real deal, suddenly “self-publishing” is becoming the method of choice for the new era of writers.

from common to collectible

So print is on its way out and digital is well on its way in. But the question everyone wants to know is, what’s going to happen to books?

Most analysts I’m following say that by the time ebooks reach 25% of the market share (a figure that – according to current trends – will be reached in the third quarter of 2012), the traditional publishing industry will collapse. So does that mean the physical books all readers have a secret (or often times public romance) with will vanish?

My answer: no.

But their function will change. In essence, their purpose.

What was once a means of communicating written content will now become a collectible. And the music industry prophesies this perfectly.

In 2007 and 2008 Jon Foreman released 4 EPs (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer). As I’m a huge Switchfoot fan, and love anything Jon does,  I wanted them right away. So I bought the downloadable digital version of each release as soon as it was available. 3 minutes later I had my iPhone plugged into my car stereo and was jamming to “Equally Skilled.” I actually did end up buying the physical CD version of Fall, but realized it wasn’t that unique in packaging, and I never played it once.

Then the vinyl collectors edition came out.

Signed. Numbered. Limited. Rare. And full of never-before-seen photos that Jon took himself.

And I had to have it. I easily parted with the extra money for it.

Now it’s interesting to note that I haven’t actually played the records. Nor do I necessarily plan to (though I’m not opposed to it). I listen to the music regularly on my iPhone or Mac Book Pro because it’s convenient. But I savor the art on the vinyl collectors set that proudly rests in my bedroom.

And this is the point.

Self-published authors (and publishers that manage to survive; that’s another post) will produce ebooks as the new means of media distribution. It is inevitable. But traditional print books will serve a purpose: the collectible. And with the most recent advents in POD (print on demand) services, running small numbers of a high quality product has never been easier and more accessible. In fact, I dare say printed books will become more sought after, but never more prolific.

The signed, numbered, dated, leather-bound, silver-plated, hand-embossed, wax-sealed, parchment-printed, collectors set, the tangible version of the book that changed your life that you simply cannot live without, that book will always live on. Even as sacrilegious as it may sound, I haven’t touched my favorite physical Bible in over a year, though it sits proudly on the bookshelf beside my bed, signed and dated by my father Peter. Instead, my iPhone and Mac Book Pro have become my sole source of daily Bible reading.

And now I feel vindicated for starting off with a music comparison: books and vinyl really do belong in the same post after all. ch: