Starting to Frame – a memoir

I was thrilled to work with Roger Gordon on his memoir, Starting To Frame.
Roger tackled many important issues in this work, including mental illness, and I am proud to have played a small part.

Starting to Frame cover

Roger provided all the images for the cover, and we worked together to create this design. Legibility was a top priority for Roger, who has a family member with a vision impairment.

One of the challenges of the front cover artwork was the digital removal of another person in the ‘present day’ photo. Luckily, Roger had two shots to work with.
original images
Click on the cover above to have a better look at the final product.

For the interior of the printed book, Roger chose to start with a pre-designed interior and make some changes, again to maximize legibility for his readers.

Title page of Starting to Frane

Contents of Starting to Frame
For the e-book versions, we applied the KISS principle, prepping the manuscript for conversion (through Smashwords and Kindle) with Microsoft Word.
Starting to Frame ebook cover

Roger’s book is now available at Amazon and other online retailers.

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Moving Dirt

Moving Dirt cover

I truly feel blessed to have worked on Moving Dirt. This started as a family project…a gift for John Chisholm. It quickly morphed into a celebration of 50 years of Nova Construction, founded by Mr. Chisholm in 1964. When Mr. Chisholm passed away during the final edits for the book, it became a fitting tribute to an amazing man who built a great company.

Title Page

Moving Dirt Title page


Moving Dirt Table of Contents

Chapter Intro


Text Pages

Text pages from Moving Dirt

My inspiration for the design of this book came from an old Polaroid photo of the company’s first truck.
Nova Construction's first truck

We originally planned for the truck to be featured on the cover, but Mr. Chisholm decided he’d prefer a more ‘straight-forward’ cover, more like him. So, we made it the half-title page instead.

Moving Dirt half-title page

Half-title page

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Plan a book launch schedule that you can actually meet (Part 1)


As a book designer, I typically start working with an author toward the end of her/his self-publishing process. Being at the end of the process has one major downfall…rushing to meet to deadlines that may not be completely thought out. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Putting together a schedule will help. It doesn’t have to be fancy or high-tech. There’s no one ‘correct’ tool. A good tool is one you feel comfortable using. A good schedule is one that’s well thought out and organized, and more importantly, visualized in a way that will keep you on track.

3 Project Management principles to the rescue!

Knowing some basic project management scheduling principles will help when building your schedule.


Two activities attached at the hip.

In project manager speak, a dependency is a relationship between two activities in your schedule where completing one is dependent on the other in some way. The most common dependency is a step that cannot start before another step finishes. Here’s an example: you can’t start formatting your e-book until the final manuscript is completed, therefore e-book formatting is dependent on proofreading.

Identify your dependencies as early as you can. Most will be logical, like social media posts for your cover reveal can’t launch without a cover design. Others may not be so clear. If you’re having difficulty, ask your service provider(s) what they need to begin work. Many of the items they need will relate to steps in your schedule, and help you spot dependencies.

Critical Path

Follow the yellow brick road. And by ‘yellow brick road’ I mean critical path.

The critical path is the sequence of dependent items that needs the longest time to complete. If one item in the critical path gets delayed, the end date will also be delayed by the same amount of time. These are the critical things that need to stay on schedule to meet your date. Knowing your critical path is crucial to managing your schedule…it will make your priorities clear.


Crap happens. Buffer helps you plan for it.

Buffer (or ‘contingency’ in project manager speak) in a schedule is time added to allow for things you didn’t foresee. Here’s an example: you’ve confirmed the line edit will take 4 weeks, but you tack on 1 extra week, ’cause it’ll happen in February, and you get the flu every February. You can add extra time to steps, add pockets of ‘downtime’ in your schedule, or you can plan to have everything completed and wrapped up earlier than needed.

True story: I worked on an anthology this summer that had a very specific launch date that could not be moved (it was part of a conference). The publisher wanted a small run of hard back books to give to contributors as a gift, and they wanted to give these gifts at the launch. I scheduled the design work earlier than needed so that the books would be delivered 3 weeks before the conference. There was a printing issue and the books needed to be reprinted, delaying the delivery 1 week. Because the schedule had with a buffer, the books were still delivered 2 weeks before the event.

OK, let’s do this!

Now that we understand these principles, let’s look how they relate to building a schedule.

Break your launch into phases, then break each phase down into steps
Looking at the entire book launch is overwhelming, so borrow this trick from project managers: break it down further and focus on one aspect of the project at a time. Start with breaking your project into the major phases, and look at each phase as a smaller ‘project’. Pick one and break it down into steps and figure out how long they’ll take (either by yourself or with advice). A good rule of thumb: see if you can describe steps as tangible things, like cover design, developmental edit, sample copy, with each having some kind of finished product at the end. Or, see if you can describe steps as action words, like design cover, edit manuscript, get ISBN.

Many people will find breaking down into steps is enough to keep them on track, and more detail would be overwhelming. Steps can usually be broken down even further into tasks that can be performed by an individual (like design mockup, give feedback, revise mockup, etc.). Don’t feel you need to. The key is finding the right amount of detail that works for you.

Major phases for a book launch could be: Pre-production, Book Production, Book Marketing, Launch event(s).

When breaking phases down to steps, try to be as accurate as possible, and keep dependencies top of mind. You don’t necessarily need to show your dependencies, but you do need to know them.

My brain likes to work backwards, so when I’m doing this I start at the end and think to myself Ok, what needs to happen in order for this step to start? Here’s an example: to start cover design, what needs to be finished? Well, to design a cover, a designer would need: basic title information (title, author, publisher), back cover copy, maybe an author bio and pic, any by lines or quotes you want, basically everything you want to appear on your cover. You will also need to choose your printer, because your designer will need your printer’s specifications or templates, so choosing your printer could be considered a dependency. And you’ll need your ISBNs if your designer needs to source your bar codes for you, so getting your ISBNs could also be a dependency.

I prefer to work backwards because I can figure out steps and possible dependencies at the same time. You may prefer to work forwards, so you may need to ask yourself OK, I now have this done…what’s next?

Once you have your steps, add how long each will take, based on your research, previous knowledge or advice from your service providers.

Use the same process to break down the other phases of your book launch.

Add Buffer, get your phases and steps in a calendar and assign some dates
Add in your buffer (I recommend adding buffer so it’s clearly visible). Plot it all out on a calendar, in a spreadsheet…whatever tool you feel comfortable with. You can work from the start date and go forward, or from the end date and work back, depending on your needs. Set due dates for every step in your schedule. Mark the due date of each phase, too. These will give you milestones. Figure out what steps make up your critical path. Highlight your critical path if you can, so it’s clearly visible.

Milestones are higher level dates that also help us stay on track. I like to think of milestones as more firm dates and due dates for steps as more flexible, so long as the milestone date is still met. This kind of active schedule management is much easier to do when you know your critical path and have some buffer built into your schedule.

Tip: When setting dates for steps, remember to skip any days where you (or your service providers) can’t do project work, like weekends, holidays or vacations.

Now you have yourself a schedule and a list of steps with deadlines to keep you on track. You also know all the steps (hopefully) that have to get done to get your book launched, and how those steps relate to each other. Maybe you’ve learned something new about publishing in the process. And, you now have a template to use for your next book launch, too.

Crap! I did it again! I wrote way too much this week, so next week, I’ll break down a phase…or two, if I get carried away again.

Hope these tricks I picked up while earning my Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM) designation help you planning your book launch (or any project for that matter).

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You Wanna Work with an Editor?

Please welcome Ally Bishop from Upgrade Your Story to the blog today! Ally graciously agreed to write about finding and working with an editor. Thank you Ally!


You Wanna Work with an Editor?

by Ally Bishop, Upgrade Your Story

You’ve slaved over your manuscript. Rewritten scenes, adjusted dialogue, changed entire character arcs, and determined alternate endings.

Consummatum est.

It is finished.

First, give yourself a huge congratulatory slap on the back. Your completed novel deserves recognition for the time you’ve spent on it. But before you run off to ink your query letter or format it for Kindle, let’s take a breath, shall we? Remember the last time you read through your opus…did you find errors? Not just grammar errors or shifting verb tenses, but issues with your storyline? Perhaps you forgot to wrap up a plot thread, or a section waxed on a bit too long?

I have (sad) news for you—there’s even more to be addressed. And you will never see it because you are the writer. This is your child, and just like we think our children are the best and most brilliant, we overlook the flaws in our own work. Ergo, you need an editor.

There are lots of editors in the writing world—your job is to find the editor that will work best for and with you. So here’s some tips for finding the right person for your editing needs.

1. Accept that you need someone for the long haul.
Every book needs a concept edit, regardless of the publishing outlet. If you are querying agents in hopes of getting a publishing contract, you should get, at the minimum, a line edit as well. If your plans include self-publishing, you’ll need all three steps: concept editing, line editing (also referred to as “copyediting”), and proofreading. If you skip one of those steps, you risk finding out about it in the worst possible place: your book reviews. Believe me when I tell you, your editor is the best insurance policy you can have against bad book reviews. It doesn’t mean they’ll never happen, but they are a lot less likely when you have an editing plan in your back pocket.

2. Interview your editor.
Don’t just apply on his/her site and accept the pricing quote. Ask questions. Find out what he/she prefers to read. Send ten or twenty pages of your manuscript and ask for a sample of his/her work. And most importantly, talk to your prospective editor in person. I’m amazed how many people have never actually spoken with their editor. This expert in storytelling will be nearly as invested as you are by the time you are ready to publish your book. Make sure you feel confident in his/her work and passion.

3. Expect to pay, and don’t go for the cheapest rate.
Look, I love a bargain as well as the next couponing champ, but we aren’t comparing store brand to name brand. You are paying for an expertise. Editing is a skillset, and you either have it, or you don’t. There are a lot of people masquerading as editors because they love to read and got good grades in their high school English classes. While I applaud anyone who reads, that’s not what makes someone a good editor. Editing involves understanding narrative, storytelling, character development, and reader mindset.

Your editor should understand the current book market, know the intricacies of genre tropes, and be aware of what reviewers will attack. Editing is a strange dance between loving a story while still being objective enough to see its faults. Rather than looking for the cheapest rate, find the editor that loves your story, meshes with your writing style and personality, and charges a fair price. If it’s more than you can afford, ask for a payment plan. Most of us are happy to accommodate. (If you struggle with why you should pay for editing, I talk more about that here.)

Once you’ve established that editing relationship, you will be astonished that you ever wrote without it. Expect a 4-6 week turnaround on edits (based on the editor’s schedule), and at least 2-3 rounds of editing, assuming you are getting the minimum concept and line editing. If you are also getting proofreading (and you really should), add on another couple of weeks. When you’ve worked with an editor on a couple of projects, you’ll be able to reserve time on their schedule, and the process will most likely speed up.

Once your book is in print, it’s hard to correct your errors. And harsh reviewers will tell you if you didn’t have it properly edited, so why risk it? If you aren’t sure where to find an editor, check out some of your favorite books. The editor is often mentioned in the acknowledgements. Self-published and independently published books will be particularly helpful, as many of the editors for these books are freelancers.

Got questions? I’m happy to answer them! Feel free to leave them in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter at @upgradestory.

About Ally

Ally BishopWhen you do something effortlessly and people commend you continuously, you have found your gift.

That’s what I tell people all the time. And it’s true.

I get story. I always have. I started writing when I was 8, on a Smith Corona (the electronic kind—I’m not THAT old). I wrote stories in every spiral notebook I had. Eventually, I graduated to a Mac (yes, I’m one of THOSE people). I imagined new worlds, emotional conflicts, and HEAs while I waited at stoplights or wandered the grocery store. But here’s the thing: I didn’t just dream it up and write it down–I critiqued what I read. I knew when ideas were good, and when they stunk. I ran writing groups, judged creative contests, and eventually, got two graduate degrees in writing. That’s right: I love it that much.

What makes me a good editor is, ironically, what makes me good as a publicist, too. Because when I read a good story, one that others will love and want to read, I know it. And then I can’t shut up about it. I want to scream it from the rooftops, because it’s amazing, and everyone—EVERYONE—needs some awesome in their life. So when I commit to your work, it’s because I know it will rock readers’ worlds, and that awesome deserves an audience.

Want to reach me? Head over to Upgrade Your Story for outrageously cool editing services, and over to Badass Marketing for your-brand-made-easy author publicity.

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Formatting Tips: Images in Microsoft Word

Formatting Tips from Dog-ear Book Design

In this series, we explore common techniques for formatting manuscripts in Microsoft Word for print and e-book conversion.

When using Microsoft Word to format for e-book conversion, working with images in Microsoft Word is not difficult, but there’s some things you need to know.

How to properly place images in Microsoft Word
Images in Microsoft Word need to be placed ‘in-line’ with the text, meaning that the image stays with the text when it reflows. If the image is not placed in-line with the text then the converter software may move the image to the end of the text, typically at the end of a chapter.

The best way to ensure that your image is placed inline with the text is to use Insert > Photo > Picture from File

Cutting and pasting from the clipboard may or may not place the image in-line. You can check by attempting to move the image by clicking on it and dragging while the mouse button is depressed. If the image moves, it is not placed in-line and needs to be fixed before uploading your MS Word file for conversion.

Apply center justification to the image or apply a style with a style that has center justification.

Editing images in Microsoft Word
If you crop, resize or otherwise edit images in Microsoft Word, keep in mind that you may need to redo these edits in an image editing program and re-insert the images before uploading the file for conversion. Not all conversion software will recognize edits made to images within MS Word.

If you are working with newer versions of MS Word (I use Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac), you can right-click on the edited image, and save the edits to a new file using the Save As Picture function. Then re-insert the new image. A great shortcut.

Creating images in Microsoft Word
If you use Smart Art in MS Word to create charts, etc. for your e-book, use the Save As Picture function to save your art as a JPG or PNG file and replace in your file using the steps above.

Tip: Using Word Art to create stylized text is not recommended. In MS Word 2011 for Mac, there is no way to have the software save this as a JPG or PNG file. If you are comfortable, you can try taking a screen shot of the artwork created, using a graphics program to crop the image and convert it to JPG or PNG format.

If you are working with newer versions of MS Word (I use Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac), you can right-click on the edited image, and save the edits to a new file using the Save As Picture function. Then re-insert the new image. A great shortcut.

File types and file naming
Microsoft Word is more versatile with image formats than most conversion programs. Best to stick with JPG for images and PNG for text. Make sure that the files you insert are JPG or PNG files to begin with. If you have other formats, open them in an image editor and resave them to JPG or PNG format before you insert them.

Because the converter is going to turn your MS Word file into XHTML code, it’s a good idea to make sure none of your file names have spaces, including the file names of your images. Remove spaces altogether or use underscore characters instead. This is not necessary for all converter programs, but it’s good habit to get into.

Tip: In the past I have noticed issues with PNG files not displaying after conversion. It’s always a good idea to check your converted file. If you find your PNG files are not displaying, convert them to JPG and reinsert the images.

Some other things to keep in mind
Converters (and current reflowable ebook formats for that matter) do not like text appearing over top of images. Converters also do not like text boxes. If text appearing over top of an image is crucial to your ebook design, then add the text in the image file with an image editing program. Just keep in mind that the text added is no longer considered text, so the text now added to your image will not scale with the rest of your text.

I hope you found this helps you in prepping your manuscript for e-book conversion.

Have a question or a tip? Have another formatting question you would like to see covered here? Don’t be shy. Leave a comment below, ’cause I love comments!

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Title Page of Lumiere

Chapter page from Lumiere

Print interior designed to compliment cover designed by another designer. This is the first book of the debut series from author Jacqueline Garlick, published in December 2013.

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