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Cardboard Monet, Graphic Design., Random., Web Design.

Why Covers Tend to Look the Same

April 5, 2016
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I’m a designer across multiple platforms, so I spend a lot of time in different states of creativity. Every time of art has groups of similarities, whether it be pop music featuring a familiar beat, or portfolio websites all featuring parallax scrolling, and everything in between. Since my main focus is book production, I thought I’d take a look at book covers, and why so frequently we see similarities—and sometimes even blatant copies—within the same genres.

We’re all familiar with the old adage “never judge a book by its cover.” But, guess what, we all do it, and not just with books. The entire advertising industry is built upon your first impression, and it being positive enough for you to part with your hard-earned dollars. Same goes for publishing. Recognition is important. If, from across the room, you can determine a book’s key genre, and even it’s intended audience age, the cover artist and publisher have succeeded in their duties. Why? Because a glance can be as quick as a few seconds, sometimes even shorter, and you’ve already been able to analyze and categorize their book—whether it’s up your alley, or not. That’s more powerful and explains a lot more than even a title or tagline (the second elements a reader sees when perusing for a new book).

Same goes for publishing. Recognition is important.

This explains why the YA dystopian genres feature cracks, and concrete, and decrepit cities. Why most contemporary romances are light, bright and sunny, often featuring two or more people. I’ve seen it far too often, virtually the same cover for two different books within the same genre. Or—gasp—two different books using the same stock photography. It happens more than you think!

Sure, there are books that break the mold and are able to stand out from the rest, but they also have to work harder. I’m guilty of it, too. But that’s not always a bad thing. There’s another saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right?

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Cardboard Monet, Graphic Design., Ramblings., Random., REUTS., Web Design., Writing.

Why #ILoveTwitter.

March 26, 2016
twitter-love

Twitter recently celebrated a milestone anniversary and, with it, started trending the #ILoveTwitter hashtag. Fitting, really. Now, I’ve only been on Twitter—consistently—for about three years, but I did partake in the hashtaggy goodness because I truly felt obligated. Why? Well, let’s rewind a little bit.

Not many of my IRL friends know I’m on Twitter. It’s actually a social media service that’s more looked down upon than embraced. And, quite frankly, I felt the same way they do about Twitter before I found myself swept up in the community. So, yes, at one point I all but scoffed at the thought of using Twitter, and believed the people who did use it [as frequently as I do, now] were self-absorbed narcissists that only talked about what they had for dinner, or what they were wearing. Hey! Look! I did both of those in one tweet.

#ILove[you]Twitter

As you can see, things have changed. I don’t view Twitter as the sewage of the internet, though you can find those dark alleys, spewing hate and violence, as you might be able to find anywhere online. Instead, Twitter has taken up shop in a very special place in my heart: the writing community. I know I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, and I’m hoping to make the transition from writer to published author very soon, and, before Twitter, I felt disconnected from a community I so desperately wanted to be a part of. Sure, starting your own publishing company helps, but I really have Twitter to thank for introducing me to other awesome writers, contests and activities to help me hone my writing skill, and exploding my “To Be Read” list beyond anything I can conceivably finish within my lifetime.

That’s why #ILoveTwitter.

I feel like I finally belong in the little niche of the world where I can combine my love for words with my love for design. I feel like I can lament about writer’s block troubles and participate in writing sprints to pull me out of those dark moments. I feel like I have made genuine connections with friends I have never, and may never meet. And, when we do, it’s as if we’ve been best friends our entire life.

#ILoveTwitter. And I’m no longer ashamed to say so because it has enhanced my life in ways I wouldn’t have been able to fathom if I hadn’t fully immersed myself in that community.

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Ramblings., Random.

My experience going viral (on a small scale).

March 17, 2016
Twitter

Mid-January, I made a small tweet I didn’t really think about. It was of a quote I once heard, likely from a professor I can’t remember, but the words stuck with me for the years to follow. I had to butcher it significantly to fit the Twitter character count, but the gist of it comes down to:

Never make fun of someone for mispronouncing a word because it means they learned the pronunciation through reading.

It rang true on so many levels, and I think that’s why it resonated with so many people:

1. Reading is good! You can learn a lot from just picking up a book.
2. Making fun of someone is bad, regardless the capacity.
3. English is hard!

Since January 22th, when I made that tweet, I’ve gone on a rollercoaster of new experiences, including small scale Twitter and Facebook virality, something I never thought would happen, and especially not from a tweet poorly structured and quickly composed. But, I guess that’s how going viral works–you can’t predict it or force it.

At first, I was happy to see all the “hearts” and retweets on Twitter. A couple hundred were cool, vaulting this tweet into my most successful tweet category (previously, it was a response tweet to @JaredLeto, which he retweeted, and gained approximately 40-60 “hearts” and further retweets). But I was proud my most successful tweet was done so on my own, and not because of a celebrity’s fame.

But, then weird things started to happen. About two months later, I woke up one morning with approximately eight new Facebook friend requests, along with some message requests. I wasn’t sure if it was related to the tweet, until I saw the same people following me on Instagram and Twitter, with a connection to that tweet in particular. Friend requests are harmless, but the messages were what really made me uncomfortable. Things like “Hi princess, how are you?” all the way to I love you.” My stomach twisted into knots.

Now, it might seem like I’m exaggerating. This is hardly “going viral” and only a few people broke the barrier to communicate with me, but did so in a very unacceptable way. And that’s what it comes down to; unsolicited messages of a personal nature has crossed the line, especially when I feel somewhat blindsided by the sudden popularity of a two-month-old tweet.

Since then, I’ve been dodging Facebook requests and messages, and filtering who I allow to follow me on Instagram. I never thought I’d be so uncomfortable about something like keeping my images public. But I don’t want the actions of a few to ruin the relationship with an online community I’m a part of. That’s why my Twitter is still public, my Instagram is still public, and I haven’t felt compelled enough to delete the original tweet. I’ve seen so much dialogue brought to light because of my tweet, and I don’t want that to stop. It’s important, on so many levels, to discuss the importance of reading and the reminder that bullying is bad, regardless the situation.

A lot of good has come from this one tweet, especially when a friend tagged me in this picture posted on Facebook:

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The individual who shared a screenshot of my tweet is blogger Fabulous Chase, and yes, there are over 6,000 shares on Facebook. Of my tweet. That’s on top of the over 6,000 retweets and 6,500 “hearts” on Twitter. The screenshot has also been shared on Instagram, with less interaction, but still. I’ve experience some of the downfall of going viral (on a very small scale), but even better, I’ve created a dialogue about reading and bullying, and hopefully helped people along the way.

I don’t know what exactly the point of this post was. Part sharing a quote that means so much to me, to a different audience. Part recognizing there are very boundaries that can be crossed, even in a digital setting (especially in a digital setting). In the end, hopefully more people can take away something from this, whether it be inspiring and educational, or a lesson that people behind a computer screen are just that: people.

What do you think? About the quote, about “going viral, and about interacting with people you don’t necessarily know? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

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Ramblings., Random.

What’s New In Ashley Land?

January 27, 2016
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The other day I made a semi-cryptic tweets, and received an overwhelming amount of support in return.

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So, what happened?

I quit.

No, not the blog, nor Cardboard Monet or REUTS Publications. Earlier this week I made the difficult—and somewhat spontaneous—decision to quit my day job, effective immediately. I won’t go into specifics as to why it happened, and happened in this specific way, but what I will say is so far it has been a positive experience, even if it’ll take a little bit to get used to.

And I can now breath the biggest sigh of relief.

So, instead of being a Debbie Downer about this situation, help me celebrate! I’ve decided to piggy-back off of my “End of the Year” sale, and offer a I Quit My Day Job sale. Order a book cover project by February 15, 2016 and get $100 off your order!

In addition to cover art, I’d like to extend a typesetting discount! Typically my rate is flat for up to 100,000 words, but because we’re celebrating, I’d like to increase that limit to 200,000 words! Huzzah!

Request a quote today and lock in your February and March dates :)

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Ramblings., Random., Video Games

That Whole Blogging Thing

January 12, 2016
wii

Last week I posted about my resolutions for 2016; some lofty, others more reasonably attainable. You’ll notice point number two under short-term goals was:

-Blog more, both in a personal and professional setting. And I have some exciting things brewing on the horizon which might help me achieve this resolution.

Well, guess what? I can finally announce some of those “exciting things brewing on the horizon.” Within the last week I have been accepted for not one, but two blogging positions with some video game blogs. Eeeee! That’s right, not only will I fulfill my very first resolution for 2016, but it’ll also help me write more, and I’ll have an excuse to pursue one of my favorite hobbies: video games. So, while I’ll focus on writing/design/me in this blog, you’ll be seeing posts from me at BitCultures and That VideoGame Blog in the very near future.

While I’m working on my first articles for these two blogs, I could use some (wo)manpower to help think up some new blog posts ideas. At the start, I’ll be working on reviewing some classic titles (meaning I get to dive back into some of my favorite childhood games), as well as showcasing what I think is the worst video game in video game history (it’s not E.T. for Atari). Have a neat-o burrito idea that I can write about / research in the video game industry? Leave it for me in the comments!

Stick with me, because things are about to get crazy. And you can follow my antics on the PlayStation Network by adding me as a friend! The name’s “supersmaaashley.” Do it, to it.

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Inspiration., Ramblings., Random.

New Year, New Resolutions

January 9, 2016
fireworks

New Year’s Resolutions always seem so lofty and out of reach. I almost didn’t want to place any additional stress on myself by coming up with some for 2016. But, at the same time, wandering aimlessly through the year seems like it could be a waste of 365 days. We’re already eight days into this new year, and I definitely feel as if I need some sort of direction, even if they’re small goals, to get me back on track and in the motivated spirit.

And so, with that, I’m setting some resolutions for myself. BUT, instead of just blanket resolutions on the year, I’m breaking these up into short-term and long-term goals, where the long-term goals don’t necessarily have to be completed by the end of the year, but if I’ve at least started them, I’m happy.

Well, here goes…

Short-Term Resolutions:
-Learn to meditate / start meditating. We work out our bodies, I think it’s important to work out our minds, as well. And since my career is primarily a mental strain, I want to do my mind a favor and learn to do… nothing. So, armed with the phone app Headspace I’m making the leap into meditation and mindfulness.
-Blog more, both in a personal and professional setting. And I have some exciting things brewing on the horizon which might help me achieve this resolution.
-Finish writing one novel. I should be putting this under the long-term resolutions, but I’m determined to finish at least one of my WIPs this year. I have to do it.
-Enter a short story competition. I see so many in the writing community who participate in these fun short story/anthology competitions, that I want to join in on the fun, too! A more lofty short-term goal, but that’s the beauty of short stories: they’re short.

Long-Term Resolutions:
-Finish all my WIPs. Not necessarily likely to happen within the 2016 year (though I suppose it could), but if I’m able to make significant progress, I’ll be happy.
-Establish a better work-home balance. The reason this is under a long-term resolution is because I don’t want it to ever end, and I know it’ll be tricky to implement (being the workaholic that I am).
-Learn a new language. Probably my loftiest goals, but I’d like to at least pick up a new language with a basic understanding of how to communicate. I’m deciding between Italian and Romanian, and kind of feel like I need to stick with my roots, and learn how to have riveting conversations with Dracula.
-Volunteer more. I recently was accepted to a local human society to help socialize cats, and I want to make this a permanent part of my life. Nonprofit organizations thrive on volunteer work, and I’m happy to be part of that community.

Do we share any resolutions? Want to learn Romanian with me? Let me know in the comments!

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Inspiration., Ramblings., Random.

Karaoke, and Overcoming Fears.

June 24, 2015
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Funny title, huh?

Trust me, I never thought I’d write those four words in the same sentence.

But there it is. Big and bold. Karaoke, and Overcoming Fears. If I’ve overcome the fears, why do I feel the slinking of dread in the pit of my stomach as I write this? Why does it still feel like a social handicap still follows me like a shadow? And why did I ever think this was a good idea?

Let’s back track a little bit, shall we? I’ve always had a bit of social—or maybe the right word would be presentation—anxiety. The kind where just the thought of having to step in front of a crowd of any size causes your muscles to tense, and your sweat floodgates to open. It doesn’t even matter who the crowd consists of. For my wedding I had a few-sentence speech to present my new husband with a groom’s cake and, in front of family, friends, the very people we wanted there, I felt exactly the same as I imagine I would delivering a speech in front of a sold-out stadium.

Utter terror.

Maybe it’s a bit of the perfectionist mentality, where I don’t want to get anything wrong and thus over-think and begin to stumble over . . . everything. A part of it is pride–caring about what other people think, even though I shouldn’t. But we’re also human. How can you control that side of human nature? It’s not impossible, but it sure as hell isn’t easy.

But there are few things I’m a firm, passionate believer in, and one of those can be summed up in a simple sentence:

The best [things]* exist outside of your comfort zone.

*You can sub out “things” for just about anything: experiences, friends, etc…

Where does karaoke fit into this?

See my comfort zone sitting over there? It’s the little two square feet of things like design, and video games, and reading. Well, you see, karaoke is approximately on the planet Mars in comparison. Just a bit outside of my comfort zone. If you would have asked me five years ago if I’d sing karaoke, I’d probably laugh in your face. I had done it once in college, but that was to Bohemian Rhapsody and it had a vocal track behind it, so it was more a sing along than actual karaoke. And I love singing, but I’ve always been told I was tone deaf, something that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with karaoke (correction: it totally does, but then again I don’t like making that big of a fool of myself . . .)

Then I moved to Wisconsin, and one night we decided to hit up a karaoke bar. Queue all the symptoms I mentioned before–chills, sweat, stuttering. We sat in the back, away from the bar, so I figured it was my lucky night. That is until we moved, and alcohol with peer pressure caused me to do the one thing I never thought I’d do:

Sing karaoke.

But I did it, and I didn’t die, or shrivel into a pit of embarrassment. I wasn’t fantastic, but it’s karaoke, by definition it’s not supposed to be fantastic (correction: “karaoke” actually means empty orchestra, which is hauntingly beautiful). That one night, a night I’ll never forget, has since changed my life. Now it’s 2015, I’ve been doing karaoke for about two years, and might consider myself an addict. I’m not fantastic at it, but there’s something about letting go of your inhibitions and just not caring that makes karaoke fun.

In case you’re curious (and I know you are), my go-to songs are:

  1. Somebody to Love or Don’t Stop Me Now, Queen
  2. Won’t Say I’m In Love or Part of Your World, Disney
  3. Don’t Know Why, Norah Jones
  4. Jar of Hearts** or A Thousand Years***, Christina Perri
  5. I’m Yours, Jason Mraz

So, in addition to this post being largely a ramble, it’s also a PSA to do something you’ve never done, something well outside of, or just a step outside of your comfort zone, and see how the change effects your life. I can’t promise it’ll be positive, but anytime I’ve found myself a good distance outside of my comfort zone, good things happen.

**Fun Fact: This was my first solo karaoke song . . . ever.
***Yes, I bust out a little Twilight soundtrack every once in a while.

Random., Writing.

The Crutch of a Never-Ending WIP

June 5, 2015
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I’ve been thinking a lot about this since of my works in progress has been a continual work in process since 2008—that is an insane amount of time, especially when you hear that there are many authors who are able to write a book in less than a year, a talent I can’t help but envy.

Having worked on this WIP for over seven (SEVEN!) years, I’m starting to feel as if it has become a crutch. What I mean by that is it has become a story with the admirable future goal of finishing, but one that always seems just out of reach, and so it sucks all my time, energy and inspiration away from other, potentially more successful, stories. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a proud momma of my story. I want to nurse it into the best it can be, but I’m doing just that: nursing it. Nursing it like a bottle of beer warmed by the palm of my hand, one where there’s always a sip left, and you never finish it. Because yuck, warm beer.

(I’m from Wisconsin, you had to expect a beer analogy, right?)

And, while I love my WIP, I know that the sooner I let it go, allowing it to become whatever it was always meant to be, the sooner I can move on to bigger and better things. But just like a first born child, I don’t want to let go. I can’t let go. And that’s how my never-ending WIP has become a crutch. It’s familiar, safe, and an easy fall-back when I find myself struggling in other creative aspects of my life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way about some aspect of their life. Your crutch could be anything. It could be a job, a friend, a bad habit . . . Because I consider myself as a creative in all sorts of medium (and writing just happens to be what I feel the strongest pull toward deep in my heart), my crutch is my story. A story I just. can’t. let. go.

So that’s the inspiration for today’s blog post. Since this is a big struggle of mine, I thought I’d try to work through some solutions for transforming your crutch into more of a motivator.

 


Ridding Yourself of the Crutch*


*Whatever if may be.

1. Stop idolizing your crutch // You know the saying, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I’ve found this can easily happen when working on a new project, especially if it’s your first. That’s exactly what’s happening with me right now. I’m currently working on completely re-writing my first novel, and because it’s my first, it will always occupy a special place in my heart, a place no other manuscript can ever fill. But, because of that, it’s harder to realize something might not work. You want so badly for the pieces of the puzzle to fit together that you forget you’re not writing a story that’ll change the world, or figure out the cure of any number of incurable diseases. You’re writing fiction (in my case); it’ll never be perfect, it’ll never be universally accepted, but it will always be yours. Which leads me into my next point.

2. Put things into perspective // Like I mentioned above, your fiction story isn’t (likely) to win the Nobel Peace Prize, or find a cure to cancer. It’s fiction. It’s meant to be fun, emotional, echoing real life or transforming the norm in some fantastical way. Trying to make it something it’s not will always spawn failure, and with the thoughts of failing a dark cloud on the horizon, guess what? You’re more likely to self-fulfill that prophesy. So take a step back, analyze what you’re doing from the distant eyes of someone on the outside, and realize it isn’t the end of the world. If you leave the manuscript unfinished, it isn’t the end of the world. If you write something and have to completely scrap everything and re-write it, it isn’t the end of the world. At the time it may seem like it, but trust me, it isn’t the end of the world. Period.

3. Take a break // I know this seems counter intuitive, but bear with me. The biggest hurdle I’ve found in trying to finish this particular WIP is forcing the story just for the sake of completion. And you know what that creates? Stress. Frustration. Thoughts of inadequacy. All of which shouldn’t be part of doing something you love. Is writing hard? Yes. Are you always going to succeed writing? No. But the process should always be somewhat enjoyable. When you start to loath what you’re doing, that’s when you know you’re doing something wrong, and you have to hope, pray, plead you haven’t crossed the point of no return.

 


 

So, what in your life would you consider a crutch,
and how have you overcome the obstacle it causes?

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