Inspiration, Marketing, Meditations, Updates

The Magical Story of a Book Cover Design

Illustrated Novel Cover

One of the joys of writing is how it connects you to other people. The discussions we have in my writing group are deep, thoughtful, and caring. My publisher, Stephanie Larkin, of Emperor Books is a constant source of encouragement and energy.

However, figuring out how to design and promote the book has been less fun. It requires a lot of cold-calling and asking for attention, which can feel shameful.

One unexpected joy of publishing came with the cover design of Against the Grain.

I had to reach out to people who live or lived in Northern California to find images, and I ended up having warm exchanges where they introduced me to other people.

That was how I happened upon Brian Maebius, who designed the cover for the hardcover version above. I’ll tell you later how I nearly drove Stephanie crazy with our paperback cover design, which is also beautiful. I offered to pay Brian, but he refused. Such is the devotion redwoods inspire. And such are the people who love them.

It was a community that connected like the mycorrhizae connect the trees underground. It’s hard to explain how much this means to me, especially as our country seems to be coming apart at the seams. Here, in his own words is why he did it.

Brian Maebius

“I attended a graduate program in Scientific Illustration at UC Santa Cruz in 2000-01 (The program is now part of CSU Monterey Bay.  My wife and I rented a small cabin surrounded by redwoods in Lompico, near Felton, CA, a short drive to Santa Cruz campus.  It was such a neat experience with the misty fog, salamanders, banana slugs, trillium, ferns and towering trees. We had to climb 150 stairs up the hillside from our parking spot near the creek to get to the cabin.  I’m always happy to contribute to any author/artist that promotes conservation of such a unique ecosystem like the coastal redwoods.

Cypress trees

We have a related tree in the Texas Hill Country. The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is closely related to Montezuma cypress in Mexico. It grows along the rivers and creeks around Dripping Springs. Some are 800 years or older.  I’ve planted quite a few in the grotto and along the creek on our property. They’re not quite as tall as coastal redwoods, but they should reach 120 feet one day!  Another fascinating and related tree is the Dawn redwood, Metasequoia, rediscovered in China in the 1940s, and previously known from Cretaceous fossil record.”

Once again, thank you, Brian.


Quest for the Holy Grail of Jacket Copy

The feedback on my jacket copy from my last post was mixed, with some saying I wasn’t getting at the core of the conflict. I was following the advice of The Manuscript Doctors, trying to show the poetry of the book. So, after reading many more examples, including Amore Towles’s The Lincoln Highway and South Pole Station, I determined that the key structure seemed to be character goal followed by obstacle. So here’s another crack at it. Let me know what you think in the comments, below. I’m open to constructive criticism.

Two-thousand-year-old redwoods used to cloak the California coast like bear fur. When Logan was a child and slept high in the branches of his favorite five-hundred-year-old redwood, Uuma, he used to hear her speak. For years, he and his father fought to save the few ancient trees that remain, and his father died in the attempt. Now Logan can’t hear the trees anymore.

To make matters worse, billionaire Atlas Jamison stages a hostile takeover of Pacific Lumber and triples the cutting rate, reducing the largest and most ancient trees to lawn furniture with heart-stopping speed.

Tree lovers from all over the world are resorting to ever more desperate measures to save trees and planet, but Jamison seems unstoppable, until his daughter shows up.

Can Logan overcome his grief and rage to teach Diana to hear the voices of the trees – and stop her father’s destruction?

Against the Grain is based on the true story of violent clashes in Northern California between corporate raiders, loggers, and activists during Redwood Summer 1990. Action-packed yet mystical, it asks what it will take to wake humans up – violence, loss, or love?

Also– which cover do you like better? Assuming some other more painterly affect on the left.

Advice, Inspiration, Marketing

To Tiktok or to Twitter, That is the Question

Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring a variety of social media platforms to cultivate an audience for my upcoming book releases. I must have listened to the same podcasts as all the other writers (Creative Penn, The Bestseller Experiment) because there’s so much chatter out there, it’s hard to hear ourselves speak. We’ve all become slaves to whatever shifting algorithm these platforms use to determine who gets the views. So now, not only do we have to write, we have to master fifteen new apps. And often, to use an app, you have to master another one first. We have to become our own marketing mavens.

There’s a high likelihood we’ve been tricked into becoming human battery cells à la Matrix for the benefit of the social media CEOS and advertisers. Oh well.

Here’s what I’ve learned. My Tiktok following has stagnated at less than 200, and the number of likes and views seem to be inversely related to the time I spend making them. Tiktok likes humor, spectacle, self-branding, and imitation (via “dueting” and “stitching”). I know, right? I should write a glossary. Anyway, I can be humorous, but not wildly so, and being ADHD, I thrive on variety, so I’m not really suited to Tiktok. They say it’s four young people, anyway.

Also, Tiktok doesn’t foster the kind of literary audience I’m looking for with a few exceptions, like Panic_Kyle. Finally, I’m NOT going to do the literal song and dance routine required of Tiktok authors. I’ve got nothing against dancing. I just like to do it for fun, not for selling books.

In contrast, Twitter has a stronger literary community. In a few short weeks I’ve doubled my followers by seeking out like-minded authors. There’s a strong ethos in Twitter that if someone follows you, you follow them back. Replying to posts is as important to posting your own thoughts. I find my best twitter replies are instinctive– the ones I don’t think too hard about. It’s like trying to see the Northern Lights when they are visible in NY. They are so faint that if you look at the sky too hard to you don’t see them. You have to cultivate a fuzzy focus.

My Twitter follower number seems to hover at about 44% of the number of people I follow. I’ve gone from not understanding Twitter to looking forward to engaging with strangers about New Yorker articles. In fact, I almost look forward to checking my Twitter messages more than my text messages. Worrisome. Borg induction? Social dissolution? Hope not.

Nevertheless, I enjoy the video editing app on Tiktok. It provides a set of creative constraints, visual tools, and copyrighted sound clips. It has prompted to me to revise, edit, and shorten previously written works, just for the hell of it – which is a good thing.

So, last night, I took a poem from the previous post “November Bones” and, in the effort to fit it into a 60-second Tiktok with visuals and music, I “stripped it down to the bones,” a process I enjoy as much as earth does in the poem, now an “Ode to Death.” A similar thing occurred with my flash fiction, “Lilith Confesses.” I like how the app forces me to weigh each word individually. So, it might not get me views, and it might not sell any books, but it does something far more important. It stimulates curiosity and creativity. Algorithm be damned. See what you think. But don’t think too hard.


Ode to Death #halloween poetry. Go to

♬ Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush

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