Friday, August 26, 2011

Cover Art

I need help.

Okay, not like that, but I know myself well enough to understand some of the things I do well, and others I don't do so well.

Writing, I seem to have a knack for. Art, colors, design -- not so much. Despite that limitation, I've been working on book cover ideas for my first three novels. I love getting the novels printed at CreateSpace -- just as proof copies right now. But I'm struggling with the cover for INCENTIVIZE, so I'm asking for your help picking the best design.

A few basics on covers -- five objectives
  1. Make the subject matter clear.
  2. Communicate one big idea
  3. Emphasize the book's target audience
  4. Entice a potential reader to look further
  5. Communicate how the book will enhance the reader's life (I'm not making that up).
So let's start with the two covers I'm reasonably happy with:

This first cover is for LEVERAGE, a story set in Minnesota about a mid-level corporate manager and recreational runner who gets sucked into an espionage investigation.

I think this cover is good, but not great. Running is important to the main character, and he does actually outrun the bad guys at one point. And that chase does take place through a wooded area on a path.

I had trouble, however, finding an image of someone having their teeth drilled out with a hand drill, which might have been a little more on target to the plot of the book.

Next is DELIVERABLES about the wrecking of a product licensing deal for a world changing battery technology, and how the scheme impacted one particular employee.

I really love this image -- if you look at the picture closely, you can see that bomb-shaped thing, is actually constructed of batteries. It fits the theme of the book perfectly, and is also odd looking enough that you might pause to look closer.

And now for the difficult one -- INCENTIVIZE. This is the story about a young American woman working for an International mining company who comes to East Africa, is kidnapped while visiting the Dallol hot springs, is held captive in Mogadishu, escapes and is arrested as a spy, and then is nearly killed in a huge explosion at a hotel in Addis Ababa. Yeah, a lot of bad stuff happens to her. Anyway, each of the possible covers hits on a different theme from the book.

This is potential cover number 1.

A picture of a fire and it's devastation in an African country, with a man in the foreground getting ready to try to spray it with water.

This could be the hotel after the explosion, or just the disaster which is Mogadishu. It kind of covers both bases, and I like it because of that.

Potential cover number 2.

I'm not sure where this photo is taken, but I think it is a great shot representing the hotel going up in an explosion.

My only problem with it is the surrounding area doesn't look anything like Addis Ababa (too primitive, too "disastered").

On the other hand, it is dramatic.

Potential cover number 3.

This picture is of the Dallol hot springs. Some important action takes place at this location, and the hot springs are dramatic, desolate and eye-catching.

Unfortunately, it doesn't do a great job of grabbing a big idea from the story.

If only there was a group of mercenaries in a truck in the background....

Potential cover number 4.

The plot of this novel revolves around mining, and some bad things that could result if an immoral mining executive managed to have the opportunity.

And, of course, the story is set in Africa.

So, my plea for help -- which of the four covers do you like the best? Give me some much needed guidance!

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Ditch to Die In

This concept I owe to a colleague at one of my more recent employers.

We all love to be right -- in fact, we love it so much that sometimes we lose track of whether being right is actually important. Knowing when to gracefully accept a loss rather than pushing something to its extreme is an important survival skill in business.

Hence, the concept of carefully selecting your "ditch to die in".

The idea: As you cling to unpopular positions on issues -- usually convinced you're right and carrying that I'll show them attitude -- the stakes surrounding the situation continue to rise. It doesn't take long before you are putting your reputation, relationships, and even your career on the line. So select these battles carefully, making sure they are extremely important, and that you are absolutely positively certain that you are on the right side of the issue and can win the battle.

The consequences of failure are high.

Make sure engaging in such battles is the exception, rather than the rule. While you might be bright, driven, perceptive, and right most of the time, there is a whole world of circumstances outside of your ability to control them, which can still deliver a defeat in a seemingly un-lose-able situation. History is filled with such examples.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Completed Work

I've blogged about the negatives and problems of the Corporate world. Meanwhile, some of my recent writing has called to mind the positive I learned during my time in Corporate Life. So I think I'll do a series of posts on some of these lessons -- I hope someone out there in blogdom finds some value in them.

Completed Work:

This tidbit of thought was contributed by a former boss of mine. He originally referred to it as "Admiral Rickover's Theory of Completed Work", but a can't vouch for the reference to the admiral.

The "theory" goes as follows: A person should never bring only a problem to their organizational superior (boss). Instead they should bring the problem, their analysis, the possible ways of solving the problem, and their proposed solution.

Another way I've seen this stated is to never "delegate upward".

Why is this rule important?
Managers are busy, directors busier, VP's...well, you get the idea. No one appreciates having additional work tossed in their laps. I can remember getting "suggestions" from employees and thinking "okay, you've done three percent of the work, and now expect me to do the other ninety-seven". With hundreds of employees, the task of solving these problems rapidly becomes impossible.
Finding a problem is not a credit to you. Analyzing it makes you appear smart (assuming you don't make a huge mistake). Developing alternatives makes you appear smarter. Offering your recommendation shows courage. In a world where the employee has limited opportunity to "show what they've got", completed work is one of the easiest ways to do so.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer's End

Could summer really be coming to an end?

Emily headed back to school on Sunday -- needing to be there to prepare for rush. The younger kids start on August 18/19, only ten days away. Sigh.

Been trying to cram in some last minute summer fun. Today we are off to the water park a Mahoney State Park to let the kids splash and play somewhere other than just the lake. We will try some fishing and maybe some boating this week as well.

I really enjoy summer and hate to see it go.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Awaiting New Exercise Equipment

I've been an avid runner for the last ten years -- ten years of long miles, but also the associated feelings of health and well-being. And running has given me my "outdoor fix" over much of that time -- the time I wanted to spend outside communing with nature.

Unfortunately, I started to develop some persistent injury problems about two years ago. Since then, my mileage has had to be drastically reduced, as I've gone through one bout after another of knee and foot problems. I could get back up to about twenty miles a week, but if I went over, there would be another round of knee issues, or something similar.

As a result of the reduced miles, I started to gain weight, I became slower, and rather than feeling like I was gliding over the ground, my run became more of a grind.

About a month ago, I realized I needed a new strategy.

So last week, I asked for an early birthday present, and order a new elliptical trainer. It delivers today.

I'm looking forward to some serious calorie counting, weight reduction, and a return to feeling fit again. I might even be able to slip a little bit of running back into my routine, if I'm lucky.