Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Using Contests for E-Book Covers

06 June 2014

e-book covers mockup
The subject of using contests (like 99 Designs) for making e-book covers has created huge controversy in the graphic design world, including complaints of driving down prices, etc.
My own feeling is that not every designer works the same way, and e-book contest covers can be a compelling way to get a decent cover at an affordable price.
Below is a comment I submitted to this post on Joel Friedlander’s blog, The Book Designer, about using contests for e-book covers.
I’m a writer who has, in the past, done graphic design for a living—everything from layout to burning plates and occasionally minding the paper folder. Catch is, that was the 80s, and it’s a huge technology shift that I haven’t kept current on. In the 80s, I joined a consultancy that had a mix of software engineering and graphic design clients, though we also did some music-related stuff for a gaming company.
At one point, my partner and I decided that we were too unfocused and we should concentrate on one thing, so however we earned the most money in the next six months would narrow our focus. We made more money in software engineering, thus gave up the design part of our business. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake.
In between software gigs, I did still work in graphic design on occasion, though not through the partnership. After the company folded, I went back to graphic design for several months before heading off to Ireland. I was burned out and fried, and working on setting travel agency ad copy and laying out restaurant menus was far less stressful. I was the first to use the new typeface Lithos for Mexican restaurant menu design (for El Torito), and every time I see another Mexican restaurant using the face, I smile. It may be a super-small trend I set, but it was a move away from more stereotypical ethnic typefaces.
I’ve done cover designs on 99designs. Never won a gig, but I’ve been in the final round several times (mostly for hidden contests). I get asked to submit designs every now and again.
There are good and bad things about it, so I’m going to be frank with what I feel works and doesn’t work about 99 designs—and why I bother to do it at all.
First, I’m not an illustrator in any sense of the word. I’d love to have that skill, but not so much that I take the thousands of hours it’d need to really develop it. I’m really, truly at the “daisies like a six-year-old draws” stage of illustration skill. After I get my current book done, it’s actually part of my commitment to myself that I’m going to learn how to draw better as well as finally learn Illustrator.
I view the contests as “Photoshop homework where I have a risk of making some money.” That’s it. I’m looking for a challenge as an artist: what do I feel I have to say about this topic? And what can I challenge myself to learn? Also, do I have a photo that I think works for this?
Especially where there are photo-based covers, sometimes 99designs can feel like a race to find the killer stock art. For Tim Rymel’s forthcoming book Going Gay, when I saw the artist submit the winning cover, I inwardly folded. What I’d found was nowhere near as good. Tim obviously agreed, as he ended the contest early. Could he have gotten a better cover? Possibly. But I think it does an awesome job. In that contest, only a handful of designs were submitted.
The other extreme I’ve seen is where the client just keeps chewing up designer time. This contest had a mind-boggling 1265 entries. But, because they were paying $450 (rather than the more typical $200 or $290), people kept on submitting. I don’t want $450 that badly; I’m so glad I was eliminated early. I’m guessing the winning designer probably earned around $2 an hour.
Another problem is the person who’s self-published a book with an awful cover, then comes back to get a better one when their book isn’t selling. Catch is, if their taste was that appalling to begin with, it isn’t much (or any) better now. They’ve only decided it’s worth spending (more) money for. For you great designers out there, these people were likely never your customers. They’ll often reject good design. The beauty of 99designs for these kinds of situations is that you can look elsewhere for how you make your money. There are plenty of people willing to be awful for the client.
Look, I get that those of you who are real designers for your day job feel that these contests are a threat. And those of us who design a cover every now and again when we have the time aren’t really in your business at all. I’m far more interested in the one-off client where there’s no future implied obligation because I’m a writer first and designer second. You generally would prefer to have repeat business or at least referral business.
For those of us who find this kind of thing a bizarre form of entertainment, one of the reasons I do it is to hone my sense of design. To play with my font library. To try to figure out how someone else did something and have a go at it myself (not to knock off the design, but just to learn). To see what I like (and don’t like) about other people’s entries, and try to articulate why it does or doesn’t work for me. For me, that’s what the real benefit is: not the money, but the education.
One of the things I’ve had to spend a lot of time on is documenting the rights I have. Do I have rights to use this in a commercial project?
Speaking of fonts, I’ve learned how much of a font freak I really am. When some unexpected money came my way, I decided to go to TypeCon in July. Their program and workshops sound fabulous. So that’s a direct result of 99designs contests.
Almost every penny I’ve earned this year is as a designer. (I’ll have books out later this year, and I expect that, at year’s end, design will only be a minor part of my income. One hopes.) Did I design my own covers? Yes I did. Ultimately, that’s why I’m doing this: so I can do a better job for myself. Even if I get to where I think hiring someone else is a better choice, I will be better working with a designer because of my experience.
Until then, I’ll just write every day, publish books when they’re ready, and sell a bunch of t-shirts and the occasional clock or shower curtain.
Note: Book mockup template in header by Picseel.

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My Bag of Fuckall

05 June 2014

I love product mockups, so since I had fuckall to put on a bag (and needed a place for all my zero fucks of late), here it is. Mockup from PSD Covers, the font is Lunchbox and Lunchbox Ornaments from Kimmy Design, the chalkboards (two of them) are from BMachina, and the bag texture is from Florin Gorgan and is a freebie here. In addition, I used a glass effect layer style (probably from mysitemyway.com), a shadow light that comes from the upper left (probably from the same place), and a shadow layer to sort of give a “shelf” effect on the flat chalkboard.
fuck-all-bag-mockup
Note: Now available for sale in several places, see this post.
Took me about half an hour, fwiw.
For those who’ve never seen how they work, you paste in the normal flat artwork and the script takes over and makes cool stuff out of it.
Graphicburger has some really awesome mockups. Some are free, some are commercial.

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The Rage Inducing Problems of Not Requiring Double Opt-In

04 June 2014

You’re now connected to Zaid from Amazon.co.uk
Me:You don’t have a menu option for “someone was a dumbass and used my email address for their Amazon account and it’s pissing me off that you let them do so without double opt-in.”
Zaid:Thank you for contacting Amazon.co.uk. My name is Zaid. May I know your name, please?
Me:Deirdre
Zaid:Hello Deirdre.I understand your concern about the account. I’ll help you with this issue but please refrain from using any inappropriate language.
Me:deirdre@icloud.com needs to be removed from your database.
I don’t know Ms. McCloskey or her email address.
Zaid:Could you please elaborate your issue?
Me:I am not she. She signed up with my email account. I thought that was pretty clear.
Since Amazon doesn’t require confirmation of an email address, that means I’m getting spam.
Zaid:Are you referring that you are receiving e-mails of other person ?
Me:Yes.
Zaid:Thanks for confirmation.
I will help you in changing your e-mail address Deirdre.
Before I’ll be able to view your account, I’ll need to do a quick security check. Would you please confirm the complete name, email address and billing address on your account?
Me:I DO NOT WANT TO CHANGE IT
I AM NOT THAT PERSON
Zaid:I understand, Before I’ll be able to view your account, I’ll need to do a quick security check. Would you please confirm the complete name, email address and billing address on your account?
Me:Please remove MY email address from SOMEONE ELSE’S account.
Get me your supervisor.
How the frak would I even know all that unless I logged into someone else’s account? That’s morally wrong.
Zaid:I’m sorry for the situation.
Before I’ll be able to view your account, I’ll need to do a quick security check. Would you please confirm the complete name, email address and billing address on your account?

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Marion Zimmer Bradley Gave Us New Perspectives, All Right

03 June 2014

Leah Schnelbach wrote a piece on Tor.com for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s birthday. I’m not going to link to it.
In this case, I feel that what’s most important about Marion Zimmer Bradley isn’t that she wrote a bunch of stuff.
I feel that what’s important to remember about MZB is what she enabled that was unconscionable.
Let’s pull some tidbits of MZB in her own words out of her sworn testimony at two of her three depositions on the matter. Docs are up at my mirror of Stephen Goldin’s site.

Q. And to your knowledge, how old was [Victim X] when your husband was having a sexual relationship with him?
A. I think he was about 14 or possibly 15. I’m not certain.
Q. Were you aware that your husband had a sexual relationship with [Victim X] when he was below the age of 18?
A. Yes, I was.

And:

Q. Can you tell me why you would publicly state that Walter was not a pedophile when you knew that he had been having sex with a minor child?
A. Because, as I said, [Victim X] did not impress me as a minor child. He was late in his teens, and I considered him — I think he would have been old enough to be married in this state legally, so I figured what he did sexually was his own business.
[Editor’s note: In point of fact, the boy was 10 and 11 at the time in question.]

And about Elisabeth Waters, two quotes from her own diary:

Q. Elisabeth Waters in her 10-8-89 diary, which was given to the police, indicates the following: Quote, “And I feel like a total idiot for not having said anything back when I thought Walter was molesting [Johnnt Doe 3] ten years ago. I guess it was just another case of,” quote, “‘Don’t trust your own perceptions when the adults are telling you you’re wrong.’
Q. I’m going to read to you from the 10-9-89 entry of Elisabeth Waters.
“Marion always said she’d divorce Walter if he did this again. She seems to think that he molested both [Victim X] and [Johnny Doe 4], but she was rather startled when I told her about the letter to Dr. Morin about [Johnny Doe 3]. She said that she thought Walter thought of [Johnny Doe 3] as a son.”

For me, the following is the real kicker.

Q. Where did you have this discussion with David where he thought he was too old for Walter?
A. When he was 15 or so.
Q. So at the time that David was 15, David informed you that he believed that your then husband was not propositioning him because at that point David was too old for Walter’s tastes?
A. I think that’s what he said. To the best of my memory, that’s what he said.
Q. So you were curious enough to ask your own son whether your husband had made a sexual proposition to him?
A. I wouldn’t say I was concerned enough. I would simply say the matter came up in conversation.

Now, I have to say that I didn’t know about this until three years ago, because people don’t talk about it. Stephen Goldin asked to be a panelist at Westercon, and I looked at his site.
(edited to add the following 2 paragraphs before the end)
I have pretty strong feelings about this in part because I had a roommate (and a friend) who had molested his own child in the past and who had been on the relative straight and narrow after a good deal of therapy. But part of why he’d come around is that no one was enabling him and he felt that he needed to change. I don’t know that he never relapsed, but I know how much of a struggle he had with it.
So he had the perspective of someone who knew what he was doing was wrong. I don’t see that MZB had that attitude. At. All.
Why do we give MZB more of a pass than we gave Ed Kramer? She defended her husband when he was (rightfully) thrown out of a con for being a child sexual predator. [Note: I conflated two events significantly far apart in time in this sentence. As many people have read it, I’m keeping it as written and adding a note. See this comment. At the time of the Breendoggle, most people did not know of Breen’s 1954 conviction, and thus many felt it was libel.]

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My First Science Fiction Convention

03 June 2014

(excerpted from a longer piece)
Ken said there was a science fiction convention coming up over Easter weekend. There would be gaming, which I was looking forward to. He was volunteering and said I should too. So I did, claiming that I was in fact over 18—required for volunteers at that con at that time—when I was still 17. Ken vouched for me, so I was trusted with tasks not ordinarily trusted a newbie.
It was 1977. Science fiction and fantasy films had been so awful since 2001 that I was severely underwhelmed. At that point, there had been only one Star Trek series. Star Wars wasn’t out yet. There hadn’t been a truly great science fiction film since 2001.
I hadn’t seen many fantasy films that hadn’t embarrassed the hell out of me to even have been in the theatre with them. Well, except for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was a movie that I actually disliked the first few times I was dragged to it by friends. Eventually, I grew to love it. There were well-intended box office successes like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, but I remember it being cringeworthy, even apart from the Ray Harryhausen animation I never warmed to. The Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit and the Bakshi film Wizards weren’t out yet. Nothing had touched what I felt was possible in books.
If you’d asked me in Easter 1977 what my favorite science fiction or fantasy film of the seventies had been thus far, I’d probably have answered Woody Allen’s Sleeper. For science fiction films, we’d had Silent Running, which at least was interesting despite being too slow. Then there was Zardoz, which regularly makes worst-of lists. Some of the choices were differently compelling, like Rollerball. I didn’t like it at the time, but came to appreciate it many years later. One could argue that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a science fiction film in that it involved aliens. There was a bunch of crap like At the Earth’s Core and Journey to the Center of the Earth and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
What there weren’t, however, were good space-based science fiction films. It just hadn’t been done since 2001.
When I arrived at my first science fiction convention, I wasn’t at all drawn by the media-related opportunities, of which there were many, including airings of some relatively recent science fiction and fantasy films.
So naturally, being young, personable and female, I was assigned to escort media guests around, to manage the situation if they were overwhelmed by fans, and to help them get anything they needed. Most of them got a few polite expressions of fannishness, but nothing that actually needed a escort. Still, it made them feel valuable, and it was interesting enough.
Many of the convention’s VIPs were guest actors from Star Trek episodes, and many of those actors were truly great people. Some were from even older shows, like Kirk Alyn, the first actor to play Superman. Over the times I volunteered at the con, I enjoyed being Kirk’s VIP guide the most. I remember him being charming and generous with his time.
This first time, though, I was assigned to accompany an actor whose big film was coming out later that year. He was quite the comic fan (where I was not), and I just remember that he was completely unremarkable to me as a person. I spent a lot of time standing next to him as he geeked out with various comic vendors about things coming out and favorite issues in common. Even though I read comics at the time, I genuinely didn’t understand his deep interest in the subject, and we had no favorite comics in common. Back then, I read Spiderman and Nova mostly, occasionally dipping into other books.
The next morning, I sat alone in the hotel restaurant eating breakfast while I listened to people describe said actor as dreamy. Oh, he was decent enough looking, blond and somewhat geeky, which normally was my thing. Just—not this time. Thus, I found the interest in him fascinating.
It wasn’t until the fifth time I saw Star Wars that it hit me that I’d spent my day accompanying Mark Hamill around the con. You know. Luke Skywalker.
Hamill is now older than Alec Guinness was when the filming of Star Wars began.

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Jay Lake, RIP, and a Few Memories

01 June 2014

But still, you’d have much better odds at the craps table in Vegas than you would betting me to show up at WorldCon in 2014. Jay Lake, 2009

I found that while I was looking for a post I remembered, probably from 2009, about the depth of his fear that he’d have to go through a second round of chemo (he wound up going through several more than that—five?). I couldn’t find it, nor could I stand to look through the archives any longer just now.
I’ve never been able to say before, on the day someone died, “I had a great time at his wake last year.” That’s the kind of person Jay was.
I can’t remember exactly when I met Jay, but I think it was in 2002. It was definitely at a con, and I remember being in a low-density party room with Jay and Cassie Alexander, the only two people in that room at that time where I knew who they were.
Though I felt invisible, I became something of a fan. Later, when BayCon had invited Frank Wu (or, actually, I extended the invitation in person at Worldcon) for BayCon’s guest of honor, I started lobbying for Jay for Writer Guest of Honor. Kathryn Daugherty, who’d gotten to know Jay through the Worldcon circuit, thought that was a good idea, though generally BayCon was looking for higher-profile writers than Jay was at the time. (Specifically, they looked for a Hugo award or NY Times Bestseller. At that time, he’d had a bunch of short stories published, but no novels, though he’d won the Campbell award for Best New Writer.)
The singularly awesome moment, from my perspective, at that BayCon was Jay’s participation in “A Shot Rang Out.”
I invited my long-time friend Martin Young to speak. I knew he’d be fabulous at ASRO, but I also knew that I couldn’t tell Martin in advance what the concept was because he’d overthink it. So, a few minutes prior to the start of the panel, I stood in front of him and told him what it was all about.
“I hate you,” Martin said, not meaning it.
From a 2005 BayCon report.

Easily the highlight of Sunday (being one of two panels I got to sit in the audience for) was BayCon’s traditional “A Shot Rang Out” panel. It’s a simple concept and it depends so much on the people involved. This year, we had Hilary Ayer, Jane Mailander, Martin Young, Writer Guest of Honor Jay Lake, and Lee Martindale.
The concept: The story begins with “A shot rang out.” Each panelist must draw a slip out of a box and end their turn with that line. Anything in the middle goes. Jay Lake, when pulling one of his slips, asked, “Does this have to make any sense at all? The other panelists assured him not.
A few moments were especially worth noting.
Once, Martin ended his turn so spectacularly that Jay Lake, master of improv writing, couldn’t find a way to follow him. Jay ran across the stage and kissed Martin on the head, saying, “I have come to pledge my love for you, for no man has ever left me in such a hard place.”
Later, Martin pulled a slip and said, “Oh, f*, that’s a long one!”
Jay quipped, “Are you sure you said those words in the right order?”
For a few moments, no one could continue on, they were laughing so hard. Perfect retort.

He went on to publish Mainspring (which is an example of the kind of book I love but could never have written) and other novels.
Kathryn Daugherty and Jay Lake were diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer about the same time. Kathryn and I had never been best friends, but she was very influential in my life.
We’d recently been through a couple of rounds of cancer at the house: my mother had had endometrial cancer in 2006 and our cat Scruffy had a leg amputated after the reappearance of cancer.
It’s unusual for anyone with stage IV colorectal cancer to survive as long as Jay did; Kathryn died in 2012. He wanted to be there as long as possible for his daughter and went through hell to try to make that happen. He expressed so so many of his fears and doubts on his blog. If you ever need to know the pains and trials of being a cancer patient, so much of it is laid out in black and white on his blog. I think many of us had no idea what was involved in being a long-time cancer patient, and he blogged it in excruciating (and yet obviously incomplete) detail.
A little over a year ago, he was given his life walking papers in the form of a terminal diagnosis. For the first time, Rick and I made it up to the annual JayCon, then to JayWake.

In his wrapup, Jay said: “I have become medically interesting in two different ways, which is not really something you should aspire to.”

Other posts about Jay I’ve made:
Living vs. Dying
Fuck Cancer: New Art

Look, He Wasn’t Perfect

Because I believe OSC was right in telling the entire truth about a person after they pass:
K. Tempest Bradford makes a point.

The Clayton Memorial Medical Fund

Jay has asked for anyone wishing to make a contribution to do so to the Clayton Memorial Medical Fund.
Mary Robinette Kowal talks about having been helped by the fund.

Remember the Living

One thing I’ve noticed, especially after I was widowed myself, is that people talk a lot about the deceased, but tend to forget about the people still living.
Lisa Costello is an amazing person, and she has been blogging about her own life.
Bronwyn, of course, will miss her daddy.
And Jay left a widow, Susan Lake, whom he sometimes referred to as “The Mother of The Child.”
Jay’s parents are still alive.
And there are many other family members and friends.
His obituary can be found here.

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A Privilege You (Probably) Hadn't Considered

30 May 2014

It’s obvious to me that no one who ever suffered from chronic pain ever designed a typical grocery store or drug store.
Some mornings, I have difficulty walking. Most mornings, it’s really painful. By really painful I mean: so painful that I have nausea.
Rick and I just went to the grocery store. I spent not ten minutes shopping. By the time we got to the checkout, I was shaking from the pain and overheating (which apparently is a myo symptom).
This is after the pain meds. And by pain meds, I mean tramadol. And gabapentin. And ibuprofen. Just to go to the store.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Whole Foods. Spent 17 minutes elapsed time. I was shaking, in pain, overheating. Spent a whole day in bed after that.
So, given that kind of thing, I have to ask:

Why is it standard practice to put the pain meds at the back of the store? Or, if not at the back, an equivalently far-from-the-door place?

Especially in a drug store.
If I’m completely out and need ibuprofen now, the one trick I’ve learned is to go to a 7-11, because they keep their stock where the cashier can see it (small, high-value items, y’know). I can buy a single dose, wait a half an hour for the ibuprofen to kick in, then buy the larger quantity from the store that keeps them in the back.
I’d like to ship the pain to those people who make the store layout decisions. Bah.

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Typecon, a Typography Conference

30 May 2014

One of the things about Doing New Things This Year is the fact that I get to, you know, do new things this year.
It’s interesting to review various fields to see when “indie” started becoming mainstream and more than a curiosity. For type, it hit earlier than others. I remember that even in 1994 there were indie type designers making money, though it really took e-commerce and font sites like myfonts.com before anyone could make a career at it.
A convention I didn’t know about until a few days ago is Typecon. In the long tradition of using horrible pun names for convention titles, this year’s conference is in Washington D.C. and is therefore called Capitolized.
Typography’s a layer between script systems and the reader, one that communicates a lot of meta information about the message.
danger-type
(Fonts, in order: Downcome by Misprinted Type (free), Eveleth, by Yellow Design Studio, Holden, by AlterDeco typefoundry, and Showcase Script by Latinotype.
Most people wouldn’t think the last really wasn’t communicating danger in any meaningful sense.
Anyhow, back to the conference.
The keynote speaker is Tobias Frere-Jones, one of the designers of some of the most amazing modern type. And also the plaintiff in the largest career divorce in recent typography history. The company that used to bear his initials, HF&J, is now Hoefler & Co.
Then there’s the program, which includes awesome things like type foundry ephemera, the typography at Medium, Victorian-Era calling cards, designing for audiences with low literacy skills, typography in medically-critical contexts, typography of food packaging in America, the evolution of Korean typesetting, typography of the American record industry from 1898 to 1967, problems of Hebrew typography, including Karmeli script, the special issues of typography for software development, the problems of creating Arabic typeface variants of fonts like Zapfino. I love the description of this talk:

As the Arabic companion to Zapfino, the first question that Zapfino Arabic had to address was: does it slant forward or backward? The next question that quickly followed: which Arabic calligraphic style would be a suitable companion to the distinctive flair of Zapfino?

I can’t even begin to imagine the issues in bidi (bidirectional, meaning mixed left-to-right and right-to-left lines) of a typeface as calligraphic as Zapfino.
Are we done yet? We are not.
We haven’t covered the workshops yet.
There’s a full-day workshop on calligraphy and fonts; one on developing Devanagari typefaces; the workshop where you bring a glyph design, use a CNC router to make a wooden version of your design. A second workshop is about letterpress printing, where one can bring one’s wooden glyph created the day before. The Letterpress Poster Sprint & Print sounds really awesome, but I went for the other option: flourishing rules. There’s a full day workshop in Hebrew type design, as well as a half-day one in watercolors. (And there are more.)
The one I’m really waiting for is called Pen Dance. Here’s the description:

Make a pen using a soda can and explore the marks it makes! This workshop will get your hands dirty as you experience the visceral pleasures of pushing ink through a pen. We will make our own writing tools, then learn how they work, starting from the simplest marks and working up to letters and words. Freeform letter styles with a lot of expression are the result … your letters will be unique and extraordinary.

Sounds like fun.
Random photo that I always think of when I think of typography: Maldivian Air Taxi’s safety card, complete with Dhivehi script.
Dhivehi Safety Card

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I'm Transferring fuzzyorange.com

28 May 2014

Note: I’m posting this because some of you happen to have a fuzzyorange.com email address for me deep in your archives.
It has already ceased to work.
I registered this domain in 2001, and had used it for a while, but it’s really just been a spam trap for me in recent years.
The more I think about what I want to do, the less the name fits.
The source of the name wasn’t, as you might think, related to our propensity for ginger cats (which, btw, is a coincidence, not a design). It was some smartass line about (stock) options trading back when I was studying financial derivatives.
There’s a Scottish consultancy that’s made a great brand out of the name Fuzzyorange, and so I offered it to them. I wasn’t looking for money. I just felt it fit them better than it fit me.
Also, no one pressured me, approached me trying to buy me out, or acted uncool in any way. Given the assumptions when bigger name swallows up an individual’s or small company’s domain name, I also wanted to say that.
For a while after our cat died, I used the following picture of Scruffy and Captain Jack on the site, so here it is again. I love this photo. Miss them both, our little fuzzy oranges.
Scruffy and Captain Jack

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