Meet NaNoWriMo Accelerator Author: Marquel Sherry

What first motivated you to write a book?

I’ve wanted to since grade school I just could never get a whole story out. NaNoWriMo kind of helped push me to finishe a story.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge about the writing process?

The editing part was hardest for me. It was relatively easing getting everything typed out but it was painfully tedious going back and trying to fix things

If you could offer an aspiring author any piece of advice, what would it be?

Go for it. Even if you think it’s crap. I still kinda think my stuff is crap but someone obviously liked I so you never know what other people are going to think of your work.

Tell us a little bit about your book…who should read it and why.

I think it’s definitely targeted to people who enjoy fantasy writing, and romance. I’d most recommend it to people who enjoy Norse myths (especially Loki) to check it out since it is centered around them.

Why did you chose to write in this genre?

Fantasy and romance have been two genres I’ve always loved reading myself especially when they are smushed together so I wrote what I liked to read I guess.

Has writing and completing a book been the experience you thought it would be?

It’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be, which I don’t think is the normal experience so I feel bad saying that I just slipped into it and everything fell into place.

What has been the biggest surprise so far in your author journey?

Winning the Wrimos accelerator contest. I entered because I was bored and had no intention if winning at all it was one of the biggest shocks I’ve ever received. Still can’t believe it really.

Will you write another book?

I have a lot of stories in my head and I have a sequel to the book I published sitting in my brain so yes I shall at least try to write more.

Is there anyone you would like to thank who helped or supported you?

My family, friends, and my boyfriend Lonnie who tried to help edit my book, tried to correct something in the first chapter that I didn’t take very well and ended his short editing career, but I love him for putting up with me.

Find her book, To Free the Fox, here.

Meet NaNoWriMo Accelerator Author: Ashley Stinson

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 4.37.25 PMWhat first motivated you to write a book?

I’ve always been a voracious reader, particularly of fantasy novels. Writing seemed like a natural extension of all this reading; the practice of building a world, filling it with people, thinking of stories to breathe life into that world–that all became a fun diversion for me as a young girl. I’ve just been writing ever since.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge about the writing process?

For me, the biggest hurdle when it comes to writing a story is actually getting it down in words. Dreaming up plots and premises is fun and exciting; things feel fresh and new and full of possibilities. When it comes to actually writing it, I always find my sentences too stilted, my plots too dull, my characters too wooden. I end up agonizing over every word and thought and find myself disheartened.

If you could offer an aspiring author any piece of advice, what would it be?

Keep at it. No matter how hard it might be to find the time or inspiration, make yourself write. You can always fix anything you’re not happy with when you finish–but first you have to get it all down.

Tell us a little bit about your book…who should read it and why.

In a nutshell, ‘The Ballad of the Broken Soldier’ is about a plot to assassinate the king of a country called Tahlehsohr. It follows a group of would-be assassins–men and women with their own agendas and goals quite apart from one another’s, and who don’t even particularly all get along with each other–as they try to get to the king without being caught and killed. Meanwhile, royal spies are stalking their every move and none of them can really ever be sure of the loyalties of their fellows. Adults and young adults with an interest in fantasy, intrigue, or just watching people argue ought to check it out.

Why did you chose to write in this genre?

Fantasy has been a passion of mine since as far back as I can remember. Crafting a full world with it’s own customs, belief systems, and history is an especial passion of mine, and fantasy lends itself well to that, for obvious reasons.

Has writing and completing a book been the experience you thought it would be?

It’s not quite the experience I imagined. Before you’ve finished a book, you have an image in your head that the moment when it’s all done will represent some fundamental change in who you are. Or at least I did. I thought that would be the moment that I really started to feel like a writer–I imagined I’d suddenly have all these insights into story telling and the creative process and how to tweak a reader’s heartstrings. But that doesn’t happen all at once; it turns out that just finishing a book isn’t a magical formula for knowing everything there is to know about writing.

What has been the biggest surprise so far in your author journey?

It’s been a surprise to me how writing becomes both harder and easier. For one, it’s been easier for me to find the discipline to sit down and tell myself, “Okay–today you and I are going to work on this story. We’re going to finish these scene.” At the same time, the words come more slowly. I weigh them more carefully than I used to. It’s been a surprise how much editing I’ve begun to do even while I’m putting the words down.

Will you write another book?

Of course. I can honestly say that writing is a part of me. If no one ever read a single word I wrote, I’d still be writing books.

Is there anyone you would like to thank who helped or supported you?

My parents have been very supportive of me. My mom, in particular, loves to see the things I write, and she’s very vocal about what she thinks of it. And I have supportive friends who are also writers–so they commiserate with me when things are tough.

Find her book, The Ballad of the Broken Soldier, here.

Top 10 Tips: Your Book should (actually) look like a Book

New authors are always excited to announce the publication of their latest work. After months or years of writing, rewriting, editing and re-editing, just getting through the publishing wizard feels like a monumental accomplishment. To celebrate this milestone, new authors often post an announcement in the Lulu Author Workshop forums. Expecting praise, adulation, or maybe just a friendly slap on the back, these newly minted authors are often shocked by the scathing criticism they receive from their fellow Lulu authors.

No one has ever accused authors of being overly kind or supportive, but invariably someone forgets that the first page of a book is on the right side of an open book or they forgot to include a title page or copyright notice. Their page numbers start on the first page of the book instead of the first page of the narrative. Basically, the book they spent so much time writing looks more like a very long college essay rather than like a professionally formatted book. These oversights are the fuel that feed the fires of criticism.

The new author often responds that people are focusing on the format and spelling instead of their gloriously inspired plot. While that is a good argument for a first draft, it is not a fitting one for a book you expect someone to pay to read.

You may also respond that you are a writer, not a book designer. How are you supposed to know how to properly layout a book? Chances are you have hundreds of examples on your bookshelves at home. Unfortunately, if you take 10 books off of your shelf and look at them, there will probably be 10 different treatments for titles, fonts, chapter separators, and page headings; however, they will all have some things in common. For example, they will all have title pages, copyright notices, dedications, prefaces, author biographies, etc. So, find a book you love and recreate the front matter pages and narrative in the same style.

Another option is to download the Lulu template and style guide from the Lulu Book Builder page. The template includes a blank MS Word file with preset margins and a properly set gutter (the part of the page that will be glued into the spine) as well as a guide for creating a professionally formatted print book. It’s really all the information you need – including helpful formatting hints.

To download a template and style guide, go to http://www.lulu.com/publish/books, select the format and size for your book and click the Download Template button. You can copy and paste your manuscript into the template or apply the same margins and settings used in the template to your manuscript. Then follow the style guide to create a professional looking book.

Your readers will appreciate the time you spend formatting your booka and those harsh critics in the Author Workshop will be singing your praises. They may even take a moment to read a portion of your story.

Top 10 Tips: Think Like a Librarian

Something you should know…librarians dream in Metadata.

“Meta what?” you ask. Metadata is data about data. In eBook terms it consists of your title, subtitle, author name, category, etc. For those of you who remember the 1900s, metadata would be the cards in a card catalog. When eBook buyers search for something to read, it’s your metadata that they find.

Let’s take a look at an example of very bad metadata. Imagine putting this in your title field:

“My Journey to Self Fulfillment and Profit Relationship Singles Conspiracy Diet Recipe free Coupons Weight Loss (A Book About Moving to The Beach and Learning to love titled “Love on the Coast” – You Can Get Healthy. Vampires.)”

Let’s ignore the obvious issue of length for now and talk about the content of this title. What exactly is it describing? No idea. Were I a mindless keyword zombie, I might zero in on “Weight Loss” and decide to lose a few pounds. But, brains intact, I’m not about to slap down my hard earned cash for the eBook equivalent of spam. Readers are more than their searches.

That last bit bears repeating. Readers are more than their searches.

Loading your title metadata with keywords that you think will turn up often in searches won’t bring you appropriate readers. Instead, eBook buyers will quickly scroll past your less than legitimate looking title.

What’s more, cramming as much as you can into a title results in other issues. For example, metadata that doesn’t jive with the info on your marketing image, or improper capitalization—to name two very common issues that kick plenty of otherwise good reads out of retail distribution.

Of course the example above is exaggerated to make a point, but it never hurts to take a long hard look at your metadata. Does it accurately describe your content? And will it, in addition to showing up in the proper searches, inspire downloads?

Lulu wants to distribute your work. It’s why we exist! Your providing accurate metadata helps us do that… and helps you reach readers who will connect with your work.

 

Top 10 Tips: Get to Know and Love your Audience

Spoiler alert.
The most important step towards effectively marketing your product – whether it’s a book or a business or a lemonade stand – is understanding your audience.

We knew this was true for Lulu.com as a business, and wanted to see if this basic principle was also true for successful authors. So we posed a question to a large group of our most successful authors: “Why do you think your book was so successful?” Here’s what they said:

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Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.57.11 AMThe top 3 answers that authors credited for their book’s success are all representative of understanding and providing content for a very specific audience. Again and again the words “niche,” “audience,” and “filled a need” came up in answers to this question.

As one author said, “Make it your overriding passion to learn as much as you can about your audience and then give them what they crave.”

For now, take note of two related answers “Only book of its kind” and “Subject matter / topic.” Many authors stress that successful books require a fresh perspective on a popular topic or that they cover a subject that’s never been written about. One author said their book was successful because “it fills a niche with no competition either for content or quality and clarity of presentation.”

Also, take a second look at the votes for “Author platform.” Later on in the book we’ll look at the different elements of an author platform, and which parts of the platform our best-selling authors think helped them the most.
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Also check out:

Top 10 Tips: Multiple Book Formats are your Friends

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Contributed by Dan Dillon, Lulu Director of Product Marketing

I recently had the pleasure to co-present a webinar with Bowker on Self-Publishing: Your Path to Success. Ralph Coviello, publisher relations manager at Bowker, shared copious insights into how the self-publishing landscape has taken shape over the past few years, as well as how it may continue to evolve. From all the great observations and advice, I’ve distilled the three most important lessons to be gleaned for your success in self-publishing.

1. Publish in multiple formats
It stands to reason that the more products you have to sell, the more money you’re able to make. Books are no exception. Authors who offer multiple formats of their books sell up to four times more than authors who offer their readers only a single format. To capitalize on this, make your titles available as a softcover, hardcover and an ebook. Readers across all age groups are reading print, so there’s no predicting what format individual book buyers may prefer. have ready whatever they may want.

2. Channel surf
Just as it stands to reason that the more products you have to offer, the more you’re likely to sell – the more places you make them available, the more you’ll be able to sell. Get your books into as many online retail channels as possible. The ones that will likely have the greatest impact on your print book sales are Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For ebooks, you’ll want to make your titles available on the Kindle, iBookstore, NOOK and Kobo, at a minimum. Happily, you can get all of your books into these channels — and many more — with Lulu.com. For free.

3. Press releases are very popular
This is a double-edged sword. Yes, press releases are a valuable tool for building awareness about your book, and you can reach the same journalists who the Big 6 publishers talk to. Yes, there is a ton of news out in the world and it takes a lot to get your story heard. The lesson here? Targeting the information in your press release is critical, and targeting the people you send it to is also key.

View the complete webinar, and let us know in the comments what’s worked for you to drive book sales. You can also page through the webinar deck on Slideshare.

Top 10 Tips: Have a Marketing Plan Outlined Before you Publish your Book

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 12.26.43 PMWriting a book is no small feat. And you should be proud of yourself for all the hard work you’ve done so far. As exciting as it is to have a finished manuscript in front of you though, there is still a lot more to do after the typing has stopped and the pen and paper are put away. Some authors can afford to hire an agent or a publicist, but for others taking the DIY approach, marketing yourself and your book can seem pretty daunting. As much as you want to share your book with everyone and show them what you’ve accomplished, if you don’t set some realistic goals, you’re setting yourself up for some unnecessary disappointment and frustration. Planning how to market yourself and your work may be easier said then done, but the payoff – reaching more readers and selling more – is worth the effort.

Change Your Perspective

The first step to getting a better hold on your marketability is to change your perspective of yourself as a writer, to an entrepreneur starting your own business. You’ve done the writing, but now you have a product to sell. Whenever you take the time to put yourself “out there,” your ultimate goal should be to make a good impression on people so they’ll want to read your work, keep coming back, and recommend your book to others. You’re building your reputation – your own personal brand, and you need people to trust that brand in order to grow a loyal fan base. This is something that takes a lot of time, planning, and strategizing. Any successful business, big or small, starts with a list of goals and then creates a plan to achieve those goals. A successful business also remains flexible and responsive to its customer’s needs and the current trends of the market. You can do this by having backup plans in place for whenever one of your plans doesn’t work or you need to change something on the fly.

Research What Works

Think about successful companies you know of and research the components that made them that way. You’ll find that many businesses share common fundamentals that aid in their success such as mission statements, budgets, and timelines. You can adopt and adjust these to build your own business model and better market your book and your brand. Remember, though, that a business is an investment. All new businesses spend money to move forward and it typically takes about 3-5 years for a startup to become profitable. You must be willing to invest both money and time on your entrepreneurial venture and have a solid plan(s) in place that will allow you to break even until you eventually turn a profit or move large volumes of your book.

Come Up with a Plan and Follow Through

Once you have some clearly defined goals (such as getting your book on a retail shelf, or selling X number of copies, etc.) and a plan(s) (attending X number of book fairs, or creating a Facebook fan page, etc.) the next thing you need to do is come up with a realistic timeline to achieve those goals. I think one of the best practices a new author can do to gain traction on his or her book is to create a timeline that lays those goals and plans out with feasible deadlines associated with each one. I almost never get anything done unless I know it is due soon. Moving towards a goal with a deadline can greatly help to keep you motivated. Otherwise, you might find yourself flying blind and quickly becoming demotivated because you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything. It is also crucial to be as realistic with your deadlines as you are with your goals. Don’t expect to hit the New York Times bestseller list overnight, start with selling 50 copies of your book, then 100 and check off when you’ve completed a goal. If done correctly, a timeline with realistically achievable goals can reinforce your sense of accomplishment and will excite you as you continue to reach more readers.

Running a business isn’t easy, but none of this is meant to be scary. It is just meant to make a new author think about his or her approach in the journey to become the next bestseller. Be sure to check back for part 2 of “Setting Realistic Goals” next week when I’ll discuss setting realistic expectations and how your mindset can make all the difference with how far your book goes.

Build a Genre, Build a Brand

All successful writers had to start somewhere. Authors like Stephen King and Dan Brown are continually at the top of The New York Times Bestseller list because after years of work, they have figured out the formula for attracting their readers. Part of their formula is knowing what their genre is and sticking to it. In that way, these authors have created a brand for themselves. Everyone knows you read a Stephen King book if you want to be scared, you read Dan Brown if you want to figure out a mystery. Obviously, some genres are going to sell better than others based on how reader-friendly they are. It isn’t realistic to expect a niche-oriented book about nanotechnology to sell as much as a young adult title about sexy vampires, no matter how cutting edge and revolutionary it is. You must determine what genre you’re trying to fit into and go after the readers that are interested in that genre. Creating a solid personal brand will greatly help you gain momentum as you build your readership.

Find the Right Audience

Many of the books on Lulu are written with a very specific audience in mind. And are great because they offer knowledge on topics that can’t be found anywhere else. In fact, some of our bestsellers are books from these niche genres. What makes these books bestsellers is that the authors took the time to zero-in on the right audience – the readers that their content matters to. As much as you want your book to sell millions of copies, you must realize that you’re not writing for everyone – not yet at least. At first, you’re writing for a very specific and small group of readers – maybe just family, friends, and colleagues. Building a loyal following is something that comes with a lot of time, patience, and research. You must constantly be in the habit of self-promoting your work. The good news is that with the internet, it is easier than ever to find your audience and promote your work. For example, if you write a book on photography, start spending time on all of the top photography blogs. Network and become a part of the conversations and prove to those communities that you are a reputable and reliable source of information, then begin to introduce you work. Be sure to play by the rules too, no one likes a spammer that sends a link of their book out hundreds of time a day.

Publicize with Passion

If a bookstore sells a biology book that is a bestseller, but you have written a biology book that you want them to sell instead, even if you know its better, you’re going to find it pretty hard to convince them to stop selling that bestseller if you can’t stand by your product. Who else understands the topic of your book better than you, the person that wrote it? Even if you have an army of publicists, no one can represent and promote your content better than you can. When you’re starting out, your name and your book’s title should always be mentioned in the same sentence. You are the authority and you must show conviction in your work. Do not expect to sell anything if you’re not willing to put in the effort, time, and energy required to convince readers that your book is the only one they need in their hands. Your personality and passion play a large role in this, but you should always make sure to list your credentials, experience, or qualifications whenever you’re publicizing your work. You must also be willing to attend book fairs, trade shows, signings, lectures, and publicity events. Once you have determined how much time and money you are willing to invest the publicity of your book, you can begin to set realistic expectations for how successful your book will be. The most important part however, is to always give it your best.

For additional tips on marketing strategy for your book, please check out: http://www.lulu.com/blog/category/marketing-tips/

Top 10 Tips: Editing, Editing, Editing

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 12.03.44 PMIt seems like a simple concept, right? Editing, that is. Every author should do it, but too often many (especially indie authors) gloss over the second most important step to publishing their book outside of actually writing it. One of the main criticisms of new or self-published authors is that their work is often sloppy and un-edited.  So, here is some hard and fast advice about editing your book.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on Ivory Madison’s session on writing and editing breakaway books at the Writer’s Digest Conference. Madison is CEO and founder of Redroom.com, the “Facebook for authors”.  She was also named “Best Writing Coach” by San Francisco magazine and has been a guest lecturer to the faculty and writing coaches at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Stanford Publishing Course.

In this particular session, she provides some amazing advice and insights on editing your next book:

  • Once you have finished your writing, having said everything you have to say, in all it’s sloppy glory, you will want to get through your editing quickly, painlessly, and efficiently. Now, imagine a giant bulls eye.  Each ring is going to represent a stage and focus in your editing journey.
  • The outermost ring is very big picture questions: What type of book is this?  What are the themes? What are the cast or characters? How do they develop?
  • Then, we get into the inner structure ring (this is also the hardest part). Can you write a one-page hero’s journey? Does it flow and follow correctly? These aren’t necessarily templates but, rather insights into how people tell stories. Structure is also where you look at point of view, tense, pacing, and what kind of voice the story has.
  • Story Fractiles: scientific concept that posits that everything is ultimately a repeating pattern. Applying this to writing, you need to ask yourself “is this all the same book?” If you took a small piece of it, does it still reflect the overall work?  Does each chapter reflect a short story of the book? Your writing should ultimately sound like YOU speaking at your most eloquent…it must be real and authentic.
  • Copy-editing Ring: is everything fluid and in the right word? Is everything true? This is also where you look at metaphors…do your metaphors make enough sense to have an impact?
  • Mechanics Ring: Looking at each word, grammar, formatting, and punctuation.

Madison’s final editing words to live by, “it’s worst to not get published than cut things out of your book”.  Finally, sit down and have someone read the manuscript out loud at full volume, you will be surprised by what you find.

Of course, we always recommend consulting a professional editor. Click here to learn more.

Top 10 Tips: Consider Giving (Some) of your Book Away

What’s better than free?

It might seem irrational, but one of the best ways that authors have found to gain popularity and profitability for their eBooks has been to, well, give them away. Authors have found that dropping the price of their books to $0, at least for a short time, leads to dramatically better sales when they do raise the price.

[Recommended Reading: How Free Books Build Your Brand as an Author and Authority]

Speaking on The Self Publishing Podcast, independent author David Wright found that this type of promotion works, especially with writers who work in genre fiction. “Free downloads drive sales,” he said. “Especially with the serialized fiction model, where if our readers get our first episode for free, they want to read on, so they buy the next episode or the full season.”

[Recommended Reading: How To Serialize with Lulu]

Dropping the price of your eBook can help raise your sales rank and visibility, while, at the same time, promoting other books you’ve written. Of course, the lost revenue can sting a bit, but who knows if readers would have taken the plunge on your book if you hadn’t taken the cost-free promotional plunge?

But is a free promotion right for you? For serialized fiction, the answer is yes. Get readers hooked, and then get them to buy the rest of your series or your other titles. For experts and speakers, the answer is also yes. You want to spread your brand and name, and an eBook is even better than just giving out your card. Use your eBook mainly as a promotional tool — not a revenue stream.

Here’s who this promotion might not work for: writers of long, literary fiction who depend on sales to make up for some of the painstaking work that went into their novel. It might also not work for historians, who also put in a tremendous amount of time and energy and whose specialized knowledge has a place in the marketplace and should be able to find a readership despite its cost.

Either way — it always helpful to experiment with different marketing tools. Dropping your price to zero might feel weird, but the eventual reward could be huge. If it doesn’t work out anyway, it’s just as easy to start charging more for your book, and go back to the drawing (or writing) board.

Have you tried this technique? What was your experience?

Top 10 Tips: People do Judge a Book by its Cover

It’s no secret that a book cover has a very specific and tightly focused purpose…to get a reader to stop and take notice of the book. Book covers are actually much more akin to posters than any other art form. And as a poster, a book cover has a specific, utilitarian function to perform – to catch the reader’s eye. First impressions are important and just like a badly written description, if the cover is confusing or amateurish, the potential reader may well give your book a pass.

Catch22Book covers are often confused with book illustrations–but they are not the same thing at all. There is no requirement that the cover of a book must accurately depict any particular scene or event. In fact, many if not most book covers don’t even try. Once again, this is because the purpose of a cover is not to illustrate the book but to sell it. Out of the several hundred covers I’ve created for traditional publishers, probably less than 10% have depicted an actual scene from a novel.

One of the hardest things a DIY cover designer needs to overcome is subjectivity. When you are creating the cover for your own book, it can be very difficult to remember that while you know everything about what goes on in the story your potential reader is not privy to this information. I’ve often used the example of the author who put a pastoral photo of a stone bridge on the cover of his fantasy adventure novel. It looked like the cover of a travel guide. When asked what in the world the photo had to do with a fantasy adventure he replied, “Why, that’s the bridge the troll lives under.”

One of the biggest mistakes I see most often in author-designed covers is treating the cover art and the typography as though they are two separate issues. For instance, I’ll see cover art that makes no provision for the placement of type, with the result that the title either covers up the most attractive parts of the art or, even worse, the title and author’s name are crowded into the margins to avoid covering up any of the art.

It’s vitally important to consider both art and type together when designing a cover. They need to work together and enhance one another. If you are creating a cover image yourself or are having one done for you, be sure to leave room for the inclusion of the type. Professional cover artists leave at least 1/3 of the art open for the placement of the title and author’s name. This doesn’t mean that the art is simply blank in that area, just that there is nothing important in that space or anything that would compete with the type. Here is an example of this by Stephen Hickman.

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In fact, the typography of a book cover is so important that hundreds of effective covers have been created using nothing but type–or type and some small graphic. Take a look at the original cover of The Godfather, for instance.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 11.52.59 AMBy the way, speaking of type, just because you have design software that came preloaded with 275 fonts, you are not compelled to use all of them. Pick one–at most two–for your cover. And since there are thousands of fonts available, try to choose one that is appropriate for your book. Comic sans rarely works for an urban vampire story. By the same token, try to avoid fonts that are massively overused, such as Papyrus, Mistral or, God forbid, Bleeding Cowboy.

Using stock art presents another potential problem in that a great many other people may be using the very same image on the covers of their books. I have seen this occur too many times. One of the things a book cover needs to do is make your book look distinctive, make it stand out from the thousands of competing titles. If your cover image also appears on a dozen other books, you risk diluting that impact. If you are using a stock image, then do whatever you can to make the image unique.

Stephen King may today be able to sell a book with nothing on the cover but his name and the title…but when he started out his novels needed the help of strong cover designs.

Author Bio: Ron Miller

In addition to the books he has published with Lulu, Ron Miller is the author/illustrator of more than fifty commercially published books. These have received numerous commendations and awards, including a Hugo, the IAF Manuscript Award, the Booklist Editor’s Award and the American Institute of Physics Award of Excellence. Several of his books have been Book-of-the-Month Club feature selections. In addition to the artwork he does for his own books, Miller provides illustrations for magazines such as Scientific American, Astronomy and Discover. Specializing in science fiction and fantasy, he has also created several hundred book covers for publishers such as Tor, Baen, Berkley/Ace, Warner, Easton Press, Subterranean Press and many others.

http://www.black-cat-studios.com