Community, Design, Local authors, Marketing, Reading, Self Publishing, Writing

Cozy Mysteries on the Washington Coast – Q&A with Author Jan Bono

After retiring from teaching in 2006, Jan Bono began to write—and she hasn’t stopped since! Author of the six book Sylvia Avery series, Jan is also a prolific Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor and has been published in the series over 45 times, making her one of the top worldwide contributors. We love working with Jan, and recently asked her to share with us a little about her printing experience.

Author Jan Bono

Gorham Printing: You’ve recently completed the sixth book of your Sylvia Avery Mystery series. Can you tell readers a little about the series and what you wanted it to represent?

Jan Bono: Sylvia Avery is a middle-aged, fairly active woman who took early retirement on the North Beach Peninsula. She often finds herself tangled up in her friends’ lives, particularly when they’ve got trouble on their hands. Fortunately, Syl has a mind for mystery, and contributes quite a bit to solving the crimes that take place all around her—whether drug running, recent or cold-case murders, robbery, insurance fraud, kidnapping, and the like.

I’ve always loved reading mysteries, particularly “cozies,” and often I find myself wondering “What if” the events in the books, or even in real life, had happened a little differently. After 30 years in the classroom, I wanted to try my hand at making the community I live in a backdrop for the stories I had rolling around in my head. Writing a mystery series was on my retirement bucket list, and I took the bold move of starting this new endeavor in my mid-50s. After all, I retired from teaching, but not from life!

GP: Did your writing process change significantly from the first book to the sixth?

JB: The process? Not at all. My writing? Well, I like to think I improved as I wrote along! But my process did get a lot more detailed. Since the fall is my Season of Selling at holiday bazaars and craft fairs, I start most books in January by typing up all the notes and reading and summarizing my thick file of research. February is dedicated to writing a thorough synopsis. My definition of “thorough” has evolved from 18 to 20 single-spaced pages to over 40 pages for the last few books! Then I walk away for several weeks and leave the synopsis alone.

Between mid-March and mid-April, it becomes TIME TO WRITE! And although I have a very complete story summary, that doesn’t mean it can’t change, and often does! Characters I thought were only around for one book worked their way into my heart and I couldn’t bear not to carry them into the next book or two or even three! I’ve even changed “the bad guy”—twice—because I changed my mind about his or her intentions as I wrote. The synopsis is never in stone, but it helps me know where I’m eventually headed as I write.

GP: How long did each book take to write and edit?

JB: When I’m ready to start writing in earnest (about three months into the research and summary writing), I’m like a dog worrying a bone. I write first thing in the morning, every morning, and don’t quit till I have at least 1,000 words. Some days I just can’t pull myself away from the computer, and during the writing of Book 6, I wrote 1,500 daily words minimum, and on my most productive day I put down over 3,500 words!

When it’s my best effort at a first draft, I send it off to four or five friends to proof/edit/comment on it. And I only give them two weeks! I compile their notes, make corrections as necessary, and send it to my final reader, who somehow always manages to find another 20 or so things for me to review!

I like to say that the first book took me 31 years to write, but after that, it got much faster! HA HA! The last three books took 42, 42, and 39 days at the keyboard, but that was working from a very detailed synopsis. And it was so much fun! Then off to my proofer team (I had almost 30 people offer to help, but chose 5 or 6 readers for each book, and no one except my final reader read more than two first drafts). Then off to the printer! Start to finish, I averaged 5 to 6 months from first day of work to holding the finished product in my hand.

GP: How do you prepare your books for printing?

JB: I’m far from a computer geek, but there are some important things I’ve learned about formatting along the way. The Gorham Printing Manual was my bible in the beginning, but I also found that once I visualized the finished product, I could make it look on paper the same way it looked in my imagination! The manual clearly delineated the necessary components, and a retired teacher can certainly follow a lesson plan, but I also put different headers on alternate pages, chose my own font, and decided that 12-point, although it costs more to print more pages, was easier on “mature eyes,” and my regular reads are grateful for that! Then, after my proofreading team was finished with it, I made the corrections and sent the polished interior text folder to Gorham as a PDF with fingers crossed.

GP: We’ve been able to partner with you to do design work on the Sylvia Avery book covers. What was the design process like for you? What made you decide to work with a designer?

JB: Once my text was complete, I settled down to write the back of the book blurb, the author bio, take the selfie for my author photo, acquire an ISBN, and find—or take—a photo for the wrap-around cover. All these pieces went into another file for the book designer’s help, as I don’t know how to work photoshop, and I’m grateful I don’t need too! I worked with a designer’s HELP. I was glad there was an option between having it done for me, and doing it all on my own! The designer got all the pieces, and since I worked with the same one for the last four books, I greatly appreciated the fact that she soon learned to read my mind, and see my vision as I did. We communicated through emails, and I truly love the results of all our collaborations, without reservation. She made proofs that always surprised me, adding touches I hadn’t thought of, but that always looked fabulous!

GP: These books take place on the Long Beach Peninsula, where you live. What is it like writing about the place you live? How do your surroundings inspire you?

JB: On page 5 of each book is a map of the fictitious “North Beach Peninsula.” And yes, it looks just like the Long Beach Peninsula, in the SW corner of Washington State, but I’ve changed the names of the towns, bays, lighthouse, and other important landmarks, businesses, and features. In my series, Ilwaco, on the southern end, became Unity, which is actually what Ilwaco was briefly called at the end of the Civil War. Long Beach was founded by the Tinkers, and was Tinkerville for many years, but in my books it’s Tinkerstown. Oysterville has been replaced by the now-defunct community of Willoopah, which I moved across the bay to suit my purposes!

The Clamshell Motel was once the Tide Motel, a bit south of Cranberry Road, and the High Tides Burger Bar is still our long-time Corral Drive-In. Sadly, the Long Beach Coffee Roasters, which I renamed the Sandy Bottom Coffee Cup, is no longer in business, but my Buoy 10 Bakery, now Dylan’s Cottage Bakery, is right there in downtown Long Beach, and still makes the best pastries to eat while solving crimes anywhere on earth! My all-time favorite fictional restaurant name is Cinco Amigos’ Chinese Cuisine! In my first book, five Mexican friends decided to open an ethnic restaurant, but realized the local need was for Chinese instead of another Mexican food stop, and I let them take over the real-life Chen’s location. The name came to me when I thought about Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and I love the way people respond when first encountering Cinco Amigos’ Chinese Cuisine.

I’ve included aspects of the Crab Pot Tree Lighting, the Blues Festival, the Boardwalk, and many other true area events in my locales. Those things are real, but the Spartina Point Casino and Resort name is making a glamorous joke of spartina, which is actually a noxious weed that has been eradicated from Willapa Bay, or Shallowwater Bay, if you prefer! And The Veiled Rainbow, a geriatric belly dancing troupe, certainly exists, but not under that name. As I’ve said, writing is unlimited creative fun!

GP: Now that the Sylvia Avery mysteries are complete, what’s next on the horizon? Will you start a new cozy mystery series?

JB: A cozy series has no graphic violence, no obscene language, and no explicit sex scenes. It has an amateur sleuth working with the police department in a small town, quirky characters, and lots of laughs. When I finished the series, I already had a couple books in mind, just begging to be written. But the first on the list wasn’t in my usual “humorous” style, and I wasn’t sure if I was up to the task of writing more dramatically, with suspense and tension and all that I’d need to write a solid true crime, which I’ve been sitting on for 25 years. I will write it, but that book is now second on my list, as I “practice” writing drama! The practice book will end up being 8 or 10 short stories about how women ON THE PENINSULA are able to get away with bumping off their husbands or boyfriends in unusual ways! This will be my transitional book, and then I’ll tackle the harder one. That’s my plan at this moment! And yes, Gorham will be printing this one too. Gorham has printed 12 of my 15 books, and I see no reason to do it any other way!

GP: Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

JB: This darn pandemic has certainly thrown a wrench into my marketing plan! Whereas I usually sell the majority of my books at holiday bazaars in the fall, I’m now focusing on online sales. If you live within 25 miles of Long Beach, I can meet you at a public place in your area to deliver them, but any farther has to go through the mail. My website, where you can read a short synopsis of each book, is http://www.JanBonoBooks.com. There are several ways to contact me through the website, and I answer all inquiries. If you get the recorder, please leave a message! But first, check out my body of work at JanBonoBooks.com. Got it?  Thank you! And thanks to Gorham for this opportunity to tell you about my Sylvia Avery Mystery Series! I couldn’t /wouldn’t have done it without them!

It’s always fun to see a new book from Jan and know that we get to partner with her to design the covers. You can learn more about our cover design process by clicking here, or give us a call to get a custom quote for your book design!

Community, Design, Local authors, Marketing, Self Publishing, Writing

Author Spotlight: Adventure, Photography, and Postcards with David Robertson

Every book is its own adventure. This is specifically true about one of our authors who has been printing books for a decade with new titles almost every month. His name is David Robertson and he is an exceptional person, author and artist!

I have had the pleasure of working with him on a majority of his books and being able to talk to him about his journey and creative process. He has multiple series of books including family history hardcovers, photography journeys, and a new series of postcard books. When he and his wife are not traveling across the country or the world, he prepares these amazing books for printing. I had a chat with him recently to get his thoughts about his process and here is what he had to say:

GP: What was the inspiration for creating your first book?

DR: I used to do posters and deck of cards and brochures. When I began trying to make something out of our travels, none of these formats seemed to work really well. I would do one trip as a fold out or the like, and another as a deck of cards, but I began to feel they were not working all that well. So, eventually I thought, hmmmm, these trips ought to be a book.

GP: What made you choose Gorham Printing for your books?

DR: I ran a Bioregional Artist in Residence program here at Davis back 20 years ago. One of the artists was Mike Madison and he told me about you. Mike has become quite famous, reviewed in NY Review, etc., and the piece he did in the Artist in Residence became a chapter in his first book. So we deserve some credit here. So On the Road Ecology was my first book ever, except for scholarly books.

David always impresses us when we receive his files. His books are interesting and always pass the file review with flying colors. Out of all his books he has done, he is so meticulous with his editing that I can only remember maybe one time that he made changes to a proof. His editing process works fantastic for him!

GP: What is your editing and proofing process like?

DR: Chaotic! I go through the photos in the iPhone (or what cameras came before) and edit and delete. Then I download them and delete some more and get an idea what “hangs” together. By this time I have an idea of what the book is going to be about. Most of the time the basic idea comes on the trip on the basis of what I see and read. So I make a list on a sheet of paper of what photos might go together. And I make notes of what words might go with them. Then I go back through the photos and on paper say “yes” or “no” or “?” I go away for a few days. Return. Start the book in InDesign. Do a first draft. go away, for a week to a month. This is very important. I get too close to a book, so I have to go away so I can get some distance. I return and most of the time make significant revisions, ever so often change the whole idea because I don’t think it is working. I wait another 2 weeks or so and finalize the MS and after another 2 weeks, send it to you.

GP: How do you sell or give away your books?

DR: I do not sell books, ever. I give them away to friends and family and to anyone who asks for one.

GP: I know you use InDesign for setting up your book now, but have you always used in InDesign? Why did you choose InDesign?

DR: Used Photoshop and InDesign from the start. I decided I would force myself to do no shortcuts. Get the best and learn how to use them.

David has a mix of black & white and color images in most of his books. As part of our PDF Review, we always check to make sure the color count in files are correct. David worked with our team when he first started to understand the best way to set up black and white images to make sure they registered as true black and white images using grayscale settings. His files are always 100% accurate in his color count!

GP: What are the struggles you have faced with designing your book?

Ideas!!! Ideas are the most important ingredient. No idea, no book. (That may not always be true, you understand.) There are two basic ways to “show” photographs. One is as a series of individual pictures, each of which stands alone. Two is a “story.” That’s what I want. Readers of my books should start at the beginning, go through the book as if they were reading a novel, and get somewhere at the end, somewhere they were not at the beginning. Again, you understand, this may not always be true, but I am trying.

GP: You have a few different series of books, including photography travels, family history, and now postcard books. What advice would you give to new authors looking to start self-publishing?

Ask yourself, what do I really want to do. Me, myself, what do I really want my books to be. Then do it. And beware of praise. Praise makes you want to continue doing the things people like, instead of going in your own directions.

David let me know he has another book heading our way soon which will be another Postcard book. We always enjoy seeing his new adventures, new books and working with him. A few years ago he and his lovely wife stopped by our shop on one of their journeys. The team was so excited to meet them!

We hope to make a connection with each one of our authors just as we have with David and perhaps meet you one day as well!

Community, Design, Local authors, Marketing, Self Publishing, Writing

Isabella Burckhardt: Making Connections with Paper Pigeon

I first began talking with Isabella about Paper Pigeon in the fall of 2020, and I immediately knew there would be a special book coming my way. Isabella did a lot of research and asked great questions about the printing process, so that by the time we started the order for Paper Pigeon, her files were in great shape. 

We just finished the second printing of Paper Pigeon and look forward to many more reprints. I was able to speak with Isabella recently about her story, and she shared her inspiration and experience in self-publishing her journal:

GP: What is the concept of your book?

IB: I created a prompted, collaborative journal called Paper Pigeon! It’s designed to be completed by pairs like best friends, couples, and family members, and helps them develop a deeper connection. The journal features over 200 different activities and questions for them to complete, either by sitting down together or by passing it back and forth. The idea for Paper Pigeon came from a journal I mailed back and forth with my long distance boyfriend when quarantine first began, so I also heavily advocate for the journal’s benefits with long distance pairs.

GP: What made you want to self-publish?

IB: Before choosing how to publish my project I did quite extensive research about the process of selling my work to a publisher. I learned that publishers often look for an author with previous experience or a strong platform that will improve the reach of their work. As a university student studying entrepreneurship, I have no formal education or background in writing and lack an audience from an established career. Therefore, I believed that although I had the drive and passion to create work that I’m proud of, I may have lacked the qualifications on paper to work with a publisher.

Additionally, self-publishing allowed me to bring my book to life in just 7 months, which is much quicker than the process of working with a publisher. Moreover, Gorham provided me with incredible support and resources. The attention and care I received working with the Gorham staff were completely unmatched and I feel certain that I would not have had such a positive experience elsewhere. Working with Gorham was also very rewarding because I’m able to support a local family-owned business with my publication, which is important to me. 

Finally, self-publishing my book has also given me more control over other aspects of my small business such as packaging, writing personalized thank you cards for every order, and building relationships directly with my customers.

GP: What program did you use to design your book? Did you come across any challenges with that program?

IB: I used the Adobe Suite to design my book, specifically Adobe InDesign. I had never used this program before, so I experienced a great learning curve as I familiarized myself with it. YouTube tutorials and forums on the Adobe website were crucial in helping me learn. 

My greatest challenge designing Paper Pigeon wasn’t with InDesign itself, but actually with choosing a font. I struggled finding a font style that looked clean yet handwritten to properly represent the qualities of my prompted journal. I spent about a month trying different fonts and font sizes, printing sample pages, and even polling friends and family, before finally choosing a typeface that I was happy with.

GP: I know you have been working on this project for quite a while. What did it feel like when you first saw your finished book?

I had spent so much time with my work just in a document format that finally unboxing it as a book felt surreal! Being able to hold the book and flip through its pages was such a rewarding moment for me. I still don’t think I’ve fully processed it, especially when I consider now that people around the world are using my journal to connect with the people they care about.

GP: Your first printing was in March of this year, and you are already doing a reprint. What kind of presale marketing did you do before you had the books in hand?

I began by reconnecting with the people that I had interviewed to inform its contents. I emailed anyone that I believed had contributed significantly to the development of Paper Pigeon to share the exciting news that it was finally published, to thank them again for their support, and to give them first access to purchasing a copy. Then, I shared the news with my extended family and friends on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. They subsequently reposted my announcement to their own networks which helped raise additional awareness. That being said, a majority of my sales came from social media promotion after my book was published.

GP: How have you spread the word about your book since?

IB: I used an organic marketing strategy to advertise my book and never spent a single dollar on marketing expenses. Instead, I used Instagram and TikTok to post content about the value of Paper Pigeon and the prompts inside. Most social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook) require that a user follow you before seeing your content. Contrastingly, TikTok and Instagram recommend content to users based on an algorithm (think Amazon “recommended for you.”) This meant that I was able to get my content in front of hundreds of potential customers without having a large initial audience. I posted daily for about two months before selling out. Each post performs differently so the key is consistency. I ended up having two posts gain a lot of traction on TikTok, one received 18,000 views and the other 128,000 views. The popularity of these posts directly translated to sales and led to half my inventory being sold in just a week! 

My growth was also fueled by a partnership I arranged with a couple who has 11,000 followers on TikTok. They are college-aged and post content about being in a long-distance relationship, so they aligned strongly with my target audience. In exchange for a complimentary copy of Paper Pigeon, they posted a video using the journal which directly led to the sale of about 20% of my inventory. TikTok is home to large book and small business communities, so posting content that taps into these groups is a powerful tool for any self-published author! (Do some research on “Booktok” to learn more.)

GP: Do you have a future project in mind? Will it be another journal or something different?

IB: I have considered the potential of making additional prompted journals for pairs that have specific themes, for example Paper Pigeon for students, grandparents and their grandchildren, newlyweds, etc. I do hope that continued success will give me the opportunity to expand into some of these areas, but right now I am excited to continue growing my current edition of Paper Pigeon over the summer.

GP: What would you tell someone who is thinking about self-publishing a book?

IB: DO IT and don’t let a lack of formal experience in writing or literature stop you. Your drive and the passion you have for your concept are what truly matter. Being able to hold a physical and bound copy of your work is so rewarding and you will be happy you did it. Additionally, by printing with Gorham you couldn’t be in better hands.

GP: If you could send your book to anyone in the world, who would it be?

My dad often insists that I should send a copy of Paper Pigeon to Oprah, especially because her recommendations carry a great amount of weight. However, from a business perspective, I would love to get a copy of Paper Pigeon to an executive at Paper Source. The store is all about creative gifts, paper products, and journaling, which all strongly align with Paper Pigeon! 

For a more fun answer I would love to send my book to Emma Chamberlain. She’s definitely my generation’s trend setter and I think she and her boyfriend would love using Paper Pigeon to connect while she’s busy jet-setting around the world being a girl boss!

One of the best parts of working at Gorham Printing is seeing beautiful and innovative book projects, and Paper Pigeon is a great example of this. Isabella took her personal situation during quarantine and created something to help others. Being able to accompany her on the path to getting her books printed was truly enjoyable.

Whether you are writing your family history, publishing a novel, or creating a collaborative journal like Paper Pigeon, we are here to help bring your vision to life. Call me or Jennifer to discuss your ideas!

Find out more about Paper Pigeon:

  • Follow Paper Pigeon on Instagram and TikTok @paperpigeonjournals
  • Purchase a Paper Pigeon journal of your own at https://paperpigeonjournals.square.site/
  • Email Isabella at paperpigeonjournals@gmail.com if you’d like to talk more about her experiences self-publishing or marketing her work.
Community, Design, Local authors, Marketing, Self Publishing, Writing

Inspiring Voices: We Are the Future with Merna Hecht

One of the things I love about working with publishers and self-publishers is that wide range of books that come in each and every day. Any given day might involve a grandmother’s cookbook, the history of horse wrangling in South Dakota, a yearbook for a college on the East Coast, a book by an author whose work I already love, or someone new I’ve never heard from before. I never know what project is coming up next when the phone rings!

We Are the Future

We Are the Future was one of those books. Merna Hecht, a nationally known storyteller, teaching artist, poet and essayist, called us one day to talk about a new project she was working on. Right from the start I knew this was something special, and I’ve been delighted to follow along as We Are the Future came to life on the printed page.

We Are the Future comes directly from the Stories of Arrival Poetry Project out of Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington. Collecting poetry broadsides from refugee and immigrant youth, We Are the Future gives students a chance to tell their story in their own words and art. We asked Merna to tell us a little more about We Are the Future and the Stories of Arrival Project.

A Conversation with Editor Merna Hecht

i write for my motherland poetry book printing

Gorham Printing: Tell me about the heart of Stories of Arrival. What inspired this project?

Merna Hecht: Thank you for asking about the heart of what inspired the project. Most of all it is the core belief that co-director Carrie Stradley and I share that it is vital for refugee and immigrant youth to tell their own stories. These individual stories can educate the larger community about the experience of migration as it affects young people and their families. We believe that compassion and understanding are increased, not through sound bites about wars and conflicts, or as overwhelming statistics, but through individual stories that touch our hearts and broaden our sense of what it means to leave a homeland and arrive in a new place.

GP If you had to summarize Stories of Arrival in three sentences, what would you say?

MH: Our project gives refugee and immigrant youth a forum for speaking out on issues that determine their future and their well-being. We fully honor that youth are the future and we provide an arena for refugee and immigrant youth to articulate their identity, honor their cultures and speak to the world they hope for. It is a project that celebrates the power of poetry to tell stories of loss, struggle, hope and dreams all toward envisioning a more peaceful, humane world.

mariyam poetry book printing

GP: How have the students reacted to seeing their poems in print?

MH: They are thrilled to see their art and poems in print—they feel like their voices and artistic expressions have a far reach and they are very proud of that and of each other.

GP: How have readers reacted to We Are the Future?

MH: We have received responses from many people around the country telling us how deeply they have been touched by the poetry, stories, images and photos in the book. All of these kind responses tell us two main things. One is that the book touches the heart of its readers and enlarges their awareness of the courage and resilience of refugee and immigrant youth. Also, there is a sense of surprise and gratitude as to how much these young people have to teach us, contribute to our communities and remind us of our common humanity.

my small town poetry book printing

GP: What made you decide to self-publish this book?

MH: I wanted to bring the book into printed form so that the students could see their work and celebrate themselves and each other, because with the COVID-19 school closures we had no way of holding community showcases and readings to honor their voices and creativity and deep engagement in the project.

GP: How did you find out about Gorham Printing?

MH: I learned of Gorham from a friend who works at our local independent bookstore. She gave me the Gorham pamphlet of sample paper and covers and I knew right away that Gorham would fit perfectly for our vision of what we wanted for this full color book. The “vibe” was just right!  I stopped looking at other printers!

My Mom poetry book printing

GP: What do you wish you had known at the beginning of the book printing process?

I wish I had anticipated how many copies I needed instead of eventually placing two more orders!

GP: Where can people find out more about your book?

MH: I have remaining copies from the Gorham printing and can be contacted at mernaanna@yahoo.com for price and mailing instructions. The proceeds go directly to our project. The book is coming out soon as a trade book from Seattle’s Chin Music Press and can now be ordered and mailed directly from them.

https://www.chinmusicpress.com/books

Elia poetry book printing

We are always excited to see anthologies and new voices come to life on the printed page. Do you have a book like We Are the Future that you’d like to print? Give me and Candace a call!