Category Archives: Personal Work

Thoughts on Writing – Pantsing vs Plotting

I recently went to ConQuest, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Kansas City. It was amazing, to say the least, given that I’ve been wanting to attend a writing convention for the last few years. (Plus, I got a couple of my favorite books signed by Brandon Sanderson, and he is an awesome panelist. Just throwing that out there). Anyway, one of the writing panels I attended suggested that, when it came to writing blog posts, to write about what you’re working on.

Of course, I try to post once a week with behind the scenes information about my book cover design work. I hope that the information is useful in multiple ways. First, it highlights the book. Nothing big, but it does promote the cover for the publisher and the author. Second, it highlights what I’m doing. Yes, I hope that potential clients will see the work I’ve done and decide to hire me later down the road. But third, I hope these posts provide useful information to authors who are considering self-publishing, whether they hire me, someone else, or do it themselves. I also hope the posts provide useful information to other cover designers who are looking for tips or tricks to improve their work. I’ve certainly found blogs with behind the scenes information about book cover design useful in my learning. So please, let me know if you have questions about the cover design process. I’d be happy to offer insight if I can.

That being said, I also do a lot of writing. Writing (and studying writing and publishing) is my passion. I love seeing the worlds and characters I explore. So I’m going to try the advice the panel offered and see if I can write the occasional post about what I’m working on or what I’m contemplating… my thoughts on writing in general. You may hear a lot about my story-writing progress, and maybe my theories on publishing. And I’d love to hear your input. What do you think about the topics I’m thinking about?

With that in mind, let’s jump into the first topic that got me thinking about writing a blog post. Plotting versus pantsing. A plotter is someone who plots out everything in advance. They may have outlines, they may have fully developed worlds, they may have every scene figured out in their head before they even write a single sentence. Pantsers are the opposite. They write “by the seat of their pants,” and outlines drive them nuts. They want to see where their characters take them, and explore the world as they go.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being either. Everyone’s writing style is different. But there’s a good chance you’ll be a little bit of both, maybe leaning one direction more-so than the other. Me? It depends on the story I’m writing. Some of my original stories were very much “pantsed.” I daydreamed the story in my head, but when I wrote the scenes, I let the characters go where they wanted to go (or where the scenery seemed interesting). When I started work on my Distant Horizon universe (which got me back into novel-writing after doing short stories for a while), it was plotted out. My husband (then fiance) created the world for a role-play game between the two of us, and about halfway through the campaign, I decided to log the adventures of my main character in the form of the novel. We continued developing that story, which has been through many rounds of edits and beta readers, and is currently being queried to agents.

Since then, I’ve written a few other stories in the Distant Horizon universe. Some were more plotted out than others. They each had a general outline, but I had a little more freedom with them to maneuver and explore. And even with Distant Horizon, I did quite a bit of exploration with it outside of the original game before I was finally happy with the story as a novel.

Then last year, for Camp NaNoWriMo , I decided to write The Messenger of Gaia, a science fiction space novel based on another role-play my husband and I played. Though the role-play game relied very little on actual dice rolls, the written story was heavily plotted. I had a heavy-duty synopsis/outline I worked from, and I wrote an even larger outline for the second book, since I realized it would be a while before I get the chance to write the rough draft for that particular novel.

Now I’m working on a story called The Wishing Blade. YA/NA fantasy, based on a rough draft I wrote in 2003. The original manuscript is… rough. We’ll go with that. But I’ve been wanting to rewrite it for a long time (tried several times, in fact. Got 10,000 words in on one rewrite, but I made it too heavily adult fantasy and took it in a completely different direction, which didn’t work. I also wrote a version of it as play for a playwrighting class… that particular version is terribly over-dramatic and cheesy), and I finally got the idea that if I worked on the manuscript from scene to scene, rewriting but sticking to the original premise, it might actually work. So far… it has. I’m about 45,000 words into the new version, and I’m enjoying it. In a sense, I’m being a plotter. I’ve got an “outline” (the original rough draft) that I’m following. However, I’m also being a pantser. I’m not sticking directly to the original story (which had a 200-year’s war worth of plot holes), and if I see something interesting… I’m running with it. I’ll write it, daydream it, and see where it takes me. In the long run, I’ll have a stronger novel.

Does that mean I’ll always straddle the pantsing/plotting line? Nah. It’ll just depend on the story I’m trying to tell.

Am I enjoying playing with different methods of writing? You bet.

I suspect that if you’re having a hard time writing something, you might want to try a different method of writing. Instead of trying to force a story to follow an outline, you might see where the story takes you when you let it run wild. (Sort of wild. You may need to reign it back in after a bit). If running wild is causing your story to go in circles, try stepping back and outlining. Do whatever works best for you.

Now, I have a main character who is currently plotting an assassination to attend to. I hope this post was useful, and please let me know what you think. 🙂


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Do your characters pass judgement?

Today I have another writing-related post. Do your characters pass judgement?

It’s something I’ve seen blogged about in regards to point-of-view, and it also has quite a bit to do with showing. Your characters, as you write them (especially whichever character is leading the scene), pass judgment on everything they see or hear. This may be good, or it may be bad. It’s how they view the world, and it shows their attitude and voice. For example, take the small bit of scene from the manuscript I’m currently working on (Glitch).

Val pushes a plate of ham and eggs in front of me. She polished hers off a good while ago, as if she has already forgotten yesterday’s concerns. “When’s the last time you ate?”
I’m not sure. Maybe that’s why my head feels fuzzy. I push the plate aside and go for a bowl of applesauce. Though the chunky apples are practical, they taste far more extravagant than anything the Community… or the Coalition… would serve. I check the recipe in the database: cinnamon, chili powder, nutmeg.
I’d be happy with sugar.

If I’ve done my work right, the scene should give you a few clues into the main character’s personality: a bit more down-to-earth (going for practicality), curiosity (he checks the database for something as simple as a recipe), and to some degree, simplicity (being happy with just sugar, and not the other spices). When you look at the scene on the whole, he’s passing judgment on the applesauce… even though it might not be something we’d normally thinking of passing judgement on. It’s not meant that he’s being negative, only that we see it from his point of view.

Now, for a bit more obvious of a scene passing judgement:

The door opens to a bright, tall room. I breathe sharply. The Legion Spore is ugly. There’s something awkward about the mess of tentacles dangling beneath the Legion Spore’s fleshy, bulbous body, though I’m drawn to the thin membrane of its air sac. Pink fins softly ripple, glowing under the blue light.

Short, since the rest would be confusing out of context, but the main character is being introduced to the vessel he’s going to be piloting, which is a monster in its own right. While it’s supposed to be ugly, like he says, it’s also supposed to be impressive. Now, both these scenes are still in draft-phase, so I may end up changing them or omitting sections altogether, but the idea is there. The main character passes judgement. ‘Awkward’ and ‘mess’ are both negative descriptors, while the softly rippling fins are meant to be positive.

These may just be my own meanderings I’ve been considering, but feel free to share your thoughts. Have you noticed your characters passing judgment? Are the scenes in which they do more prone to being “showing” rather than “telling?” What are your thoughts?

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Premade Cover Design and Stock Sites

Alert to cover designers using stock sites (nothing too horrible, just thought you might want to know):

I’ve been looking into the idea of doing premade book cover designs, and have thought about picking up a subscription plan at a stock site to do so. However, I was recently alerted to terms in several stock sites that make this a less feasible option. Subscription plans (at least at Dreamstime and Shutterstock) only include the basic or Royalty Free licences. Premade book covers are often considered “merchandise made for resale,” even if you plan to only sell them to one client. Different sites require different licences, so be sure to check with the site (possibly contact them directly, which I did), to check their terms of use.

I try to note any special terms (like number of copies permitted, and what an image can be used for) in my contract. 🙂

Just a heads up, whenever you’re planning on using stock sites, be sure to check their terms, and verify the terms that may be an issue for your work. For example, be warned that some stock sites don’t want their models being used on erotica book covers. You may want to go to a site specifically based on selling romance covers for models in this case. Same goes with “sensitive subjects.”

Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and if you’re using your own photography or collaborating with another artist, premade covers shouldn’t be a problem. 🙂

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Twitter Me This

For today’s post, I’m going to briefly tangent my usual cover work posts to a post about twitter. I’ve had a twitter account for a while now, but I really couldn’t really say I tweeted. Mostly, I used it to keep up to date with industry news. Since it’s used for small amounts of texts, Twitter works great for people and businesses to posts links to news or other blog posts, usually with a little tag noting what it’s about. When I first set up my account, I followed publishers, agents, and authors whose blogs I admired. It was a great way to keep up with news, find out new information I was interested in, and generally keep up to date without having to read every blog post out there.

I pretty much watched Twitter invisibly for several months. Then, here recently, I realized there were some links I wanted to be able to return to easily to refresh my memory (writing advice, mostly), and my favorites folder is invariably overwhelmed by random links. So, I started using the retweet function. The posts now show up on my Twitter feed so I can see them again easily, but also, so I can share blogs I found useful easily. I recently updated my photo and header to make it a bit more unique.

Just thought I’d share. It’s been a useful way to sort through information. 🙂

And, in case you’re curious, you can follow me at

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Rough Drafts and Refurnishing Old Furniture

Over the past summer, my husband and I have been working on a project renovating a set of old furniture that has run in his family for a few generations. It skipped a generation, however, and has been stored for quite some time in an old farmhouse with no conditioning, mostly untouched. When we set out on the project, the idea was to have something we could do together and look back in future years and know we did together (especially since it would be something from early in our marriage), as well as to have a nice bed frame, chest of drawers, and changing table to add to our apartment (not that our apartment isn’t crowded enough as it is, but…).

Now, I know I normally stick to talking about book cover design and photoshop stuff here on the blog, but today I’m switching gears to talk about writing and my writing process.

How do refurnishing furniture and rough drafts relate?

Well, when looking at the furniture, my husband and I had to decide whether to simply repaint it, or stain it. Either way we needed to strip it down to wood, but we wouldn’t have to do quite such a good job stripping it if we were repainting it. However, being that this furniture dated back to sometime around the 1920s or 30s, that meant we were likely dealing with lead based paint, and we thought staining would look better anyway.

What we didn’t know was that this furniture hadn’t been painted two or three times, like we’d expected, but somewhere around five layers of stubborn paint that hid in the little grooves of corners and refused to be removed by a simple process. It required paint stripper (that blue, snot-like goo that burns if you get it on you… and worse if you accidentaly get some on the back of your shoe then sit on your shoe). Consider this the rough draft. We applied the paint stripper, let it set, then came back and removed what we could. There were still several layers of pink and white and green and some sort of yellow-ish color waiting in chunks around the corner, but once that was done, we could see wood. Yay!

Once the stripping was complete, then came the sander. We used it where we could, where flat surfaces permitted, and it really helped, but those corners were still elusive. Another edit, so to say.

Corners. This was the fine tuning, trying to work out those little kinks that just won’t go away. We tried sand paper. We tried a razor blade (which was mildly-helpful), and we tried one of those sanding foam blocks. Little trick we discovered– a stiff toothbrush and more paint stripper works wonders. Didn’t figure that out until half-way through the process, though, and like writing, its one of those things you learn by trial and error. (And a bit of help from both parents pointing out possible suggestions).

Eventually, we got everything sanded. We went from 100 grit sandpaper to 220 sandpaper, and polished it up. Got the wood nice and smooth. Stained it. Applied polyurethane. Applied another coat of polyurethane… and another… and it wasn’t until the second-to-last piece of furniture I figured out the trick to getting it to come out smooth. It dried quickly, so if I tried to go back and smooth out a partially dry spot, all I did was leave ridges in the coating. Granted there was more to it than that, but it was like fine tuning a manuscript. Finding the little errors, trying to fix them, and realizing that no matter how many corners you remove paint from, there’s still going to be some speck of pink paint shining through the stain when everything’s said and done (though luckily in an unobtrusive place). I’ve read many times that there’ll still be things you want to correct, even after a manuscript has been edited and polished and published.

We’re still working on the project as of my writing this, being that we can only work on it while visiting my husband’s parents (and they live an hour-and-a-half away from where we live). But it occurred to me that revising a manuscript is much like refurnishing the old furniture. Takes time, can be a bit of a pain, but you still feel a sense of excitement upon seeing it all come together, when everything’s been stained and smooth… or edited and reads as smooth as piece of furniture.

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Spring Cleaning and Price Updates

Hello there. You may have noticed my blog got slightly reorganized. Added a page for my short stories, removed the pages about my portrait work (can still be accessed via, and redid the pricing page. Thought it was time to do a little organization. 🙂

The good news is that the pricing page should be easier to read, and also shows examples for the different types of book covers. If you’re looking for a new book cover, be sure to take a look. Prices start at $50.00 plus the cost of stock images.

Please let me know if there’s anything you’ve found particularly helpful on this blog, or anything you’d like to see more of. 🙂

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Photomanipulation – Art for Fun

SBibb - Loyal Only to Me
This is an image I did for the fun of it. Figured it’d be helpful to keep in practice with they fantasy/sci-fi work I enjoy doing as well as book covers. 🙂

Anyways, all photos are my own. Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 4.0.

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Distant Horizon – When Photomanipulation meets Sketchwork

SBibb - Distant Horizon - Bad Memories

Another Distant Horizon based picture. It’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of coloring of sketched art. So, to explain this, I started out by sketching the image with a pencil, then went and did a basic lining of that with a pen. Afterwards, I did some shading work with the pen, then erased the extraneous pencil marks. Once that was done, I photographed the image flat with a flash on my camera and pulled it into photoshop. Did the threshold adjustment to convert it to black and white.

Then I started layering and using clipping modes combined with blending modes and masking to apply textures and coloration. The textures were mostly pulled from pictures I took on a walk downtown earlier in the day. Once that was complete, added the sections around the tank, and blurred the edge a little to give it that dreamlike quality.

Overall I’m pretty happy with this. Granted, it’s not the best, by any means, but since I was experimenting with the technique, I’m not going to complain. And I’m thrilled with how the hand came out. I think it actually looks semi-realistic and pressed to the glass. Yay!

So… now that you know how it’s made, a quick explanation of the picture itself. It’s a scene… rather a couple scenes, in which the main character of my novel I’m working on is caught in a telepathic attack. And she’s imagining she’s in a beastie tank… which turns people into monsters. Long story short. But that memory attack plays back into the story more than once, so I wanted to have a shot at creating an image of the tank.

Anyways, that’s all for now. Done on my laptop with Photoshop CS4 and bridge. And a mouse.

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Photo Illustration – Distant Horizon

SBibb - Distant Horizon - The Distance Traveled

Finally wrote out the synopsis for book three of the Distant Horizon storyline with Isaac (my husband), and afterwards, it left me wanting to create a picture representive of the ending. So here it is.

This time I didn’t try to make a book cover format, since I wanted more freedom for positioning.

Photoshop CS6 kept trying to shut down on me while I made this, but eventually (finally!) I just merged a bunch of layers and went from there. The authosave function did come in handy, though it was amusing seeing the file have recovered-recovered on it after shutting down the program twice.

Anyways, just some original art for the fun of it. 🙂

Meanwhile, “Ashes” is formatted, and I’m just waiting to hear back from my beta reader before I release it on Smashwords. 🙂

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1000 Words: The Socks Project Continued

Good news! I’ve finally started editing the prequel to “Socks,” one of the short stories from my 1000 Words project. I’m happy to announce that the title will be “Ashes.” I’m currently in the process of planning the cover, which shall be done in similar fashion to Socks, as a way to show they’re related. The difference is that “Ashes” is not restricted to a one thousand words word-length, and is currently closer to 7000 words. I’m planning on self-publishing it and selling it for $0.99 on both Smashwords and Kindle.

So, for a little more information about “Ashes,” it takes place in the time before “Socks,” so you’ll get to see a little more about the bunkers and the world she lives in. It’s also young adult, sci-fi romance. I hesitate to call it dystopian, since it’s not technically a dystopia, but it runs along similar worlds to popular dystopian YA right now (Pandemonium is the one that comes to mind, though I wrote this before reading that book). It is a complete story, however, if people like it, there is room to continue it before the actual “Socks” story begins. As well as room for right afterwards. Granted, it’ll be competing for time with Distant Horizon, the novel my husband and I are working on, but we’ll see how well it’s recieved. 🙂

In the meantime, go check out “Socks” if you haven’t already. It’s available on Smashwords, and best of all, it’s free. 🙂

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