My ALLi author guest this episode is Jessica Bell, a book cover designer, author, singer/songwriter, publisher, and parent. Yes, Jessica juggles many moving parts in her career. In our interview, she tells us how she evolved from a songwriter to what she calls a multipreneur.
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview. Jessica Bell: About the Author
Jessica Bell is a book cover designer, author, writing and publishing coach, and singer/songwriter. In addition to having published a memoir, four novels, three poetry collections, and my bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series, she has been featured in a variety of publications and ABC Radio National shows such as Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, The Guardian, Life Matters, and Poetica. She is also the publisher of Vine Leaves Press, CEO of Independent Publishing Assistance, a voice-over actor, and the coordinator of the Writing Day Workshops. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Read the Transcripts: Inspirational Indie Author Interview. Jessica Bell
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors, and book editor at howardlovy.com.
You are listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. Every episode, I interview an ALLi member to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.
My guest this episode is Jessica Bell, a book cover designer, author, singer-songwriter, publisher, and parent. Yes, Jessica juggles a great many moving parts in her career. In our interview, she tells us how she evolved from a songwriter to what she calls a multi-preneur. I'll let Jessica tell her story.
Jessica Bell: Hi everyone, my name's Jessica Bell, and I like to call myself a multi-preneur since I have my fingers dipped in a lot of pies at the moment. I'm a book cover designer, author, poet, singer-songwriter, and I also do some voice-over acting as well. Oh, I'm also the publisher of Vine Leaves Press, how could I forget?
I started designing book covers when I realized I needed to self-publish my debut novel, which unfortunately, the publishing company that published that book liquidated just six months after that, and that's when I began to realize I could be my own boss, and everything went from there.
Howard Lovy: For Jessica, the path to writing came by way of her love of music.
Jessica Bell: I grew up in Melbourne, Australia. I first started writing songs because my parents were musicians, and around 12 years old, my mother needed to sell her 12-string guitar because they had a parking fine or speeding fine they needed to pay.
So, they had it at the front door ready for someone to pick up and pay for, and I opened it up and it was in this beautiful case with red velvet inside, and I said to my mom, “why are you selling this?” She told me why and I said, “don't sell it. It's too nice.” She said, “Okay, if you start playing, I won't sell it.”
So, from that point forward, I started teaching myself to play guitar, and I started writing songs and poetry, and when I reached high school around 15/16, I really fell in love with reading and writing, and started writing short stories.
Howard Lovy: Jessica went to college to study English, but she said she didn't enjoy the assignments, preferring to write stories on her own time rather than stick with the lesson plans.
Jessica Bell: I was writing short stories and poetry and songs a lot. Actually, I spent most of my time doing what I wanted to do and writing my essays last-minute, and reading a few pages of the book and totally, I don't know if I can say this word, bullshitting through the whole essay I managed to pass. So, this creative mind.
Howard Lovy: What Jessica first wanted to do with her creative mind was become a rockstar.
Jessica Bell: In the meanwhile, I was also in a band that was very successful in Melbourne, and we were playing gigs, and we had radio airplay and TV appearances. We were going really, really well. So, I thought my Bachelor of Arts was just going to be a bit of a backup, because my motivation was to become a rock star at that point, and I was getting there.
It was a mixture of rock and chamber rock. We had an electric violin, and cello, and drums, and electric guitar in our band. It was called String Bridge. Oh, Spank, sorry. It was, first, String Bridge and then it was Spank.
Then I went to travel to Greece for a holiday when I was 19 and fell in love with a boy on a Greek island and decided to move here, and I dropped all of my music.
Howard Lovy: The boy, she said, is long gone, but she stayed on the island where she eventually got a job as an editor.
Jessica Bell: For an English-language-teaching book publishing company. So, I was writing English textbooks, editing English textbooks, and eventually writing English textbooks. I actually got that job because they needed a singer on one of the accompanying CDs that was telling this kid's story and the protagonist of that story was the singer. So, they said, “okay, come and record your voice for us for free”, this is Greece for you, “and we'll give you a three-month trial at the publishing company”.
It's a deal, and I ended up working in that industry for 15 years.
Howard Lovy: Then she decided to take her writing more seriously and published her first novel. Unfortunately, her publishing company liquidated, which led Jessica to the world of self-publishing and then book cover design.
Jessica Bell: Well, it was funnily enough about an expat singer living in Athens, Greece. First book, write what you know. It's full of purple prose, some people love it. Now I've written five novels and so many other books, I cringe when I read it, but some people still like it, so I'm leaving it out there.
So, when they liquidated, I'd actually spent almost five years shopping this novel. I was looking for agents, publishers, doing all the typical things. This was like 2010 and earlier, and when they liquidated, I was thinking, there's no way I'm going through all that again, I'm doing this myself.
That's also when I started learning how to do book cover design, because I wanted to redesign my cover. So, I started teaching myself how to learn Photoshop and a little bit about book cover design so I could design my own book covers, and then I started doing book covers as favours for friends, some indie authors that you would probably know, Carol Cooper. I did her covers, as favours, and she's the one who said to me, “Jessica, you should charge for this.”
And that's when I thought, okay, I'm going to have a little side project and start commissioning covers properly. That took off like crazy, and that allowed me to quit my job as an ELT editor, and I haven't looked back since. That's been my main income.
Howard Lovy: And as a book cover designer, she stays on top of the current trends. She's often asked to redesign covers of already released books to keep them up to date.
Jessica Bell: Well, trends change. I know that since beginning as a book cover designer, the trends in historical fiction, for instance, have gone from women with chopped off heads to people walking into the distance and in some landscape scenery. Now, they're all very illustrated and modern looking, I find. So, they've developed. So, you need to sort of hit what is selling whenever you can.
Howard Lovy: Jessica learned so much about how to design a cover she decided she needed to write a book about it.
Jessica Bell: It's called, Can You Make the Title Bigger? which is one of the biggest requests I get from clients, and the subtitle is, The Chemistry of Book Cover Design. So, I talk about what makes a good, professional, strong-looking cover. I talk about placement of titles and the difference a font makes, colour, symbolisms, how to find a good book cover designer and find one you're going to collaborate well with, how to research book cover designers. I have a lot of examples in there of before and afters, as well, so that you can see differences between DIY covers made by inexperienced designers or authors, versus their makeovers. I have some funny client conversations in there, which will keep you on your toes. Basically, everything anyone would need to understand what they need to either commission or make a book cover.
Howard Lovy: So, what is Jessica's answer to the question, can you make the title bigger?
Jessica Bell: No, usually by the time I've sent samples, I've already experimented with all of the placements, and all of the fonts, and all the possible sizes that could have been. So, what I come up with is the best solution, because sometimes I will get titles with words that have like 15 letters in it, and I can only reach the left and right margins so far, unless you want a vertical title. So yes, sometimes there are a few conflicts there.
One thing I always tell my clients is, I'm not just putting your title on top of an image, you can do that yourself in Canva. What I'm doing is creating a synergy between the imagery and the text. I need to design them both simultaneously to make them work seamlessly together. So, it's not just about adding a title and an author name on top of an image, you need to design it as a whole, and consider everything that is in the design to make it work.
Howard Lovy: As for the future, Jessica plans to continue her work in multiple genres, including her singing and song writing, as well as writing.
Jessica Bell: I used to sing for a pretty popular group called Keep Shelley in Athens, I don't know if you've heard of them. It's a bit of a chill wave group, and before me they toured the US, and with me we toured Europe.
But since having a child, I've backed off on that a little bit and I've started a separate group called Mongoa with the guitarist of Keep Shelley in Athens, which is more ambient, down tempo, atmospheric, sort of an orchestral, new wave type of it's genre mix. You can find us on Spotify and everywhere music is sold. We release a single, at least one a month, so I'm continuing to produce music.
Last September, I released a novel called, How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness, which is a science fiction novel about a search for the true meaning of happiness so that you could live a fulfilling life in a second-life phase, and if you didn't find that happiness by a certain age, you were put down. So, it's a race against time as well as fulfillment, and that has won three literary awards so far, which I'm extremely proud of.
The book I'm working at the moment is a semi-biography of my Oma, I'm half German and my grandmother's German, and she lived through World War II, so she has a very interesting story. So, I'm reading through all her written memoirs in very broken English that she wrote before she died to try and put something together. That'll be my next creative writing project.
Howard Lovy: Jessica also launched her own publishing company called Vine Leaves Press.
Jessica Bell: Yes, it started as a literary journal in 2011, and in 2014 we started publishing books and I've been improving every year since. To date, we have around 200 titles published, and it's going really strong, we have a really good reputation now, and so many submissions to go through. It's a big job, and I have a team of around 10 people to help me out with that. So, not something that's going away. I really, really, really enjoy running Vine Leaves Press.
Howard Lovy: So, between her careers as a cover designer, author, singer-songwriter, publisher, and parent, Jessica juggles many moving parts. I asked her how she does it.
Jessica Bell: Basically, I will juggle a bit of everything every week. I will have my top priority tasks every morning that need to get done.
Basically, I prioritize my design clients and Vine Leaves Press authors, and once I've finished the tasks for that, I will give myself time to work on my personal projects. If for some reason, I don't manage to get to my personal projects, I will try and allocate at least a whole day every week to spend on that.
If you love doing something, you can do it. If you put the energy and effort in, and you have the determination, you can do anything. I wasn't trained in graphic design and now that's my main job. Listen to your heart and your own mind. Trust your own mind.