Five signs you’re not ready for a brand design

We are thrilled to welcome Allison Martin as our newest contributor! 

Branding design is a complicated topic that most like to pass off as something simple and inspirational → Just be yourself and your authentic brand will shine through!

While I personally believe that, I have spent ten years educating myself in design and marketing both formally and through the school of experiential learning, so I truly understand what it means.

The even tougher part of it all is that for authors you are not just branding a company, you are branding your soul, your life experience, your view of the world.

That would be a daunting task for a narcissistic sociopath, never mind an author riddled with impostor syndrome and self doubt.

There is a big piece of the branding puzzle missing in publishing and it’s the piece that has become my mission — what to do Before the Brand.

As a freelance Art Director I coach authors through understanding their branding needs, defining their career goals, and translating that into meaningful design to grow their confidence as well as their readership.

If you’ve been playing around with the idea of developing an author brand here are five signs that you’re not quite ready.

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YOU CAN’T PINPOINT YOUR PURPOSE

When someone asks you why you write or what you write about and you can’t confidently state it in three sentences or less—like you would pitch your book to an agent—you are not ready for a branding design. There are two sides to this fence, those who say ‘I just love to read and want to share my love of stories with others’, and those who ramble off ten thousand disjointed things over a 20 minute time frame.

The problem with the first is it is vague and says zero about who you are and what you are promising your readers. What that tells me as a coach is that you lack self confidence and therefore direction.

The second tells me that you lack focus and probably self confidence too—although arrogance is a thing with some new authors, the majority struggle with feeling inadequate so they try to cram in all the things to compensate.

If you can speak clearly and concisely about what you hope to achieve with your work you might be ready to hire a designer.

YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY DESIGNERS CHARGE SO MUCH MORE MONEY FOR A LOGO THAN A COVER

There are two reasons why logo design is more expensive:

  1. Copyright — When you hire a designer to make a cover you are licensing that design from the designer, they own it and you cannot alter it or duplicate it without permission from the designer. When you hire for a logo design, you own it. The designer creates it and then relinquishes rights to you to use however and wherever you choose.
  2. The purpose — To a designer, a cover is an advertisement for a single product. A logo is a visual representation of a company’s mission statement. A design that will be used to sell products and generate profit indefinitely. So because your logo will generate you more revenue in theory it costs more to create.

Logos also require a lot more pre-design work and back and forth with a client so time is a big factor in cost.

YOU BELIEVE A BRAND DESIGN IS A LOGO

A logo is only a single piece of an author brand and not even the most important one, I would argue. You would be just fine to build a visual identity by simply choosing a font for your name and sticking with it across your entire platform.

Your brand design is about understanding your mission, working toward a consistent goal, and making sure everything you do is ‘on brand’. Your brand includes your interests, the images you take/choose, the colors you use, the clothes you wear, how you talk, what you talk about…

And if after reading all that you’re sweating and saying ‘great, now I have to change everything about myself to have a brand’ then you are definitely not ready for a branding design.

It’s not about forcing yourself into something you’re not, it’s about paying attention to what you already are and amplifying it.

THE WORD MARKETING MAKES YOU CRINGE

We are hit with thousands of messages every day wanting our money and a majority of those messages are shameless and gross. But the only marketing that should make you feel gross is if you have to lie or manipulate your way to a sale.

If you understand there are many different ways to share your stories and get the word out that don’t include tricking people into buying your stuff then you might be ready to get a brand design to help with that.

YOU THINK YOUR CAREER IS JUST ABOUT YOUR BOOKS

A lot of us authors get into writing because we can hide behind our books and remain relatively faceless to our readers. But the industry is changing rapidly, we are more and more connected in a visual way, and readers are wanting to see more of our personal space.

I want to clarify that the advice of ‘write more books’ is 100% valid. The best way to get relevant and stay relevant is to keep writing, keep improving, and keep the books coming.

But it’s no longer enough to just write more books.

Our careers are becoming more intertwined with our lives and processes, but with a little bit of forethought and strategy and a whole lot of honest introspection, an authentic author brand should be an exciting journey, not a daunting task.

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Allison Martin is the author of nine independently published YA & NA novels, and a Graphic Designer, with over ten years experience in television and newspaper advertising, and freelance publishing design.  

Makeready Designs began five years ago as an accidental hobby and grew to a full service publishing design business that works with NYT and USA Today Bestselling authors, as well as Penguin Random House. She has currently shifted her focus to her real passion—helping authors set realistic career goals and implement effective branding strategies to grow their confidence as well as their business.

Allison lives and breathes the North Canadian wilderness, adventuring with her husband and daughter and plotting her next novel on some mountain top—but not until she’s had at least two cups of coffee.

She is represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret Literary Management.

 

Mentor/Protégé

This is a Thinking Through Our Fingers classic, originally shared on November 29, 2011.

Photo by Casey McFarland, iamcasey.com

I have been reading children’s literature all my life. It’s only been the last two years that I’ve started trying to write it. I consider myself an experienced reader and a beginning writer. Because of this, I’ve developed a mentor/protégé relationship . . . with myself.

I imagine it’s a pretty common occurrence.

“You’re a genius!” says the mentor in me. “This book is destined to become a classic!”

And the writer smiles and types furiously while the muse is still nearby.

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But soon (sometimes within minutes), the mentor has changed her tune.

“This book is garbage. You’ll never amount to anything as a writer. Your time would be better spent cleaning the fridge.” [sympathetic “wah-wah” from a single trombone]

At times like this, the mentor would do well to remember words from her own hero, her great-uncle Wilbur Braithwaite. Wilbur was a writer of poetry and music who also happened to be veteran of World War II, a state-champion coach in multiple sports over a 50-year career, and a mentor to hundreds of high school athletes. In this article, he listed the following as one of his “Lessons Learned from a Lifetime of Coaching”:

“Your players tend to become what they believe you think they are.”

Ponder that for a minute. If I treat myself as a wannabe who is wasting her time, most likely I will remain a time-wasting wannabe. If, however, I can treat myself as a beginning writer who has great potential and promise, I will work harder and continue to improve, and I may just fulfill that potential and promise. So the lesson, I think, is this: Be kind to yourself, believe in yourself, and then remember #10 from Wilbur’s list:

“Work hard to influence the outcome of important things within your control.”

That’s the advice I’m giving my protégé today.

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Elaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic and Paper Chains (HarperCollins). She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

Empathy and Writing

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of interactions on social media on some pretty difficult topics. Sometimes opinions and viewpoints conflict with others, which can lead to lots of arguing, hurt feelings, and, sadly, sometimes loss of friendship.

Other times I’ve seen kind exchanges where respect of others’ ideas happens. These are my favorite to read where the conversations aren’t laced with hate and “you’re wrong, I’m right” undertones.

I really enjoy observing people, listening to their thoughts, watching their interactions, and how that makes up who they are as a person. I try to understand what makes people tick, what motivates them, and perhaps even what life experiences led them to where they are now.

So, how does this all relate to writing?

Writers must have empathy.

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Without empathy, it becomes really difficult to get inside your characters’ heads and write them authentically. This also applies to nonfiction, but it’s more along the lines of being able to write in a way that’s relatable to others so you can impact your readers on a deep and personal level.

Being empathetic is more than feeling sorry for someone’s situation—that’s sympathy. Having empathy means you know what it would be like to walk around in another’s shoes because you can feel it. You can put yourself in another’s situation and understand what that would be like. It’s an ability to see more than your own narrow point of view, often with accompanying emotions.

What if I don’t have empathy? Then what?

Some people are naturally more sensitive to the emotions and feelings of others, but some of us are not. But, I believe it can be developed.

  1. Try looking outside yourself. Imagine what it would be like if your life experience was that of someone else’s. How would you feel? How might that impact you life now and in the future? How would it alter your beliefs about yourself, others around you, and the world?
  2. Seek to understand. When opinions differ from yours, try to understand the other viewpoints. Ask questions for more reasons why they feel the way they do. Talk less, listen more. Think about others’ views until you can fully understand why someone would think that way.
  3. Read books with characters from diverse backgrounds (and make sure they’re an accurate representation). Reading is a wonderful way to visit other places, hang out with different people, and experience things you have never yourself experienced—all from the comfort of your favorite chair. It’s a great way to get inside the head of another person and experience their thoughts and feelings.
  4. Be compassionate. Having compassion means really loving those around you. Love opens the gate to greater empathy because you care about others on a deeper level.

The world needs more empathy and compassion. As writers, we can spread more of that by using empathy to create authentic characters with real emotions and motivations. Be a writer who learns about people, their thoughts, feelings, emotions, motivations, and experiences not just from a sympathetic view point (though that’s a good starting point), but from a more intimate standpoint of empathy.

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles-family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Silence—a Hostile Work Environment?

I find it nearly impossible to write in total silence.

I was still in high school when I discovered I was most productive in environments that weren’t absolutely quiet. Back then, I would take a portable typewriter to the university snack bar to pound out prose. Years later, when I was writing my master’s thesis, I would park in a booth at Taco Bell with my laptop. A friend of mine was the manager there, so I’d buy a drink and he’d bring me free food.

For a while I thought I was just quirky—or even defective. Then I read David Mamet’s book, Writing in Restaurants, in which the award-winning playwright and screenwriter equates public writing with performance art. A writer in a restaurant is, in many ways, similar to the sidewalk chalk artist who draws both pictures and crowds. The act of public writing includes an unspoken obligation to your “audience.” I know from my own experience that the pressure to “perform” helps keep me on task … even if the pressure is all in my head.

When writing in public, Mamet says, “Joy and sorrow can be displayed and observed ‘unwittingly,’ the writer scowling naively and the diners wondering, What the hell is he doing? Then, again, the writer may be truly unobserved, which affects not a jot the scourge of popular opinion on his overactive mind.”

I wrote most of my first NaNoWriMo novel at a McDonalds in Draper, Utah, where the dining room technically closed at midnight but the staff didn’t mind if I hung around longer. For 99¢ (plus tax) I got unlimited Diet Coke, free WiFi and just enough background noise to get my creative juices flowing. I also got words of encouragement from the cashiers who rooted for me from behind the counter. When I hit 50,000 words and “won” at about 11:45 p.m. on November 30, the restaurant’s employees joined me in my victory dance. It felt like a standing ovation.

Recently, I came across an article that refined my thinking somewhat. The Harvard Business Review piece, “Why You Can Focus in a Coffee Shop but Not in Your Open Office,” reviewed new research on “open office” environments, where office walls doors and even cubicle partitions are dumped with the intent of creating a more collaborative, collegial atmosphere. Anyone who’s ever worked in an open office knows that the model tends to stifle productivity rather than fostering it. The key question is why.

One of the studies mentioned in the article, this one conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found that “the right level of background noise—not too loud and not total silence—may actually boost one’s creative thinking ability.” Obviously, the “right level” for one person might not be right for the next. But there is some pretty good research to give us general numbers. According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Research, “… [A] moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks…. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity.”

A separate study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggested it’s the lack of privacy as much as noise levels that can torpedo productivity in an open office setting.

Which makes perfect sense. While a moderately busy restaurant or coffee shop provides plenty of background chatter to drown out the silence, it also provides a level of relative anonymity you don’t get around your co-workers. Unless you live in a very small town, most people you encounter in public are strangers. When you write in a restaurant, you’re alone in a crowd.

Or as Mamet puts it, “In a restaurant one is both observed and unobserved.”

Obviously, sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop puts you in the crosshairs of the Chatty Cathys of the world. This can pose a real threat to productivity. “What are you writing?” “A novel! What’s it about?” “I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Let me spend the next 40 minutes telling you about it….” This happened to me a number of times until I learned the number one rule of writing in restaurants: don’t make eye contact.

This finding is borne out by a paper presented at the annual conference of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which found “that face-to-face interaction, [and] conversation … may disrupt the the creative process.” Interestingly, the creativity factors these authors tested for include “originality, elaboration, flexibility and fluency”—exactly what you want when you sit down to a writing session. You just have to find a way to keep the kibitzers at bay.

All of this goes to say that where you work—and especially where you write—may have a profound impact on how much and how well you produce. I get it; there are people who require complete silence to get their creative juices flowing. Others need music. The key, of course, is experimenting with different environments to find out what works best for you. If you’re having trouble getting your creative on at home, try trading the silence for some anonymous chatter.

Incidentally, if you find that you’re one of those people who thrives on background chatter, but you can’t always head to the nearest Starbucks to write, there’s a solution for that. Download the Coffitivity app (available for Android and Apple devices) and take your coffee-shop noise with you wherever you go.

You’ll just have to provide your own caffeine.

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

Bite-Sized Goals and Mousey Nibbles: Managing Lengthy Projects

Working your way through large, lengthy projects, like . . . oh, writing a novel, for instance, can be overwhelming, can’t it? First you have to write down the words, then you have to fix the words, then you have to fix them a second time, and possibly a third or fourth or fifth time. Then you have to figure out how to get those words out into the world, whether via traditional methods or indie. And while you’re trying to accomplish all of this, you have everyday life stuff to deal with too: jobs, family, chores—as well as non-everyday stuff, such as illnesses, vacations, bad mental health days, holidays . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, it helps to get organized by setting goals and deadlines—to mark on your calendar in bold when you want your first draft to be finished by, when you need to be done with the first round of edits, and so on. But when setting these longer deadlines, it’s easy to underestimate how long you’re really going to need.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I’ve tried to prevent it by calculating out how many words I need to write each day leading up to my deadline in order to reach it—making room for days when I know I’ll have less time to write. As long as I write the prescribed number of words each day, I’ll be perfectly fine, right? But then, life throws obstacles in my path, and soon I’m failing to meet my word counts and falling behind. The farther behind I fall, the more frustrated I get. I move my deadline out. I recalculate my word counts. Then I fall behind again. I get discouraged and overwhelmed over, and over, and I start to think I’ll never finish this darn thing.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you do well with large goals and a daily word count system. Maybe that’s all you need in order to get things done. If so, that’s fantastic! It’s common advice, so it must work for a lot of writers, right? But if it’s not working for you, just as it hasn’t been working for me, I’d like to suggest a few things that have been working for me lately, in the hopes that you, too, will find them helpful.

Make 2-3 Bite-Sized Goals At A Time

I still plan out the large goals (finish draft, revise draft, edit draft.) But I’ve lessened their importance in favor of smaller, bite-sized goals (that, I must stress, aren’t word counts,) and I only plan out a few of these goals at a time. For instance, my goal this weekend was to re-examine my outline, because I’ve discovered I need to throw out some scenes and replace them with brand new ones. I wasn’t writing the scenes this weekend—just taking a look and deciding what I need those scenes to do. My next bite-sized goal will be to outline those scenes. The bite-sized goal after that will be to finally draft those scenes. And . . . that’s it. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned. Obviously, I have an idea of what I’ll need to do after that, because I know that my ultimate goal is to finish revising this entire draft. But for now, I’m not going to worry about anything further than getting through these next few scenes.

Keeping my goals small and few in number helps me feel like I’m actually making progress. If I look at it in respect to the larger goal of finishing my revisions, it won’t feel like I’ve done much at all. I’ll feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ll get frustrated. So I don’t do that.

Only Work Under Your Best Working Conditions

Pay close attention to when and where you do your best work. Do you get more done in the morning? Then work in the morning and don’t try to squeeze more work out of yourself past that time (unless you absolutely must.) Do you have specific days when you’re less likely to be able to focus? Keep your expectations low on those days. I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning that tends to throw off my concentration for the rest of the day. I’ve come to accept that if I do get any writing done on Tuesdays, it’s a bonus. I’m better off using Tuesdays to catch up on chores or other things that don’t require me to think too much. I’m having a harder time convincing myself that writing post-children’s bedtimes is also a lost cause. But it’s a fact that I’m usually too tired and brain-drained to do much of anything by then. My best times for focusing are late morning and early afternoon when the kids are at school, so that’s when I make myself sit down and work. I also pay attention to my energy level. If I try to work with my laptop on the couch, am I more likely to nap instead? If so, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee or tea, and work sitting up at my desk. Is my back bothering me to the point where sitting at my desk will make the pain worse and/or distract me? Then maybe the couch would be better after all.

Just Take a Mousey Nibble

Okay, this one probably needs some background. My oldest son is a very picky eater. Always has been. He has texture issues and we suspect he may also be a super taster, because he will often complain about things tasting “too strong.” There was a period when he was younger where he was so anxious about trying new foods, that he would burst into tears at the mere suggestion. That is until one day, he told us that maybe . . . maybe he could just try a mouse-sized bite. A little mousey nibble. A nearly microscopic taste that, like sticking a toe in the water, would help to alleviate some of his fear of the unknown. This still works with him. “Just take a mousey nibble, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay,” we tell him. And so he does. And then sometimes, all on his own, he will decide to take a larger taste afterward.

If, even with your bite-sized goals, you’re still feeling anxious about sitting down to work, or you’re not sure how to get started, or you’re just plain unmotivated, tell yourself that you only have to take a mousey nibble. Open your document and commit to five minutes. You don’t even have to type anything. You can use those five minutes to look over your last paragraph, or glance through your outline, or heck, just stare at the blank screen. Chances are though, once your timer goes off, you’ll be able to settle yourself into your task. And if you still can’t, that’s ok. Take a break and try another mousey nibble later. Maybe it’ll taste different next time.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that help you get through large projects? Please share them with us in the comments.

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard, Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele, knitting, or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys and three mischievous cats. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

The Human Revision

Revision is a necessary evil when it comes to writing. You plow through the rough draft only to edit and revise until what you started with is barely recognizable, but considerably better. We have to do this for the betterment of the story, the craft. Yet do we do the same with ourselves?

Renewal is great for the soul and the body making for a better you. A better you makes for a better writer. Don’t wait for the new year. A new beginning can start at any time. Here are a few ways to renew yourself for the betterment of you.

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Breathe

Find time in your day, even if it’s a small moment, that’s just for you. Sit in the car before work and jam out to a song you love, lay claim to the shower for ten minutes when you get home, grab a cup of coffee from a local coffee shop. Something. Anything that is just for you! Reconnect with you.

Break Away From Normal

It’s easy to fall into habits to the point where if one thing falls out of place your whole day is ruined. But let’s turn that around. Let a little change be for the good. If you read romance take a stroll down fantasy lane. Try a show you never would have tried before. Shop at a different store. Doing one new thing can help rewire your mind and help you look at your writing in a new way.

Meditate

Relax and empty your mind. Find a quote or have an ideal to focus on throughout the day. Create your safe space in your head and carry it with you through the trials of the day.

Choose Your Happiness

Choose to be happy and make it so. Easy to say but happiness is totally a decision. And one that is certainly better than the alternative.

So as Christmas is around the corner (at the time of this writing) remember the best gift you can give to others and yourself is a better you. Renew yourself daily. Revise who you are until your story is perfected. Until next time have a writeous day!

Remember Why We Write

“Any creative pursuit judges its artists harshly and swings wildly. Don’t let the gatekeepers take away your joy of creating. It’s not about them ultimately. It’s about you and the page.” – Heather Webb

It was this snippet in an online conversation that made me stop, made me re-read, made me ponder. We would like to think that it will be different for us, we have probably all imagined how it is different for us. We think of the agents who will swoon over our query, request a full, and swoon again. We think of the editor who will fall in love with our writing, the sales teams who will fall in love with our writing, the readers who will fall in love with our writing. We imagine the lines of people who will gather desirous for a chance to have just 30 seconds with us, to swoon over our books, to take pictures, to brag to their friends that they got to meet us.

But.

People in the querying trenches have felt the sting of a form rejection. Or of a full manuscript wherein the reader “didn’t connect with the story like they’d hoped.”

Then there are the edits suggested by the agent who loved the story enough to take us on as a client, who then ask for changes to the story we thought they loved enough to take it as it is.

And this chain of doubt and insecurity adds another link when it comes to editors and being on submission to publishing houses. There are several ways within an editing house where the yes can become a maybe can become a no.

Finally, in the world of online reviews and the ease of accessibility that many readers with writers wherein they can tag them, regardless of if the feeling about a book is stellar or lackluster.

It can be enough to drive a person crazy. It can be enough to make a writer want to quit.

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When this happens (and, I’m sorry dear reader/writer, it is when), we need to go back to what Heather Webb said. We need to go back to what made us pull out a clean notebook, open a new document, jot down ideas about characters and setting and plots. Yes, we have our dreams and goals and imaginations. But, in the beginning, we started a story. Before we really thought about whether the story would sell or analyzed a myriad of arcs, we started with the spark of a story. And if we think about that, we can probably all say that the spark of story came from our heart, that it was small, but grew, stretching until it filled the whole of us, stretching until we reached out to find others who knew of this, who had their own spark, who drafted word after word for the love of story.

This is why, I think, so many very accomplished writers ask, plead and beg us, when querying, when on submission, when working between edits, when launching, when reviews keep coming in, to write, write, write.

The spark that started us is enough to hold off the gatekeeping winds if we will be dedicated to nurturing it.

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Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.