A Week Away from Can-Do Canva

In just a week, I will be leading my “Can-Do Canva for Authors” workshop at the August NECRWA meeting. And look at what the nice folks at Canva sent me to sweeten the pot!

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How can you sign up to take this workshop?

If you live in the Boston area, you don’t need to sign up. Just show up to the NECRWA meeting in Bedford, Massachusetts on August 19th from 1 to 3 pm. Details on location and parking can be found online (see link). If you are not a NECRWA member, there is a $5 visitors fee. That’s all!

If you are not in the Boston area, and you would like me to come to you, please contact me: info at jennifer hallock dot com.

Who can come?

This workshop is for anyone who would like to raise their Canva game. Though I will be particularly focused on the types of images that romance authors need, you do not need to write anything, let alone romance, to attend.

What is this workshop about?
This is a screenshot from the NECRWA website. It is my text and author details, but not my graphic design.

My goal is to give you eleven tips that will take your own Canva designs beyond the ordinary and obvious. And I have a pretty handout you can take home. Yay!

How long is the workshop?

The workshop at NECRWA will be about an hour, starting at 1:45 or 2:00, after the business part of the meeting is over. (For other venues or audiences, I can make it longer or shorter upon request. It could also be turned into a two-session workshop, with one being a more basic tutorial for beginners.)

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One example of teaser promo images that can be made and standardized on Canva. I am not recommending you copy this exactly, but that you make a template that fits your style.
who am I, Jennifer hallock, to teach this course?

I do not represent Canva, first and foremost. I am merely a fan, a power-user, and maybe an addict. I have used Canva to make most of the graphics used on this website. Look at the menu to the left: peruse the history, glossary, and location posts to see some examples. I have also used Canva-designed slides in my History Ever After presentation, as well as conference promotion materials for NECRWA.

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One example of a promo image that has had good results for me on Instagram and Twitter.

Yes, Canva sent me—actually you!— those lovely coupon cards pictured above, but they are not sponsoring the workshop in any way. They were just being nice. And you do not need to use Canva specifically. While I do give more specific guidelines for Canva use, many of the principles will apply to PicMonkey or other programs, as well.

Also, teaching is my day job. As a twenty-three-year teaching veteran, I am pretty comfortable talking to any sized group, from teenagers on up. (Children younger than that are confusing to me.)

how should I prepare to take the course?

My eleven tips will be targeted to an intermediate audience. (Advanced graphic designers should take classes from more qualified folk. That’s not me.) For my workshop, I assume that you have already set up a free Canva (or similar service) account, you have attempted a few designs, and you have explored the premade materials available to you. But I also assume you are not (yet) a power-user.

Please bring your laptop with you to the workshop so that you can play around while I talk!

Your homework this week, if you choose to accept it…

Sign up and start playing around! Good luck.

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Did you know that #NECRWA19 may be the best conference we’ve had yet? Stay tuned for more information this fall. (And, yes, I made this banner with Canva!)

 

Updated Sugar Sun paperback is out!

Mr. Hallock is the best. Despite being super busy with his own work, he beautifully reformatted the paperback version of Under the Sugar Sun—and quickly too!

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It is now available for sale on Amazon. Now you have something physical to hold while you think of Javier. And don’t we all think of Javier?

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And if you want just a taste…

Under the Sugar Sun historical romance teaser. History ever after.

If you want to learn more about the revision, you may read the introduction to the updated version here on my blog. Most importantly, thank you for reading!

A Better Way to a Top 100?

When did you first learn about All About Romance‘s Top 100 poll—maybe when it was first assembled in 1998, or when it was recompiled in 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013, and most recently in 2018?

In my paper “History Ever After: Fabricated Historical Chronotopes in Romance Genre Fiction,” I examined the approach that one AAR reviewer took to historical romance outside the Regency. This kind of perceived “accuracy” is why I believed the top ten (above) chosen by their readers skewed toward British peers (white) in historicals. How books are reviewed by a site will have an impact on their readers’ opinions.

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For another examination of the final list, check out Book Thingo‘s recent podcast “All About Romance Lists,” with the always-entertaining Kat, Gabby, and Rudi. (Click on the image below for the link.) These reviewers make great points, but notice that they do not question the idea of making a list. In fact, Gabby and Rudi reminisce about using the AAR list like a reading challenge when they were younger. I did the same when I first discovered romance. People love lists, even when we know they are imperfect. How many articles are headlined, “Ten romances for the summer / winter / fall / dentist’s office / to read while avoiding your taxes” and so on? At their best, lists can bring new titles to romance readers everywhere.

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But just as important as the poll itself is how you compile the poll. Let’s look at the AAR process from a social science perspective. In stage one of the process, AAR did not initially include a single book by an African-American author—even though the site has given qualifying books A grades. Immediately when this was pointed out to AAR, they pulled this first list and added books by several authors of color. Unfortunately, they misspelled a few of the authors’ names in the process.

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A closer look at the first list distributed online:

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And here is a snapshot of the second list before all of the spelling corrections were made:

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Here’s the thing. AAR should not have started with a predetermined list in the first place—and it not only would saved them a lot of headache, it would have created a more objective poll. A predetermined list inevitably reflected the reviewers’ bias—and everyone has bias. Everyone. That is the foundation of social science research theory. AAR stated that their list was made out of: (1) past winners; (2) staff feedback, or books that their reviewers believed had merit; and (3) public reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

The first two are the problem. These two criteria bake into the poll a bias toward incumbents (predominantly white, cishet, traditionally-published books because look at romance publishing), and books that have scored high on their own subjective site. Yes, all reviews are subjective, and that is okay. (We writers need to remember that, as well as readers.) The problem here is not that AAR reviewers had opinions; it is that these opinions were conflated with gatekeeping. AAR did not blend reader suggestions with their own predetermined list until the third stage of voting—too late.

I think there is a better way. Now, to be clear, I am not a professional polling consultant. These are merely my humble amateur ideas drawn from a background in social science (bachelor’s and master’s degrees in International Affairs) and teaching 25 years’ worth of high school students how to assess the reliability of their sources.

Moreover, I am not volunteering to take AAR‘s place. As an author, maybe I should not even be suggesting any of this, but the social science teacher in me could not help but come up with these ideas. And of course I do not have enough of a blog platform to make these ideas work. But if someone wants to try it again in a few years, please consider these suggestions.

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assembling a reader top 100 romance poll:

Before you begin: For the year leading up to your poll, make sure that you are publicizing a wide variety of books. This should include a representative slate of authors, characters, subgenres, tropes, and publishers (including indie). Keep a careful eye on your reviews to make sure that your coverage is balanced and open-minded. This gives visibility to a wide range of books and authors, and it attracts to your site a nice mix of readers with a spectrum of tastes and preferences.

  1. Open your poll by asking for 20 books from each reader participant. Start with your readers’ suggestions. Is this still bias? Yes, but it is the readers’ bias, and this is a readers’ poll. Moreover, it is this year’s bias, not the last poll’s bias. Reader preferences do change as social mores and sensibilities change.
  2. Take the top 150 suggestions by rank—but do not release anything yet.
  3. Now it is the time for you, the professional, to check the bias of your readers. Pick between 20 to 50 more books to fill in gaps of representation, subgenre, and publishing market. Do not add just your faves; add what is missing. There is a difference.
  4. Release this list of up to 200 books to your readers for the second round of voting. I know 200 books is a lot of books. But think about this: should a top 100 grow to be 100? That means books are added, even though they have not been seen by all participants. Maybe people will like those better than what they would otherwise choose, or maybe they won’t. But you will not receive an objective survey of opinion without giving everyone the same choices. Unwieldy or not, the list should be cut to 100 by asking your readers to pick up to 30 books from this list—about one of every seven books listed. This requires people to make tough choices, and people will only be able to advocate for their very favorites.

You can now count the votes and release the results of the top 100 romance novels. You could hold another vote for the top ten, or you could release the rankings from point four above.

Personally, I would keep the number of voting solicitations down. You have only done it twice so far—less of a burden on readers and therefore more likely to give you even participation across the whole survey. (Four voting steps, which is what AAR attempted, are certainly too much to ask of your audience. If their interest dwindles by the third or fourth step, your results are less accurate. Because of the early mistakes that AAR made, I suspect that participation from readers who enjoy diverse books dropped off. And, in a reader poll, the readers who vote most often get to define the list.)

Someone with a big platform could make this happen, or something like it. Good luck!

The Book Thingo podcast!

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It was Kat’s “fault” that I ended up in Sydney. (Oh my, a “work trip” to a beautiful harbor city on the other side of the world, what a hardship!) While I was there, we were able to record a podcast chatting about historical romance, my Sugar Sun series, #UndressAndres, and more. Click on the image below to listen online, or stream Book Thingo on your favorite podcast service.

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If you would like to read my paper on “History Ever After: Fabricated Historical Chronotopes in Romance Genre Fiction” click on the following image. This page is where I talk about how and why Regency romance is deliberately artificial world—and why this is not necessarily a bad thing. But it can become a bad thing when perceived accuracy is used as a weapon against authors of historical romance outside this chronotope, particularly against authors of diverse books.

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The book we talk the most about on the podcast is Under the Sugar Sun. I followed the Regency model in creating my own chronotope of 20th century Philippines in which real political, social, and economic strife exists, but there is still room for a cross-cultural happily ever after. Hacienda Altarejos exists in a world of magical realism; the real world is just outside. By the way, if you own this ebook, please follow these instructions to update your version:

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Thank you for reading and listening!

Under the Sugar Sun: Revised Edition!

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. — Mark Twain

My husband gave me the above advice three years ago, but I did not listen. By that time I had already written and rewritten Under the Sugar Sun fourteen times over five years before publishing it for the first time in October 2015. It went live while I was coaching an American high school football game. (We won!) Had you asked me that morning to start from the beginning and trim one-eighth of the book, change problematic characterizations, and improve how my hero and heroine communicate with one another at the end—well, I would have stopped you at “Hello.”

Yet I have just made these changes. This is not a significant revision: none of the core content or events have changed. It is still the work of a debut author. But because this novel builds the Sugar Sun world, I could not pass up this opportunity to make the book more like what I intended from the start. I hope you enjoy it.

How can you download this new version on Kindle?

If you would like to download the updated version on your Kindle, go to the account menu on your main Amazon page. From the drop-down menu, choose “Your Content and Devices.”

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Find Under the Sugar Sun in that list, if you have bought it before. If you purchased the paperback version, you could have downloaded this ebook version for free. There should be an “Update Available” button below the title. When you click on that, it will warn you that updating the book will erase any highlights, notes, and record of the last page reached. If you accept these conditions, then choose update. And, boom, the new version of the book will arrive. Yay!

HOW can you order THIS NEW VERSION in paperback?

The revised version is available in paperback now! The only way to get one, though, is to purchase it. I am sorry for the inconvenience. If you have previously purchased the paperback, though, you may download the Kindle version for free—and this will be the updated version.

More in the Sugar Sun series coming!

This revision has delayed Sugar Moon a bit—but only a bit, and I believe it was worth it. Moreover, the best part of diving back into the original text was the opportunity to reread everything about Allegra and Ben. Now I cannot wait to get back to my revisions of Sugar Moon, which is their story.

Sugar Moon latest in Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Thank you, everyone, for reading and enjoying the Sugar Sun series.