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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Brief History of The Best of British Contest--and How That's Been a Great Promotional Tool

I started The Best of British Scrapbooking Contest to encourage the growth of scrapbooking in the UK. You see, scrapbooking became big here in the US due in part to contests which spotlighted new talent and added excitement to the marketplace. I lived in the UK in 2001-2 and I was there when the first dedicated, independent scrapbook store opened. No one there was doing a contest for talent, and having seen how that worked here in the States, I knew it could work in the UK, too.

Here's what it took to make it happen:

1. I had to hire a solicitor in the UK. My friend and neighbor Lesley Hindmarsh was kind enough to find one for me. I submitted rules and then made the necessary adjustments so all was legal.

2. I had to announce the contest so we'd get entries. The strongest and most popular website for scrapbookers in Europes was and is UK Scrappers. I announced the contest there to good result.

3. We needed judges. Mary Anne Walters and Beverley Stephenson of UK Scrappers were natural selections. Shimelle Laine was the first person to win two contests in the same year here in the US. They all agreed to help me.

4. I answered ongoing questions about the contest. Meanwhile, Lesley's home was the gathering spot for the entries. Poor Peter, her husband! On the one weekend day he chose to sleep in, someone decided to have her entry specially delivered and woke him up to accept the package!

5. I flew to the UK, met with the judges and we went through the entries. It was hard work--and it's gotten harder--but we found our winners. We actually expanded the number of winners because we had so much great material.

6. We requested that winners send their original art to Mary Anne, who graciously packaged it all up and sent it to me in the US. (We held our collective breath that nothing happened en route.)

6. I worked for about 12 months with a graphic designer to create the book. I personally scanned and extracted art, one pixel at a time. My hand was cramped from the effort at the end of each day. But I wanted crisp, vivid images. We spent nearly $12,000 on getting everything just right, including having a professional photographer shoot the cover art. I actually sat down with our graphics person and we compared the original layouts to the on-screen layouts and adjusted the color for accuracy.

7. We sent the files to Malaysia for printing. This cost about $20,000.

8. While all that was happening, my original distribution deal fell through. I sent out packages and called folks to get distribution. Which I did. (Believe me, I have all sorts of respect for any publisher. You don't know panic until you've invested $30,000-plus of your own money in a project which might wind up sitting in your garage.)

9. We sold the books. We covered our costs. Most importantly, we didn't lose any money.

10. ScrapBook inspirations Magazine asked me if they could "take over" the contest. This was a natural fit. They were there in the UK, so they could much more easily administer it. For legal reasons, they asked me to be the judge, which I agreed to. I sure didn't want to see all that hard work come to an end. And the contest now had a rep. ScrapBook inspirations vowed to continue the high standards, which they have.

How have I benefited? (I'm sharing this for the edification of my writer friends who look to this column for marketing ideas.)

1. The contest keeps me current with the marketplace. Now that my mystery is out, people keep asking, "Do you scrapbook?" Well, I do, and I feel my involvement with Best of British helps me stay on top of trends.

2. My name is associated with the contest, so I get numerous mentions which I hope will translate into attention when Paper, Scissors, Death is released in the UK.

3. I get a nice warm, fuzzy feeling. Yep. I remember that as the color galleys were due to go back to the printer, I received an email from Sarah Wheatley's husband. Sarah was losing her battle with breast cancer. One of her life goals had been publication--and she was one of our winners. I Fed Exed the color galleys to her. She was able to see her work in print, and two days later she died.

No contest is perfect. No judge is always right. But when I look back at all the names of scrapbook artists (and I think of them as artists) whose work now appears in various publications, I take pride that many of them were "discovered" through the Best of British.

So, yes, the Best of British has been a good promotional tool for me. If I'd spent that time and money in other ways, I might have had the same or a better return. BUT...I wouldn't have had the satisfaction of seeing the names and work of others receive well-earned recognition.

You have to give back. That's a rule in nature, in life and certainly in business.

What's HOT Across the Pond

Whew. I finished judging “The Best of British Scrapbooking” a few minutes ago and sent my results to Rosie Waddicor, one of the editors. It was hard. Really hard. There were so many great entries, and I wanted to give out a lot more prizes than allowed. But enough of that.

Recently, someone forwarded an email to me from Debbie Macomber. Not only is Debbie a great read, she’s also a keen judge of the marketplace and emerging styles. Debbie noted, and I have reason to concur, that trends here in the US often start in the UK and work their way over. That’s particularly true of scrapbooking. So allow me to share some trends, and tell me if you think you’ve seen them, too.

1. 3 – D embellishments. Used to be, all scrapbook pages were flat. In this group of entries, I saw ribbons looped up and stapled down to stick up like roller coasters. One memorable page had “google” eyes on a cartoon character. Those are those bubbly eyes where the pupils roll around. Yep, texture is definitely jumping off the pages.

2. Going green. Contestants used a lot of corrugated cardboard, ripping off the top skin of paper to expose the ridges beneath. Also used were bubble wrap, plastic wrap, and slivers of a Coke can cut into the shape of petals. No doubt about it, scrapbookers are recycling on their pages.

3. Doodling. Doodling hasn’t quite caught on here like it has in the UK. Folks here are too restrained. There, scrapbookers take a pen to about anything and add colors with abandon. The result? There’s a sense of playfulness to the layouts.

4. Cartoon art. Anime stickers, cartoon characters, simple line art, every aspect of cartoons showed up. I particularly enjoyed where one contestant cut out a photo of her head and put it atop a cartoon body and paperdollish arms. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Once upon a time, scrapbookers used templates to cut photos into stars and what-not. Then no one cropped anything, and now we’re cropping body parts and combining them with paperdoll limbs. It’s really fun.

5. Paint on pages. Paint was used to alter a paper’s original color, to create a background so journaling would stand out, to customize patterns by adding color or design, and to simply add seemingly random funky circles to a plain pattern to jazz it up. Also big is painting on the REVERSE side of an acetate overlay. Say you have a clear overlay with flowers on it. You flip it over and fill in the flowers with paint. Let it dry and use it on your page.

6. Collage and simplicity. I saw both ends of the spectrum. Collage pages included fabric, plastic, charms, photos, fiber, ribbons, epoxy stickers, distressed paper, memorabilia, rubber stamped swirls, embroidery, stitching, ephemera, buttons, brads, and so on. But, a goodly number of layouts were spare, with simple combinations of paper, photo and journaling AND tons of undecorated space to create a refreshing change to the busy nature of collage.

7. Birds. Oh, golly. There were bluebirds, robins, owls, of every sort of paper, color, and pattern. Closely following were dragonflies and butterflies.

8. Acrylic overlays. One was even cut into a body silhouette, secured at the top with a brad, painted from the back and then used to cover hidden journaling. This is such fun, and folks are getting more adventuresome with their usage.

9. Negative space. Okay, if you punch out a form, the empty space that's left behind is negative space. More and more of it is showing up on pages, and the background that peeps through makes this a fun and interesting addition. Not to mention, it can be a thrifty use of your apres-punch leftovers.

10. Flowers. In leather, silk, paper, and plastic. In fact, one trend I could rather do without was too many flowers on pages where flowers did NOT match the theme of the page at all. You see, trends are great fun, BUT…just like in fashion, you have to be careful that you don’t sacrifice what “works” for what is trendy. Just because flowers are hot doesn’t mean you should use them to decorate a page about the Grand Canyon or road racing.

11. Colored buttons. These were used en masse to form lines, to add punch to other groupings, and to act as the center of flowers.

12. Journaling boxes. We call them "boxes" but they don't necessarily have borders on them. These included pages that looked ripped from notebooks, artsy edged boxes, and just rows of lines sticking out from brackets or parentheses. Not only do journaling boxes add style to a page, they also encourage you to write!

You can bet my heroine Kiki Lowenstein will be incorporating this cool ideas in her next adventure!

PS When the winners are announced in December, I'll share some of the names and layouts with you. Until then, mum's the word.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Real Deal

"Do you really scrapbook?"
That was the question I answered most frequently over my three days at ScrapFest, the nation's largest scrapbooking get together up at Mall of America. As I stood there in the Archivers' flagship store, all I could do was grin. I knew why folks were asking. They wanted to know if I REALLY knew what I was writing about in my book Paper, Scissors, Death or whether I was, gulp, a pretender.
Well, folks, let me be clear: I scrapbook. In fact, I scrapbook a lot. And my husband can tell you, I'm addicted! I have way too much paper and all sorts of toys. I have probably thirty albums. I know how to use PhotoShop Elements (some!). I have even taught scrapbooking here at CKU (Creating Keepsakes University), at what used to be called HIA (Hobby Institute of America, now combined with another convention to be CHA), on cruise ships, and in the UK. I also teach scrapbook journaling online for Writers Online Workshops. (I wrote the class for that one.)
Oh, and I am the author of seven scrapbooking "how to" books, and countless articles on the subject that have appeared in Creating Keepsakes, Memory Makers, Scrapbook Trends, ScrapBook inspirations, and the now defunct PaperKuts. So...yeah...I scrapbook.And you can see some of my pages at Click through to the Archives and look at the free scrapbook magazine I've been producing for years. Coming some of you suggested...I'll put a gallery up on one of my websites!

Monday, September 8, 2008

When Your Book Is Out, the Work Begins

Say It Isn’t So

“I thought you were done after you wrote the book,” said the young woman standing beside me at the presentation by p.m. terrell, author of Taking the Mystery Out of Promoting Your Book. (Learn more about Patricia at

I was standing next to my pal Angie Fox--that's Angie on the right. We're holding copies of each other's books. (Visit her at ) I smiled at Angie, and she smiled back at me. “No, that’s just the beginning,” I said.

Truth is, I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I have a list of 30 promotional activities I’m trying desperately to pull off. My friend Shirley Damsgaard warned me. “Joanna, I know the kind of person you are. You’re going to have to come to terms with the fact you can’t do everything. Do what you can and move on.” (Visit Shirley at

So…what did I get done today, which is Sunday as I'm writing this?

* I wrote a column for the Suburban Journals, circulation 660,000.

* I designed and set out (with David’s help) my first Constant Contact e-blast announcing my book signing dates to our local friends.

* I wrote a post that will run in the Lipstick Chronicles on Saturday, October 18, thanks to the kindness of my friend and sister home-girl Elaine Viets. (She’s formerly from St. Louis.) ( See )

* I began the judging of the Best of British Scrapbooking contest. One section, experienced scrapbookers, has more than 90 entries, and each entrance submitted six layouts. There are two sections. I have no idea how many are in section two, the new talents. I’m afraid to look. I'm happy to do this because the magazine provides great exposure for me in my UK market. Visit the ScrapBook inspirations blog at

* I bought some supplies for my upcoming visit to Scrapfest in Minneapolis—including crime scene tape. (Read more at
* I sent bio info, photo, and book cover for my virtual book signing with the Great Dane Rescue people.

* I discussed via email the handouts for my Sisters in Crime presentation in Minneapolis.
* I explained how to write a review on Amazon to one of my Blog Brigade, the group of scrapbook bloggers who have kindly agreed to read and promote my book.

* I offered a copy of my book to a woman who’s an influence leader in the scrapbook community.
* I started a list of people mentioned in my acknowledgements to whom I owe books.

* I followed up on an interview Claire Applewhite is doing with me for the book blog in our local paper.

* I followed up with p.m. (Patricia), sending her the best of the photos of us together for her to include in her newsletter. (I took the red eye out and fixed the color first.)

I think that’s it. It’s 7:30 p.m. and I haven’t had any dinner. Whew! And you know what? I’m thrilled, just thrilled to have the opportunity to do all this. I am incredibly fortunate to be published. Whenever I think, I want to quit, I pick up a copy of my book and remind myself: This is what I’ve worked for, hoped for, and gone to school to do. And all those efforts are wasted unless I get the word out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My Path to Publication...

Ever wonder how an author got her start?

You can read all about mine at Heidi Ruby Miller -

You'll probably get a kick out of why my fellow students at Ball State University thought I'd appeared in drag!

I also am very honest about what kept me from writing a book earlier.