Suzanne Wesley is a writer and a graphic artist. She is also a wife and a work-at-home-mom to two wonderful little girls; ages 5 and 3. For over 12 years she used her skills by working outside the home, dragging her two sleepy girls to daycare every morning, all the while secretly wishing to become a full-time freelancer. And now—ta da!—her wishes have come true. Suzanne started her own design company called Suzanne Wesley Freelance Writing and Design.
Welcome to Novel Rocket, Suzanne. I see you’re an interviewer yourself. What’s one of the most surprising or insightful answers you’ve ever received for one of your questions?
I’d say one of the most surprising answers I’ve gotten was when questioning a non-profit client wanting to revamp their branding.
It was our first meeting, and I was asking my contact questions about their existing branding. She replied something like this, “We’ve considered rebranding before, and the last design concept presented to us was actually very good, but the board voted not to use it because the design firm’s name was Bare Naked Design.” Ouch. I instantly felt bad for that design firm, but I knew what my client was saying. Their firm’s name was likely meant to imply simplicity, modernism, lacking-fluff and that sort of thing – but it also harbored a double-meaning that is a bit risqué. In Midwest America, and with a non-profit full of Christians on the decision-making board, risqué was not the right way to appear. So despite their good work, their own branding had sunken this firm’s success.
Branding is a hot topic among writers as well, so that’s a great heads-up for those of us who are still in the throes of developing a brand.
Besides interviewing, you design book covers as well. My personal fave is Tahn by L.A. Kelly (I think Dog-eared design did that one). What are your thoughts on cover design and can you share one that you've created?
Great cover design is what drives me to pick up a book in the first-place and make the decision to purchase it or not. If a design doesn’t look professional, I’m often already over-looking it for something else with a more appealing design. And there have been times that I’ve been loaned books or read books recommended that had uninteresting covers that turned out to be wonderful reads. It’s just the way I am … and the way I suspect the average reader is too, so this is definitely worth analyzing!
My first cover design was for author Jerri Lynn Ledford. ‘Biloxi Sunrise’ will publish in the Fall of 2011 and is the first book in a series of 3 (or more) books. I tried to keep a gritty background texture that appealed to both the author and I, but added more layering, more drama … and a bit of a southern twist by using the Spanish moss covered trees that are prevalent in the Biloxi, Mississippi area. I also achieved the feel of a sunrise via the lighting that is filtering between the trees, and the rich orange color that it fades to, without being cliché and too cute. I’ve left myself plenty of room to continue the design through the rest of the series and I can’t wait to continue it.
Beyond book covers I also perform other marketing-related design such as: bookmarks, postcards, posters, web ads etc.
Of all the design services you offer, which one makes your heart pitter-patter and your fingers itch to dig in and have at it?
I know I’ve just admitted that this cover was my first, but it has been a goal of mine to do book cover design since the mid 90’s when I was in college. Everything leading up to now feels like it has been preparation. I live in Terre Haute, Indiana, and being close to my family was important to me. There are no book-publishers nearby to perform design in-house … so, first I cut my teeth on yellow-page ads as an intern at a local small business, and then I spent a little over a decade honing my skills on what work was available in my area, which actually happened to be for a pretty well-known company named Sony DADC.
I learned the ropes preparing files for CDs and DVDs from artists around the globe and later moved on to work in their marketing department where I could actually design more and use my writing skills. For over a decade I learned the ins and outs of pre-press, templates of all kinds, branding and corporate design needs in general. It was a good job, especially for my neck-of-the-woods, but corporate cut backs deleted the position and I was suddenly on my own. Luckily, I had been researching freelancing ever since I was pregnant with my now 5 ½ year old, and for the last two years I have used what I’ve learned for a growing client base of businesses small and large … and lately for authors too! Fulfilling a dream I’ve had for a long time.
I understand that you’re willing to negotiate on cost for those in need without skimping on quality. How does this affect your profit margin?
When I negotiate, I don’t just negotiate the fees/costs. What I offer most frequently is to discuss actual needs in order to help clients pick a solution that will fit their budget. Often that solution is a bare bones version of the same thing or another design option that is more affordable.
I occasionally work at a reduced hourly rate or towards an agreed-upon fixed budget but what occurs more often is that I help to create a lesser design-package that will get them faster to what they really want.
An example would be when designing with someone who is very budget-conscious, I express that they need to give me as much information at the front-end of the design process as possible. The better informed I am about their needs, their intended audience, other designs that appeal to them – the more on target I can be the first draft I provide. This reduces the amount of time I spend, and in turn allows me to reduce the cost. If someone is willing to pay for one or two initial options using comp photos instead of more options using purchased high-resolution photos - that saves me time and money, and I’m willing to pass that savings on. Due to my background doing pre-press, I can sometimes also give money-saving tips on print costs or photo pricing. I also offer pdf/digital marketing design that can help some clients avoid print costs entirely.
And yes, working at less per hour makes me have to take in more work. Which in turn takes away more time from my family, and definitely more time away from my writing – which has taken a beating when I am at my busiest with the design business. So, I am definitely more willing to negotiate when I am not busy then when I am.
I love to help people. I enjoy the design process from start-to-finish and I’ve met some amazing people I never would have met otherwise. I am so thankful God blessed me in this way, and He takes care of my needs. Whenever I start to worry, a new opportunity seems to always appear … and frequently those are thanks to the people I was able to bless with a reduced price without skimping on the professionalism of the design. Being a freelancer has taught me to be more dependent on God than ever. I work hard, but He is definitely the one making things happen.
Besides being supermom and running a design business, you’re also a writer. What are you currently working on?
Lately I’ve been dabbling in short stories and articles, shorter pieces that I can finish faster. Right now it frustrates me that my design frequently takes a front seat and the writing tends to get shoved to the side. A dear new friend, Dineen Miller, who is also a writer and designer I met through the ACFW, educated me that in her experience this is just my ‘design season’. For now, my writing is in its learning/secondary status phase. While I design full-time, in the background I’m learning the ropes and making connections, squeezing writing time in when I can. God will open doors for my writing when that season of my life is here too – I’m sure of it!
Any parting words of wisdom for Novel Rocketeers far and wide?
Figure out what you want or need on your pieces ahead of time. Even if this is just the text, barcodes, etc. it is very helpful to your chosen designer. Seek out examples of work that you like, or be very descriptive about your audience or genre and the ‘feel’ you want your piece to have. Knowing the dimensions or being able to point your designer to a contact or web site to find them is also VERY helpful to speed up the process and ensure there are a lack of issues when your design goes to print or to publish digitally.
I love doing what I do, and I’d love to help you do more of what you love.