Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Parents of Preemies Day

Proud Parent of a Preemie
May 4th is Parents of Preemies Day and in support of the day and the families and friends who have or know a preemie, I'm sharing my story today. Visit Parents of Preemies to learn more and see how you can participate!

My Preemie Story

I was clueless with my first pregnancy despite having read numerous pregnancy books. Living in France, a nation full of hypochondriacs, I didn't take my sage-femme (midwife) seriously when, at 6 months, she informed me my baby's head was down in the birthing position and that I needed to take it easy or risk a premature birth. I chalked it up to a nation of slackers who were looking for an excuse to take it easy. I couldn't have been more wrong (and judgmental, sheesh)!

At 35 weeks and 2 days, my water broke as I was getting ready for work. Well, actually, I wasn't 100% sure my water broke but my husband insisted we swing by the hospital to get it checked out. I ended up being admitted to Labor and Delivery and had my baby 18 long hours later. For someone that wanted to come early, my baby sure managed to take his time coming out.

Leonardo was born on 8/8/2012 at 7.5 lbs. Huge for a preemie!

Parents of Preemies Day: Our Story

He spent 11 days in the NICU, for the following reasons:
  • Respiratory issues, requiring a breathing tube for two days. Now, at 20 months old, he still has asthma but it's mild and manageable with just one treatment per day.
  • Jaundice, which is common among preemies and is easily treatable by donning a Batman eye mask and being exposed to a special light for two days.
  • Ironically, not gaining enough weight. He was so chubby he got tired quickly when eating and had to resort to a feeding tube to finish his meals. We couldn't leave the hospital until he could eat full meals for two days straight without the feeding tube.
  • To err on the side of caution, our hospital preferred to not let a baby out of the NICU until they reach what would have been 37 gestational weeks (to take them officially out of the premature zone).
While 11 days felt long to us, it was a great chance to ease into the whole parenting thing. We learned how to give him baths and change his diaper, skills I'd known from years of caregiving but felt scared to do for my own baby, particularly with lots of wires and tubes all over the place.

Looking back, those 11 days were nothing. We were very lucky, especially compared to some of the other families we met during Leo's hospital stay. But no matter what your situation, it's important to YOU and it feels like the biggest deal of your life.

Focus on the Lighter Side

My best remedy is comedy. If you can't see the lighter side, it quickly becomes too heavy. Here's an excerpt from my book, Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer, where I talk about seeing my son for the first time in the NICU:

Thirty Quarter Pounders. 3,750 M&M's. $150 in quarters. What do these have in common (besides the fact that I want them all right now)?

They weigh 7.5 pounds, same as my six-week premature baby.

Preemies come in many sizes, but they're usually not that big. In fact, only 40% of all babies born weigh 7.5 lbs or more. So when we went to see Leonardo Quentin Lesage for the first time in the NICU, Mika and I were shocked.

Surrounded by miniature babies hooked up to respirators and feeding tubes, my ginormous baby looked out of place. Though he was still hooked up to respirators and feeding tubes. Since he was born early, his lungs needed just a little help getting enough oxygen. And since he was born huge, the poor guy wore himself out every time he ate, making it hard to get enough food to sustain his big body. The feeding tube ensured he got his fill in case he fell asleep during a meal.

"We call him The Boss," the nurse said, as she proceeded to explain the machines to us and demonstrate how we could safely hold our son with all those wires attached to him.

"You come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married and you ask me to murder," I said to Mika in my best Marlon Brando.

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse," Mika countered.

"I am the boss, the Godfather," I said before catching the nurse's eye.

"If you're done, you can hold him now," the nurse said. "And if he wakes up you can try to nurse him." She was nice about it but I could tell she thought we weren't taking the situation seriously.

If I took it seriously, I would probably burst into tears. True, my baby boy was big and relatively healthy, but he was hooked up to an insane number of machines, and I had trouble following her explanations (in French, of course) after 18 hours of labor the previous day and four hours of restless sleep. A few quotes from the Godfather were the only thing keeping me from a full-on breakdown.

Holding my sweet little baby was an amazing feeling. I ran my fingers through his full head of dark hair (still a bit greasy from the delivery, adding to his tough-guy Mafia look) and over his olive skin. Against my pale skin and blond hair, this baby totally didn't look like mine. He looked exactly like his handsome daddy.

Postive Encouragment

I'm currently pregnant with Baby #2, due any day now. At 25 gestational weeks, I went into preterm labor and was subsequently put on bed rest. Scared of repeating what happened with Leo, I took my sage-femme and doctor's advice very seriously and stayed glued to my couch for 11+ weeks. Now that we're past 37 weeks, I'm allowed to walk around, but I'm so out of shape from being immobile for so long! It's been tough but totally worth it. If our baby was born a preemie, we'd be equipped to deal with it. But I wanted to know I'd done everything I could to avoid it.

If you currently have a preemie or are in a situation where you suspect you might have one (preterm labor, multiples, high-risk pregnancy) I send you my most positive thoughts and best wishes! And maybe one of these quotes will help get you through the next few days, weeks, or months (feel free to share):

Preemie Positivity: Patience is how you act while you're waiting Preemie Positivity: Keep Calm and Stay on the Couch Preemie Positivity: It's a Count-Up not a Countdown!

Are you a parent of a preemie, or know someone who is? Share your story in the comments!

Vicki Lesage, Author

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tips for a Tiny Apartment: The Kitchen

Living in Paris has its joys, but tiny, antiquated apartments are not one of them. At least not if you are a family of four! In this series, I'm sharing my tips on how to survive, room by room, if you live in a tiny apartment.

Tips for a Tiny Apartment: The Kitchen

Tips for a Tiny Apartment: The Kitchen

Prioritize Your Appliances

On the counter: Only items you use everyday or are a pain to take out/put away. Examples: the beloved coffee pot, toaster (who wants to wait for it to cool and then transfer crumbs all over the place each time?).

In easy-to-reach cabinets: Items you use occasionally - not often enough to justify the counter space but if you put it too far out of reach you'll never use it and might as well just get rid of it. Examples: mixer, crockpot, waffle-maker, pumpkin bread pans.

Hidden away: Items you can't bear to get rid of but you will use once or twice a year. Stash them in under-the-stove storage, upper cabinets, or another room so they don't clutter your kitchen. Examples: Deep-fryer (even though I want to use it every night, I shouldn't, plus that thing makes the world's biggest mess each time), turkey roasting pan.

Sell/Donate: If you haven't used it since "Lost" ended (sniff, I miss you, Desmond), sell it or donate it. You were totally going to be the bad-ass bread-maker on your block but it just... never happened. That's OK! But it's not OK to keep this crap around your kitchen.

In a tiny kitchen, streamline as much as possible - appliances, color scheme, counter space, etc.

Keep It Clean

A dirty kitchen looks 50% smaller. I majored in math in college so you can trust me on that stat. Here are the areas that will have the biggest impact:
  • Wipe the counters and stove every day, either with a wash cloth (that you wash frequently), disposable cleaning wipes, or some eco/green/wonderful product you found on another blog. I don't care, just wipe that stuff up! Also, anything in your kitchen that's white (cabinets, coffee pot, fridge) should be wiped down nearly every day. Down with smudgy fingerprints!
  • Replace hand towels as soon as they get dingy, dirty, or crispy.
  • Do your dishes right away. If you always do this, then it's never really that big of a job.

Trash vs. Recycle

We all know it's good to recycle but that doesn't mean everyone does it. Here's what I do:

    In a tiny kitchen, use a tiny trash can to save space!
    My trash can is a little shy -
    he didn't know he'd be on the blog
    (that's why he's hiding in the corner).
  • I have a super tiny trash can and empty it every other day. I reuse shopping bags for the liners (it's a game to see how long I can go before I have to buy trash bags - I'm going on 5+ years!) and only toss items that can't be recyled. This ensures that my trash can is never overflowing, which is unsightly and smelly (duh).
  • I recycle everything else and use a much larger bin which I hide under the sink. Since stuff you recyle isn't smelly, you can let this bad boy really fill up before having to empty it. This way, the trash can that's out in the open (which is convenient but ugly) never gets out of control, and your recycle is hidden. Plus you save the planet.
  • Be sure to check your area's recycling rules but in Paris it's insane what you can toss in the recycle bin. I mean, obviously your usual paper, bottles, and packaging. But you can even put hair dryers and metal scraps. And I can't tell you how many hair dryers and metal scraps I get rid of in a week (ok, zero, but it's still good to know I have the option).

Rein in Those Groceries

For my family of 3, which includes a 20-month-old human vacuum cleaner and a 6'4" husband, I'm surprised by how little we actually eat in a week. Don't load up your pantry and fridge with all sorts of crap that will go bad before you use it.

In a tiny kitchen, only store what you need for the week in your pantry, plus a few staples.

  • Keep a few staples on hand so you're not tempted to eat out: rice, pasta, eggs, etc.
  • Buy what you need for the week and then make sure you actually eat it that week. I like to organize my fridge where, from top to bottom, I have the stuff that needs to go next (top), needs to go sometime this week (middle shelves), to staples (bottom). Check your fridge out a few times throughout the week and rotate as necessary. Same with your pantry - don't let near-empty packages get pushed to the back to die a slow death (and take up unnecessary space).
  • Don't go overboard on sale items. Three boxes of rice for the price of one? OK, you'll find room in the pantry but you better plan on eating rice for the next few weeks. Meat on sale? Freeze it (cutting off nasty bits first and sealing individual portions in bags so they're at-the-ready).

Minimal Color Palette

Our landlord won't let us paint the walls so I'm breaking my own rule here but not by choice. Who knew that mustard tile matched banana walls? (It doesn't.) If I were to have full control, I would paint the walls white and then the tiles wouldn't be so offensive. Since I can't do that, I did the next best thing:
  • Bought all-white appliances to match (until my microwave caught on fire, then I could only find a gray microwave to replace it - thank you, Paris, for your wide selection).
  • White stove/oven, refrigerator, rug and towels.
  • White dish drainer and coffee pot. Wait a minute, those aren't white! I know. But these items are surprisingly expensive in Paris (like $150 for simple coffee pot and $25 for a dish drainer) so we're sticking with what we got for our wedding. Sue me.

I could go on, but I need to head over to Pinterest and dream about a bigger kitchen. Hope these tips help fellow tiny-apartment dwellers.

Check out the rest of the series:
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Kitchen
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Bathroom
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Bedroom
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Closet
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Living Room

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Life's short. Laugh more. Buy my books at

Vicki Lesage, Author

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship With David Sedaris

I've been in love with David Sedaris' writing ever since Me Talk Pretty One Day. He's sarcastic and borders on bitter, except he's just so right about everything you have to agree with him. The fact that he's a fellow American living in France makes us comrades in arms, or whatever the saying is. Misery loves company?

My Love-Hate Relationship with David Sedaris

However, on the off-chance David Sedaris remembers meeting me, I'm pretty sure he hates me.

About five years ago, he did a reading at the American Library of Paris. Also about five years ago, I was still quite the party girl, as I hadn't yet met my younger-but-more-mature husband. I'd imbibed quite a bit of wine before the reading, just enough to put me in the "obnoxious girl in the audience who thinks she's really funny" category.

Mr. Sedaris finished the reading and told a story about how in order to keep the attention of the younger audiences at his readings, he offered free condoms. Then he asked if anyone had any questions. My hand shot up. He ignored me. People asked really boring questions and tested my patience.

"I just love you, Mr. Sedaris! One time you signed a book for me and drew a butterfly. It's so beautiful. Do you like butterflies?" a dowdy woman asked.

Can we say LAME? This chick was talking to one of the wittiest men alive and THAT was her question? I could have slapped her.

He answered politely, then asked if anyone else had any questions. A few people did. He answered everyone's questions but mine, until I was the only fool left with my hand up. Seeing he still had 5 minutes to fill, he reluctantly called on me.

"Yes, to the girl with the wine lips who is desperate to ask what she's sure is a great question."

Oh crap. Way to take the wind out of my sails. I went for it anyway. "When are you handing out the condoms?" I asked. Because I have the maturity of a teenage boy when I've had too much to drink (or... pretty much always).

"Honey, you are WAY too old to be considered part of my younger audience."

Oh, snap! No he di'int! Did the one, the great, the only David Sedaris call me OLD? I was 28 at the time. Way too old to be making an ass of myself at a public library but still. I suppose I got what I deserved but it's better than asking about butterflies.

Now, five years later, I got my revenge. His books and mine share the same category on Amazon - Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Essays. During a promotion I recently ran, my book shot up pretty high in the rankings - check out who was #4 (me!) and who was #9 (David Sedaris). BAM! Who's old NOW? (Answer: both of us. I mean, it HAS been five years.)

Vicki Lesage vs David Sedaris - book rankings in the Humor Essays category
Nanny, nanny, boo, boo, I sell more books than you do!

Of course, his book has already surpassed mine because he has an established reputation and my jump was temporary due to the promotion. But it still feels good.

Want to help me beat him again? Buy my book, or if you already have (thanks!) sign up to be notified about future releases!

Life's short. Laugh more. Buy my books at

Vicki Lesage, Author

Monday, April 21, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Editing

*Clickety-clack-type-type* Done! Isn't it the greatest feeling when you've finished writing your book/blog post/autograph on a fan's t-shirt? All that hard work is behind you and now you can bask in the... Oh wait. Now you have to edit.

The editing process is different for everyone. It depends on your personal style, how thorough you were on your first draft, and how much persistence you have to read your work YET AGAIN. Ideally, for important pieces of work (i.e. an article or guest post), you'll have at least one other pair of eyeballs on it. For a published book, you'll want a few sets of eyes on it, preferably at least one professional.

Behind the Scenes: Book Editing

But before you get to that point, take it as far as you can yourself. That ensures that your work remains as close as possible to your tone and style, and, particularly in the cases where you're not paying someone else to review your work (unless hugs or beer count), you minimize the effort they have to put into it.

"Give me specifics, Vicki!" you're saying. OK, you've got it! Here's an inside look into my book editing process:

First Pass

I aim to write 3-5 pages per day, then re-read it every 20-30 pages. It's hard to switch back and forth between writing and editing so I don't like to do it too often, but I don't want to get too far away from what I've written before re-reading it.

On this pass, I do the following:

1. Fix any typos.

2. Fill in gaps and fix errors. For example, in one chapter of Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer, I recount a doctor's appointment and by the end of the chapter, my husband is there with me, spouting out dialogue. But when I re-read it, I realized I hadn't specified that he'd gone to the appointment with me. Since my book is a memoir, he was right there in my memory so I didn't even notice that he wasn't there on the pages.

3. Check that I have the right level of description. In two of my books, I write about my life in Paris. Since I've been living here for 9 years, I can picture scenes and locations perfectly. But for my mainly American readers, they may not know what a Préfecture is or have a visual of a typical Parisian street. Sometimes just adding one sentence (e.g. "The wide tree-lined boulevard in front of my house was great for long walks, as long as you avoided the dog poop.") paints a picture of my neighborhood.

4. See if I can turn any narrative into dialogue. In my first draft, I just want to get my ideas out and since I'm writing about my own life, it ends up taking on a narrative tone. But converting some narrative to dialogue helps break up long sections and is easier for the reader to digest. It also allows my characters to be funny or slip in some description without my character going on and on herself.


First draft:
I ran into Chris and Dave, fellow expats, at the ball and we chatted over champagne. It was crazy just how small the world was!

Second draft:
"Hey there, stranger!"

I turned to see Chris and her husband, Dave. "Well, hello there! Fancy meeting you here," I said, kissing each of them on the cheek.

"We've actually run into a few other people as well. Reminds me just how small the English-speaking world in Paris is," Chris said.

"And how much we all like to drink!" Dave added. We all laughed.

"Well, we'll let you youngsters get on with it," Chris said. "Maybe we'll run into you later?"

The second version is more fun to read, provides a little characterization of Chris and Dave (they're married, they're older than me, they like to drink), and moves the scene along.

The easiest way to see if you need to convert narrative to dialogue is if you're talking about talking. Instead of "the doctor gave me the worst news possible" have the doctor actually SAY the bad news to you and show your reaction.

Second Pass

I run a search on a list of words that I know I overuse. It's tedious to search for each instance of each word, but it really pays off. Here are some of my common offenders:

"If he could just hurry up, we wouldn't be late."
"If he would hurry up, we wouldn't be late."

See? It reads just fine without "just."

think, feel
"I think it has to do with the French administration's desire to deforest the planet."
"Clearly, the French administration's sole goal is to deforest the planet."

It's your book! We know you think/feel it!

get, put, pull, take
"After the doors to the Préfecture open, you get in line and take your dossier out, naively thinking your turn is coming up soon."
"After the doors to the Préfecture open, you jump in line, whipping your dossier out of your bag with an enthusiasm that is totally uncalled for - your turn is hours from now."

Replace boring verbs with more descriptive ones that show movement or feelings.

try, start, decide
"I tried to decide which pastry to order, but there were too many choices."
"Ogling the display case in the boulangerie, I was unable to make a decision."

In the wise words of Yoda, "There is no try, only do."

"The immigration video was very boring and it was all I could do to stay awake."
"The immigration video was soul-crushingly dull, making it near impossible to stay awake."

As our beloved professor in "Dead Poets Society" taught us:

"So avoid using the word 'very' because it's lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don't use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys - to woo women - and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won't do in your essays."

I won't bore you with all 40+ words on my checklist but you get the idea. In looking at my examples, you can see that by running my list I'm not just replacing "get" with "jump" - I'm forcing myself to look at the whole sentence in a new light and see which additional changes could spice it up. In many cases, my edits actually make my sentences longer and that's fine. Editing isn't just about cutting things out, it's about improving your content to convey your thoughts in the best way possible. That may mean shortening, lengthening, describing more, or adding some "punch."

Third Pass

I print it out (sorry, forests of the world) and redline anything that isn't perfect. Thanks to a tip from "Your Novel: Day by Day" by Mary Anna Evans I edit in the following order:

1. Sentence. I scrutinize each sentence and see if there's a better way to say what I'm trying to say and if there's anything I can remove.

2. Paragraph. How does each sentence fit in the paragraph? Does it flow? Should I break out the paragraph? Is one sentence really just a repetition of another? Cut it out! No need to show off your writing skills by saying the same thing two different ways - show off your editing skills by deleting one of them.

3. Section. Does the section start and end on the right tone? Does it convey everything it needs to and nothing more?

4. Chapter. How does the chapter flow? Is it clear why each section is included? Anything to add/cut/move?

Every word/sentence/paragraph/section/chapter needs to contribute to the overall story. Does it match the theme? Could it be said better? If you remove it, do you miss it? Readers don't always notice tight writing but they definitely notice when it's not done right.

Fourth Pass

This is the hardest for me because I've already read the dang thing so many times. The goal is to read beginning to end as quickly as possible and as an actual reader would. It's best if you have an ereader so you don't have to print it out again, and it's really hard to do this sitting in front of your computer.

As you're reading, you're looking for overall readability and continuity. Does one chapter stick out to you as boring? Unnecessary? Repetitive? Do you have a bunch of action-packed chapters in a row and then a few that aren't as exciting? Should you change the order? Make the dull ones more interesting? Spread out the content? Only you know the answer, but you won't even know the problem until you can look at the book as a whole.

Try to read your book in a 2-5 day timespan so that you really get the overall feel. If you're a slow reader like me, that will be hard. But you can do it!

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Escape to Paris

Vicki Lesage, Author

Monday, April 14, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Author Photo

You might have noticed that snappy little number in the upper left corner of my blog. Looks like I just sat down at a cafe, posed, and got myself a nifty photo, right? Wrong.

Way more planning went into it than you'd think. That's partly because I wanted to use it not only for my blog but also for the author photo on my book cover. While you can swap out your blog photo eleventy billion times per day (if you so desire), you're stuck with your book cover photo once it's been printed and distributed to loving hands around the world.

Which - groan - means you need to put way more thought into it. Whether you're planning to do an author photo of your own, want tips for a good blog profile photo, or just want a glimpse into this fascinating world (ha!), check out my tips in the latest installment of my "Behind the Scenes" series.

Behind the Scenes: Author Photo

Even the shyest among us need an author photo for our book cover, marketing promotions, and for Mom to point to when she brags to the neighbors about having a published writer in the family.

Having seen tons of bad author photos, let me start by telling you what NOT to do:

4 Mistakes to Avoid With Your Author Photo

1. Don't have your cat/dog/bird in the photo unless they contributed to writing the book.

2. Use a recent photo or at least one that could pass for recent. If your bio says you've been in the IT industry for 25 years, don't try to fool me with your wrinkle-free face. (Or at least let me know which eye cream you use.)

3. No selfies unless you're a teenage pop star writing an autobiography.

4. Go easy on the props. It's not a garage sale.

With that out of the way, let me share four easy tips to get a great, natural photo. Whether you hire a professional (recommended, if you can afford it) or rope your significant other/aspiring photographer friend/dog into doing it, prepare beforehand with the following tips:

4 Tips For A Snappy Author Photo

1. Pick a neutral outfit. I know I said not to use a photo that was 25 years old but at the same time, you want this photo to last at least a few years. Don't wear anything too flashy or trendy that will date the photo in six months. Also, you don't want anything detracting attention from your beautiful face. For my photo, I chose a plain gray sweater that was flattering but didn't stand out.

2. Pick a setting that reflects your personality or your books. For my photo, I chose a typical French cafe, since I write about living in Paris. Having the Eiffel Tower in the background would be going overboard but I did want to instantly convey the French connection to my readers. If you write action-adventure, try an outdoor backdrop. If you write chick-lit, an indoor setting with a light, bright background can help convey your tone.

3. Choose one prop, maximum. The majority of photos look perfectly fine without a prop so don't force this. When in doubt, leave it out. But since my photo was in a French cafe, I figured it would be appropriate to have a coffee in front of me. If you're a romance writer and are known for your love of wine, a glass of red could be a nice prop and give you something to do with your hands. Or if you're a mystery writer, having books in the background (a home library, maybe) can be a nice touch.

4. Practice your pose at home. My husband took literally 100 shots of me in different poses before I found the perfect one. Try tilting your head at slightly different angles, lacing your arms and hands in various positions, and varying degrees of smiles/half-smiles, until you find the most flattering shot. Then copy that pose exactly for the real shoot. Don't forget details like wedding rings (make sure it's not turned at a weird angle) and flyaway hair.

Want to see the before and after shots? Of course you do!

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 1
OK, but not perfect. My 3-month-pregnant belly was too exposed and my thighs looked ginormous. I needed more focus on my face and less on my body. Also, at that angle the tank top I was wearing under my shirt was noticeable and distracting.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 2
Much better! The belly is still unflattering and the angle of my face could be improved, but we're on the right track.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 3
Nope. We were closer with the last one. The head tilt looks too girlish.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 4
Bingo! If we can just hide my preggo belly we'll be in good shape! And maybe move my arm to the side so it's not dominating the photo.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Final Take
The final shot

Once at the cafe, we made a few last-minute changes. My hair was behaving better than usual, so I decided to wear it down. And the height of the table nicely covered my belly. My arm isn't as prominent as in some of my test photos.

My husband snapped a few shots and once we were sure we liked the set-up, I ordered my coffee. Sure, the coffee could have been cold in the photo and no one would have been the wiser, but I did want to actually drink the darn thing after all that work!

All in all, we spent about 10 minutes at the cafe getting the shot, just enough time for my toddler to get bored and start pulling sugar packets and ashtrays off all the tables. Literally one second after the last photo was snapped, I jumped up to chase him. I'm SO glad I prepped everything in advance or we would have never gotten through the shoot. We could have hired a babysitter, but then how would I afford my expensive coffee habit?

Where you spend your money is up to you and your budget. But you'll still want to follow the tips I outlined above to maximize what you get out of your photo shoot.

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Escape to Paris

Vicki Lesage, Author

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Cover Face-Off: United States vs. France

As an author, I always notice book covers, partly out of professional interest and partly out of curiosity. I imagine the work that went into it and guess why they made certain choices with images, font, etc.

Book Cover Face-Off: United States vs. France

As a reader, I spend much less time looking at a book's cover. You've got about 2 seconds to impress me before I'm out of there. I receive 4 daily emails with ebook recommendations and I don't have time to read the descriptions for each one. I scroll through the email and if a book cover catches my eye, I'll read more about the book. With all the info out there (and how many more important things I have to do, like drool over brownie recipes on Pinterest) I just can't devote more time than that.

I'm not alone. According to this article, shoppers only spend 8 seconds looking at a book's cover. Which means now more than ever, with 800 new books entering the US market every day and 115 in France, a book cover really needs to stand out.

Unfortunately, France didn't get the memo.

Book Covers for Top 6 Books in US and France

Compare these two lists on Amazon for the category "Most Wished For":

United States: Overall, these covers are good. Flash Boys could benefit from a different font treatment and the Divergent series is hard to judge since the image is small, though you can see the stand-alone Divergent book cover is quite nice.

France: Yawn. I wouldn't pick up a single one of these in a book store.

Book Covers for the Same Book in Both Markets

Now compare a few American book covers that have been changed for the French market:

Confessions of a Shopaholic (US)

Confessions of a Shopaholic (FR)
Confessions of a Shopaholic: Not that the US version is a perfect 10, but the French one is worse. Why change it if you're not going to make it better?

A Clockwork Orange (US)

A Clockwork Orange (FR)
A Clockwork Orange: The French cover is a tame, boring version of the original. It's not like the original is shocking or offensive. Why change?

Catch-22 (US)

Catch-22 (FR)
Catch-22: This doesn't even come close. Not to mention that the Catch-22 cover is a classic! Say it with me now: why change?

The US-to-France cover conversion has to do partly with international rights, which in my brief research (see above note about spending too much time on Pinterest) seems to vary by publisher. But it also is an intentional choice to appeal to the markets' differing tastes. It's mind boggling to me why anyone would prefer these boring French covers to the American covers.

So what's going on?

Boggle no more! Author Adria J. Cimino has uncovered the reason:
"There are some French publishing houses and collections that feature illustrated covers similar to those found in the U.S., but they don't represent an overwhelming majority.

As I looked at the sea of plain book covers at the recent Paris Book Fair, I knew there had to be a reason for packaging the written word in such a way. Covers in white, ecru, pale yellow or even red. Decorated only with the titles and names of authors and publishers.

So I decided to do a bit of research. First stop: Les Editions de Minuit..." Read More
Hop over to Adria's blog to read the rest of her post. You'll be surprised to find out the reason French covers are so plain, at least to American and British eyes. It's more logical than you would think... so check it out!

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Escape to Paris

Vicki Lesage, Author

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Confessions of a Paris Party Girl On Sale This Week!

If you dig through your couch cushions, you can probably find $0.99. But what will you do with this newfound treasure?

"Confessions of a Paris Party Girl", a book by Vicki Lesage, on sale for $0.99
4 Things That Only Cost $0.99

I recommend one of the following 4 items:

1. Pack of gum
2. Taco Bell bean burrito
3. 1/500,000th of a private island
4. Confessions of a Paris Party Girl on Kindle

Other than the burrito, which is always a good idea, I have to say #4 looks like your best option. Not that I'm biased or anything, but my book, Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, is a pretty funny read. And from now until April 14th you can score the Kindle version for only $0.99 (saving you $4 - imagine all the Double Decker Tacos you can buy with that!).

If you need a little more convincing, I understand. I come from Missouri--the Show-Me State--after all. Check out the book's description and reviews on Amazon.

Already have the book? Thanks for buying it! Feel free to spread this deal with any friends, family, or francophiles you think might be interested!

Vicki Lesage, Author

Friday, April 4, 2014

Keep Calm and Stay on the Couch: Bed Rest Tips

I've been on bed rest for 9 weeks, having passed the all-important 34-week mark on Tuesday. If Baby #2 and I can hold on for just a few more weeks, then she might even get to pass Go, collect $200, and skip the NICU altogether.

As I've been sharing my bed rest stories on the interwebs, I've come across a surprising number of women who have also had to be on bed rest and/or had preemies. Thanks for the support, ladies! In the interest of giving a little back, here's a round-up of pregnancy, preemie, and bed rest good mojo:

Keep Calm and Stay on the Couch

This is surprisingly hard when you're the person who has to do it. You have to say no to so many things and watch as much of the world passes you by. But you also get to catch up on an entire season of a TV show in one sitting. So, let's be honest--it's not that bad.

Keep Calm and Stay on the Couch: Bed Rest Tips

When it comes to preemies, every day counts! It's not a countdown, it's a count-up.

I came up with this phrase as a way to see your time on bed rest as a positive thing and to want to be on it LONGER as opposed to wishing for it to be over. I admit, it's been easier for me than some people since I've been at home instead of the hospital. No matter what your situation, though, stay positive! Check out these ideas for a count-up (tip #7).

When it comes to preemies, every day counts. It's not a countdown, it's a count-up!

10 Tips to Survive Bedrest

As my younger brother will tell you, I'm as bossy as they come. So check out my tips on how to survive bed rest! Out of the 10 hopefully you can find a few that work for you.

10 Tips to Survive Bed Rest

Patience is not the ability to wait but how you act while you're waiting

I normally have zero patience (try dealing with French bureaucracy for 9 years!) but somehow I've managed to find patience during this time. It helps that I've been working on the sequel (Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer) to my first book (Confessions of a Paris Party Girl) because not only does it keep me busy, it makes me want just a little more time to wrap things up.

I don't have advice on how to get some patience of your own (I checked, they don't sell it on Amazon) other than to simply be aware that you need it. Somehow the rest just kind of came for me. My über-calm husband had a lot to do with that. Thanks, Mika!

Patience is not the ability to wait but how you act while you're waiting

What about you? Any words of wisdom to share with other parents in a similar situation?

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Life's short. Laugh more. Buy my books at

Vicki Lesage, Author

Thursday, April 3, 2014

4 Ways To Survive Until The Walking Dead Returns

Sunday's finale of The Walking Dead was great. It answered a few questions (Terminus is just as bad as we thought it was), left a few unanswered (What happened to Beth? When will we see Carol, Judith, and Tyrese?), and asked a few new ones (How the heck are they going to get out of this one?). But the biggest question is: How will we survive until October when Season 5 starts?

Never fear, your zombie apocalypse buddy is here with some suggestions!

4 Ways to Survive Until The Walking Dead Returns
4 Ways to Survive Until The Walking Dead Returns

1. Run in a zombie-free field

Unlike zombies, you can run. Unlike our survivors on The Walking Dead, you can run in a zombie-free field. Enjoy it while you can!

2. Watch Game of Thrones

It starts April 6, 2014 and will run into June. That should help ease some of the pain, though July-October is going to be rough.

3. Make gnarly zombie-inspired foods

Gross out your friends and family with your disgusting creations. Hop on Pinterest and search for "zombie food" for some truly nasty ideas. Image credit

4. Read my Walking Dead recaps

They're like the wallflower at prom hanging out in the corner, not getting much attention. They've had a lot of punch to drink. Mind asking them to dance? They're not infected with the zombie virus. Yet.

Episode 1: "30 Days Without an Accident"
Episode 2: "Infected"
Episode 3: "Isolation"
Episode 4: "Indifference"
Episode 5: "Internment"
Episode 6: "Live Bait"
Episode 7: "Dead Weight"
Episode 8: "Too Far Gone"
Episode 9: "After"
Episode 10: "Inmates"
Episode 11: "Claimed"
Episode 12: "Still"
Episode 13: "Alone"
Episode 14: "The Grove"
Episode 15: "Us"
Episode 16: "A"

Remember, those who arrive, survive. (Unless they get served up on Mary's grill). Hope to see you in October!

Vicki Lesage, Author

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Book Cover Design

I'm starting a new series showing some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of publishing my book. Whether you're interested in publishing your own masterpiece or just curious about how I did it, I hope you'll find it interesting!

Behind the Scenes: Book Cover Design

Design a Book Cover That:

1. Immediately grabs a viewer's attention
2. Communicates the book's genre and what the book is about
3. Looks professional

Kick-Off Your Book Cover Designing Process:

1. Research the market. I browsed Goodreads and Amazon for books similar to Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, then pinned covers to a private board on Pinterest. This allowed me to view all the covers at once and see what they had in common. After pinning 20+ covers, I found common themes I was drawn to. If you don't have a Pinterest account, you can set one up quickly or just copy and paste the covers into Word. The key is to be able to see everything all at once.

2. Determine what speaks to your target audience. While my book is technically a memoir, it reads more like chick lit and my primary audience is female. I felt a pink cover with a touch of sophistication would speak directly to my desired readers, letting them know it's a fun book taking place in one of the fanciest, schmanciest cities in the world.

3. Work with a professional designer. Depending on your budget, there are a few ways to do this. I'm lucky enough to have an amazing graphic designer colleague who did my cover in exchange for Starbucks and eternal gratitude. To limit what I asked of her, I mocked up my ideas first so that she didn't have to start from scratch. If you have the budget, definitely hire a professional. If you have a friend who is a truly good designer (try to see samples of their work before you get stuck in an awkward situation), pay them or bribe them with beer. If you have a very limited budget, search for pre-made book covers - many are inexpensive and I've seen some surprisingly good ones out there. No matter what, unless you're a designer yourself, don't try to do the entire thing on your own. There's a 99% chance it will come off as amateurish and turn readers off before they have a chance to find out more.

Don't believe me? Compare these two images and tell me which one is more eye-catching and professional:
Mock-up book cover for "Confessions of a Paris Party Girl" by Vicki LesageProfessional book cover for "Confessions of a Paris Party Girl" by Vicki Lesage
My original mock-upProfessional cover design
I'm guessing you picked the one on the right. See why it's important to get an outside, professional designer?

3 Wrap-Up Tips for Designing Your Book Cover

Already have a book cover or are in the process of designing one? Here are a few final tips to leave you with:

1. Ask for feedback. Show your samples to friends or post images on your blog and have your readers comment (or vote, if you have several options to choose from).

2. Visualize it in "real life." What will it look like on Amazon or an email newsletter? Take a screenshot of an Amazon category page or a BookBub daily email and superimpose your book cover on it. Is your cover as high quality as other books you see? If someone were to scroll through a list of books, would yours stand out as awesome or amateur? When the cover is resized to super small (which often happens when websites and newsletters feature your book) is the title still readable? Does your cover make a strong impression?

3. Take a break. Step away from your cover for a few days, then look at it again. Does it convey what you're trying to convey? Can you easily recognize the genre? What type of reader would be attracted to this book? Are all the fonts legible? If this was someone else's book cover, what would you recommend they change?

Think You're Ready?

eBook Cover Design Gold Star Winner, "Confessions of a Paris Party Girl"What makes me an expert? Well, I'm not an expert but I do get lots of compliments on my cover. But perhaps the biggest compliment of all was winning a gold star in The Book Designer's cover design contest! Joel Friedlander is one of the top voices in book cover design and self-publishing.

If you think your cover has what it takes, I encourage you to enter his contest. But I strongly advise browsing through a few previous contests to get a feel for what's a good cover and what sorts of things could be improved before you submit. Also, be prepared that if your cover sucks he won't mince words telling you so. That's a good thing - better that you know and improve than limp along with a crummy cover - but get a thick skin first!

There's a wealth of information out there on fonts, styles, genres, templates, and more. Use them! Hopefully this behind-the-scenes look at my experience gets you headed down the right track. Good luck!

A big thanks to my cover designer, Clara Vidal, and also to my mom, Elle Marie, who helped with various iterations of the design including the final tweaks to make it the right format for publishing.

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Escape to Paris

Vicki Lesage, Author