Category Archives: Guest Posts

Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In Hell by Dan Balestrero


Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Hell is a compilation of things I’ve learned about succeeding and failing – in life and business – while teaching. Teaching leads to a lot of revelations, laughter, tears, disbelief, theater of the absurd, the occasional miracle, and, more often than not, exciting progress.

It’s important to point out that I’m an observer of behavior, not a therapist. Having said that, the reason I wrote this book is I felt a need to put down some thoughts from my personal point of view about how to work through limitations and move on to full success. Anthony Robbins is right, “Success leaves clues.”

And just as importantly, failure also leaves clues. Or, more directly, it leaves a trail – usually an icky trail- of bad choices executed with no plan and way too much false hope.

We all have our own self-doubts and small hell that we have to escape from in order to succeed. Over the years, I’ve seen different people succeed and fail, and I’ve made notes about the causes and traits that seem to create those two outcomes. I’ve tried to offer encouragement to the people I’ve worked with, and I’ve laughed and cried with many in an effort to discover how to escape personal demons and model the success of others. Other people’s success can be inspiring, and sometimes totally annoying, as we try to figure out, “Why not me?”

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Hell is about the things that have helped me and others escape our private hells. I offer this information in the hope that it might be of some help to you. Even given the difficulty of life, everyone- I mean everyone- can escape. This book contains my personal view of how the mountains of shit can be used to fertilize your orchard of success.

Where you can find Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In Hell:

Where you can find Dan:

The Worst Thanksgiving Ever by Kara Reynolds

People have strong, emotion-filled memories associated with the holidays, especially with the food we eat at those special times. It’s why I make sweet potato casserole every Thanksgiving—it’s my mom’s recipe, and making it reminds me of her. Every time I add a full cup of sugar instead of three-quarters of a cup I laugh inwardly as I imagine her cringing at how much delicious sugar goes into the dish. I am sure (I hope, anyway) that you have similar fond memories of holiday food.

For the first Thanksgiving that my husband and I spent together (before we got married), we went to visit my family on the East Coast. For weeks leading up to our trip, I regaled him with stories of my family and different holidays we’d spent together. I think my nostalgia started to make him miss his own family, because a few days before we left he suggested we eat dinner at a Country Buffet, like his family used to do when he was a kid. As buffets go, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either. I couldn’t wait to get home and eat my grandma’s food.
Later that night, my husband starting having stomach cramps. He spent the night on the couch in my living room. When I came back upstairs in the morning to check on him, he was in the bathroom. He had full-blown food poisoning, and it was kicking his butt. I helped clean up the mess (from both ends, people. It was BAD).
He recovered enough by the time we had to fly out, so we went on our trip. My dad’s family picked us up in Baltimore and took us to my aunt’s house in Pennsylvania. By the time we got there, my stomach was starting to gurgle…
I spent the next two days on the toilet at my aunt’s house, while my sister laughed her head off at me every time she walked down the hall and heard me spewing into the commode. My poor husband spent those days making small talk with my family, who he’d just met, and force-feeding me Gatorade.
It was a terrible trip, but I have fond memories of it because that was the week I realized I wanted to marry my husband. Because I could clean up his bodily fluids (and he mine) without being repulsed, it was clear to me that we truly cared about each other.
We’ve had nine Thanksgivings since then, and every time we sit down to eat we share a grin and remind each other how thankful we are that we can actually eat the meal that year—and that we’re thankful that we’re eating it together.


Kara Reynolds is a stay-at-home mom of three who likes to spend her nearly-non-existent free time writing novels. Her weaknesses include James T. Kirk, lightsabers, and anything TARDIS-blue. She writes contemporary and light speculative YA novels. She is clearly a gigantic nerd, and if she could go back in time, she would tell her teenage self to embrace her inner geekiness. While Kara lives in Wyoming, she is not of Wyoming. But it’s growing on her.

Kara blogs about writing every week at Operation Awesome ( You can follow her on Twitter @reynoldstribe.

Donate this year to the Edmonton Food Bank:

Finding My Way Books by Jo Meserve Mach

I was at a turning point in my life. It was my last day working as an Occupational Therapist in Infant-Toddler services. I’d been in the job for the previous 17 years. I was heading back to adult care work, but my heart was very attached to all the families I had met over the years. I had shared so many experiences around what it felt like to be a parent of a child with special needs or disabilities.

That day I had lunch with my friend, Vera, who had been working as a special education teacher with me. I told her I’d love to write children’s books to give hope to these families we’d been working with together. She was totally into the idea. From there we started getting together monthly and that’s how we started writing children’s books together. We gradually became Finding My way Books.



Because we had shared so much work experience, we easily agreed on the message we wanted to share in the books we wrote. They needed to share true stories with real kids so both the child and parent could see themselves in the story. They needed to have photographs, not illustrations, so they were easy to understand. They needed to show successful inclusion and promote skills needed for self-determination.

We wanted the adult, reading the book with a child, to come away from the story with the belief that their child could ‘do that activity’ shared in the book. And to realize that during ordinary, everyday activities that all children can participate and learn.

Soon we added an incredible photographer to our team. Mary also designs our books. She has a wonderful background in teaching theatre, that she brings to our stories. So Vera and I write the manuscript and Mary captures the pictures to tell the story. Then she adds background colors to the book to highlight the child and their strengths.

We’re on our tenth book and we’re in our sixth year of working together. It continues to be amazing how we go from an initial meeting with a family, sharing their story, to a beautiful book. We never know until the very end how the story will evolve. Vera and I meet and communicate a lot with the families to get the story. But then when Mary takes the photos something new always seems to come to light and that always makes the story better.

We work hard, like all authors do, but we have such joy in bringing to light true stories of children with special needs or disabilities. We are working to honor these children and families by sharing their stories. It’s a wonderful, creative, task.

Please check out our website to learn more about Finding My Way Books:

Designing Your Own Book Cover by Kari Anders

Designing Your Own Book Cover: How to Select The Right Image

In Elements of a Book Cover that Sells, I talk about creating a cover that speaks directly to your audience by using the idea of a Single Story. In the following post, I expand on this idea by giving helpful tips on finding the base layer for your cover: the image.

Your image should convey the mood of your story. If you’ve written a fun-loving, silly, woman’s novel, your cover might be an illustration of a lady in heels with a pink background. If your book explores the story of a missing woman, it might have a dark background with a woman running away. If it’s a love story, readers will expect a couple holding hands or kissing on the cover. All these components convey the mood of the book and attract your audience.

If the mood is not evident, you will miss potential readers. When readers go searching for a new book, they usually know what type of book they want to read. If nothing else, they know what types of book they have enjoyed in the past. They will be attracted to images that remind them of another book they’ve read. This relationship connects the reader to an emotion they felt while reading that book. For instance, I had recently finished Where’d You Go Bernadette and was looking for a new read. I saw the novel How to Write a Novel, with its blue cover and illustrations and bought it. Why? It reminded me of Bernadette. That’s it. I wasn’t even looking for a book like Bernadette;I just subconscious equated the cover of Bernadette with a book I like.

Often authors spend energy on trying to get their cover image to be unique, and to stand out from the crowd. While really, they should have been doing the opposite.

You may have noticed that in all of the examples at the beginning of this article, I suggest having images of people on the cover (the woman in pink heels, the couple kissing, etc.). As an author, you may be tempted to steer away from covers that give away too much detail that you’d rather let the reader imagine. One of the reasons I believe readers like books over their film adaptations, is because they get to bring the scene to life using their own imagination. The same applies to the characters in a book. Giving too much detail away can take away this experience from the readers. So why do I suggest books with images of people? Simply, they sell better.

You many see that some covers don’t have the full person or even just avoid their faces on the cover.  You might see only a woman’s legs or feet, or you might see her face below the nose.  This allows your readers to still create the characters using their own imagination while still creating a book cover that sells.

The other advantage of showing only a part of a character is that it allows you to simplify your cover.  If you are trying to convey too much information to your readers, it will be busy and overwhelming and distract them from absorbing the story’s mood.  Remember, you want to sell them a single story.  Don’t try to input double meanings or symbols that the reader will only understand once they’ve read the book.  Symbolism is for your writing.  You aren’t trying to sell them on your cleverness with a book cover.

To convey the mood, keep it simple and focus on a single story.  You want to be obvious with your images but not necessarily literal.  You don’t want readers to have to guess or search for what your cover is about.  But at the same time, it doesn’t need to be a specific scene from your story to convey the mood, and being too literal can destroy the intrigue you want to create.

Here’s a test: Once you have selected an image, forget your story. Can you create a powerful title on the picture alone?  Does that title do your book justice?  If not, keep looking.

The most common place authors and designers find images for book covers is stock images sites.  There are hundreds of thousands of images to choose from, and they are usually between $10 and $25 per image.   With a stock image from or, you can sell between 250,000 and 500,000 books before you have to worry about purchasing additional licensing.  There are also sites you can find free stock images, but make sure you read and fully understand the terms of copyright before using an image from one of these sites. DO NOT use an unlicensed image from a Google images search, even if you don’t think you are going to sell very many books, as this will most certainly earn you a letter from an attorney asking you to remove it at the least and a lawsuit at the worst.

The advantages of using stock images are selection, price, and availability.  To find an image for a previous post, I used the search terms “girl in front of a ship” and found 42 pages of results.  That’s a pretty specific request.  Also, stock image sites are also regularly updating their inventory, and they tag images by a number of categories, including model.  So if you find a model that you like, but the image isn’t quite right, you can find other photos with the same model.  This is very useful for a book series.

A drawback to using stock imaging is uniqueness. Stock sites will sell an image in finite number of times, meaning that even though your typography and location of the photo might be unique, another author might end up with the same image on their cover.  Professional publishing houses will spend thousands hiring a photographer and models to get unique images for their covers.  However, this isn’t a possibility for most self-published authors.  On, I am building a collection of non-stock images from local photographers I’ve worked with over the years.   Check back soon for the launch of Original Images, and happy writing!


Kari Anders is a book cover designer who works mostly with self-published authors and small publishing houses. She worked in freelance design for six years before attending graduate school, and now teaches design and runs All of Kari’s covers are designed as CreateSpace Wraps for only $75, with the eBook version included for free. Her site specializes in Pre-Made Book Covers, but she also does interior design and custom covers.