These last few months I’ve had the pleasure of working with a team of students from the local university (UCCS). They are among the first in UCCS’s new Bachelor of Innovation Program. The students major in several disciplines but all have Innovation Core classes in common—27 credits geared toward innovation and entrepreneurship. Part of that core includes opportunities for students to work with a business on a project during a semester. I signed up (as I could use plenty of help on my usually-one-person publishing venture) and was accepted!
We decided to focus on trying to market my new novel, Zera and the Green Man, through social media and the internet, using methods that were, basically, no cost. The four students I’ve been working with Jordan Yee, Courtney Hammock, Lohitha Aayyanar, and Lisa Repka. All but Courtney are computer science majors (Courtney is a marketing major).
The team’s work spanned a variety of tasks—from working on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) on all the websites, raising Google rankings, and installing and interpreting Google Analytics, to working on promoting the book through social media, including Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. They also participated in a Sustainability Fair, made posters of the book, helped me with writing scripts for a series of commercials, and the list goes on.
I learned a lot from these bright students and they learned from me, too. I was impressed with most of their work, but I have to say that the one thing that really stood out for me was the artwork that Lisa Repka created for Zera and the Green Man‘s Pinterest pins. We thought it’d be great to have some artwork with quotes from the book to share that would hopefully be eye-catching and thought-provoking. Without much input from me, Lisa did just that—times ten!
Since it’s only a few days before the end of the semester and I don’t have the time to do a post on each of the members of the Innovation Team, as I would like to, I decided to interview Lisa for this post and show some of the work she’s created.
Lisa’s 21 years old and is in her third year of college at UCCS. She lives in the dorm, which she says is much quieter than living with her two younger siblings (both sisters) at home.
Flora’s Forum: You told me earlier that you came to Colorado from California. What part of California and when did you get here? What did you like/dislike about your change of home?
Lisa Repka: I came to Colorado from the Silicon Valley back in 2005. At first it was hard to get used to the snow (the most I remember it snowing for in San Jose was for 5 minutes), but after shoveling so many snowstorms I’ve gotten used to it. I’m still perplexed by the sudden weather changes, however. The mountains are pretty cool, too.
Flora’s Forum: What made you choose to enroll in the Bachelor of Innovation Program?
Lisa Repka: It sounded interesting to me. I liked how it united the fields of business and computer science, which have both become hugely important in the workplace, and how it encouraged creative thought and teamwork. With knowledge of a lot of different fields, I feel it can help me make changes to the world through innovation. I am passionate for a lot of different fields so it felt like a loss to choose a single topic of interest and stick with it. It also allowed me to take some classes I enjoyed under the Communication Core that I wouldn’t have normally considered taking, such as creative writing and computer music. It acknowledges that it is important to discover multiple subjects and to think from different perspectives.
Flora’s Forum: You’re a computer science major but you revealed at our first meeting that you had an interest in publishing. Do you still, after seeing some of the difficulties in today’s market? Especially with self-publishing? If so, what area of publishing are you interested in?
Lisa Repka: I don’t think there’s anything in the world that can discourage me from wanting to publish a novel, but it does worry me about what it will take me to get any work out there—mentally and financially. My expectations are certainly changed. I see now that self-published authors, especially those just starting out, could dedicate all of their time to promoting their book and it still may not reach a point of national bestseller that many of us dream about. It comes down to research and commitment, and to marketing to the right audience in the right way, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to success that works for everyone. From what I learned, I see that the platforms for selling and marketing books are still rapidly changing, and so are the audiences on these social networking sites. I really need to continue to watch the trends of online publishing very closely from now on. One day I want to publish some urban fantasy and science fiction work. I see that the path to get to a successful book might become frustrating at times, but overall I don’t feel discouraged.
Flora’s Forum: I’m relieved to hear that! What type of books do you like to read? And what were your favorite books from childhood?
Lisa Repka: I’ve been slowly becoming more of a visual person when it comes to books due to having so little free time (yay graphic novels!), but I always enjoy a good fantasy story. I love to be immersed in the rich worlds that people create, and I love to experience it along with complex characters. I have a very fond memory of reading children’s encyclopedias to look at outer space images and types of trees. I remember wearing out those books with those plastic transparent pages with flowers on them after so many reads. At one point I loved to look at the types of trees so much I started collecting pine cones.
Flora’s Forum: You decided to work on Pinterest and Twitter in this project and you created these marvelous images with quotes from Zera and the Green Man. Do you have an arts background? Can you describe the process on creating these images? (In case others might want to do the same!)
Lisa Repka: After I picked out a quote I found inspiring, I would begin with a solid background and add a few layers with some Photoshop layer effects to create subtle borders or gradients to make it slightly more interesting. As the focus was on the text, I had to try not to get too carried away and overdress the images. I tried to keep them very minimalist, but to have bright colors (except then the tone was very anxious, and then I used black). I wanted not only the text to be noticeable, but the mood and theme. And most of all I wanted them to add a little fun to a Pinterest or Twitter page. The hardest part about making them was choosing which font out of hundreds was the best to use. That alone could take 15 minutes.
Flora’s Forum: What are your hobbies/interests/obsessions?
Lisa Repka: I definitely enjoy art as a hobby, especially painting and mixed media work. I am particularly enthusiastic about painting flowers. I just love working with bright colors, and flowers seem the most fit for that.
Flora’s Forum: Does anyone in your family garden? (Had to ask!)
Lisa Repka: Unfortunately, no one does any gardening. I don’t think they’d be very good at it, either, given that the few trees in my backward have been browning for years.
Flora’s Forum: In your work on Twitter you tweet a lot of great information and quotes about our food supply these days. Before you started this project, were you aware of GMOs and the issues that surround them?
Lisa Repka: I had known that produce was being genetically modified but I used to think it was to make food healthier or to make it last longer. I had no idea that pesticides were being added to the DNA of foods we eat. It really opened my eyes to be more mindful of what’s in our food. I am also quite surprised how little testing has been done on these GMOs, especially in the wake of many studies that strongly suggest that GMOs can be harmful for both the environment and human body. I am glad to see so many social networking movements taking action to label GMOs.
Flora’s Forum: What are your dreams for the future?
Lisa Repka: I haven’t thought about my immediate future, but one day I would love to work in computer animation. I’ve always been fond of animation as an intersection between art and storytelling, and with a computer fascinating things can happen. It even has very practical uses from making everything from flight simulators to educational games. And if it’s not already, maybe it can be used to promote a greener world. With innovation added to the mix, a lot of new ideas are possible.