The Pointe

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Author Profile: Beth Gully

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“There are two sides to every story.”

Lebanon, Ohio, author/graphic designer/businesswoman Beth Gully has cleverly illustrated that time-honored statement with the publication of her two-sided book, “The Other Side of Christmas.”

Known in the publishing world as an “ambigram,” “The Other Side of Christmas” literally presents the two sides of the Christmas season. Hold the book upright to see a cover featuring Christmas stockings hanging from a mantel. Flip the book over and observe a completely different cover --  a Christian-themed scene of three shepherds following the star to the newborn Baby Jesus.

It’s a perfect way for children to observe the religious side of Christmas  and celebrate the secular holiday with Santa Claus, stockings filled with goodies and sleigh rides in the snow.

Gully published “The Other Side of Christmas” in 2014. Her second ambigram book, “The Other Side of Easter,” was just released in November.

The Christmas book is a collaborative effort with Gully as author, ambigramist and illustrator, James Sherron as copywriter and Jane Kors as editor.

Asked what prompted her to create a two-sided book, Gully recalls a visit from Kors, her neighbor who shares a fondness for children’s books including those by the late children’s author Ann Jonas. Jonas incorporated ambigrams in her work.

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“Jane came to me one day in 2006 with the idea to create a book using the Santa/Jesus ambigram,” Gully recalls. “Thinking it was a crazy concept, I doodled two lines : a horizontal line and an arch in the sky to represent Santa and the reindeer flying over a town. When I flipped it over, I could visualize Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. It blew my mind and it became the beginning of this journey as an author.”

Determined to design

It seems Gully was destined for a career in the creative arts.

“In junior high I used to write notes to my friends and would write backwards in cursive so they could only be read in a mirror,” Gully fondly recalls. “I think this contributed to my ability to create ambigrams!”

Then in high school art class she “fell in love” with logo design, which she describes as a “simplistic form of art.”

Not surprisingly, Gully earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Kentucky. Today, in addition to “ambigramist,” she wears the mantle of founder and president of BT Graphics, located in Lebanon.

For a small word, “logo” assumes lots of responsibility. “Shapes and lines in a business logo need to convey a business’s essence, from industry, niche in industry, and audience, to the personality of the business owner,” Gully explains. “This is lot of information packed into a simple design…”

The same can be said for ambigrams, she maintains.

“I think that’s where my strength for creating ambigrams came from. I will find the lowest common denominator of both images in a stylized form and flip it back and forth until the fewest elements can show both images, right side up and upside down, so it can be read,” Gully says.

“John Langdon was the first ambigram designer I connected with,” Gully recalls. For those unfamiliar with Langdon, he is “best known for his ambigrams, most notably those in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, Angels & Demons,” according to his online biography.

Gully recalls that Langdon “ran a story in Games Magazine shortly after I created my first ambigram in 1992 by accident. About three months later I read his article and learned that the art I created was called an ‘ambigram.’ At that time, his article said there were half a dozen in the world doing this art form…”

“Ann Jonas created two award-winning ambigram children’s books, ‘Reflections’ and ‘Round Trip,” Gully says. “She passed away the year before I launched my first book in 2014…Besides ‘Topsy Turvy’ in the 1800s, I believe I’m the third ambigram children’s author.”

Gully’s fondness for the ambigram resulted in her being recognized in 2013 in “Ambigrams Revealed” by Nikita Prokhorov. Her work was included among that of ninety-four other ambigramists from around the world.

Gully also appreciates the work and experiences of Southwest Ohio children’s book illustrator Jared Lee and children’s author/illustrator Loren Long. They have helped her understand “the mindset of a child and also how and where to promote and sell my books,” she says.

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Ambigrams and publishing challenges

Creating an ambigram has unique challenges, says Gully.

“I start with one image and see what could possibly be on the other side,” she explains. “...Sometimes nothing. Sometimes it’s amazing. Then I bring all the sketches together and start creating a timeline…

“When I first created the Christmas book I thought it would have to be in black and white. But since the computer lets me undo and redo colors, I found I could use color and experiment with a blue-green that could work for sky as well as grass, upside down.”

Determination is Gully’s key to creating. “When working on a book, my motivation is to keep working on it. Once I stop, it’s difficult to jump back into it,” she admits. “Since it’s not a client with a deadline, other commitments and clients take priority. What works for me is to decide to work on it every day, whether it’s for three minutes or three hours. That way it’s manageable and doesn’t seem too big to conquer.”

Deadlines are motivators, Gully maintains. “They’re much needed for personal work that needs accountability.”

For Gully, the path to publishing has been a learning experience. Her first book took several years to complete. It took “three years to complete the designs and order of the pages and four years to build up the confidence to do the final artwork,” she says. “Thinking it would be a black-and-white book, I was concerned it wouldn’t be good enough to compete with the highly illustrated colorful children’s books,” she recalls.

Her colleague Kors kept the encouragement coming, Gully remembers. Eventually James Sherron joined the team to create poetry that would help ‘glue’ the story together with the ambigrams.

After testing the book with children’s focus groups in December 2013, Gully sent it to the editor of a major publishing firm. “The day [the editor] received it she passed the publisher in the hallway,” Gully recalls. “The publisher asked if she could hold on to it. Wow! How cool was that?” Gully recalls thinking at the time.

Unfortunately, “after one hundred thirty-five days I got a call that the book didn’t fit their pipeline right now. It was discouraging…,” she continues.

Eventually colleague Kors called a nationally-known children’s book advocate and buyer who stated that most self-published books lack the quality of traditionally published books.

But there was good news. The buyer/advocate encouraged Gully to publish the book herself. “We were excited that he felt ours was different,” Gully says. After all, as a graphic designer she had created many company brochures and annual reports that required a large booklet and saddle-stitched format. So why not print her Christmas book in Cincinnati through a current printing vendor? Gully asked herself.

Gully took the pro’s advice. “It made sense, and so far I have printed 14,500 Christmas books, 1,000 Spanish Christmas books and now 2,500 Easter books,” Gully says.

The books are distributed through Follett School Solutions and are available on Amazon, in independent bookstores and gift shops in the United States and Canada. They are also available for checkout at MidPointe Library.

The result? Recognition.

Praise for Gully and her works has come from many sources. Her Christmas book has “won eleven awards including two international Gold awards” as well as the ‘Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.”

Additionally, “American Heritage Girls,” a Christian organization, presents Gully’s ambigram patches to girls who learn how to design ambigrams and to think ‘outside of the box.’”

“This connection has helped my books reach all fifty states,” Gully says.

The Lebanon entrepreneur has won many prestigious awards for her trend-setting designs and has been honored as a WIBN Woman To Watch, Greater Cincinnati Athena Award finalist, Butler County YMCA Woman of the Year and Butler County United Way Volunteer of the Year.

Beth Gully was one of many authors who attended MidPointe Library’s 2018 ReadLOCAL event at its West Chester location. ReadLOCAL gives citizens a chance to meet and greet local authors who represent many genres.

Her book, “The Other Side of Christmas,” is available for check-out at MidPointe Library.

MidPointe Library is proud to serve as a meeting place for local writers groups. Check out the MidPointe events calendar for times and locations:

Writers groups interested in reserving a meeting room at MidPointe Library can find information at: