Thursday, April 11, 2013


One of the important things that sells New Pulp books is artwork. Whether it’s slick and glossy cover art or some fantastically detailed interior illustrations, those pictures stand and shout to the world that this book is exciting! This story is something you should be reading! Pick it up now! You can’t see what’s inside without cracking the cover, and you can’t always read a favorite author’s name from across the room, but by golly, as you’re scanning down those crowded aisles or browsing online, a great cover is going to stop you in your tracks. And when that happens, the author gets noted, back cover blurbs get read, and you just might want to take a lengthy peek inside.

I’m a firm believer that appropriate cover art sells more books to people outside the ‘pulposphere’ than anything else we’ve been doing. So here’s my love letter to the folks who make that magic happen for us writers.

Art and graphics people are often the unsung heroes of the pulp world. I read a lot of online discussions and I’ve listened to folks on podcasts and panels at the cons I’ve attended. Art appreciation gets discussed quite often, within both classic and new pulp. And well it should be! You may not remember every detail of the book you read ten to twenty years ago, but if it was good, I bet you recall the cover if it had some significant artwork. While we all seem to love and appreciate those lurid, exciting, and juicy scenes, I don’t think as writers we understand how much time and effort goes into them. The artists I know often work on short notice at the most inconvenient intervals, with multiple projects being juggled. For every word of praise there will be some discord; as at times a piece gets bogged down by quibbling over some aspect which didn’t translate perfectly from brain of author to eye of illustrator. I have to constantly remind myself that artists see a piece they are responsible for not just as a literal translation of what was written, but as a balanced composition that has to draw the viewer in. Many times the finished product is going to reflect as much the imagination of the artist as that of the author.

And that’s how it should be. Lesson here is: Writer—trust your artist. If things aren’t perfect according to your internal vision, step back and take a look at the big picture. Does it catch your eye from across the room? Is there something dramatic and enticing going on? Does it set the overall tone of the story in your mind? If not, then you have a legitimate issue. If it’s just little stuff that can be easily fixed (and in this digital age, there isn’t much that can’t be altered) then politely explain what needs adjusting. Otherwise, just go with it. If it’s big stuff, then you have something to discuss. A cover or an interior illustration should reflect a critical scene in the story and the main characters involved, but it doesn’t need to completely explain it or reveal everything. And please, make sure your artist knows what you think was done particularly well. We all need to hear that now and then.

I can’t tell you how much artwork has influenced sales of my books or the enjoyment of the short stories I’ve written, but I have gotten a lot of compliments on covers and interior art. In a way that’s kind of unfair, because while I created the situation being conveyed, it was the skillful hands of the artist that made it visible to the public. The artists I’ve been privileged to work with have been extremely talented folks who are truly excited about the projects they’ve been given and they really put their time in bringing those scenes to life. I’ve dabbled a bit in art, so I have a passing idea of what goes into putting a coherent scene together, and that was long before this digital age with all the new tools available that also have to be mastered. While I don’t pretend to understand everything that goes into a great cover or interior drawing, I do know these folks are working hard to get it the way I want it while satisfying the need for title and byline placement, potential page size, possible captions, and sometimes even decorative borders as per the publishing mandates. I’m sure there are things I haven’t touched on, but the fact that it all has to be done on a schedule makes it even more amazing. I am in awe of these folks! They make me look good.

If you are asked for an art scene to illustrate from your story, consider yourself very fortunate. That is often done at the discretion of the publisher, not the writer. When you do write something up for the artist, be as detailed and specific as you can manage. And please, be polite and appreciative. These folks work hard at what they do, and most of them don’t get their names on the covers. If you get to see a preliminary sketch or a finished piece, and something is drastically wrong, communicate it in a professional and supportive manner—not on some open internet site but privately in a tactful way. Every one of us writers has a dud story or concept now and then, and artists have off days and projects that just don’t come out right either. No one deserves to have his or her reputation trashed because something didn’t work out between you. Treat every artist like a valued contact, because that’s what they are. If you find someone you just can’t work with, then thank that person for her or his time and move on. Dealing with any fallout is something your publisher needs to handle, not you.

Unless of course you are self-publishing; in which case you’re the boss. Handle it like a good manager should—firmly and unemotionally. Get your point across and either come to an agreement, or move on to someone else that can do the work the way you expect it to be laid out. There is no reason to settle for something that doesn’t reflect at all what you had in mind.

Now, this doesn’t even begin to address the new trend toward putting your own covers together, because in all honesty, I have absolutely no experience with that. I admire the people who do, and I suppose at some point I’m going to have to learn to manage that as well. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to work with artists I feel comfortable with, and help them see what I envision in a way that is most easily understood. I never forget to say thank you to my artists when we have a chance to communicate one-on-one—or at least give those hardworking individuals public kudos for their time and efforts.

Everyone who puts a book together is important, and the power of good artwork shouldn’t be underestimated. It just might be the thing that sells that story to someone who is going to give one of you a hand up the ladder to better things.

So here’s to all the wonderful folks who have and will make pictures out of my words on the page. You’ve all been or will be a vital part of any success I have. I may be walking around in a daze every time a book comes out with one of those to-die-for covers, but I know who made it look so tempting. Thank you!

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