Or, what to expect, what not to expect, what to do, what not to do, and how all dem art stuff works.
This is something that comes up so often when I’m talking with newer authors that I think it’s worth an article. I really wish I’d had something like this, because I’ve made many of the mistakes I’m suggesting you avoid below.
Just a quick note: This advice, as far as I’m aware or concerned, is only useful within the furry fandom. I can’t advise you on art in the professional publication sphere. Also, I’m assuming you’re approaching this with some semblance of financial responsibility. If it’s actually your intent to throw money at something just for your own enjoyment and the benefit of friends and fans, then you’re on your own.
So, you have a story. Are you intending to publish it?
No: Then my advice basically stops here. Anything you purchase for this story is going to be a loss, because there’s simply no method by which you’re going to monetize it.
- Realize that anything you commission for this story is out of your wallet and on your back. That said, if it will bring you pleasure to get a picture of your favorite character, then go for it. Who am I or anyone else to deny you that? Hell, post it along with your story, and people may enjoy your story that much more now that they have a picture to go with it.
- Inform the artist if you’re intending to use their art as an advertisement for your story. Even if you aren’t intending to make money off of it, artists may feel like you’re abusing their art if they aren’t aware of what you’re doing with it beforehand. Most artists will be fine with this as long as you’re not making money off their art. However, it is your responsibility to make them aware.
- Offer to do trades and collaborations with artists that have made it clear they’re open to them. If you’re friends with an artist, doubly this. There’s lots of artists that have made their name by illustrating that comic written by someone else, and there’s lots of authors who got their start by writing the story behind that art. Just do your research beforehand. Look at a few journals or their commission guideline. Many artists will advertise if they’re open to collaborations and trades.
- Don’t use art as a bludgeon to get people to read your story. Reading a story takes a significant investment of time, and not everyone’s ready give you that time. If someone enjoys the art but isn’t willing to read the story, then you have not failed. The art has not failed. The artist has not failed. The person is simply not interested in investing time to read your story. Accept it. Move on.
- Don’t expect the artist to read your story. When accepting commissions, most artists are looking for simple scenes to illustrate. Simply state that the scene you’re asking them to draw is from a story, and if prompted, provide a link. If they ask for character references, give them short and accurate descriptions. If they ask for a scene description, provide it to them without excerpting entire passages from your story. The $8 sketch-mission you’ve just bought is NOT buying four hours of the artist’s time to slog through your eighteen chapter online series. Make the source available, but don’t force-feed it to them. They will not thank you for it.
- Don’t get angry about trades or collaborations. Artists are people, commonly with busy lives and full schedules. Just like you, they’re afflicted with creative-itis that tends to eat up what little time they have around earning a living. You are not entitled to their time. You did not buy it. If you ask them to do a trade or collab and they turn you down, thank them, smile, move on. If they agree to do a trade or collab buy for any reason don’t follow through, thank them anyway, smile, move on.
So you’re going to try to get your story published. Has it been accepted for publication yet?
No: Then stop thinking about art. Entirely. Stop. Please. This is the category where I see the most trouble.
Having artwork already done for your story doesn’t make it more publishable. In fact, it can make it less so. First of all, the art that you commissioned for your story isn’t publishable, unless you’re also the artist. Just like printing your story requires a contract and payment, art has more formal requirements to appear in print than the simple commission you got. Under normal terms of a commission, for example, you wouldn’t be allowed to start selling prints of the art for your own profit. That, in a roundabout way, is exactly what using art in a printed book or anthology is doing.
Also, just because you personally like an artist’s work doesn’t make it of a quality or style the publisher wants to have in their brand. It’s really uncomfortable to go to an author and say “We liked your writing, but the art sucked.” Maybe the artist is a personal friend. Maybe you’re somehow attached to the art, and they’ve just insulted you. In that situation, it’s entirely likely that the publisher may turn down your story just because of the baggage attached to it.
Lastly, if you’ve submitted a novel, then don’t think about what you want the cover to look like. Don’t think about who you want to do it. You’re setting yourself up for a heartbreaking let-down when your novel is rejected. In the long, arduous cross-country race that is getting a novel published, getting the right cover art is the victory lap at the end.
So your story has been accepted for publication!
First of all, congratulations!
No, seriously. Most people who write don’t get to this point. Either they lack motivation, or dedication, or skill. A lot of writers are entirely happy with just posting things on SoFurry and counting the +favs. There is nothing wrong with that, but you decided to strive and try to go that extra step beyond. Seriously, congrats.
Now, the publisher’s just asked you a question: Do you have an artist you’d like to do the art for this piece?
- Suggest a personal friend who you’re sure has the skill, capability, and time required to produce professional art for your story. The publisher will investigate them, and if they’re up to the publisher’s standard (and they haven’t managed to piss off the publisher because of drama or shoddy practices) you might end up with a truly stunning piece. If you do end up working with a personal friend, then you can probably ignore most of the rest of the advice here. You know your friend a lot better than the publisher will. You’ll know how they work best, and what you’ll need to tell them versus what you can let them do on their own. Those are the rewards of friendship.
- Bring up the name of an artist that you know regularly works with the publisher if they have a style you think particularly suits your story. Listen to what the publisher tells you. If they say that they’re already working on content for another story, or may not be available, then accept it and move on.
- Don’t just pick a name out of the ‘top ten artists of the year’ hat. While getting art for your story is exciting and exhilarating, this isn’t a get-art-for-free ticket from your favorites. Yes, I know how similar this is to the ‘do’ just above it, but you’ll know if you’re making the right choice. There’s a fine line you’re walking here between finding the right artist for your piece and using the publication process as an excuse to get free art from your favorite artist.
- Don’t be afraid to let the publisher handle it. It’s their job to make every story they publish as attractive and beautiful as possible. Just like you’re a professional at arranging words into pleasing collections that people want to read, they’re professionals at arranging stories and art into pleasing packages that people want to buy. It’s not just that they have your best interests in mind—it’s that your best interests are actually the same as their best interests. Work with them, not against them.
So your publisher just asked you for an art brief.
Oof. You’re an author, not an artist. What do you know about visual scene design? Why are they asking you for this?
The answer is that they’re asking you because of everyone involved, you know your story best. I’m betting that you have at least a few iconic scenes from your story that stick out in your mind. You can envision them as they’re happening. You know exactly who’s doing what, and where they’re standing, and what the room looks like. Plus, you’re an author. You can use your fancy words to describe that scene in minute detail. Trust your instincts.
Why? Because without an art brief, you’re entirely at the mercy of an artist who, as I’ve stated above, is entirely within their rights to not have read your story. Without an art brief, not only will they get details wrong, but they’ll get the entire scene wrong. The tone will be wrong. Everyone will be frowning when it’s supposed to be happy. Your character will be the wrong colors. They will get it wrong because you gave them no guidance. Your publisher will know the artist. If your publisher is asking you for a brief, it means that your publisher thinks the artist will work best with a brief.
I’d suggest if you’ve never written a brief before (as I hadn’t before I wrote mine) ask the publisher if they have any examples of art briefs other authors of theirs have given them that were particularly well received.
So you just got your contributor copy, and the art you got sucks.
This is the hardest advice I’m going to give you here. Smile, thank the publisher. Say the artist had a unique perspective on your work on social media. Thank the artist and promote their personal site. Keep smiling and promote the book, collection, or anthology. Yes. I’m telling you to lie.
Why? Because this isn’t the stop for the drama train. Accept it. Learn from it. Move on. By bitching, especially publicly, you do yourself, the artist, and the publisher more harm than you could imagine. Once your story has been printed, you’re the spokesman for that product. Don’t dump on it, asshole.
Are you really disappointed? Was something just genuinely wrong? Then talk to the editor or person within the publisher you were working with. Talk to them in confidence and privately. Involve no one else. They may even agree with you. Commiserate. Learn from it. Move on. And never speak of it again. Don’t be ‘that guy’.
So you just got your contributor copy, and you love it.
Welcome to, in my opinion, the greatest feeling a furry author can get. Seeing your own words, printed neatly and professionally, with nifty/sexy/awesome art next to it, is some of the most life-satisfying high I’ve ever had. This, right here, is why I’m in the game.
Thanks for reading, guys. Don’t agree? Tell me. I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you probably came over from my twitter. If you didn’t, though, go poke me @kandrel. I might even alter this if someone’s got an opinion on this that makes me change my own views. The only reason I’ve taken the time out to write this up is because I just can’t remember seeing anything like it, and it’s a question that comes up so often when people are asking me for advice.
Good luck out there. Keep writing!