Five Things You Do That Annoy Me, Part IV

While I am not an artist myself (as should be painfully obvious to those who read yesterday’s post) I have many artist friends, and I have many artists I have worked with over the years that have confided in me. And so I get annoyed on their behalf when I see certain behavior piled upon them by indie authors and publishers.

1. Just because you are selling your book for 99 cents doesn’t mean an artist should work for free: Now yesterday I vented a little about artists that expect professional rates from indie authors. At no time, however, was that meant to imply artists should work for peanuts. It was merely to point out that if you are going to solicit work for a small press or individual, keep in mind what those people will be able to pay.

That said, just because an author decides they are going to sell a book for 99 cents does not mean the artist should take on a charity case either. I’ve seen authors offer $20 for someone to design a cover to very specific parameters that might take ten hours to create. That is 50 cents an hour, folks. And I’m not going to rehash the whole “exposure” argument either. It doesn’t fly for writers, and it doesn’t fly for artists either.

2. You have unrealistic deadlines: So, you want an image of an elf warrior with a furrowed brow and a single bead a sweat visible from his forehead, charging into battle against a red dragon that has approximately 100 teeth in its jaw and a lightning bolt shaped scar over its right eye, and you want a pile of treasure in the background, and the treasure pile should include seven gems of different colors with each gem having the image of an eye inside of it and a detailed image of a magical sword complete with a hilt shaped like a woman’s figure. And you want it three days?


You should really start commissioning for artists a couple of months before you plan to publish, both to give yourself time to find the right artist and to give the artist time to complete the work. Yes, I do know artists that can turn over extraordinarily detailed work in a day or two if they have nothing else on their plate. But most of the good artists DO have other things on their plate. They may have a backlog of requests. They may have five or six jobs in front of yours. You need to give them time to schedule you in.

3. You change your mind more often than you change you socks. So after the artist spent three days making your elf versus dragon cover, you decide “You know what? Elves are so overdone. I need to change the warrior to a dwarf. Oh, and I know I said I wanted a red dragon, but really I think it would be better if it was blue. And the woman shaped hilt…um…that might be a bit sexist. So let’s change it to a tiger.”

So the artist makes the changes and resubmits. “Hmm, you know, I think the dwarf is too short. Let’s make him a human instead. And the blue dragon doesn’t look right with the font I selected for my title, so can you change him to green? And maybe make it more like a Chinese dragon? And I was thinking, you know, there is no sword with a tiger hilt in the book, so can we change that to a straight hilt instead?”

And finally. “Hmmm, you know what? I think I liked the original version best. Can you just change everything back?”

When you commission an artist, you are commissioning an artist for one image at a time. You aren’t commissioning him to make six different images while you try to make a decision. This isn’t like buying wallpaper or carpeting where the salesman has books of swatches already prepared. Each time you ask for changes, the artist has to go back and completely revise the artwork. Even for artists working in exclusively digital formats, this can get frustrating.

4. You think you own the art: Unless you contracted a work for hire, the artist generally retains all rights to the original art. What you are paying for is not the physical art, but the right to use the art in a particular way. If I sell you an image for a book cover, you have the right to use it as a book cover. You do not, however, also get the right to recolor it for an album cover, or sell it as print (particularly because the artist may well be doing the same!), or let your friend use it for a collage she is making to sell, or resell the image for a different book.

Yeah, you heard that last one right. I recently was talking with an artist who created a castle design for a fantasy author in the U.S.. The author then resold the image to someone in the U.K. who was publishing a non-fiction book on castles. Just absorb that one for a moment.

This becomes a particular issue when you are licensing images already created. If you ask for permission to use an image for your young adult romance novel, and the artist gives you permission to use it for a young adult romance novel, that doesn’t mean after you pay the artist you can change your mind and use it on a hardcore erotica novel. The artist didn’t give you permission to use the image in that way. And it is the artist’s image, not yours.

This is also something to keep in mind when discussing pricing (see #1). Often, artists will be happy to create an original piece for a book cover so long as they have the opportunity to make residual income on it, such as selling prints of the original. Or they may let you license an image for a lower-than-normal price if a book is only going to be released in ebook format. If you know you want to own the image and be able to do what you want with it, then you need to negotiate a work-for-hire agreement with the author AND PAY ACCORDINGLY.

And since we are back on the subject of payments…

5. You, sir, are a deadbeat. And I address this one not at the indie authors, who generally pay up front for art. No, no. I address this at some of my fellow publishers. I cannot tell you the number of times I have come across a forum conversation about an artist who has been strung along for six months AFTER something was published and still had not been paid. This is a crying shame, and a stain on all small presses.

Your cash flow problems are not an excuse. Your unexpected expenses are not an excuse. Your inability to balance a ledger is not an excuse. You agreed to a price. The artist met the deadline. You got the art you wanted. You USED THE ART and are selling the product for profit. You have an obligation to make sure the artist gets paid. Period. I don’t even know why this has to be said.

Actually, I do know why. Because there are certain publishers who look at artists as interchangeable commodities. If you burn a bridge with one artist, you know there are a hundred starving artists out there to replace her. Well, sure, there are a lot of artists out there. But if you bothered to read yesterday’s rant, you would realize what a rare and wonderful thing an affordable, professional, talented artist is and you would treat him or her like gold.

Well, that is enough ranting for one week. Tune in next time, when I will find something else to complain about