Tuesday, June 10, 2014

TUESDAY TIPS: The Perils of Packaging

ALTHOUGH I DO NOT go out of my way to publicize the fact, many readers who follow my books are aware that I occasionally illustrate my own work.
   The backstory here is that this was not my original intention. For the first Beck Easton adventure, Deep Blue, I wanted a simple map of a cave system to precede the initial chapter, so I drew one up and sent it to my publishers, together with a note asking them to provide it as a reference piece for their illustrator. 
   The art directors who worked on that book were extraordinary (its cover won a major award that year), so I was more than a little surprised when  they replied that they liked what I had supplied, and if I had no objections, they would prefer to use it, not as mere reference, but as the actual illustration for the book.
My illustration of an Adams-
pattern dry fly, as it appeared
in my 2008 title, Wind River.
   Buoyed by that experience, I have created artwork for some of my other titles. For In High Places, I drew small illustrations to open each chapter. And for Wind River, I drew a pen-and-ink drawing of my favorite trout-fly pattern: an Adams dry fly. I've even had art directors inquire whether I might be available to do illustrations for other writers' works (I always politely decline; writing for me is therapeutic, whereas making drawings just feels like, well, work).
   So, knowing that I do my own illustrations on occasion, new writers often confide in me that they have what they are certain is going to be a sure-fire sales strategy.
   "I'm writing a _______," they will tell me (and in that blank goes "children's book," or "book of poetry," or "survival guide," or whatever). "And my ________ is going to do the illustrations." (This second blank is usually filled in by "neighbor," "cousin," "daughter," "baby-sitter" ... you name it.)
   Then they wait for me to congratulate them on an inspired and masterful approach.
   And they are astonished when I tell them that using such a tactic will drop the likelihood of selling their first book—which, as we all know, is already quite slim—by at least half.
   You see, in submitting a manuscript with pre-commissioned illustrations, you are moving from the realm of "writer" to "packager." And packaging—teaming up the work of two or more creative individuals—is traditionally a publisher's job. So at very least, you are stepping on toes by proposing it.
   Beyond that, unless you've got a diploma from the Parson's School of Design hanging on your wall, what strikes you as "great illustrations" may not get the same reaction from a professional art director.
   Even award-winning artwork designed for gallery display may not work very well in the limitations of a print environment. My books, for instance, are all printed with a single-plate process, which means I have only one shade of ink with which to work: jet black. And while some of my illustrations may appear to have shades of gray, that effect is an optical illusion; every line in my drawings is the same deep shade of black.
   Add to this that publishing houses are businesses, which operate according to economies of scale. That being the case, they may wish to commission an artist to illustrate several books, sometimes across various house imprints. This allows them to negotiate a better price per project and, and when you propose a book using your own illustrator (or yourself as the artist), you deny them that economic tool. 
   I realize that it sounds here as if I am saying, "I can do this, but you cannot." But bear in mind that I have never pitched a book predicated on use of my own illustrations. The first time my artwork was used, it was the publisher's idea. And in subsequent books, any illustrations I've provided have come with a note from me saying that they were being provided to be used, or not, as the art director saw fit, and that, if my artwork did not mesh with their vision for the book, then I would not be upset in the slightest.
   Because, after all, in this industry it is the publisher who packages the books, and not the writer.
   Understand that going in, and you'll have a much, much better chance of success.


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