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Tips for Commissioning Artists for Writers

The relationship between an artist and a writer can be a beautiful thing.

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Writers write, and artists come up with amazing fan art, or can be commissioned for stunning book covers. We work hand in hand with one another more than we realize, and in return, many of us can get well known through the others’ work. In fact I didn’t start reading Sarah J. Maas’ work until I saw the beautiful character art put out by Coralie Jubénot.

But sometimes, like all relationships, things can get a little hairy.

Maybe this shouldn’t be directed just at writers, but since I’ve noticed quite a few writers doing this type of stuff, I’m singling us out. If you’re not a writer, and you want to commission an artist, you should probably remember these things too.

What not to do when commissioning an artist

  • Ask for free work.
    • And I mean ANY free work, including the “pay you later” type of work. If you can’t pay them when they ask for payment, you’re asking them for free art. None of this “Oh well, I can pay you after I make it big” or “I’ll give you money when my crowd funding campaign is over”. They’re still working for free. Some artists might say they don’t have a problem with this, but don’t just assume that an artist is going to be fine with waiting over a week for payment.
  • Ask to pay them in publicity.
    • This is still free. Can you pay your bills if someone asks you to write for them for free, but don’t worry they’ll tell a friend about you? No.
  • Tell them the last artist you hired did it for cheaper.
    • Artists charge different amounts based off many things. Skill level, time taken to produce the artwork, and personal value of their work all come into play. Someone who’s only been producing art for a couple years might charge less than someone who takes commissions on a regular basis for the past seven years. If you want cheap artwork, hire the other person, don’t try and haggle to get them to lower their prices to someone else’s standards.
  • Tell them you shouldn’t have to pay extra for digital art because there are less materials used.
    • This is one that I’ve heard a few digital artists over the years talk about. Keep in mind here, some digital artists have amazing technology to help produce their work, and sometimes that tech breaks down. Tablets break, tablet pen nubs need to be replaced, computers crash, and sometimes some software requires yearly updates that cost money, as well. Just because they’re not using a physical canvas doesn’t mean their work is worth less.
  • Think that because writing a book takes longer than drawing a picture, their work isn’t worth as much. 
    • This is something I’ve only heard from one writer, but it still completely confused me. Writing and art are two completely different mediums, that require different mind sets. One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different. By saying you took longer therefore your work is worth more, you’re taking away the years of practice it took for that artist to get where they are today. Sure it only took an artist a week to complete their commission, but they’ve been perfecting that craft since grade school.

What do you do when you find that artist you want to commission?

  • First off, check and see if they’re open for commissions.
    • Most artists will have a disclaimer somewhere if they’re open or closed, or at the very least, a way to contact them to ask them. By not assuming they’re just going to jump into working for you, you’re already establishing respect with your artist.
  • Find out what they’re comfortable drawing.
    • As someone who has some NSFW situations in my novels and short stories, I always check the artist’s “will/will not draw” page. Many artists have no problem drawing violence, artistic nudity, or sexual situations, however there are a few prefer not to do this sort of thing. Some might be willing, but would prefer not to due to their skill level with the subject. If the artist doesn’t have a list of things they’re okay and not okay with drawing, and you know what you’re looking for is questionable, don’t be afraid to ask them how they feel about certain subject matter.
  • If you KNOW you’re a picky person, give details.
    • I’m a little different when it comes to my commissions, in that I like to give the artist a little bit of creative control. I’ll tell them what the scene is, or what the characters look like, but after that, I tell them to interpret the information however they see fit. This doesn’t work for everyone. If you have very specific ways you want a picture to be done, tell them up front. Don’t be THAT difficult to work with, but still fill them in you have a specific vision for the project, so they’re not blindsided later when you’re angry with how it turned out.
  • Establish what you want the art for in the beginning. 
    • So you found the artist, they finished the commission, and you’re ecstatic to have some beautiful art to accompany your novel. You start using it as a book cover, posting it everywhere on websites and social media, and then suddenly you get an email from the artist asking for more money, or saying you went against their copyright. Some artists don’t allow for commercial use of their commissions, if it wasn’t established when the commission was first placed. Others might not want their work posted up online without giving credit to them as the original artist. If you know you’re going to use the artwork for bigger things, disclose this from the get go, and it’ll save both parties some pain and heartache.

This may seem like a lot, but if all else fails, remember one thing.

Hiring an artist is a business transaction.

If you think of it as two people exchanging goods, instead of two creative people coming together, you’ll leave the experience a lot happier. Of course, there will still be a creative exchange, just due to the nature of this situation, but don’t expect there to be no business talk. Treat each other with respect, and respect will be given.

I’ve hired artists, from base line beginners, to well established in online communities, and I have to say I’ve always had a great experience. If you want to get involved with artists, but don’t know where to start, please let me know! I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

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Tough Love Talk About “The Writing Fantasy”

This isn’t a tough love talk about writing fantasy. No, I’m talking about The Writing Fantasy. The fantasy all new writers and creators have about the world of writing.

This is coming from someone who’s never been published outside of vanity sites, so take it as you will. That being said the more I interact with writers, the more I get sick of hearing about this mythical world we’re supposed to live in.

So here we go! Top five fantasies I’m going to completely crush into the ground!

 

1. Every bad review or person who doesn’t like my work is personally attacking me!
 

Well okay there, self absorbed Sandra, let’s tone it down a notch. When someone doesn’t like your work, it has nothing to do with you as a person. I know it hurts when you put months or years into a project only to get rejected by agents, your audience, or even past fans, but you can’t make everyone happy. Is it okay to get your feelings hurt? Yes, but if every bad review makes you fall apart and threaten to quit creating art, maybe it’s time to take a step back.

Now there is an exception to this rule. If you’re getting the same negative feedback every single time you put something out there, but you’re not fixing your mistakes, yes, some of the reviews might start to get personal. This is because you’re not fixing things that your audience doesn’t like. If your counter to this is “Well, I’m writing it for me, not to make everyone else happy! I’m not a sell out!” then why bother caring about reviews in the first place? Heck, why even put it up for anyone else to read if it’s just for your personal enjoyment and you don’t care what other people think?

2. I don’t have to read other people’s work anymore because I’m a writer now.
 
This isn’t “I don’t have time”, this is the “Nick Miller” defense.

Most, if not all professionals in any job, keep themselves sharp through practice, study and staying informed. Reading is part of the studying/staying informed portion of that for writers. You learn how other authors break writing rules, what works in their market (or in some cases what doesn’t work), and how to better your writing by studying the works of others.

And for those who think “I can’t read anyone else anymore because I’m just so fantastic as a writer, it’s insulting to read their drivel.”

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Welcome back, self absorbed Sandra. Get over yourself. There’s ALWAYS someone better than you out there.

 

3. Writing is romantic so I should try and copy some of my favorite classic literature.

Copying an author’s style as a warm up is eye opening, or doing it so that it makes sense in the story can be acceptable when done well. It’s when you’re forcing it on every aspect of your writing does it get old. Here’s a little secret. Readers are smart. They’re going to know you’re trying to be someone you’re not. It comes off as insincere and boring. It’s one thing to try and find your voice, it’s another to be so pretentious to think you’re the next Hemingway or Poe so you have to copy their style down to the last period.

4. I’ll just get an agent and they’ll do everything for me!

No. Wrong. Don’t expect this. Agents are very busy and the last thing they want is an author who can’t pull their own weight. Many new authors have to do a LOT of work in order to get their work noticed. You need to self promote, keep up your writer’s platform, network with other authors, talk to your agents about possible marketing opportunities, travel on book tours, start your next book, look for contests or magazines to submit short stories to, and those are just things off the top of my head! There could very well be a million other chores to do in order to get your book off the ground. Don’t expect your agent to be your fairy godmother, as magical and amazing as many of them are.

5. Editing is for writers who don’t know how to write.

Editing is CRUCIAL to writing your book. I can’t tell you how many self published authors I’ve spoken to who’ve excitedly told me about how they “wrote a book in three weeks” and then instantly put it out to the public without even doing a second read through. I’m not going to point out that there could be HUGE grammatical errors (because trust me, there will be), but you could have completely forgotten to finish a paragraph, or you might’ve accidentally cut out something without realizing it that one night when you were up till 2am working. There could be glaring inconsistencies that might’ve been fixed if you just took the time to edit your work.

I’m not saying you have to spend years on edits, or completely rewrite your novel, but not even looking at your work once you’re done could turn off readers if you have annoyingly obvious problems with your work. I’m even going to go back through and do a round of edits on this blog posts just to make sure things look good! Editing is important!

If you don’t like editing, save up and hire an editor. There are a lot of affordable options out there, and if you’re serious about getting published, it’s easy to put aside the money here or there to get your work in the hands of a professional. (I’m putting aside my coffee funds every month to get one and yeah, it takes time to save up, but it’s a worthwhile sacrifice)

And that’s it! Those are the writing fantasies I’m crushing for today. I’ll probably do another Tough Love Talk about this later, but I figure this’ll be good for now.

What are some writing fantasies you’d like to crush for other people? Comment below and let me know!