Business Musings: Art (Rethinking The Writing Business Part Six)
The eagle-eyed among you will note that we changed the cover of the brand-new Kristine Grayson release about two weeks after the book came out. Allyson Longuiera, the publisher of WMG and our designer, discusses the reasons why in her blog of a few weeks ago.
The short version is really simple: the art on the cover appeared on another book first. Another fairy tale book first. Another Rapunzel book first. And that was too much.
So, we decided to change the cover. We’re using a photo of the same model, just in a different position. And if this were 2017, that would be all. We wouldn’t give it much thought.
After all, even traditional publishers use stock art these days, and those publishers often use the same piece of stock art, just slap a different title and byline on it, and maybe put a slightly different color border. That’s it.
But it’s not 2017. And I’ve learned a lot since then. In fact, it’s not even January.
You see, in January of this year, Allyson and I worked on the rebranding of all of my Kristine Grayson books to honor the completion of Hidden Charm. She did most of the work, and I mostly got out of the way. These books have been very difficult to brand. We’ve gone through a variety of different ideas, and we both liked the fairy tale branding we came up with this time.
She worked hard on the rebranding, redoing all of our existing Kristine Grayson covers, and designing covers for the brand new omnibuses, which we released one per month starting in March, as well as the new cover for Hidden Charm.
We figured that was it.
Then Dean and I went to the licensing expo. And the first thing we realized—or maybe, to be fair, the first thing Dean realized—was that we needed to license exclusive art for our books. Not just for the covers, but for interiors as well as some of the characters.
We needed to go back to the old way of doing things, pre-2009. We needed to commission art for each novel, and make sure that art is consistent.
I feel a bit bad about this. I love the freedom of redesigning a cover in an afternoon. I also like working with stock art, because it’s proven. I can show you dozens of covers of mine from traditional publishing in which the cover artist got the cover wrong or simply did a truly terrible piece of art. (My first cover for Sacrifice here in the U.S. looked like it was drawn by a six-year-old. That’s why there’s all kinds of scrollwork around it, to hide how bad the art really is.)
The difference between WMG and other traditional publishers is that if we get a bad cover for a book from an artist, we will commission a different piece of art (and not necessarily from that artist). Traditional publishers will only commission a new piece of art if they spent a lot of money (as in six-figures) on the book or if the book is by a Big Name Author. But the days of quick art choices from a stock site are gone.
Because we will need to use that art for many things. All of those things we discussed in Part Three of this series, as we’re creating our own vision of our own IP, will need some artistic representation. In some cases, the same piece of art will need to be on all of the different items.
Sometimes we can work around that, by using the book cover itself as the art. But sometimes, we won’t be able to, particularly if the art depicts a character or an important scene.
In the case of the art for our various IP, we publishers need to become licensees. We will license art from artists, so that we can use that art on our products.
We have to make sure we end up with the correct licenses as well, licenses that cover every usage we need.
We will need licensing agreements, and they’ll need to be specific. We will have to make a lot of decisions ahead of time about what kind of art we need, where we will use the art, and how we can transform the art (if we can at all). By that, I mean, can we use just a figure from that piece of art or must we use the art in its entirety?
We’ll also need a worldwide license, and one for things other than book rights. It will get complicated.
Because, in the past, whenever we licensed exclusive art for our books, we did so for all book formats, and nothing else. Our policies on art will have to change.
So, in the previous post, I discussed triage. One of the first things we will have to do, as we triage our way through the various series, is spend some serious money on art. And even before we do that, we’ll have to figure out what rights we need.
At the licensing expo, Dean talked to one company (which I shall not name for fear of getting it wrong) who not only bought all the licenses associated with an exclusive piece of art, they also bought the original as well. Since they’ve been doing that for nearly a century now, they have a heck of a gallery of original art built up, as well as all kinds of licenses that they haven’t got time to exploit.
Yeah, that keeps floating around my brain.
But I can’t help looking at the Kristine Grayson covers and think, if we had only waited a few months. Then we could have done original art.
Only we’re not ready yet. We are just starting to look at artists again. We have a lot of other projects that are more art-heavy, and we also have some that need to be dealt with immediately because of TV/movie/game interest. So, focusing on Grayson in 2019 would have been difficult at best.
But this is one of those problems I keep running into—the and-this and-this and-this problem I’ve mentioned before. I want to do it all, right now.
And that includes getting original art for all of my covers.
Before I end this piece, let me answer the question I know many of you are going to ask. I know you’re going to ask it, because Allyson asked it with great trepidation.
Are we going to use original art on all those standalone short stories, which number more than 400 now?
No, we’re not going to. We’re using stock art on all of the standalone short stories…unless there’s movie/TV/game interest or unless something in those stories cries out for original representation. (Say, maybe an entire world of licensing in that single short piece.)
We will save those for later. And as I write more and more of them, we’ll be using stock art while we’re dealing with the novels.
As I mentioned last time, there’s only so much we can do all at once. So we’re doing our best.
But—as I keep reminding myself—this is a long-term project, not something we can resolve by the end of the year. That’s both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we have time; a curse because I want it all done right now.
We are making changes. And one of the very first changes is in our art policy.
I’m sure there will be others along the way.
I’m scrambling to finish these posts as fast as I can so that I can turn my attention to the actual licensing issues. I am writing up the Licensing Expo on my Patreon page, with some other added material. These blogs show up there first.
Dean is dealing with the firehose of information differently. He’s doing a Licensing Transition Course for Writers on Teachable so that people can follow how he and WMG are going through the transition. You’ll learn as you go, if you want to watch a writer and a company transition from a publishing business to a licensing business.
We’ll also be dealing with licensing at the Master Business Class in October. We just verified that a licensing specialist will be coming to the class. We’ll be focusing on licensing a lot, as you can tell. There are only a few spots left in the class, so if you’re thinking of coming, you might want to reserve your space.
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“Business Musings: Art (Rethinking The Writing Business Part Six),” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.