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.
Thank you for posting about this! There is an artist I have wanted to work with for years to create strong visual branding for my various series. I did approach this artist, but they wanted to be paid royalties for a book cover illustration, something I had never heard of before. Now I understand that I need to learn licensing so I can be confident in these negotiations!
For those of you who like to draw or paint, and who have an iPad Pro (which you can get refurbished on Amazon for a sensible amount), there is a program called Procreate and it costs $7.99 flat. It does almost everything Photoshop does, but you need an Apple Pencil for another hundred bucks.
You draw directly onto the tablet, and you can take this anywhere, like waiting rooms!
The system allows you to a import photo, alter the heck out of it, use various layers and effects, even typography (no textures, though, but they’re catching up.) So you can have a stock photo on one layer and use it as a drawing reference on the layer above it, and make you own. If that’s your jam, soon you won’t need reference photos and you’ll be drawing from imagination alone.
My art-school-trained daughter does my series branding and book covers, but 1. I can’t afford her all the time, and 2. she has other clients, so I’ve been using a lot of my free down-time to draw characters for future book covers.
Some of my oil paintings will pass for book covers, esp. when I take a series of progress photos and can use some for the background and do the rest digitally.
And, I keep learning. The Apple Store has free classes on the use of Procreate. That’s a good resource when my in-house teacher is unavailable.
I actually used Procreate to manipulate a free stock image for an upcoming book cover. Changed it enough (crop, exposure, etc.) where it looks like a completely different thing than the original. Plus it was a lot of fun using the program. I’ve only played around with it for drawing so far.
But you’re right, they have great free resources and sites like skillshare have a ton of tutorials for learning the techniques. I imagine youtube and other learning sites have the same.
I need to make a few covers coming up and was thinking about trying to do the whole thing with Procreate.
A data point for your licensing discussions. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts recently announced thirty shows on sale for the 2019-2020 season. Those shows include “Goodnight Moon,” “Erma Bombeck At Wit’s End,” How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” Escape from Margaritaville,” “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” The SpongeBob Musical,” “Mean Girls,””Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live” and “That Golden Girls Show!”
That’s nine out of thirty shows that started off as intellectual property in other mediums. Another five of the thirty are revivals of older Broadway shows, which means another round of money for those license holders too.
I somehow suspect that the author of Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) never expected there would be income from a stage production, but hopefully her estate (she died in 1952) has managed things well enough to still own the rights.
I don’t know much about Libre Office Base, or about technical databases at all, but I use a free program called “Symphytum” which is classified as a database program.
I use it right now to make “dossiers” of everything I’ve written, so all the info (ISBNs, prices for eBook and print, URLs at different market places,wordcount, keywords, book covers, etc.) is in one spot. I chose the fields, arranghed them how I liked, then fill them in as I add new work–very customizable, and easy to add on to if things change in the future. It even has a spreadsheet-like view so I can compare, say, wordcounts at a click.
It can export everything to a .CSV file which is openable in both Microsoft Excel and LibreOffice Calc. So I thought I might try that for my master inventory while I look at some Base tutorials. I have a pretty big handful of stories, but I get the feeling my (soon to be published) supernovel and its attendant story world could have enough licensing opportunities to last me for a couple lifetimes, whoa… Better get started!
That’s a cool resource, thank you! Currently I’m building my inventory and submission tracker in GoogleDocs, because I love that it’s in cloud and I can access my data from anywhere. I’m done having to upgrade Xcel licenses. When it comes may web apps and free programs like the one you’re using, I worry they and the supporting updates to them might disappear. How established is it, do you know?
So far I’ve used one-off, original art licensed for both e-book and print. It’s a bit spendy and it takes longer, but using one particular artist for one fantasy line and another for a different line, gives me both differentiation and a consistent style. it’s worth the effort for me, but then I’m not nearly so prolific.
The danger with having a person on the cover, whether art or photo, is that it may not fit come time to do TV or movie. At that point people will want to see the actual actors. Look at how many books are reissued when the movie comes out with a shot from the movie.
I’ve stepped away from literal representations on the cover. Look at what they did for:
Tales from the Kingdoms Book Series (3 Books)
Just because you can do full color photo art on covers, does not mean that you should, and if you do, just use stock photos creatively as you have in the past, because you will be changing the cover if it is a successful movie or TV series.
Don’t forget the old adage:
Do no harm.
Triage is looking at things that can be done now, and that will mean something long term.
Say it another way:
Why put yourself in a position five years down the road of finding that all of your expensive commissioned cover art needs to be replaced, again.
It’s not about TV/Movies. It’s about all the other licenses. And there are literally thousands of them. There’s a different method when you do the slide deck for TV/Movies. But you will need a big deck for other things, which I will get to later in this series. That’s what I’m referring to.
One tiny advantage of being an incredibly slow writer is that I decided to do my covers myself – and so changed the photos I used that it would be hard for the model to recognize herself. At your scale, impossible – just too many images to deal with, ever.
At mine, quite doable – and I won’t have to worry about the future. I’m going to do my own photo for the basis of the next one.
As I created my own logo, with my own handwriting font.
As I said, slow.
I’m coming into this conversation late and have just sped read Parts 1 – 6. I’ve kept an inventory of my writing, but basics, title, date completed, published date, whether it’s a serial, a series, or a stand alone. Including all my short stories and most of my non-fiction work, like blog posts and newspaper/magazine articles. Between them all, I have hundreds of pieces. My stomach hurts. I’m going to have to let all of this marinate a bit before I can decide what to do. First thing though, I agree with the comments that a database is required. I have MS Access, so that’s a start, but I’m no database expert. I’m barely at a beginning user level. The number of fields required will be mindboggling. I’m still not sure how to break it all down. Yep. Going to have to let my mind stop screaming and reread what you’ve already written. The clues are there, I’m sure. Thanks to everyone else for your comments. It helps to know we’re all in this together.
One thing that I’m finding helpful from my own studies (especially since my IP is still below the 5 series mark) is using techniques from Needs Assessment (pre-project planning) like Cost-Benefit, Net Business Value (including payback period) and Feasibility. It’s hard even with my little speck of inventory, but following the steps of identifying the current capabilities of my business as well as learning the industry’s capabilities and then compiling the tangible and intangible benefits and costs to compare to the proposed plan is helping me tease apart the strands of possible to find the doable. I keep telling myself Possible may some day be Doable, but I have to focus on the Doable first or I’ll be fluttering around like a moth near a bug zapper and never get anything actually, y’know, Done.
Commissioned art makes an incredible difference in books. My nonfiction books are designed to be unique physical artifacts, from the art up, and readers react strongly to them. (Not 100% positively, but certainly there’s no mediocre reactions. 😉
My Copious Free Time project is getting that art on other products, like shirts and whatnot, subtly branded with the company name. Ah, if only there was time…
I’ve been following this and thinking my way through it. I think I have a partial handle on this, but custom art? My soul quails at that cost. I’m barely affording my covers and editing now. To get exclusive rights? For each of my novels? I’m struggling at how do this correctly when I’m just starting out and can’t afford that level of investment. That or I’m misunderstanding something.
I get branding – and I guess if my series was popular enough that might make sense – but right now? Heck, I’m avoiding audio books. ugh. I’m not sure how you’re handling this with as much IP as you have. I’m cringing with what I have.
We’re using stock art for now, and then when we rebrand each series, we’ll do custom art. But only when we decide to go wide. And even then, on some items, we won’t. It’ll be individual choice. For you, wait until you can afford it. I’ll have more on this later in August. (And yes, the cost is cringe-worthy.)
I’m not sure I even want to think about the licensing of art when the photograph is one I took but it’s of a building. Do I need to get the building owner’s permission/license? The architect’s? Is it a standard model’s contract? Or something else? Do I need to license the art to myself so that I know which art is “spoken for” and which is available for others to use (and so that there’s a paper trail if someone else uses the same art for THEIR cover, unattributed)?
The Copyright Handbook is great for copyright. I’m hoping that, somewhere out there, there’s a Licensing Handbook (or a series of them).
I wonder. Would an IP attorney know anything about licensing, in the sense you’re talking about it?
I’m suddenly, horribly glad I’m just a hobby writer with a few stories I’m thinking about self-publishing. (Or I guess I should say, licensing for publication by myself and protecting the characters, etc.)
Thank you for sharing all of this and opening my eyes.
If you take the photo, you own the copyright. But if you want to use a branded image (like a business’s logo), you’d have other issues to deal with. For example, if you’re writing a mystery and have a homicide take place in that building, I’d make sure the building isn’t easily identifiable. You don’t want to interfere with their reputation. Licensing art to yourself is something you would do if you have different businesses or corporations. If it’s just you right now, keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re using everything, in case you want to incorporate or change the relationship between your art and writing in the future. I hope that helps!
Keep in mind, too, that a distinctive building has its own copyright owned by the architect, the building’s owner, or some other consortium. This has become an increasingly common irritation (and litigation point) in film; all it’s going to take is enough motivation to go after an author, and it might not be rational motivation!
And then there’s the Batmobile. Which has been the subject of several lawsuits.
“The Copyright Handbook is great for copyright. I’m hoping that, somewhere out there, there’s a Licensing Handbook (or a series of them).”
Might want to check out Nolo Press’s catalog for such a book. And there’s also Google.