My cover artist fired me.
I’m still not sure exactly what happened. I LOVED his initial draft of the cover (which I can’t show you because he refunded my down payment, which means his work is not mine to show).
As you may remember from last week’s post, I had two changes I wanted: to remove the snake glyph, which I’d decided against, and to make my name more visible by decreasing the letter-spacing and increasing the font a point or two.
I sent him that request, but when the cover came back, he had also changed the color of the font from white to some kind of gray.
So I sent back a note, asking him to revert to the original white. I expected a quick turnaround, but what I got was:
I’d rather we didn’t do that because it’s balanced as it is. If you put you name in white what would happen is that the name and the title would fight against each other and it would look odd. Did you read my last email about the visual index. You have have EVERYTHING SHOUTING on a cover. It doesn’t work if you do. And it looks a mess. But here … I’ll show you. It looks all unbalanced. I don’t know whether to look at the title or the author name now. Horrid.
He attached a file titled “Bad Design.” To be honest, the covers looked the same to me, except that I could see my name on one set and not the other. I responded that he might be right on an artistic level, but on a marketing level, readers needed to be able to read my name in thumbnail on a cell phone.
I figured that was the end of it, but instead I got back a rant that said, in part:
You do realise that you name is right by the actual image there on the amazon search results and when they look at a cover they glance at it for a second to see what the book is about … not to try and read all the text on it. But to glean some information about what the book is about about. So actually utterly pointless to even care about that.
That may be true from an artist’s perspective, but I’m not an artist. I’m a writer and to me, words matter. I tried to imagine going through this with every cover for seven more books. The very thought sent a shudder through me. This just wasn’t working. And it was exhausting. I responded:
It sounds like you’re really not comfortable providing the cover that I feel would best market my books.
Since I plan to create seven or eight more books in this series, perhaps it would be best if you refund my down payment and I start again with another designer.
Thanks and sorry it didn’t work out.
Which may have been an over-reaction, given that I really loved the covers. He responded:
Please, don’t read into something that isn’t there. I admit I’m blunt (even on my website) but good at my job.
Firstly, I’m happy to finish your covers for you with whatever changes you want. If you don’t want to listen to my advice then that’s up to you … but if I didn’t offer my advice then I wouldn’t be doing my job properly. It’s that simple from my point of view. It would actually be easier quicker and more efficient if I didn’t spend time trying to explain how design works. So here are you changes as you suggested, anymore let me know.
I take my job very seriously indeed, I like to think I have a mass of experience and have professional integrity when working with clients in this way. Explaining and giving away information about how things work. If you don’t want to hear it … I’ll make a note of that, shut up and just do what you ask. Okay?
Okay. I really loved these covers. And maybe I’d overreacted. In an effort to compromise and not press him to betray his artistic vision, I suggested “stacking” the articles in the title–that is, making “The” smaller than the rest of the title to give the title some visual variety to offset the visual pull of the author name.
He did that and asked if there were any other changes to finalize the ebook. I asked about adding an armband tattoo to the model on the second book, figuring he’d tell me there’d be an upcharge for that. He said to send him a vector image of what I wanted. I spent a couple of hours looking for an appropriate image and sent it to him.
Almost instantly, I got an email saying I had a Paypal refund. This was followed by a note from him saying that he couldn’t work with someone who didn’t respect him.
I’m still kind of scratching my head. I feel like there was something that I could have handled better to keep this thing from going off the rails. And I feel bad that he did all that work without remuneration. Although, to be honest, I’d feel even worse about paying him and winding up with nothing.
I’m planning to try this again with another cover artist.
I hope it turns out better.
Any cover designer needs to listen to the needs of the writer. While the man is offering you professional advice, his approach is aggressive and one-sided. I have a lovely graphic designer who does my cover work – I happen to know her anyway through another avenue of work – and I go to see her in person, and sit down and discuss my needs with her. Maybe find someone you could talk to in person, in future?
I don’t happen to be personally acquainted with any cover artists. I’m going to try this again with a designer a friend recommended. I’m going to start out with a single cover and see how things go before I take it any further.
Good luck with it then, hope it goes well.
Such a shame–the new covers looked really nice. I can see that the designer was trying to do his best for you, but it sounds as though he’s not temperamentally suited to working with authors (or maybe with non-designers).
I’ve been working with a designer on a new author brand and a cover for The Seeds of Power (Christal’s book). They asked for a fairly comprehensive brief, and they make it clear there will be kill fees if you change the brief (frex, if you request an object cover when you originally commissioned them to create a character cover), but they never once told me that my feedback was wrong or made their work look bad. At one stage I asked if I was requesting too many revisions and they told me not to worry about it–they wanted me to be happy and were prepared to work with me until we got there. (Spoiler: we did!)
Here’s hoping things work out well with the new cover artist, Jeanne!
Oh, I’m so sorry.
He’s an artist, you’re an artist . . . it’s just in different fields. And sometimes, as artists, we get trapped into the ideals we learn in school. To choose a really simple example, I learned AP-style which doesn’t use an Oxford comma, and I mention that every time the topic comes up. But, if I wrote for a publication (probably all of them except the newspapers), I’d use an Oxford comma or not mind if they replaced it.
I think you stepped on one of his principles, and then followed it up with a lot of requests. It seems (to my writer’s imagination) that he couldn’t leave it alone — maybe it was eating into his personal free time, as well.
I don’t know how much you were going to pay for the covers, but let’s say it was $500. My theory is that for $500, you get $500 worth of brainspace. Maybe it would have been better and more efficient to ask for everything at once, rather than asking little by little?
If you turned the situation around, and say it was an editor asking for corrections. Let’s say the editor asked you for a prolog. You have a long back-and-forth discussion about the merits and demerits of a prolog, and you finally give in and give her the dang prolog. And then she comes back and asks you to change the heroine’s hair from blonde to red. No mention of the extra bonus she plans for your trouble (yeah, I know, my analogy falls down there), and no mention that she thinks the editing process is about 95 percent done at this point.
I don’t know what you’d do, but I’d be pretty close to blowing my stack. “When is this list of corrections ever going to end? This is taking up my life — I’m arguing with her in my head during my morning commute, and I can’t sleep at night because of that damn prolog, too. Ugh! Not worth five cents a word!”
OK, the analogy really falls down in a lot of areas. And who knows? Maybe the guy’s cat got sick that week, or his kids need new shoes? Or he’s also trying to convince a few other customers that names don’t matter on a cover, and the tattoos were just the straw on the camel’s back.
For the record, you are doing print publishing as well as ebooks, IIRC, so the name on the book does matter. In general, he does have a point about not having every design element being “shouty”, but I thought the cover models were doing all of the shouting, and the name/author were subdued but legible. (I’m not a designer, though.)
So . . . maybe you both learned a little something from the encounter. Lots of other artists out there who can do what you want, and lots of other authors out there who want covers. I think you both will recover.
It’s really coincidental, but I had a similar discussion over on reddit. A translator was complaining that he wrote [error] next to stuff that was wrong, but his supervisor was changing it to [did you mean “error” not “arrer”?]. “This is politeness that Japanese clients expect.” Third-party (pronoun they) said it would be much better and efficient to point out the error without all the softening.
I took the position that you should couch criticism in softening words, but I could see their point about how the direct version gets things done faster (although, I do think you point out the error, not just say, “there’s an error” — at least, when you can).
The point to THIS aside is that in the internet age, it’s more difficult to parse communication styles. Some people like efficiency, some like softer approaches. And then there’s people like me who SAY they like efficiency, but tend to cry when they get it. (Or vice versa.)
Anyway, it’ll be OK. You’ll look back at this in five years and tell the story with a touch of fond regret. Today, it sucks, and I feel that with you.
Thanks, Michaeline, for your very thoughtful answer. I sometimes suspect that if I were ever tested, I would appear on the Asperger’s end of the autism spectrum. I am woefully inadequate at reading body language, and it’s even harder when there’s no body language to read.
I’m bummed because I really did like his covers. And I loathe the idea that there’s one more person out in the world who thinks I’m a creep. I’ve spent years trying to get my creep quotient down to respectable level and this feels like a huge step backwards.
To your point, once things became difficult between us, my communication got more abrupt because I was not enjoying it and I just wanted to get it over with. And, as you suggest, that just made things harder for him. I absolutely should have communicated that I expected an upcharge for the tattoo.
On the other hand, at least part of the ongoing rounds of changes were on him, because he refused to do what I very clearly wanted. We probably would have both been better off if he’d fired me sooner.
I feel the same way about being on the spectrum, possibly. I feel like I have to analyze so much — and my imagination often has my “analyzing” stuff that is purely my own conjecture, sometimes. I wish human relations came more naturally to me.
You aren’t a creep! That’s the important thing to remember. Maybe you made a few mistakes, and maybe he made a few mistakes. That’s what people do — make mistakes, and they bounce back or move on, or more rarely die and it’s not a problem anymore. Nobody died, so that’s not bad.
Next time will be better! *hugs*
I just saw a Kevin Hart comedy show on Netflix and his premise was that we’re here to make mistakes and learn. Overall, I wasn’t crazy about the show, but I loved the premise.