Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Advice And Mentoring

     
 Usually, I have something to write about. Something to babble on about, something to expound upon or relay, but this week I’m at a loss. So I’m just gonna start writing and see if anything crops up.

I guess this all stems from the fact that I honestly don’t want to slam books. I don’t want to badmouth anyone or make them feel bad, and that includes my own authors, who are awesome enough to want me to continue to make covers for them. However, the truth of the matter is that doing reviews is tough, which is what people automatically assume reviews are about. You know what they say about assuming, don’t you?
It’s especially tough when most people don’t know you from Adam, and probably think who the hell is this person and what right do they have to be reviewing my cover? ’Cause let’s be honest, I’m not well known, I don’t have artwork everywhere, I haven’t even been to a convention, so no one has actually seen my face. Not even my close friends, who I’ve known since Buffy was on the air. I don’t even know if they’ve seen pictures of me, and that’s kinda sad.

Sadly, it’s mostly ’cause my damn computer won’t support Skype (yes, it sucks that much), and I hate pictures of myself. However, I am going to GRL this year, so some of you will see me and know that I’m actually a person and not just a robot churning out random musings.

Perhaps you could spread the word after that for me? I’d appreciate it!

Anyways, the point that I want people to take away from my reviews is that I completely understand that everything that goes into making a book is a struggle and potentially, very emotional.

The writing is, of course, tough because you just never know if anyone is going to like it, and what if they don’t? Do you keep going? Or do you give up? When is trying and not succeeding enough? When do you throw in the towel and not feel badly about doing so? Where do you go to for help? Luckily most freelance authors have friends and family they can rope into helping, and they seem to realize the need for at least a beta read before publishing their stories.

Because let’s be honest, its stressful enough writing the darn thing let alone trying to figure out if the story is any good, if it’s bad, or if it just needs some tightening. And if you’re one of the authors that’s actually published by an actual publishing company, then you’re really lucky. You get a beta, a line reader, a content editor, etc. Even though it might not feel like luck and comes with its own unique levels of tear inducing stress, it’s still someone telling you what the hell is missing in a thoughtful way, and hopefully not tearing you to pieces after the horse has already left the gate. It’s a great learning tool, if nothing else? You get my gist, though.

The art, however, is a different kind of tough because it’s the first thing the audience sees. It’s what can quite literally make a customer pick up a copy of a story or keep on moving down the line. The artist usually realizes this, and that in itself is a huge helping of oh my God, what if I screw this up? stress. And what if the art is bad? Who’s going to want to hire you then? And how the heck can you tell if the art is bad if you don’t have anyone to tell you? I’m not talking about slamming the art, I’m talking about someone who looks at your art thoughtfully and helps pinpoint oopsies. You know, the things that sometimes get overlooked because you’ve been sitting at your desk for a couple of hours staring at the same picture. Oh sure, artists can ask friends and family for their opinions; but where most people can read a story and tell you, “ um…sweetie, I think you need to explain how the protagonist saved the antagonist from drowning when the protagonist can’t swim,” most people look at art and don’t see the things another artist might . Why? Because they aren’t an artist, just like you wouldn’t necessarily notice if something were stitched wrong if you didn’t sew.

Take, for example, part of this cover that I did. Some of you may recognize it, but I left the authors name and title off since this is about little things that can go unnoticed.


In this case the double collar went unnoticed. The models head, neck and white collar piece are all from a different photo than the rest of the picture. Unfortunately, when I put the cover together I remembered to erase or Photoshop in all the other parts that didn’t match, but I missed that one little piece that I actually didn’t see until the author had already published it. A beta artist in this case would have been awesome.
Anybody want to be one for cheap? Possibly free?

Or what about that terrifying situation that involves the model that’s been used too much? Sounds like a 1950’s horror flick, doesn’t it?


Luckily, this is a cover of mine that has never seen the light of day and never shall. Not with this particular picture, at least.

When I made this cover, nary a copy of this stock photo was to be found anywhere. Nowadays? Sooo been there, done that. And while I know that we artists try to use new and fresh photos, it’s hard to see all the covers coming out. Just like it’s hard to remember all the faces being used again and again. Heck, it’s hard to remember even a fraction, so it really should be no surprise that it happens. However, when it happens to you, it sucks and makes you feel badly because you were trying to make a unique cover, and here comes Mary Sue from down the street with the exact same photo, but maybe hers is just that little bit shinier.
This is where telling your artists even the smallest details can make a BIG difference in a picture, and it really helps the artist make your cover something special.

It doesn’t have to be a huge change. In fact, just a little one can sometimes make enough of a difference that you don’t end up having the same picture that 20 other artists have used. This is what I did to make this wonderful picture by D.W. Skinner just a bit different than the other pictures he had of the same models. All I did was change out the hair on the top man, get rid of the beard, and covered up the earrings on both. Like I said, nothing too outrageous, but the guy on top now looks like the brother of the guy in the first photo. Subtle, but effective.

    

For the record D.W. takes a dizzying array of stunning photos, and my using this for my example is simply to show what a change manipping a photo can make. **

I guess what I’m trying to say after all this, is that being a little fishy swimming in the pond with the way bigger fishes is way daunting but damn, would I love some serious constructive criticism from any of them.

Seriously, I’m not Rembrandt. Hell, I sometimes feel like I’m barely a step above Cyanide and Happiness, but having another peer point out that maybe I make my covers too dark, (which I do sometimes), or that my technique is too textured for mass marketing, and maybe give me pointers on how I could possibly improve, I’d have to say I’d count myself damn lucky.

This is what I try to do with my reviews.

I try to help.

Like I said, I’m no one really. I’m just a small fry, barely a fry even, but I’m honest and I’m not cruel. I don’t rip people to shreds because I figure hey, they’re probably still learning and maybe I can help somehow? Maybe they can teach me something as well. Hell, I’m big enough to fully realize that I don’t know everything, and hell yeah, I’m open to trading ideas.

And in the end, isn’t that what we’re all really trying to do? Keep learning in order to improve our art? Whatever that may be?

This is kinda all over the place today, and I’m sorry for that, but I’m hoping that it might encourage some of you to reach out and be mentors. Or allow someone to be your mentor. After all, everyone can use a helping hand, everyone can use a cheerleader, and everyone can learn new tricks, whether they’re an old dog or young.

Just remember, even the littlest fish has its place in the grand scheme of things.

That’s it for this week.

Have a great day…and may all the good books be with you!

A.J.


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All thoughts and comments are the reviewers only and not the viewpoints of others. If I’ve made you angry, stepped on any toes, or otherwise ruffled any feathers, I do apologize. This is just for fun, and written in the hopes that it will help fledgling book authors and artists to grow and learn. And help this artist grow and learn as well!




 

This review is also published and up on The Novel Approach Reviews. A wonderful book review website that you must check out! :)


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