Frugal or Too Far?--veinglory

Monday, June 16, 2008


A lot of small presses cater to niche markets. Their sales are measured in hundreds not thousands. They have to keep down costs; I get that. But I still think there is a saving too far. For example: not paying for cover art. Oh dear, yes I am going on about this again. But I have been given some very nice cover art of the years, and I expect that the people who made it were properly compensated--as they should be.

Notice this from Vanilla Heart: 1) Hidden Passages cover, 2) totally free photo stock. (This and another example noticed by a sharp-eyed Absolute Write forum member)

It's a nice photo, does it matter that it is free? I guess it's a matter of opinion. My opinion is that the editors should be paid, in money. Also the photographer, the cover designer, the interior designer and everyone who contributes to the work. It fits into my issue with offering 'publication', and nothing else, as a prize. Even when amateurs are recruited by large presses, such as the Harlequin "real men" covers--those that got the job, got paid for it at the standard rate. The only people who might not get paid for the first few years (or longer) might be the owners, that's the down side of being the boss.

Now this amount may not be high, but it should be reasonably proportional. I don't really know but would estimate a cover artist might get paid about 1% of what a book normally makes with that press (Writer's Exchange thinks 10% but I reckon that's a bit steep). In the case of many small presses that would often be less than a dollar, but stock photos can be had for that amount. Or perhaps I have it wring and the 'free' photos are used under license but a fair amount is paid to the photographer when the book starts earning? Because that would be a gracious approach to respecting the artist but living within the companies means.

I also recognise the dangers of paying, but not very much. I think that is because it blurs the amateur/professional boundary to be paid, but at an effectively below-minimum-wage level. Back in the days when I thought it was a good idea to run a zine (OMG what a disaster) I offered a token honorarium. The end result was that I got panned for paying small amounts (around $5) whilst the 99% of zines that don't pay at all escaped criticism. The zine closed at a distinct pecuniary loss and I retired to the sideline to live out the maxim 'those who can't do, blog'.

Perhaps that 'low pay' backlash is why presses that can't really afford pro rates prefer to offer "fame" rather than a pittance. But it really shouldn't be that way. After all artists and writers set their own rates, and work at their own level. With the small press that sometimes means working for small change. And yes, some choose to offer their work for free, maybe I should respect that too. I can't know for sure that they didn't have this kind of exploitation in mind.

I know plenty of people don't agree with me on this, but I think that a professional product should be a collaboration of professionals. Amateur is amateur, professional is professional, but mixing the two hardly seems fair to those put in the non-paying category. Yes, no? Throw me a reality check here. As a former stock photographer I am hardly unbiased.

8 comments:

kirsten saell 11:53 PM  

Most epubs and small presses use very inexpensive stock photos, and there's nothing really wrong with that. I've gone looking for images myself for book trailers, and there's a huge gap between the inexpensive ($1-5 per photo) and the next tier ($60-250 holy crap!).

It's up to the cover artist to take that generic image and turn it into something spectacular. I've seen some amazing transformations, let me tell you. And that cover artist ought to be compensated accordingly.

Being stingy with covers is like going to a job interview wearing a stained t-shirt and jeans you slept in. Sure, you might be the best person for the job, but who's gonna give you the time of day?

Seeley deBorn 9:16 AM  

I noticed the other day that a small epress, who'd re-done the covers on one author's books (still wondering why they'd do something like that, seems like a waste of money and cover artist time) used the exact same shot as another, larger epub did. The covers look identical. Only one minor detail distinguishes the books.

Though the author was thrilled with her new cover, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing wrong (in a legal sense) with doing it, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not sure how either cover artist was paid, but it seems like for what was done, the second one is getting paid for little work.

Anonymous,  6:22 PM  

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that dishing out hundreds of dollars per cover typically will put just about any publisher in a hole. Although some people refuse to believe it's true, a lot (maybe even the majority) of ebooks only just about break even, and many lose money for a publisher. Don't forget, some publishers are actually issuing four or five or more titles EACH week, and it's rare each new book sells a ton of copies, therefore some of those titles go by almost completely unnoticed, which means all the money spent on production for that book is virtually "in the red." This also means, with artists being pushed to produce more and more covers each month, many artists/designers are forced to rely on stock images to save valuable time, not to mention money. Very few companies (OK, probably only one) have the resources to hire models and set up photo shoots and all that other craziness for each book, if any books at all.

Also, Seely, the likely reason those covers had to be redone was because of contracts. If an artist from one company doesn't have a contract with the second company, then the second company has no choice but to redo the covers. Copyright infringement comes into question, therefore publishing companies must redo any cover art on republished books (unless they contract or purchase the work from the artist of the original cover).

As in the case mentioned above, the second cover might have been small work. But that's rare, and I'm sure the artist was probably relieved BIG time. If an artist is paid a flat fee for each cover they produce, some covers will be very easy to do, while others will take a days and dats...it all depends on the author's or publisher's requests/demands and what stock photos or other source materials are available.

Anonymous,  6:27 PM  

Oh, one other thing I forgot to mention...a company may also insist on redoing cover art if the original art was---to be blunt---below company standards. And yes, as you know, epublishers all have different standards as to what constitutes an "acceptable" cover. Nevertheless, they also would need permission (and likely compensate) the original artist were they to reuse the original covers, so if the quality was lower than the second publisher demands, they likely wouldn't attempt to even use the original cover.

Emily Veinglory 6:39 PM  

You might notice I never mentioned hundreds of dollars. In fact I suggested 1% of projected profits from that title (or an avergae title). In many cases that would be a dollar or two, an honorarium.

Seeley deBorn 6:59 PM  

Also, Seely, the likely reason those covers had to be redone was because of contracts. If an artist from one company doesn't have a contract with the second company, then the second company has no choice but to redo the covers. Copyright infringement comes into question, therefore publishing companies must redo any cover art on republished books (unless they contract or purchase the work from the artist of the original cover).


Um, you lost me. The books didn't change publisher, they just got new covers....Do you mean that the covers had to be redone because the artist moved on? That doesn't seem like what you were saying...

There was no change to the status of the books other than new cover art. My comment about similarites was speaking more to the use of stock art, and different publishers having the same covers. Why would a publisher redo cover art on an existing book, a backlist book, and make it look exactly like someone else's?

Anonymous,  8:26 PM  

Hi Seely,

Yes, you're right, I misunderstood what you had said. Sorry about that.

One likely reason I can think of, in your scenario, is that the artist did indeed move on and "demand" that their work be pulled from the publisher. This happens, from what I understand, quite often when artists get shafted :) I can't say I blame them one iota!

Another reason might be for lack of book sales...sometimes new covers are issued if perhaps the original cover was somehow "misconnecting" with readers. I've heard (a rumor, mind you) that EC sometimes revises covers when a book has less sales than anticipated.

One other reason pops into mind....that when (or if) the book went to another format (paperback, for instance) the cover was found to be lacking or had some problems that would cause the transfer to another medium (printer specifications, for instance) a problem.

Other than those three reasons, however, I couldn't imagine why the cover would be altered. Yet, who knows?

As far as why different publishers would use the same stock photos, well that's a good question. But the answer is likely simple...there are only so many stock photos available for certain types of books (erotica, for example) when authors specify a certain type of character, and as luck would have it, the artists undoubtedly grab photos that have already been used elsewhere. I'm sure it's not intentional, but a matter of "desperation" to find a cover that "fits" the story.

To Emily....yeah, I hear you. Although these days, with so many editors and artists, etc. getting screwed with the "percentage garbage," most of the bigger publishers pay flat fees since many of the books pull in fewer sales than expected (and the editors/artists have refused to work on a percentage basis anymore because of this reason).

Seeley deBorn 9:01 AM  

Wow, Anony, thanks for all the info! :)

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