Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dorothy, put down them ruby slippers and fetch me a glass of lemonade

(Photo: Judy Garland as Dorothy in 1939 film, The Wizard OF Oz)

Hello ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages. Step right up for some important enlightenment. Pay no attention to the man behind the screen. Today's topic under the Emerald City Blogodome comes straight from that wizardess of words herself, Wayworm, the Wicked Wit of The East. Yessir, folks, that's me and my post is about making literary lemonade from lemons.

I suppose I might subtitle it, "Surviving a ill thought out commission to an illustrator and moving onto loftier heights." If that sounds sort of high-toned or Victorian, excuse me please, for I have just read the fifth gaslight murder mystery of the week. But, I digress. We wicked wit's do that occasionally.

What I really want to address today once the Munchkins calm down, are two topics: (1) what not to do when working with an artist on a book project (that's the lemon) and what happened afterwards (the lemonade).

First, a little backstory. Back in 2008 or 2009 I decided to take a project I'd been working on sporadically since 2000, then called The Dragon Chronicles, and turn it into a children's book in verse with pictures. I hired an artist with a background in animated design who was recommended by a friend to create some character drawings for this book. I didn't check her references or set a time limit for obtaining her designs. Are you already feeling chills up your back? I should have. Maybe I was distracted by the shine of the ruby slippers. In any case, wicked wits aren't always wise.

Now, I knew even back then that if I were to take this book to an agent and was able to get one of the big publishing houses to buy it (highly unlikely, folks) the publisher would toss the pictures I provided and hire an artist from their own stable to do the drawings. But, I wasn't planning to go that route. I was writing the dragon book to read out loud to Toto and as a legacy for my eventual grandchildren.

The artist gave me to understand I could pay for the character designs and stop the project at any time. I should have but I didn't. Flash forward to spring of 2010. By this time we're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. By this time, the picture book in verse had morphed into a full fledged fantasy novel for YA and adults. It didn't really need pictures anymore. I hadn't heard from the artist for the better part of a year. All I had was a rendering of the dragon, which I liked. I had already paid her a considerable sum, more than I should have, and I emailed her that I was finished with my book, it was in final edit and I either wanted the rest of the characters or the project cancelled.

She made all sorts of excuses and strung me along the Yellow Brick Road, but she did finally come up with the rest of the designs...in the spring of 2011! Why did I wait? I suppose because I had already been involved with this project so long and in my mind had paid for the designs so I thought I ought to get them. When the artist finally delivered the designs, she did so in the unexpected form of a computer disc that couldn't even be used without the purchase of a $1200.00 software program and she hit me with a huge and very much unexpected bill as well. Color me shocked and black and blue. Oz could have blown me over with a feather.

When I was finally able to view the illustrations in final form in the black and white format they would be in in the text, they were completely wrong for the book. Still wanting to like the art, I showed the small paintings of the characters she'd done and delivered with the disc to a survey group to a resounding reaction of dead air. Gulp. No cheers from the Quadlings or the Munchkins either. The scarecrow shrugged. The lion didn't even roar once.

I dug out the agreement we'd signed several years before and discovered it promised things that hadn't been done and said absolutely nothing about the stuff on the unusable disc. I asked the artist for a discount prior to final payment, which she refused. She got a lawyer to write me one of those nasty lawyer letters. She eventually offered a discount, although a smaller one that I asked for. Her lawyer informed me she'd copyrighted the designs, which she'd conveniently neglected to inform me. She has promised to transfer the copyright. Lets just say I am not holding my breath on that one but I do have a bucket of water handy.

So, what if I had decided to use her pictures in my published book, assuming that since I'd paid for them they were mine as she had verbally told me? I shudder to imagine what might have come of that.

If you are wondering about the art, I stuck it in one of those empty gift boxes that you always mean to reuse and never remember where you stashed it in time for Glinda's birthday. Then, I shoved the box on a crowded top shelf in a little used tower guest room closet where it will probably remain until a child or grandchild comes across it one future day and tosses it into a garage sale bin.

If you are still with me here is my advice on the lemon:
1. Do not hire an artist to work on your book is you plan to publish traditionally.
2. If you do hire an artist, shop around, check references and qualifications, have a real contract that someone with legal qualifications signs off on before you do.
3. Be very very specific what you want and don't think you have to be overly polite about substandard results so as not to hurt a creative person's tender feelings. Encourage them to move on with the project but be direct. This is business and you should get what you asked for and what you paid for.
4. Have a set time for product delivery detailed in the contract and list the penalties for failing to adhere to that schedule.
5. Have a set payment schedule in writing for each part of the project and make sure all parties adhere to that schedule.
6. No verbal agreements.
7. Don't worry about lawyers saying nasty things about you in their letters. They are hired by their client to say nasty things in an effort to intimidate you. Lawyers say awful things as a part of their daily job (think Jose Baez here). They don't have to be true. Its just part of the law game. After they spew hateful words at witnesses and fellow lawyers they get on the elevator, slap each other on the back and invite each other for golf or drinks. I have personally witnessed this.
8. You have recourse to Small Claims Court for claims of $5000.00 or less. The case will be heard by an impartial judge and not someone hired by your opponent.

As for me, I am like Aunt Em's cat who once sat on a hot stove burner. Not only will I not hop on a red burner, I won't ever sit on a stove again.

Okay, now for the lemonade. It occurs to me that this getting a bit too long, so if I may, I will expound on the lemonade in the next post. But here's a teaser. Having spent money on useless art and sucking up the sour aftertaste, I was reluctant to hire a book designer or book producer, or sign with a subsidy publisher for my indie book. But guess what? That expensive software we bought (which we got cheap through the university thanks to my spouse's staff discount) has everything on it to enable us to become book designers, book producers, and yes, our own publishers. All we have to do is learn how. I thought this would be easy. It is not, although probably easier for my spouse who has a degree in CIT than myself. It is very complicated and involves study and research and practice. But, it is fun as well and once we get the hang of it it will potentially make future book productions as slick as the Tin Man's oilcan and as easy to swallow as Ozma's Emerald City Smoothies.

We've been working with Adobe Creative Suite Design Standard and Photoshop for a month after work and on weekends, have read countless tutorials on the 'how tos'. Joel Friedlander's book, A Self Publisher's Companion and his blog, The Book Designer are GREAT references. So, we're doing this exciting new thing all by our selves. We will produce a well written and well produced book to put in your hands with no middlemen involved. I'll tell you how next time.

Until then dear friends, live long and prosper. And, uh, don't go flying around in one of those hot air balloons without a certified pilot. Watch out for those flying monkeys and the guy or gal behind the screen, too.

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