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Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Cover Story*

In the past some have complained about the art on my book covers. I’ve been told by this minority of critics my cover art turns them off. As a part of my continuing quest to improve quality control on my books, I commissioned some art for Book #4’s cover by a professional artist.

Unfortunately, the art I commissioned for the cover was unusable. I paid $400 for an illustration that looks like a hybrid of Crispus Attucks from the Golden Legacy comics and the Cream of Wheat Man posing with Clarice “Precious” Jones in a prom photo. Yeah, it was that bad. Worse, it didn’t tell my story or accurately fit the descriptions of the characters in the novel. How the artist got that interpretation from my concept art and my instructions I don’t know.

Because of this screw up, I’m going to have to use my own art for this cover. If anyone doesn’t like it they're just going to have to deal with it.

I’m not a big-time publisher with a $50,000 budget. I’m an unemployed brother doing his best to self-publish books with my limited savings. I pencil, ink and color the covers of my books because it’s the only way I can afford to tell the story I want to tell. Now I know my art skills aren’t top notch, but I put as much heart and craft into these pieces as I do into my stories.

Sure I could use a stock photo for my covers. But I feel that's lazy. Readers who take the time to buy my books deserve something better on the cover than some second-hand picture that’s being used someone’s yard sale flyer or company brochure. To me, stock photos show how much a writer doesn’t care about the audience. Besides, has anyone really tried looking for African-American images at shutterstock, or any other stock photo places? It’s easier to search for a needle in a haystack.

Before readers judge my books by the covers, they need to understand how much work goes into them. It took over 40 drawings before I had a pair that was suitable enough to put on the All About Marilyn cover and 10 drawings before I had one I thought was suitable enough for The Cassandra Cookbook cover. Only on the Isis cover did I knock it out with one drawing. And it wasn’t perfect either.

 With that said, this is the rough art for Book #4:

Yes, I know the art looks like crap. I Did my best to clean it up in Photoshop. I'm still trying to draw something better. And no, this isn't the final cover. Yet.   

Now I’m working on refining this concept. But this may be final art if I can’t do any better. It’s been a pain in the ass mixing those damn browns and peaches to create medium and light African-American skintones. Seriously, I don’t want to deal with that darkskin/lightskin nonsense I ran into with The Cassandra Cookbook cover. I’m not colorstruck and I don’t give a crap what color people are in real life. I’m doing my damndest to translate the words I wrote into images on the paper.

And yeah I’m struggling with anatomy. Yeah, I know E’steem’s hand isn’t proportional to her head size. And her neck is too long. And that arm is…screwed up. But it’s the best I can do right now.

This is my art style. It’s unique to my books. It tells my stories and captures the spirit of my characters. It’s not perfect but it allows my books to stand out. It makes them more competitive than something generic and half-assed like this:

Is it a novel or a Zagat guide? Generic covers like this don't give readers an incentive to buy fiction.
Seriously, this only took me 10 minutes in Photoshop. I'd like to think I can do better than this.

For all those who complain: If you can draw another cover, or are willing to pay for another commission by another artist then talk to me.  If not shut up. If you're not going to be part of the solution, then please don't be part of the problem. I don't need the headaches.
* Note: The planned article about the 70 percent drop-out rate among black men has run into some...delays. It'll be up next week. Still need to do some research and clean up some paragraphs. It's an article that means a lot to me and I want it to be great.

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