The Best SF Book Art Advice You’ll Probably Ever Get

First off, cool news: Irene Gallo, the magnificently awesome art director for Tor Books, has started a blog, appropriately called The Art Department. If you have a brain cell in your head, you’ll add it to your favorite links right this very second.

Second off, Irene has done every aspiring SF book cover artist an immense favor by making her very first entry an exploration of how to impress an SF art director with your portfolio. Simply and plainly put, if you ever want to get work doing SF book covers, and you don’t read this, you’ve just put yourself at a severe disadvantage. I am so not kidding. You need to read this.

Myself, I’m just basking in the glow of this observation, about painting women on SF book covers:

Yes, we constantly show sexy, big-breasted babes on our covers. But, there is a fine line between sexy and freakish. If you are using Hustler for your reference, you’re on the wrong side of that line. Along with sexy, they usually need to look like they can kick-ass. Slave girls don’t impress art directors. Book publishing does not use pin-up. And breasts are NOT perfectly spherical.

Bless you, Irene Gallo. For the rest of you, stop reading this entry and go read Irene’s. Even if you’re not an artist, you’ll benefit getting a look from her point of view.


Insipid Thinking

In the mail today: A copy of Jonathan Letham’s new book, How We Got Insipid, from Subterranean Press; it’s a collection of two of Lethem’s short stories which have apparently been out of circulation for a while, even though one of them (“How We Got in Town and Out Again”) was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. The link above is for the standard edition; there are also signed and lettered editions available via the Subterranean Press Web site.

What’s interesting about the book is that, according to the press release accompanying the book, Subterranean is contractually obliged not to promote the work via the usual channels — it can’t send the book to newspaper or magazine reviewers or to the trade magazines like Publishers Weekly or Booklist. This is apparently an attempt to make sure Insipid doesn’t cannibalize the sales of Lethem’s big publisher work (although since Insipid has a print run of just 1500 copies it’s hard to see why that’s a real worry), or cause the newspapers and magazines in question not to review Lethem’s other work because they just reviewed this. The end result of this is that Subterranean will be relying on Web reviews and commentary (like, uh, this) and word-of-mouth to move copies of Insipid.

I guess I’m a little confused as to what these restrictions are supposed to achieve. Speaking from experience, I can say that Web-only publicity can easily sell a small run of books; Agent to the Stars had only two trade publication reviews (PW and Booklist) and no print reviews otherwise, and we sold out the entire 1500-copy run of the hardcover in about nine months, based entirely on Web promotion through Web site reviews and commentary. And I’m just me; Lethem has got a number of major book awards and a MacArthur Genius Grant to his name. One also wonders what will happen if — as is entirely possible, given who Lethem is — a magazine or newspaper reviewer actually buys the book and then reviews it. You couldn’t really stop a reviewer from doing that, if they wanted to. All that contractual effort, gone to waste.

Bear in mind I’m not a disinterested party here: I publish books with Subterranean Press, I’ve edited its magazine, and I’m pretty good friends with its publisher, Bill Schafer. Having plopped all that down, I think in general it’s pretty silly for a major publisher to get its underwear in a wad over what one of its authors is doing with a small press. What small presses do, in my experience, is generally complementary to what larger presses do — and if you’ll excuse the lapse into corporate speak, all of it feeds into building the brand of the author. When Subterranean published Agent, it didn’t detract from the novels I’m doing at Tor; indeed, I suspect it helped me capitalize on new readers looking for something from me in the wake of Old Man’s War and helped set the stage for The Ghost Brigades.

Speaking personally, I also find a relationship with a small press (in my case Subterranean) allows me to try some things I wouldn’t get to do with a major publisher. Later this year, Subterranean will be releasing Coffee Shop, my book about on the writing life. The audience for this book is somewhat specialized, but that’s fine because “specialized” is part of Subterranean’s business model. Next year Subterranean is going to print a fantasy novella I’m writing (although — he hastened to add because he knows his next book’s editor reads the site — not at this very moment); again, this project isn’t right for a bigger publisher but is right in line with what Subterranean does, and I get to play in the fantasy genre without the pressure of a full-blown novel pressing down on my brain. Everyone wins.

Now, it does matter that, in my experience, Subterranean is sensitive to what I’m doing with my career overall; it doesn’t want its Scalzi books to compete directly with my books from Tor or other larger publishers, and not just because it knows it would lose (by, among other things, annoying me) but because it knows that success of its books of mine relies to a great extent on my success with larger publishers. This is what I think makes Subterranean one of the smarter small presses out there: its understanding that it’s part of a writer’s overall career, and its understanding of how it needs to fit in that equation, for its benefit and the benefit of the writer. Subterranean does other things right too, as far as I know its business, but this aspect is the part that is the most imporant for me. I’d be surprised if other small presses don’t do it this way too (and if they don’t, I feel sorry for them).

All of which may explain why I’m confused as to why Insipid has to follow a silent treatment. Its success — should it be a success — almost certainly won’t impinge on any success that comes from Lethem’s more mainstream work; indeed, its success would be a net benefit, since in keeping 1500 Lethem fans happy, it’ll also keep them looking for Lethem’s next thing. It’s a little strange to see that as a threat.


Two Points About Gitmo

Two things about today’s White House decision to, what the heck, give Gitmo detainees protections under the Geneva Conventions:

1. Real shame that it only took a Supreme Court ruling to get to this point.

2. The decision should give comfort to everyone convinced that Bush was going to go completely off the farm and tell the Supreme Court to take a hike because he was going to do it his own way. I’ve noted before that the Bush administration’s thing was to be seen as legitimate, and ignoring the Supreme Court does not exactly scream “legitimate power.” So two cheers for the rule of law! No third cheer, of course, because we needed the Supreme Court to get to this point. But what are you going to do.


Speculative Literature Foundation’s Mentorship Program

So, I’m going to be part of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s mentorship program for this fall (it actually runs from August 1 to October 31). What this means is that I’ll be talking shop about writing and the publishing industry directly (via e-mail) with a small group of novice writers. I will be joined in this task by fellow writers Leah Cutter, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Jenn Reese and Ben Rosenbaum, all of whom will be mentoring their own small group of writers.

If this sounds like something you might want to be a part of, I’ve included the SLF’s full press release for the mentorship program behind the cut, where you can find the complete information on the author participants and also how to apply. Be aware that if you are accepted, there is a fee for participating, but the fee is awfully modest ($30 at most) and I suspect you’ll get rather more than $30 worth of advice and information from any of the mentors, including me. Hey, I don’t skimp. The deadline for applications is July 25, however. So snap to it.

Also, feel free to pass this info around; I’m sure the SLF won’t mind.

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