Saturday, September 18, 2010

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #7

It's been a while since I've been able to read anything for fun. Now that school's back in, I tend to have other things to read. Here's what I have to read this weekend:
That's the typeset pages of my second book, Hexed, plus essays on The Crucible, a reworked paragraph from The Scarlet Letter, and some quizzes. Anybody who thinks teaching is a nine-to-five job doesn't know jack about it. With all that on my plate, it's tough to fit in any reading for pleasure...or writing, for that matter. But my editor sent me an Advance Reader's Edition of Cherie Priest's Bloodshot—it comes out at the end of January next year—and I'm tellin' ya, it grabbed me. I stayed up late to finish it and I paid for it the next day, yawning at everybody, but wow. I was already a fan of hers after reading Boneshaker (see Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #3), but this one has turned me into a fanboy. If you think Priest's steampunk is good, wait until you try her urban fantasy! Emphasis on the wait, I guess, since you'll have to wait before you can snag a copy, but it'll be worth the wait, I promise! Take a gander at it here, chillin' out with a Granny Smith:
Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #7
Tough to say which looks tastier, isn't it? Sweet cover—and an even sweeter story. Put it on your wish list. Speaking of covers, I've seen early drafts of mine, and I'm excited about the portrayal of Atticus! Can't wait until I can share!

And while we're on the subject of covers, I might as well throw in my two cents about photographic vs. painted covers, since I've seen a few posts about it recently out there on the Internet(s). Right now photographic covers in fantasy are very popular—they're selling well—and some folks bemoan the switch from painted scenes to photographed ones. There are even conspiracy theories out there—that this is a cost-cutting move by publishers, or they're trying to save time, even doing it out of sheer laziness.

Maybe they're right...I can't refute any of those arguments with solid facts or numbers, since I don't have access to them. But it sounds a bit off to me, simply based on what I've been seeing with the production of my covers. Is it cheaper to hire a single painter for a cover, or hire a photographer, a model, and a designer/digital illustrator? I'm guessing the costs are comparable, if not even more expensive on the photography side. And in terms of laziness, I haven't seen even a hint of that in my case. Del Rey has asked for my input on the character's portrayal, and they've been fastidious about sticking to it. Honestly, I couldn't ask for more. They got the hair right. They got the clothes right. They got the sword right. And since my character wears a cold iron amulet around his neck, together with some silver square charms with hammered designs on them, they had a jeweler make one from scratch so that the model could wear it during the photo shoot! Say what you want about costs and time savings, but that's definitely not lazy; that's scrupulous attention to detail. Perhaps I'm extraordinarily blessed to have a publisher who gives a damn—I certainly think so—but I imagine other publishers are doing the same with their authors. Take a look at Orbit's covers for Gail Carriger—especially her latest—and you'll see plenty of details.

I think using photography vs. paint is an attempt to make the characters more real for readers and bring that world alive in their minds. Judging by its success—we're seeing photography used in epic fantasy now, not just urban fantasy (see Peter V. Brett's The Desert Spear)—most readers appreciate it. I completely understand and sympathize with those who have different aesthetic sensibilities; there's no arguing matters of personal preference. And there's no denying that truly stunning paintings can add value to a book beyond the words inside. But I don't think there's a giant conspiracy of corner-cutting behind the switch to photographic covers; publishers are simply trying to compete and get their authors' titles noticed and picked up. Some covers work better than others—I certainly hope mine work better—but that was also true of painted covers. I'm not going to wail and gnash my teeth over it; I like the photographic ones just as much as the old-fashioned ones.


  1. Eh, we'll just have to agree to disagree. I'm going to do a follow up post since this time I went to B&N and wrote down the names of the rack of Romantasies I saw. It's truly hideous to me to see what the spec fiction shelves look like these days.

  2. I can say that I am in favor of painted covers if the covers are not going to include any characters on them (like the original cover art for The First Law trilogy, the original cover for Warded Man, etc.). However, if characters are going to be on the cover, I am highly in favor of the move towards the photographic covers. For years I have looked at the covers of the Wheel of Time series and had to hold down my bile as I removed the dust covers to read each book, bemoaned the over-the-top portrayal of Richard and Kahlan in the Sword of Truth series artwork, and so on. Painted covers with fantasy characters make me think too much of dungeons and dragons source books. Don't get me wrong, I love roleplay games and still play them all the time, but I generally don't want my fantasy to read like (or feel like) a roleplay game. I roleplay to be taken away to a Tolkien-esque world of elves and dwarfs wearing magic armor and wielding +9 ogre slaying daggers. I like my fantasy fiction to have a different feel, and the photo realistic covers are one thing that helps makes this distinction for me.

  3. In part, I agree with AlanOBryan: Darrel K. Sweet singlehandedly undermined the entire fantasy genre with some truly horrible cover art, starting in the late seventies. (Which is sad, because his line drawings are spectacular.)
    OTOH, Mike Whelan covers sold me a number of books, or at least convinced me to read the first few pages.

    I think modern photo-realistic covers come from the same marketing wisdom that promotes urban fantasy so heavily in the American market: it's
    more accessible to a wider group of readers. This works well, as long as characters are reasonably human, and settings somewhat familiar. Can they evoke the same happy sensawunda that a really great cover painting might? Jury's out on that one.

    It's a current tool, and one that will morph over the next few years.


  4. Thank you for the comments, guys! Love to hear what people think.