Or, Things I learned from Sam Flegal, Libertycon Artist Guest of Honor:
Just as we frequently say here that “It’s all in the contract!” and “You are not selling your book, you are licensing intellectual property!” Guess what? When dealing with artists, it’s all in the contract. And when you talk to them about using an image for a book cover, you’re not buying the work, you’re licensing intellectual property. Yep, that’s right: they’re just as concerned about licensing and IP rights when they talk to you as when you talk to a publisher… because in this case, they’re the IP creator, and you’re the publisher!
The shoe is now on the other foot. So, what terms should you offer the artist?
Do NOT start with Work For Hire
What is work for hire? It is, very simply, where you offer to pay the artist for the art, and then expect to keep the artwork and have all rights and usage, leaving the artist with nothing but money. You’ve seen this from sidewalk artists and beginning artists; they create something, you hand them cash and walk off with it.
If Penguin Random House asked you to sell your work for some cash up front, with no royalties ever coming, and they keep all the money for life + 70 years from audiobooks, video games, movie rights, foreign translations, as well as ebook and print…would you take it? Even the Star Trek franchise doesn’t offer that bad terms, so why would you?
Artists, professional ones, make money multiple times from different rights to the same work of art, just like you make money on the same story from print, ebook, and audio. There’s the initial buyer: magazines, publishing houses, card games, commissioned art for conventions, etc. Usually, the people who purchase initial right of publication do not purchase the actual painting, unless by separate agreement. Then there are the secondary buyers: when you go up to an artist booth at a stall and see five copies of the dragon image for sale, those are called prints. Most fine art gracing walls is from prints, from Bev Doolittle’s Pintos to Monet’s water lilies. The tertiary buyers are often on swag: from t-shirts with dragons fighting each other, to posters, mousepads, or coffee mugs. (Note: your royalty-free sites’ license specifically prohibits selling swag with the unaltered image precisely because that’s a valuable income source artists aren’t willing to license for the low cost of royalty-free.) Then there’s reselling the image for reproduction elsewhere, and finally, there’s selling the physical copy of the painting (if non-digital.)
This is where you get royalty, or royalty-free art sites. Just as you’d like to get paid every time someone downloads your book from Amazon, artists want to get paid every time their art is displayed by someone else. They either have royalty on art, so they get paid per use, every use, or they sell it under royalty-free license, where you pay once on download, and then can use it over and over.
Yes, every use. Just like trad pub authors expect 12-25% net on every ebook sale, an artist who licensed a work under royalty gets 2-4% from every sale. Obviously, you-the-publisher can see the gigantic headache looming. This is why you don’t want to do that, either.
Here’s a great example of a smart artist:
Luis de Royo painted an impressive fresco in a house in Russia. He then turned around and put out an art book showing it off. I seriously wanted it – and by buying it, he’s sold those paintings a second time to me. If he makes prints, t-shirts, posters, desktop backgrounds, mousepads… there’s his tertiary income. And I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he took sections of the whole and licensed them as book covers or magazine illustrations, for a fourth income from the same painting. (For the curious, it’s Dome, http://amzn.to/1RSWIqn Warning! Not Safe For Work!)
If you walk in asking for work for hire terms, you’re taking all that potential income away from the artist. As Sam Flegal said, “It’s doable, but it’s like walking into a negotiation with your middle fingers raised.”
What terms do you want, then?
What do you want to do with the art? You want to alter the art to make a book cover. You want to sell that book cover in print, ebook, and audiobook cover, to sell or give away swag with the book cover on it, and to do so for as many customers as want to buy it, for the life of copyright. (Sometimes even that’s negotiable; how many covers still use original art 10 years after the fact, much less life of artist plus 70?) Don’t shortchange yourself on what may possibly be useful – but the less you ask for, the less bread you’re taking out of the artist’s mouth, and the more likely you can negotiate a price within your budget.
Don’t have a sample contract? Work with the artist, here. Chances are, they can point you to a contract they like that’ll leave you both happy. (After all, it may be your first time licensing cover art direct from the artist, but it’s their job. They’re helpful, as long as you don’t just expect them to do all the work.)
How much will it cost?
That depends on what you want, and who’s doing it. (Doesn’t everything?)
I have to admit, I might have looked like a malamute watching bacon cooking when the guy who did the MHI handbook cover (see it here: http://amzn.to/1Jy5TdV ) mentioned that you may be able to license 4th-use works for as low as $100 – $300 for a cover. I know he gets around $3000 – $5000 for a custom cover painting from publishers. This means if it’s already created, you may be able to license an image for far, far less than getting a custom original. (Assuming the image hasn’t already had exclusive rights licensed to someone else! Chances you can license something painted for Warhammer or other very distinctive IP? Nada.)
On originals: are you commissioning the art? How specific are you being? How many details are there? If you want a wrap-around sized piece of art with a battle scene where each human, orc, and elf is drawn clearly in the cast of hundreds, that’s a whole lot more time-intensive than if you want one warrior walking away from some nice abstract flaming wreckage.
Check out Dan Dos Santos, to see “single character, abstract background.” You will be able to pick out the urban fantasy and scifi covers. (He’s one of the iconic painters of urban fantasy covers. If you know urban fantasy, you’ll recognize his art in a heartbeat.)
Remember this critical bit of advice: Covers are advertisement for your books, not representation. If you tell the artist “An orc and an elf fighting in a back alley under a neon bar sign.” Your orc might end up in a trench coat instead of the leather jacket you didn’t mention. Or have dreadlocks, instead of a shaved head. But! If it will show character, setting, genre and subgenre, and entice the reader to pick it up, it’s Good Enough.
On the other hand, preliminary sample sketches will save a lot of time, trouble, money, and heartache on all sides.
Artists tend to think in images, not words. Some artists will want a copy of your book to read before they paint, to get a feel for the characters and setting. Some won’t. Check first. However, even if you do give them the book, see if you can find a couple photos or magazines or even make some crude sketches so you can say “I want something like this, with a guy who looks like this, but dressed like that…” It’ll make getting what you want a whole lot easier. On the other hand, if you’re working with an experienced cover artist and he tells you “It’d be better if you..” or “You may want to consider…”, listen to him. The guy (or gal) thinks in pictures, and has much more experience than you in what looks good. You’re paying for that expertise; you don’t have to use it, but you should listen and learn why they made that recommendation!
Are you wondering why artists charge so much for custom cover art? Frankly, because it can take them up to 200 hours for the massive oil painting (counting research time and shooting reference photos with models.) If you take the hours at work you are actually working, not breaks or meetings or side projects or goofing off, 200 dedicated manhours runs 1.5-2 months on the timeclock. If they’re going to put 2 months of work in on your project, they want 2 month’s pay for it, especially if you want it on a 3-week turnaround.
On the other hand, if it’s an all-digital, relatively simpler work by a lesser-known artist, custom covers come in as low as 200 Euros (or dollars) for a couple digital artists, sometimes even less at the local convention, Instagram, or off Deviant Art. If you negotiate, you can also sometimes get price breaks for multiple orders, or if you license it non-exclusively, so they can make royalty-free site income afterward. Remember, artists have to eat, too, so the object is for both of you to come out of the deal happy.
In summary, art, like writing, is intellectual property. You are now the publishing house, not the author. Treat the artist with respect, license only what you need, and let them have the rest of the IP rights to sell elsewhere for food and mortgage. Avoid licensing for work-for-hire or for royalties. If the art is already created, you may be able to license it for far less than custom creation.
When commissioning art, the simpler the image, the less work it takes, and the lower the corresponding cost. Check if the artist wants to read the work, and have character details & reference sketches ready if you have an image in mind.
Be polite, be professional, and always have a contract.
And if you think you might need fantasy covers, or want to learn more about an artist at work, check out Sam Flegal’s blog here: https://artistjourney.wordpress.com/