Esprit de l’Escalier

SO SARAH HOYT PUT ON a Cover and Blurb Clinic. I went and partied like a guy who hadn’t been out in … ever. I may need to send some apology notes and mend fences. We’ll see if anybody starts acting hurt or something.

And it went on for a large part of two days, so it’s kind of like every discussion thread on the Internet and it’s time to kill it. (I really miss the threading ability in CompuServe forums. That was da bomb. Everything the Internet has thrown up in that line of country is second best AT best.)

But I have some afterthoughts that I want to get down somewhere where I and others can find them. Otherwise, they’ll be lost. (And God knows, they’re so damned valuable! </sarc>)

First: enough with the modesty, people! Who are the artists we respect the most? They’re the ones who stood tall and proud, delivered themselves of their art boldly and without apology. If I hear somebody offer another apology or belittlement of their work before the public, I’m gonna scream.

As an artist, it is your responsibility to Make Your Work the Best You Can Possibly Do. I don’t recall anything in that commandment about convenience or the ease of use of the tools or how long it might take to find the exact right image. What I do remember is “Best”. To me, if the best I can do isn’t perfect, I will keep at it until it is. I’m not going to accept second best cover art for a short story, and I’m not going to apologize for flaws in the work with that as an excuse.

Here’s why.

Your name is on the cover.

Ultimately, that’s your brand. Trad-pubbed authors don’t have that level of control over their covers (Although, my friend and first reader, Jamie Moyer, and her agent fought for a better cover and got it for the first novel in her forthcoming trilogy. And we should be vicariously proud of her for it.)

But one of the things we keep saying is primo about indy pubbing is the control over covers. OK. So now you’ve got it. And you’re going to put crap out there with your name on it because doing it right is hard? I’m sorry, I think I missed something. You may not be able to afford the best source image. OK. It’s like a house. Some you can buy in move-in ready condition. Some are fixer-uppers and you have to exert some sweat equity. But the fixers are cheaper. You can buy in at a lower cash price, but the ultimate cost is about as broad as it is long.

So the quality of your project — of your writing — is first and foremost represented to your readership by the cover image. “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” you say. Bitch, please. The cover is something that the reader will have in his environment LONG after he’s disconnected from Amazon. In his mind, it will become an icon representing that product — your product. Under YOUR brand. It’ll be on his nightstand for a week, his bookshelf and/or his Kindle (one hopes) far longer. And whether it’s a short story or a novel, it is out there under your brand, and you damage the brand if the packaging on your product is less than perfect.

I didn’t mean for that to sound as harsh as it does. But now that it’s out there, I think it’s right. Not for the harshness — that’s just texture — but for the bold-facedness of it. You NEED to insist on the best. And you owe it to yourself and the business you’re building to be strident about it — and most especially with yourself. Demand it. As close to perfection as you can get. I hope putting it out there at this distance will permit some perspective and honest reflection without the emotion and immediacy of a personal critique.

If you want to learn about type by osmosis — by exposure to good typography, check out this book. It’s called Type Matters and is a neat instance of funky artistic book design, as well as being informative on the subject of type.

Back in the day before soft fonts became widely available, there was a shop in Washington DC (They’re still around.) called Phil’s. They were a general digital service bureau (and, before that, a type house). And they had a catalog published, Homage to the Alphabet: A Typeface Sourcebookphils_fonts_book I got my copy almost by accident at the North Light book sale that F&W Publishing holds every year. The neat thing about the Phil’s catalog is that it’s organized by type style. Serif, Sans Serif, Script, and then the subcategories. It’s an incredible immersive tool and can teach you a lot about typefaces in the course of a simple font match search. And Phil’s taxonomy is the one we use at Otto and I use to organize my personal font collection. It’s that strong.

That is all.

That’s enough! Sheesh!





Say, “Goodnight,” Gracie.

Good night, Gracie.

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