Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Artistic Process Begins

Today, Rudy started sending me some concepts for Grandfather Goodspeed (also known as Fyodor, Fy, or Professor Goodspeed). We're doing a "deep dive" on Grandfather Goodspeed's look right now since his face will dominate the cover in the way I imagine it. I think once we nail the way he looks, a lot of the other elements will flow in around him.

I've included here some of the initial sketches Rudy has created. It is so interesting to me how words can be interpreted so differently by people. For, although I think each of these is roughly close to how I envisioned Fy Goodspeed, some are definitely closer. I really appreciate though I am working with someone who is able to envision and capture so many different ideas for what Grandfather should look like from the words I wrote.

I'd love to hear feedback from readers of my blog what they think. I've already polled family and friends and gotten a variety of feedback that has helped my finalize two of these, in my mind, for Fy Goodspeed's look.



Kalamazoo!



Christopher

Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Rejection Letters Pour In

Well, I've been told from the start that rejection is part of the writing process. Today, I believe it. After Writers House turned down my first submission, I decided to cast my net wider and submit to a number of agents, some exclusively, but most simultaneously.

There's a lot of debate in the writing community about what appropriate practices are for submissions (exclusive versus simultaneous) , but I largely decided on the latter due to the time the whole process takes. If you consider that each agent takes two-to-three months (at best) to review your submission package, you're talking about only four to six agents seeing your material in a year. Since I truly believe my book has market potential and am not afraid to self-publish, I decided to accelerate this process by submitting to many agents simultaneously. I figure if I am going to be rejected, I'd like to get that out of the way as fast as possible.

And that's how I ended up with the forest of letters below. To the agents who included a personal note: I appreciate the time you took to write me. I will take your comments to heart.



So, here I am, three months and thirteen rejections later, standing on the verge of self-publishing, excited as hell.

Kalamazoo!



Christopher

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Inspiring Tomorrow's Space Explorers: A New Query Letter

After my rejection last week by Writers House, I decided I need to punch up my query letter to emphasize the business opportunity my book presents.

Although I started writing the Onyx Sun series as a fun book for my son, Aiden, I am realizing it could also encourage kids to engage in math and science through the technologies those subjects enable. My book is replete with technology developed by Zack's grandfather, like large robots, rocketships, and fast jets, which should inspire kids. This is important because I've learned while working at Riverdeep that American kids score lower than almost every other developed nation in math and science scores. I am starting to think my book might be able to help turn the tide.

One of the keynotes at this year's NSTA (National Science Teacher's Association) emphasized during her speech that before we can expect kids to spend long hours pouring over textbooks, we have to inspire them to want to do so. In America we have a strange anomaly compared to the rest of the world whereby math and science are considered geeky. Maybe it's our sport-oriented culture, maybe it's just random, but the fact is kids don't want to study math and science because they don't think it's cool. They are not inspired.

My book can help change that. In an increasingly technological world, I think math and science have to become cooler if we're going to keep up. Gone are the days I grew up in when playing PC games was just for geeks. Now, kids of all ages, as well as adults, play XBox, PS3, and PC games. That's a step in the right direction, and books can help more than they currently are.

When you look at the bookshelves in bookstores today, you see a lot of YA fiction that centers around one of two categories: (1) fantasy or (2) reality. There's little-to-no science-fiction, which is interesting to me because sci-fi straddles these two genres. Sci-fi has a historical precedence of taking crazy ideas and making them reality. The Internet, space travel, genetic engineering...these were all considered science fiction until they gave way to science fact. Issaac Asimov and Jules Verne inspired people who became visionaries like Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

That's what our kids need! They need inspiration in what could exist but doesn't quite yet! I don't care how you slice it, no matter where we head in the next two hundred years, this planet will never see one dragon, elf, or fairy. While those things are fun to read and write about, they will never exist, while walking on Mars, settling the Moon, and exploring outer space will.

So, if we're going to inspire our kids in math and science, let's start reading them books that talk about attainable dreams. We're already exploring space, but we need to inspire them to take today's efforts further. So much awaits us out there: potential motherloads of raw materials, alternative sources of energy, new colonies to develop, etc.

So, it is with this passion and vision for how my book can help this that I have revised my cover letter to the following:

--- BEGIN LETTER ---

Specific Person
Agency
Address
Address

Dear (Agent/Editor’s Name):
I am seeking representation for my young adult chapter novel The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun, complete at 83,500 words.

My book follows ten-year-old Zack Goodspeed, after he discovers his grandfather has invented a spaceship powered by an infinite energy source called the Onyx Sun. Stowing away on the ship, Zack is stranded on the Moon, thrown into life-threatening conflicts, and forced to confront an enemy bent on using the Onyx Sun to wipe out all life on Earth.

I believe my book will be popular with young adults for a number of reasons:
- Space 2.0: Children have always loved space. It provides a realm of infinite imaginative possibilities, and now we near a Second Golden Age of Space. Virgin Galactic is creating the first space tourists. A human will walk on Mars. My book is part of these events, which will define the next generation.
- Engagement in Math & Science: We need to inspire American kids to engage in math and science if we are to maintain our international competitiveness. I have designed my book to present plots, characters, and environments that will engage children in the exciting possibilities of technology and space.
- A Series Novel: This book is the first in a series, which will maximize backlist potential. I have already started the sequel: The Wicked Adversaries of the Onyx Sun. Five novels will ultimately comprise the series covering space exploration, colonization, interplanetary war, and first contact with aliens.
- A Familiar Format, an Underdeveloped Genre: With my book, I have used familiar elements from popular young adult novels in an environment (i.e. space) I am passionate about and consider underdeveloped as a mass market genre.
- Relevant to World Events: My book explores terrorism, alternative energy, and internationalism to help young adults understand their lives in a global context.

I have published several articles and poems. I currently work for educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Riverdeep Group and understand how to capture kids’ attention. My business background and education (BA, Northwestern; MBA, Babson) have given me the skills to sell my novel to parents, teachers, and children. I am a member of SCBWI.

In my research, you have consistently arisen as a quality source of representation. I hope you will contact me at your earliest convenience for the entire manuscript.

Sincerely,
Christopher Mahoney

What I Like About This Letter
  • Makes a full business case: I mention several reasons my book is unique and a good business opportunity. In a bulleted list, these issues are easy to scan and assess.
  • Synopsis is tight: The book synopsis is concise, perhaps too much so.

What I Don't About This Letter
  • Too formal: Looks like a business proposal. Is not enough of a compelling story. The bullets especially look business-y.
  • Too scattered: The fact I didn't focus on just one or two appeals for why my book is so unique looks scatter-shot.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The First Rejection

Well, after two months of waiting on tenterhooks for Writers House to review my entire manuscript, I heard back today. They were very courteous to give me a personalized write-up of my manuscript, but of course I can't help but be disappointed. I know how hard it is to get published, but for a glimmer of a moment, I thought Writers House initial interest might translate into one of those rarefied occasions when a new author gets picked up immediately.

For posterity's sake, here's the letter:



Kalamazoo!



Christopher

Friday, June 2, 2006

A Hit! An Agent Unexpectedly Responds

I can't believe the serendipity of what just happened!

Back in April, I sent my newly minted agent submission package (consisting of a query letter, return postcard, and the first three chapters of my book) to Writers House. To me, Writers House is the Harvard of agencies. They have been around for a long time, are consistently mentioned as having the best agents, and represent some of the top authors in publishing. Given all this, I decided to submit to them first and to give them exclusive opportunity to review my work before I submit to any other agent.

Then the long wait began.

For those uninitiated to the trials of being a new author, you would be shocked the lag-time in this industry considering we are well into the Internet Age. It still amazes me that I have turned on multi-million dollar, global web applications to the barrage of immediate feedback, and I still have to wait two-to-four months for one response from an agent. It makes sense that they get overwhelmed by inquiries and have to put an earnest effort into reading each one, but I really wonder sometimes if the Internet could help streamline this effort somehow. This seems on the surface to be an industry in dire need of modernization.

Regardless, time passed, and I fell into that funk of waiting so many authors will tell you they have experienced. It's a strange feeling of quasi-rejection. You're not really rejected during this time, but you're definitely not accepted either. You are in limbo awaiting some stranger's judgment. It's surreal.

But where the serendipity of this all comes in is that during this time, and probably somewhat sooner than I today realized, Writers House had accepted me! I was working from home today when I decided to take the recycling out. We have two blue bins for our recycling. One we use almost all the time. The other we leave outside by the garbage bins, collecting rain water. It's almost like having a house cat, and a mangy outside dog no one ever plays with. So, I decided, in a moment of strange pity for an inanimate object, to switch out the bins. It was time for the dog to come in and the cat to sit out.

That's when I saw it: one of my return postcards, lying at the bottom of the outside bin, damp with this morning's dew. At first, I thought I'd recycled a postcard I'd never sent. After all, in creating the postcards exactly as I wanted, I had printed several "prototypes" to get the custom text on the back of the card just right.

I plucked the postcard from the bin to check. That's when my mild surprise became glee. On the back of the postcard was a voided stamp. This was one that I had sent to an agent and had been sent back! This must be from Writers House since they were the only one I've queried so far.

It was almost too much for me to scan down the back of the card to where I had printed the accept/reject check boxes. But as my eyes fell, my heart leaped. Writers House wanted to see more! I jumped into the air and yelled, much to the surprise of my neighbor watering her plants, then ran inside to call my girlfriend, Kim.

Amazing! Writers House is asking for the entire manuscript, which I'll send first thing tomorrow.

Kalamazoo!



Christopher

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My First Query Letter

The following, as promised last week, is an example of the first query letter I ever sent out. My letters have evolved until the most recent version. So, I post this for a comparison between where I started, and where I am now.

What I Like About This Letter
  • The quote in the header: I wanted to make an immediate impression with the tone of the book and my writing style. Agents always say they want the sample chapters to immediately impress them with the writer's unique style and that a writer should include that style in the writing the query letter. I decided to front-load this and integrate some sample text, that doesn't actually appear in the book, into the query letter.
  • Personal connection: Much of the material I read on writing query letters said you should try to personalize your story to the agent. So, the second paragraph, where I discuss what space meant to me, and means to all kids, I thought achieved that
  • Closing: It's a little uber-entrepreneurial, but I think the comparison works between trusted networking of investor/advisers and agents/advisers.

What I Don't About This Letter
  • Length: It's too long. Some of the wordiness in the synopsis and qualification sections could be reduced.
  • Non-germane credentials: My writing credentials section doesn't contain enough pure writing qualifications. At first I thought showing I could sell a book might grab an agent's attention, but I realized after a while this section should focus on more pure publication qualifications.
  • Word count: I should have kept it simple. 79,900 words is basically 80,000. Now, I just round up/down to the nearest 1,000.

--- BEGIN LETTER ---

“Who could have guessed the small, black cube that helped man colonize the stars could also be used to wipe out humanity? Whoops. Sorry about that.”
- Geoffrey Gumbean, Chief Research Scientist
Excerpt from the Senate Inquiries into the Uber-abnormal Affairs of the Onyx Sun

Specific Person
Agency
Address
Address

Dear (Agent/Editor’s Name):

I am seeking representation for my young adult novel, The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun, complete at 79,900 words.

As a child, I loved the boundless imaginative possibilities the exploration of space offers. These dreams are now becoming reality as entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk lead us back to the stars. Thanks to their efforts, today’s children will be the first generation of citizen-astronauts, and books like The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun may inspire them to continue the journey. As Dr. Sally Ride stated, “Our future lies with today's kids and tomorrow's space exploration.” These words were never truer.

The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun follows the story of Zack Goodspeed, a fairly average ten-year-old, who discovers his genius-inventor grandfather has secretly built man’s first interstellar spaceship. By stowing away on this ship, Zack is thrust into a series of adventures that land him on the Moon, throw him into life-threatening situations, and culminate in his saving humanity itself.

The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun is the first book in a series. I am currently working on the sequel, The Wicked Adversaries of the Onyx Sun.

Book Synopsis
Zack Goodspeed is a perfectly normal ten year-old boy, growing up in a perfectly normal suburb. His friends are all normal. His teachers are normal. His mother and father are practically Mr. and Mrs. Normal. Everything in Zack’s life is exceptionally normal save one thing: his grandfather, Fyodor.

By any measure, Fyodor Confucius Goodspeed is just plain whacked. He towers over most people at six-feet, six-inches tall. He wears only white, because he can’t bother to spend time matching his pants to his shirt to his socks. He stumbles about, distracted by inner thoughts, like someone who just learned to walk.

Yet, Fyodor is an incredible genius who has just built man’s first interstellar spacecraft powered by a small, black cube called the Onyx Sun. The Onyx Sun is Fyodor’s greatest invention. The Onyx Sun provides unlimited power. The Onyx Sun whisks Zack away on a series of adventures into space.

Freed from his earthbound normalcy, Zack walks on the Moon, meets bold, new friends, and learns how to pilot skyscraper-sized robots called “Mech Leviathans”. Ultimately, he saves humanity from Dr. Ian Machvel, an antagonist whose one aim is to pervert the Onyx Sun into a weapon of mass destruction. In the process, Zack faces many issues relevant to today’s young people, including confronting terrorism, gaining self confidence, and appreciating one’s family.

Credentials
I have been writing stories since I was eight. At Northwestern University, I studied economics but found Atlas Shrugged struck me deeper than Keynesian economics.

I have published a poem which appeared in Summer Shade: a Collection of Modern Poetry. Until recently, I managed a literary company called Pariah Publishing (www.pariahpublishing.com), where I gained insight into the dynamics of good writing through personally reviewing and critiquing over 400 manuscripts. I am currently a Product Manager for Riverdeep, an educational software developer, where I frequently interact with children in my book’s target demographic.

I am an MBA graduate of Babson College, the #1 School for Entrepreneurship in the US, where I won the prestigious Price-Babson Fellowship and conducted research under Stephen Spinelli, the man who built and sold Jiffy Lube. Accordingly, I understand the business commitment required to launch successful ventures, like a new book. I also co-edited publications from the tenured professors during this time.

Agency Representation
Much as an entrepreneur seeks investors who can provide business acumen as well as financing, I am looking for an agent who can provide credible feedback on my work as well as representation. In my research, you have consistently arisen as such a source. I wish to submit my manuscript to you and (agency name here...in this case, as my first choice, it was Writers House), exclusively and foremost.

Sincerely,
Christopher Mahoney

Friday, March 24, 2006

How to Write Query Letters That Don't Suck

I have entered into a whole new, more challenging part of the writing process: writing a query letter that doesn't suck. If you are a new writer finishing up your first manuscript, just wait...you thought it was hard to press through those lackluster chapters, find words when they wouldn't come, or make your story hold together believably? Nope, that was just the warm-up. Writing query letters...that's when the real "fun" begins.

In writing a book, the author is quite often the sole gateway to what content is placed on the page and how much of it. In writing a query letter though, you have to take all that content and boil it down to a one-page letter that is interesting and unique. The agent runs this game and the trick is standing out from the crowd since they see thousands of query letters a year, each claiming to be from the author of the next Da Vinci Code.

To kick-off this process, I read a few books recommended to me by writer friends as well as more than a few Writer's Digest articles on the subject. The best of the books was How to Write Attention Grabbing Query & Cover Letters, which puts aside the infomercial veneer too many books in this genre take on in favor of practical, concise suggestions for writing great query letters. It also includes some example query letters, which I found interesting but wasn't quite sure they would fit my book or writing style.

Next, I went a little nuts. I wrote sixteen versions of my first query letter over a year before I sent a single one. Thankfully, I started writing them while I was working on my book so they haven't held up my book going out to agents now the manuscript is done. However, I do think looking back this was overkill. My thought at the time the insanity started was that if I just wrote the right query letter, with the right combination of wit, intelligence, and passion, it would unlock an agent's heart (and phone) and convince her/him to represent me. I used the same overbearing process for the SAT and GMAT and that had worked decently well. But looking back now, although this approach helped me hone my pitch, I probably could have achieved the same goal in half the time, with half as many drafts.

So my advice to anyone going through this process now is:
  • Read a maximum of two short books and three articles on the subject. Companies will always try to tell you to read more, but...hey...that's because they're often trying to sell you more books on this topic. Unfortunately, writers are kinda suckers on anything that can help us get an agent or a publisher, because quite often we're desperate to get one!
  • Write up to ten drafts, but no less than five distinctly different ones
  • Get them out as fast as possible. You're going to be waiting a long time for agents to write back. So, you might as well rush to the wait.
As far as what to put in a query letter, I have had the most success with the following guidance from the material I've read as well as my own experiments:
  • Be Natural: Make the tone of the letter casual, like you are talking to a friend. Think about how many letters agents and publishers get addressed to "Dear Sir". They probably read more letters than Stanford admission officers, most from people with formal offers for the next Harry Potter (riiiiight) that they have to "BUY NOW!". Skip all that hype and standoffish hoopla. Just write your idea down on paper as you would write a friend. That alone will distinguish you.
  • Be Concise: If you hear one thing about agents, it's that they have no time. Don't add to the burden; reduce it. Try to make your letter shorter than one page. Use this straight-forward template:
    • Open with a simple statement you are looking for representation for your completed manuscript. (If it's not completed, you shouldn't be writing.)
    • Specify in the first two sentences the genre and the title.
    • Use the first paragraph to summarize the plot. Give the whole plot, including the ending. Agents aren't your readers. They don't care about spoilers. They want to know how the whole story flows before they can judge if it's even worth reading.
    • Use the second paragraph to list your qualifications. Do you have subject matter expertise? What have you written before? If you don't have any writing credentials, get some. Write anywhere third-parties will let you. Publish an article for your local newspaper. Do book reviews. Just get your name and your unique voice out there. Then list is in this paragraph as a qualification, within reason. Don't just list a bunch of self-published drivel no one reads.
    • Wrap-up with a short statement about why you are soliciting this particular agent or publisher. What authors that she/he represents do you like?
Even after going through this, I don't purport to be an expert. This is just what I've found works better than other query letters I've written. With my first query letter, I got further interest in my entire manuscript from Writers House, my top choice agency. Although I didn't end up obtaining representation there, I do think the fact they even responded with a personal note to my inquiry showed my query letter had achieved a certain level. I'll include my query letter here soon. Best of luck with yours!

Kalamazoo!



Christopher

Thursday, March 9, 2006

The Final Postcards

Rudy did an excellent job on the return postcard for my query letters to agents. After the conceptual work he did nailing Professor Goodspeed's look, he came up with the final two designs to the left.

After doing an informal poll, it seems like most people I know like both equally. Personally, I prefer the first because it captures Professor Goodspeed's affable nature better, but the sheer detail in the second also draws me in. In fact, the second presents a very powerful environmental scene. I mean, just look at that moon!

However, I want an accurate portrayal of the characters to drive interest in my book. Quite often, it is interesting characters that suck us into new stories. So, since the first is closer to Grandfather Goodspeed, I chose to use that.

The next step is to make the postcard as user-friendly as possible. I had Vistaprint produce a bunch of blank, postcard-size prints with Concept 1 on the front. I am generally not a huge fan of Vistaprint, since I have had a couple of disappointing experiences printing business cards through them. But I figured they couldn't ruin something as simple as this, and they actually did do a nice job and it was inexpensive.

I created a template in PowerPoint for the back copy, attached to the right. It is written from the agent's point of view, since they are the ones returning this postcard. Of course, postage will be affixed as well on the top right.

Overall, I think this is superior to the standard SASE (self-addressed stamped envelop) since it ties into the imagery of the book and even easier for agents to respond since all they need to do is check a box (like those notes in grade school, huh?)

Kalamazoo!



Christopher

Friday, February 10, 2006

Postcard Requirements

Yesterday, I selected one of my good friends, Rudy Hall, to create my Onyx Sun postcard. Rudy is an incredible artist. I've known him for a few years and always considered him extremely talented. But after graduating from SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design), he impressed me by starting his own design firm in Chicago with some friends, thus adding to my already copious amount of respect for him.

I'm probably being too formal about this, but after I selected Rudy, I wrote up my requirements for the return postcard I want to include in my query letters to agents. I think my hour-long Caltrain ride from my house in Menlo Park to my job in San Francisco is becoming the most productive part of my day, as that's when I seem to get stuff like this done!

Anyway, I thought this might be interesting to any other writers interested in finding an artist to do something similar. I took this template from similar product requirements documents I have used in my other, daytime, paying job.

Onyx Sun Postcard Requirements

Objectives:
  • To create a postcard potential agents will use to indicate their interest in reading more of the manuscript The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun.
  • To produce a creative piece as a prototype to creating the jacket art and other design collateral.
Background:
Now that the Onyx Sun manuscript and major revisions are complete, the next stage in getting the book published is for me to find an agent. This involves a fairly lengthy process whereby I send query letters to agents whose focus is on representing young adult (YA) writers. Query letters are typically 1-2 page solicitations to agents that describe the story, introduce the broad plot and characters, build excitement, and (hopefully) interest the agent enough to request a complete manuscript. An example query letter is attached. The ultimate goal is for the agent to agree to represent the author and his/her work to major publishers. Most major publishers today accept manuscripts only from respected agents they often already know.

Process:
The entire query letter process can take 1-3 months per agent. Typically, the best agents get thousands of query letters per year and can only represent a very select few. Most reputable agents request they be the only person reviewing the manuscript at the time. There is unfortunately no way to speed this process up. However, if I am denied by my top picks for agents, I may solicit the rest of the industry simultaneously.

Detail:
The postcard is an item that will be included with the query letter. It will include postage and be addressed back to me at:

Christopher Mahoney
Street Address
San Francisco, CA 94133

On the front of the postcard will be a graphic representing the characters, story, and – most of all – excitement of the story The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun. On the back of the card, will be my return address, an area for postage, and an area where the agent can check a box and indicate that he/she is/is not interested in seeing more.

Copy:
The text for the back shall be written from the agent’s perspective and state:

Thank you for your recent letter requesting representation for your young adult novel, The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun. At this time:

I am very interested in reading more. Please send me the entire manuscript.
 I am interested, but need more information first. Please send me a few chapters
and a more detailed synopsis.
 I am not interested, but thank you for your inquiry.

Design:
  • The design should follow these motifs, in order of priority:
  • True to the visuals of the book
  • Exciting
  • Commercial (think: more Harry Potter artwork than comic book)
  • Art-deco
  • Space-age, but accessible and understandable to people who are not necessarily fans of science fiction
Delivery:
I can handle the production of the piece. This project is primarily focused on you delivering the artwork for the cover in both a high-resolution electronic format, like EPS, PSD, etc. and by sending me the actual artwork.

Next steps:
Before you commence Rudy, let’s do the following:
  • Have a phone conversation around:
    • What visuals grabbed you in the book
    • What you think about in existing literature or art that reminds you of the theme of Onyx Sun
    • What you are seeing for design:
  • What is the “theme”?
  • Who are the major characters to be shown?
  • What are the major objects to be shown?
    • Your impression of the Harry Potter book jackets and how we can borrow some of their success.
    • How we fit the book title on the postcard. What is the font & other treatment?
  • Talk about budget, payment terms, and timeframe.

Kalamazoo!



Christopher

Friday, February 3, 2006

Picking an Illustrator

So now that the first draft of my book is completed, I have begun to search for an illustrator. This is not typically how an author would move forward at this point, since often publishers pick the final illustrator of a chapter novel, but I have two motivations for doing so at this point:
  1. Return Postcard: I want to create a postcard agents and publishers can return to me when I send them my query letters to indicate if they are interested in seeing more of my book. I like this approach because a postcard with an image from my book would be personal and would help introduce the concepts from the Onyx Sun to the agent/publisher I am writing to. Hopefully, the right agent/publisher will see the image, read the sample chapters, and become as excited as I am about the prospects for my book.
  2. Cover Design Preparation: In case my book is not accepted by an agent or publisher - as is often the case for new writers - I plan to self-publish my book and will employ the same illustrator I used for the postcard. That way, the postcard can serve as an introduction to the characters for the illustrator so when we create the cover, he/she is more educated on how to draw the primary characters.
There are a couple of qualifiers I am searching for specifically in this person:
  1. Must accurately represent the imagery in the book
  2. Must have a unique style
  3. Should have a strong work ethic and commitment to deadlines
  4. Must have a portfolio of past work
  5. Should be willing to work on a cash-equity basis
The first two qualifications are interesting because I want to find someone who is capable of balancing the imagery I have described in my book, with their own personal touch. Each artist obviously has a unique style, but I find it is a rare trait to find one that is able to balance that with the unique visuals described in another creative work, like a book.

The last qualification is also slightly different from the way many writers approach self-publishing. Most of the self-published writers I have met have contracted illustrators on a pure cash-basis. Although I could do that, one of the first things I learned in business school was "cash is king". In other words, keeping cash inside your business is on of the most important qualities to keeping your business afloat. It seems like a simple concept, but as we learned at Babson, far too many companies are all to ready to part with their cash in lieu of more creative payment arrangements.

So, I developed a cash-equity payment model where I will give my illustrator 75% of the cash he/she asks for but will negotiate in an "equity" share for the remaining amount. This "equity" will essentially be part of my royalties for each book sold. In order to incentivize the illustrator to be ok with not as much cash up-front, I plan to significantly sweeten the equity share to be far above what the illustrator would have earned from pure cash. For example, if the illustrator I choose to design my book quotes me $1,000 to design my cover, I could counteroffer that I pay $750 up-front, plus a $2 commission per book up to $1,500 in total payments. So that obviously be $500 over what the illustrator cold make on a cash-only basis.

Obviously, I am going to have to find someone who trusts I will deliver on this arrangement. But, in the end, I think this is a significantly better arrangement for both parties: I pay less while I am cash-starved, and the illustrator can stand to make 50% more once the book starts selling. It, in essence, makes us business partners, which I also consider a positive part of this arrangement. It makes us mutually financially interested in the same project instead of just contractor-contractee. In the latter, more common arrangement, the relationship is one more focused on servitude and short-run success. It can also lead to lower quality outcomes, as only one party (the self-published author) is invested in the books success. I took this model from the same process start-up companies use to finance early stages: in lieu of higher wages, give employees equity, which could be worth significantly more in the long-run. Of course, the employee (or illustrator in this case) has to believe in the company founder and the product, but people who know me, know I deliver on my word, and I truly believe my book is a product that can sell...even in the challenging publishing market.

The common expression in the publishing space is "You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can sell it!" If this is truly the case, which it seems to be, why shouldn't a cover illustrator, who holds so much sway on the book's success, be invested and rewarded too?

Kalamazoo!



Christopher