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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey, all. So I signed a contract with a small press that promised the kind of author-publisher relationship everyone wants. In fact, that was main selling point, bolstered by the fact that the publishers were long-time authors themselves. Despite the thread title, it hasn't been a bad experience thus far, but the following email exchanges with their publishing assistant make me nervous. Your thoughts appreciated.

For context: I've worked as an illustrator and concept artist for art directors, and I've been an AD myself. This being the case, I insisted on the following language in the contract:

"Author shall serve as Art Director for all visual materials created for the Work, including cover art/design, interior artwork, website art and other marketing materials."

Pretty clear, I thought. So, the exchanges with the publishing assistant ("PA"), copied and pasted:

START!

ME: Hey, all! Just wondering what I need to be doing right now to prep for book release. What else is going on? Any editing notes I need to go through? Any action with new book cover, etc?

PA: We have a front cover draft at the moment and are working on the back cover. The front is very similar your original cover. The type on the book will be raised and metallic and your name will probably not be italicized. Here is the latest photo! [Cover draft was attached. I had never seen it, nor had I been told it was commissioned.]

ME: Will you loop me into the cover design process? I do still get to be "art director," after all. :)

PA: Sorry if the cover picture didn't go through! I'm trying to send it again. It's the first draft that we have back. Please let me know if there is a glitch again and you don't receive it!

ME: I did get the image the first time - what I meant was, contractually I'm to remain art director for all graphic material related to the project, so I need to be interacting with the cover designer directly. Of course I welcome everyone's feedback, which I'd solicit regardless.

PA: Sorry for the confusion. Part of my job is to work as an intermediary, soliciting drafts and contacts for review by you [and the publishers] based upon your artistic vision. It saves time for everyone while allowing you to adjust the best work. The cover design draft that I sent is based upon your original cover (which, of course, we cannot use) and is the first workable draft that we have received. I showed it to [the publishers] since we were in a meeting and could receive immediate feedback. I'm sorry you felt out of the loop. Do you have any feedback to share? I don't recall seeing any in previous e-mails and we don't want to move forward without your input on such an important part of the book.

ME: No problem. I appreciate the work you're doing. The purpose of the inclusion of exhibit 4 in the contract (copied below) was to allow me to retain the ability to supervise creation of all of the visual materials related to the book, so while I appreciate the efforts toward saving time, I'm interested in direct communication with the designers (and any other artists that might become involved) rather than simply giving feedback on successive drafts. Please include me in your next correspondence with the cover designer. [I included the relevant section of the contract quoted above.]

PA: Thanks for the clarification. I was in the office with [the publisher] today as we were sorting out some details for the book. He said to tell you that he absolutely agrees that you are the Art Director. There's no question about that.

[No further correspondence for almost three weeks. In the meantime, I talked with the publisher and thought we had everything sorted out.]

PA: [The publisher] mentioned that you asked about the cover. There has been no progress or communication on the cover art as we are waiting for your thoughts regarding the first draft.

ME: Hey! Since I'll be the point person with the cover design from here on out, no need to wait for my feedback for us to proceed. If you'll simply send me the email address for the designer, I'll pick things up from there.

PA: Regarding the cover design, of course, we will be happy to introduce you to the cover designer as we provide her with our thoughts on the last draft. However, I am extremely uncomfortable making an introduction without initial internal feedback from you. It places us in a very awkward position since the cover designer will be receiving potentially conflicting information from our company. Since you are acting as the art director for the book, you are functioning in an unprecedented role not only as an author, but also as a primary contact and representative of our company in every interaction with our subcontractors. As a company, we try to discuss projects internally before providing joint feedback from the main contact to a subcontractor. We regularly work with the design company on books and it is best for us to present a united front. If we can discuss our opinions regarding art drafts internally and make joint decisions before moving forward, it will cause much less confusion.

ME: I'm afraid you're still missing the point in regards to my serving as art director. This is not a corporate, multi-person position, nor is it negotiable. The cover design draft shouldn't have begun without my direction in the first place. As AD, I will provide the designer with feedback (in this case, I'd suggest a bolder sans serif font instead, to begin with), but she needs to hear first-hand from me. There needs be no conflicting information, as all feedback from you all - which I'll certainly solicit - will be considered by me as I work with her towards a final design.

Frankly, I don't understand the continued reticence to allow me to serve in my contractual capacity as AD. This isn't an issue that needed a month and a half-dozen emails to address.

I'd appreciate your sending an introductory email today. Thanks.

END! Waiting for her response. Sorry for the long read. I feel like I'm going nuts. Is it just me? If I'm being some sort of jerk diva artist and you all need to flame me, flame away, but I don't think I'm being unreasonable here.
 

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I signed with someone like this once. Never again.
 

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They have violated their contract, not once but repeatedly. What are they bringing to the table that you can't do yourself as an indie? Do you expect to see enough benefit to offset the trouble they're causing?

By the way, I would suggest you pick up the phone. There's a point to start talking rather than emailing. Document the conversation as you hold it, record it if you can (with their express and spoken permission), and provide a transcript afterward, with talking points on what was finally agreed.
 

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I'd be interested knowing the company by private message.
 

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Sorry you're going through a tough experience. I've always had input on my covers, though I was never named AD (not sure whether I'd want that weight), and I sent back 4 covers with detailed notes and never ran into any problems. It does seem like you're getting an abnormal amount of push back on the topic. I don't think you're out of line at all.
 

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I hope you get this worked out.  Either the PA has not read your contract or the company just put the Art Director line in so you would sign with no intention of actually listening to you.

This sounds like the beginning of a nightmare.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
A. Kelly said:
I would have dumped communication with the assistant after the 2nd email.
This is not a bad idea, nor is calling the publisher directly again (which I did last weekend, at which point I considered the matter taken care of...). I guess I'm just baffled as to where this pushback is coming from, especially when it's explicitly in the contract. Absurd power play? I mean, I'm actually a pretty good AD, and I'm doing it for free. Sheesh.
 

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I'll give the small press the benefit of the doubt in my response based upon what you have posted so far.  We don't know how this company is set up to function, nor do we know how the cover artist people are set up.  It's entirely possible that the cover artist is a larger company as well and several artists may touch your cover.  They have a workload and workflow to manage and when sub-contracted by the publisher, the methods of that workflow are negotiated and finalized.  There simply may not be a reasonable way for you to directly inject yourself as Art Director into this existing system by bypassing the established workflow and communicating directly with the cover art company.  Thus the small publisher sends you a draft, waits for your notes, approvals and whatnot then simply forwards them to the cover artists company as contracted.

My recommendation would be to give them Art Direction through the communication channels they have set up.  If your art direction is followed, great.  If not that's a different problem.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
SBJones said:
I'll give the small press the benefit of the doubt in my response based upon what you have posted so far. We don't know how this company is set up to function, nor do we know how the cover artist people are set up. It's entirely possible that the cover artist is a larger company as well and several artists may touch your cover. They have a workload and workflow to manage and when sub-contracted by the publisher, the methods of that workflow are negotiated and finalized. There simply may not be a reasonable way for you to directly inject yourself as Art Director into this existing system by bypassing the established workflow and communicating directly with the cover art company. Thus the small publisher sends you a draft, waits for your notes, approvals and whatnot then simply forwards them to the cover artists company as contracted.

My recommendation would be to give them Art Direction through the communication channels they have set up. If your art direction is followed, great. If not that's a different problem.
I'm rather doubtful this is the case - we're using the cover art I commissioned when I self-published, so it's virtually just new text - although I suppose it's possible. Even so, why wouldn't they explain that to me? And why would they contract with a designer (just for new text!) in a way that would require them to breach the contract they have with me?
 

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I left a small press for just this issue. After submitting the cover art sheet of what I wanted, the lead artist went completely against it and said the story was my inspiration but the cover art was hers--without reading the story. After trying to explain that what she gave me did not match (at all) the story intent nor what the characters were in the story (for a female FBI agent working a protective detail in a cabin in the woods, I asked for jeans and a tank top but I got a woman in an evening gown holding a gun...seriously?), the replies I received were so nasty I asked for the rights back to all my books (3) and the publisher complied.
 

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IreneP said:
Just a guess, but I'm betting a lot of this is caused by you having an unusual clause in your contract. You are outside their normal procedure and it's causing confusion among the staff.
"Where there are three people, there are politics." - attributed to Niccolo Machiavelli.

"Where there are four people, there is bureaucracy." - Dave VanDyke's corollary, based on almost 30 years working for the government in one way or another.

I suspect that the flunky who gave you such trouble was either the "we must follow procedure" type, or he has control issues and doesn't understand that you are the client and he is the service provider.

Or both.
 

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SBJones said:
I'll give the small press the benefit of the doubt in my response based upon what you have posted so far. We don't know how this company is set up to function, nor do we know how the cover artist people are set up. It's entirely possible that the cover artist is a larger company as well and several artists may touch your cover. They have a workload and workflow to manage and when sub-contracted by the publisher, the methods of that workflow are negotiated and finalized. There simply may not be a reasonable way for you to directly inject yourself as Art Director into this existing system by bypassing the established workflow and communicating directly with the cover art company. Thus the small publisher sends you a draft, waits for your notes, approvals and whatnot then simply forwards them to the cover artists company as contracted.

My recommendation would be to give them Art Direction through the communication channels they have set up. If your art direction is followed, great. If not that's a different problem.
^^^ This

I've worked in video games as a producer with an art director dealing with an outsourced art team. There were times he had to go through "channels" and there wasn't much that could be done about it. He still had the final say, and could provide as much feedback as necessary, and reject anything that wasn't up to his expectations, but he wasn't able to speak directly to the artists. I didn't get the sense in your email chain that they ever declined to give the artist your feedback, or that they're trying to pull a fast one one on you. Hopefully you'll get the cover you want! It's definitely hard taking on a partner in this whole process. Good luck!
 

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Because your arrangement is an unusual one, I suspect the publisher and you have different interpretations of the clause. It looks like they basically want to be the go-between in communications between you and the artist, so everybody stays on the same page. I would say write out your directions and comments for the artist in as much detail as needed, send them to the publisher, and let them forward it to the artist. The artist can respond to your comments and the publisher can send that response on to you. I know it seems like an unnecessary extra step with possibly a lot of back-and-forth but the end result should be the same and it seems like the smoothest way to proceed, since they're apparently reluctant to give you direct access to the artist. They apparently don't consider sharing access/contact info of the artist to be an automatic part of being the art director.
 

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This sounds like a very large small press. My own perception (and indeed experience) of small presses is that they tend to be either one man (person) bands, or a one person (man) band that delegates a bit, but who still treats the company very much as Daddy's (Mummy's) train set.

I think it's very likely that within the context of this company, you are very much being treated as their AD would be in that you're being consulted, but ultimately everything remains under the publisher's control, and they like to hold the reins of communication. This attitude would very much be in line with other authors turned publishers who I know.

As to whether you're being a diva, I'm afraid I rather think that you might be. You started quoting the contract very early on in the exchange, which always puts people's backs up. And while you put that clause into your contract, I don't see anything that details how that Art Director role is going to work contractually with this company, which means you're pretty much tied in to their way of handling things.

Moving on from small presses, even in my day job in magazine publishing, I would not want an external writer going away and talking independently to an external designer about a product that was coming out under my brand, without at least being kept in the loop of the conversation. That kind of thing leads, very often, to designers going way over budget with multiple drafts, etc. It leads to logos being put in the wrong place, to house style guidelines falling by the wayside. It leads to trouble, to put it simply. And as the publisher is the one footing the bill...

You've moved from a self-publishing scenario to a much more collaborative model here, and I think you do need to respect the lines of communication that they prefer.
 

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Without casting a negative light on either you or the publisher (I don't know about you, them or the contract you signed,) I would be very wary.

If communication is this strained before the book is even finished (!) then it's probably not going to be all that great when it comes to the actual purpose of a publisher/author relationship: Selling a book to people.

If it takes you six weeks to get to input on a potential front cover (Or, whatever pre-launch detail you might come across) then what is it going to be like if you need a consignment at short notice for a book signing? Or, you don't get any royalties for three years and wonder if they got lost in the post?

Communication is really key in any commercial liaison. That's not to say this can't be fixed, but you need to sit down with the people in charge and work out an actual plan going forward.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
alawston said:
This sounds like a very large small press. My own perception (and indeed experience) of small presses is that they tend to be either one man (person) bands, or a one person (man) band that delegates a bit, but who still treats the company very much as Daddy's (Mummy's) train set.

I think it's very likely that within the context of this company, you are very much being treated as their AD would be in that you're being consulted, but ultimately everything remains under the publisher's control, and they like to hold the reins of communication. This attitude would very much be in line with other authors turned publishers who I know.

As to whether you're being a diva, I'm afraid I rather think that you might be. You started quoting the contract very early on in the exchange, which always puts people's backs up. And while you put that clause into your contract, I don't see anything that details how that Art Director role is going to work contractually with this company, which means you're pretty much tied in to their way of handling things.

Moving on from small presses, even in my day job in magazine publishing, I would not want an external writer going away and talking independently to an external designer about a product that was coming out under my brand, without at least being kept in the loop of the conversation. That kind of thing leads, very often, to designers going way over budget with multiple drafts, etc. It leads to logos being put in the wrong place, to house style guidelines falling by the wayside. It leads to trouble, to put it simply. And as the publisher is the one footing the bill...

You've moved from a self-publishing scenario to a much more collaborative model here, and I think you do need to respect the lines of communication that they prefer.
In fact, this is a very new, very small press. I'm inclined to think that your advice to "respect the lines of communication that they prefer," at the expense of the contract's language, does a disservice to me and anyone who might find themselves in my position. If you'll read my responses, i do plan on keeping everyone in the loop with this.

In general, I'm hesitant to take any advice that recommends that I simply do what the publisher is accustomed to doing (which, in this publisher's case, isn't an established process anyway), despite the language of the contract. I guarantee that "art directing through an intermediary" will NOT lead to the result I want. Anyway, I suppose some of that sounds defensive, and it might be, but I do think authors need not subject ourselves to publisher (assistant) pushback just because it's "how they do things." We create the product. We do the primary work, and everyone here knows how to do the secondary work too. Publishers ride our coattails, not the other way around. (Ra ra, brave new literary world, etc.)

But yeah, I think the issue's resolved. I'm definitely more guarded from here on in though.
 

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Sorry to hear you're having a bumpy ride with this agency. Hope everything sails smoothly from here on in.

I'm a bit curious, though. In your OP, you described them as "a small press that promised the kind of author-publisher relationship everyone wants." But you seem to know plenty about the publishing world already. You certainly don't sound like someone who can't hire your own custom cover designer.
What exactly can this small press do for you that you can't do for yourself?
 
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