Discarded Cover Design

Somewhere, amongst all my junk, I have a letter from an Australian publishing house saying that wouldn’t publish the book that would become Mirrorfall, because they didn’t believe it could sell 7000 copies.

Ten or so years later, I’m not sure they were wrong – I’ve distributed several thousand copies of Mirrorfall – the majority of those were free, but that letter was a turning point for me as a young writer and creator.
Back before self-publishing was really a viable path – back in the day when the only option was to buy a pallet of books, or sell single copies through Lulu for $24.95; you really had to look to a publisher in order to get your toes into the world of Being a Published Author.
But because I had dreams of being an author, I read a lot about what was expected from my genre – urban fantasy – and what the Gatekeepers would expect.
A lot of what the agent blogs – as well as the continual lists of new releases – told me that what I was writing wasn’t really what anyone wanted. I didn’t have a sexy heroine who met her lover in chapter three.

Sexy Stef – Not the Direction I Wanted

Require: Cookie is little, and weird, and it’s mine.
With the expanded options for creatives now, we’re no longer beholden to the Gatekeepers – self-publishing is now a first step for for a lot of authors, rather than a last resort.
The pros and cons of going it alone can go on for ever and ever – for every pro, there is a con; for every con there is a pro.
You get control, but you gain responsibility.
You get established resources, but your choices can be restrained.
If we look wider, we can use the example of The Dresden Files, and the ongoing joke of official covers showing Mr Phonebook Wizard in a hat, despite him not generally wearing a hat in the series.
I mean, if you take a look at the current Kickstarter, the fact that he’s not wearing a hat is called out on the main project page (look just below the main box image).
That kind of issue is just one of the more visible examples that can happen when you fall onto the Gatekeeper side of the fence.
With a game, if you plan on pitching to a publisher, it is recommended that you don’t invest too much in art – and that’s across the board, whether it’s going to a specific publisher or a publisher speed dating event.
At most, wisdom states that you can get a few marquee pieces (hero shots/shiny look at art) to get the idea of theme/environment across – as there is a chance that a publisher may do one of the following:

  • Go with another artist.
    • They may deem that your artist isn’t good enough for a commercial product.
    • They may have a house artist that they prefer to work with.
  • Go with another style.
    • They may look at your game and decide that the pointillism look really isn’t right for your 4X game, so if you go with that publisher, all of the art that you’ve invested in may get trashed.
  • At an extreme, they may request a retheme – your game about penguins in the snow may work better when it’s themed around dodos or seagulls.

It Was Always Your Choice

In the end, with all of the choices at your fingertips, you have to decide what is best for yourself, for your project, and for your state of mind.
When the day is done, and the book is on the shelf, the game is on the table, or the music is being played – you have to be proud of it. You have to know that you’ve put the best product forward that you can – and the most true representation of that product. Don’t compromise on the elements that are the most important, because otherwise, you’re putting out something other than what you designed.