Dragon 13 discontinued, Dragon 15 discounted

Do you use Dragon Naturally Speaking? Specifically are you on Dragon 13? Well I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news for you.

The bad news is Dragon 13 is being discontinued. Nuance is no longer going to support it after 2018. It’s pining for the fjords, and at some future date a Windows Update is going to break functionality and Nuance isn’t going to fix it.

Now for the good news. If you own Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Professional they’re offering Dragon 15 Professional at a steep discount of $99. Check the software notifications you probably ignore every time you open Dragon 13 and you’ll see a notification and a link to where you can get the discounted rate.

It’s only good through October 31, 2018, so be sure to act fast. This is a great deal on 15 and well worth the upgrade. Especially if you’re using it for a business purpose!

Introducing Dice Mage!

I got my start in the whole full time writing thing doing erotica and romance. I make no secret of that and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud of figuring out a way to make a full time living doing something I love, and I’ve actually come to really enjoy romance as a genre in my time writing in it!

Having said that, for the past four years I’ve always been shooting for the goal of releasing something under my own name. It’s something I was working towards way back in 2016, but then life got in the way. My dad was diagnosed with cancer so I was taking care of him, then he passed and I was taking care of his estate. I also had a string of a couple of surgeries that weren’t life threatening, but put a cramp on my writing time. Through this all my wife was pregnant, then she gave birth and I was helping around the house while she was home on leave, and after that I made the decision to keep my daughter home for her first year.

Suffice it to say my plate was full, and it was taking every bit of time and energy I could dedicate to writing simply to keep up with my existing pen names and maintain an income that kept my family in the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.

So some of the GameLit and fantasy stuff I was working on went on the back burner for awhile, but as of a couple of weeks ago I’m excited to say that I’ve finally released a GameLit adjacent book, Dice Mage!

If you’re not familiar with GameLit, it’s a genre that goes hand in hand with LitRPG. It’s a story that includes gaming elements as part of the story. In Dice Mage that translates to a normal college dude who was minding his own business when he was tapped by a goddess to be her champion in a game of the gods taking place on his college campus, and he has to try and save the world with a set of magical dice that give him the powers of a badass mage! Maybe. If he can ever figure out how they work.

I was super excited about this genre when I saw it moving up the charts in 2015-2016, and I’m excited to finally release my own entry! I’m also a little annoyed that I didn’t get a start in the genre a couple of years ago, but life happens and all you can do is move forward.

So there you have it! You can check out Dice Mage at Amazon and give it a read. It’s also in Kindle Unlimited if you’re a subscriber. I’ve been doing this writing thing full time for nearly four years, but it feels good to finally have something out there under my name!

Doctor Who and the perennial alien existence plothole

I was watching the opening of the new Doctor Who this afternoon because as an old man with young children I can’t always make time for things like worldwide simulcasts the day it launches. Jodie Whittaker was amazing in the short amount of time I saw her, and I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of the episode. Which I totally haven’t yet because, again, young kids in the house.

There was one thing that struck me as a bit odd, and it’s something that’s bothered me ever since I first started watching the new series about a decade back. There came a point where some new characters we’re all supposed to get to know and love over the course of the season were menaced by a scary electric tentacle alien thing.

And they all acted like it was impossible that the thing could’ve been an alien. The Doctor’s admission that she was an alien was met with disbelief.

This is despite the past decade featuring a staggering number of instances where the world learned that yes, there were very much aliens in the world and they weren’t all necessarily coming to earth to phone home and leave us all feeling warm and fuzzy with their glowing fingers. Cybermen and Daleks invaded the world and fought each other. Daleks invaded the world a few more times, because why not? Give the audience what they want. An interstellar version of the Titanic nearly crashed into Buckingham Palace. There was the Christmas Invasion where Tennant lost his hand.

Recently under Capaldi’s tenure there was an invasion of Cybermen being led by Missy, and the continued saga of the Zygons low key trying to take over the world every few months, so none of that “cracks in the wall handwaves all the other invasions away” nonsense some people spout about on the Internet.

The point is there have been plenty of alien invasions over the past decade of nuWho. Let’s not even get started on the old series. One of the first things I thought of was the Loch Ness monster that Tom Baker took on during his tenure, and it turns out this was referenced by the Seventh Doctor in a quote about how humans like to forget things.

I understand that they have a show to run here and the stories are more fun if earth isn’t aware that there are aliens out there. I know that the show is constantly refreshing itself and the new creators want to free themselves up to tell new and interesting stories.

It’s just that it all seems a bit… lazy. They’re just hitting the reset button on earth’s knowledge of aliens despite earth being ripped into the galactic community time and time again. I don’t know that there’s a good solution to this problem either. New creators want to try new things before they inevitably go back to the well and give fans the traditional rogue’s gallery of baddies, but it really starts to stretch believability to have an earth that’s been made aware of aliens so many times in the past and then have everyone suddenly forget it. No matter how many times they handwave it.

I suppose the fact that they haven’t come up with a good solution to this problem despite the show being on the air for coming up on sixty years shows that we all need to sit back and repeat the MST3K mantra while watching a new series of Doctor Who. It’s just a show, we should really just relax.

And so far it does seem promising. A new Doctor is always exciting. For all that I’ve been going on about this for nearly six hundred words like the unapologetic geek I am, I really am excited about the new season and can’t wait to see what Whittaker does with the part.

I just wish they could figure out a way of building on past lore that doesn’t involve selectively declaring bankruptcy on that lore until they’re ready to acknowledge it again.

How to: securely mount acoustic foam to the wall

Acoustic foam
Acoustic foam mounted to drywall.

Over the past year I’ve been working on putting together a small recording studio for podcasting and audiobooks. I say “small recording studio,” but in reality we’re talking a small walk-in closet that I’ve converted for recording. It’s small, but it works for my purposes.

One of the last things I did after cleaning the closet out was put up acoustic foam. For awhile I’d relied on clothes in not-so-converted walk-in closet to dampen sound, but eventually I got tired of the cramped space and cleaned the clothes out. I needed something to deaden the sound in the room so acoustic panels it was!

It turns out mounting acoustic foam to walls can be a real pain in the ass. I tried a couple of different methods, and I figured I’d write about them here to hopefully help out someone else in a similar situation. Putting together your own studio to record your audiobooks is something a lot of authors might consider at some point considering how expensive it is to have an audiobook produced, and it’s my hope that this might help someone out there and save them some time!

Mounting options:

Double sided velcro/tape

This was the first thing I tried. It seemed simple enough. Get some double sided velcro, put it on the acoustic foam and on the wall, and stick it up there. The only problem was the stuff didn’t stay up. Sometimes the foam panel would fall down overnight, and other panels stayed up for a couple of weeks. Eventually they all fell though.

I ran into the same problem with double sided mounting strips. Think the kind of stuff that’s advertised for mounting posters and pictures to the wall. It was even worse than the double sided velcro for mounting to drywall, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

There is a good use for that double sided velcro though! Read on to see how I ended up using it effectively.

Spray adhesive

When I was at the audio store they helpfully sold spray adhesive that was supposed to be specially designed for mounting acoustic foam to the walls.

Hint: It might’ve been specially designed for acoustic foam, but they need to go back to the drawing board because it didn’t work.

What the stuff did do is stink to high heaven. We’re talking I couldn’t use my small closet recording studio for several days because I had to leave the closet and the windows in our guest bedroom open to get the smell out. There are warnings not to breathe too much of the stuff in an enclosed space too, so it’s got that going for it.

That all might’ve been worth it if the stuff worked after the smell went away, but it didn’t. It was the worst of the three things I’m covering in this blog post. It also stained the hell out of the drywall, to the point that I’m going to have to repaint in there if I ever decide to sell the place.

Acoustic foam mounting spray drywall damage
The not-so-lovely aftermath of using acoustic foam spray to mount the foam to drywall.

All in all I’d call the spray adhesive $25 of disappointment that rendered my studio useless by stinking up the place. Don’t waste your money on the stuff.

Cardboard and T-Pins

Cardboard and T-Pin foam mount
Cardboard and T-Pin foam mount

This is the solution that ultimately worked for me. I bought some T-Pins in the sewing section of the local department store. I grabbed the 1.5″ which provides enough room to push the pin through the adhesive foam and into the wall. The beauty of these things is it only takes one or two to get the foam up on the wall, and once it’s up there it doesn’t fall.

I did have some issues mounting foam to the door though. The pins wouldn’t push into the solid wood no matter how hard I pressed. So I improvises and cut some squares off of a cardboard box, pinned the foam to the cardboard, and then used double sided velcro to stick the cardboard to the door.

See? I told you the velcro would come up later!

Summing up:

Double sided velcro/tape all by its lonesome: doesn’t work

Spray adhesive: doesn’t work, stinks the place up, and costs way too much

T-Pins and cardboard: works like a charm!

If you’re looking for a way to mount acoustic foam to drywall with minimal damage and without spending too much money then T-Pins and cardboard is definitely the way to go.

Huion GT-191 Update

I figured I should write an update to a post I did a couple of months back about the Huion GT-191 drawing monitor.

Pretty much everything I said in that post still stands. The GT-191 was a beautiful piece of kit, and I found the drawing experience to be comparable to working on a Cintiq. The thing was the perfect size to sit on my desk. Not so small that everything looked cramped on the screen and not so big that it completely dominated my desk.

I still ultimately had to return the thing though. The problem? Color calibration.

The screen had a blue tint to it no matter what I did. I tried calibrating the monitor using the onboard color options. It didn’t work. I tried using different color profiles via System Preferences on my MacBook, but again there was nothing that could get rid of the color issue. No matter what I did there was a blue color to the screen, and it was really noticeable with the Huion sitting under my Asus IPS monitor that had been properly calibrated.

In the end I opted to return the monitor. It might be nice for someone who’s playing around with a drawing screen for the first time, but having something that couldn’t accurately reproduce colors was a dealbreaker for me. Especially when I had my MacBook monitor and my external monitor both sitting next to the Huion showing me what the colors should’ve looked like without that blue covering everything.

I was very pleased with Huion aside from the color. I really hope that in some of their newer products they’ll be able to get some better color accuracy on their monitors. They have promise to be a real market disruptor, but the GT-191 is a product that isn’t quite there yet. Especially if you’re used to working with monitors that have appropriate color accuracy.

Stranger Things is looking for a few good band geeks

News has been making the rounds that there’s an interesting casting call out for Stranger Things. They’re looking for band geeks aged 18-30 with marching band experience.

It’s a pity I’m a little too old for the casting call. I still have my trumpet from my band days and it’d be fun to visit Hawkins Indiana and play at being in marching band again. Still, it’s a fun opportunity for anyone out there with marching band experience who’s in the right age range!

Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator

I’m trying a bit of experimenting with a novel I’ve been working on off and on for years now. Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator is the story of a former special forces soldier who was looking for a nice quiet life as a campus cop raising his family away from the nastiness that was life in the military.

Until one night he kills a vampire on a call. The vampires in his quiet town don’t take too kindly to this, and it sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a man-on-vampire rampage with doses of humor thrown in for good measure.

I put this book up on Amazon a few months back and relied on my strategy of writing fast with an interesting cover, good blurb, and no advertising. And it flopped. Hard.

Why did it flop? I think there are a few reasons.

  1. The story is sort of in an in-between place which isn’t great if you’re looking to write to market. It’s a Paranormal/Horror/Thriller/Comedy. There is a Horror Comedy category on Amazon. There are paranormal thrillers on Amazon. I think something that falls in between all of those is a little more difficult to pigeonhole though.
  2. The cover doesn’t exactly fit with the big selling genres in paranormal. If you look at those it’s a lot of wizards and witches who are impossibly sexy wielding magic, but that didn’t really fit with what the book was so I went with something different, which is not a good idea if you’re looking to write to market.
  3. The protagonist is a badass, but again he doesn’t really fit in with the witch and wizard protagonists that are the bread and butter of paranormal categories. As such it’s going to be a more difficult sell.
  4. I didn’t put any money into traditional advertising channels. I’m typically not a huge fan of pay to play when it comes to book launches. Most of my successes have been books that were quirky with interesting covers that took off, but clearly that didn’t work here.
  5. The paranormal and urban fiction categories on Amazon are filled to the brim. it’s difficult for someone to be noticed in those categories because everyone and their mother is writing in those categories. I think the book falls more under Horror Comedy, with some overlap with Urban Fantasy, but the glut of titles makes it a more difficult sell than it would be otherwise.

Add all that stuff up and you have a book launched on hard mode. I did that intentionally though. Sure it would’ve been nice if it took off, but at the same time I knew that it was a bit of a long shot.

The thing is I already have established pen names that are making me a living, so I’m a little more comfortable with being unorthodox and experimental with some of the stuff I’m writing to release under my own name. I feel like Blake Byron is a good novel with a fun story, and so I’m going to try some unorthodox marketing strategies and see how they play out.

Right now those strategies include:

  1. Releasing chapters twice weekly in a podcasted audiobook. This lets me use some of the podcasting equipment I’ve put together in the past year with the intent of recording a podcast/audiobooks when I started releasing stuff under my name.
  2. Releasing chapters twice weekly on Royal Road Legends and Wattpad. I don’t think it will do that well at Wattpad since right now the top categories seem to be sexy vampires who fall in love with teenage girls and semi-sexy YouTubers who fall in love with teenage girls, but you never know.
  3. Launch a writing podcast that I’ve been thinking about doing since I went full time at this back in 2015. This doesn’t directly relate to publicizing fiction I’ve written, but I’m hoping that some of the traffic generated to my site might translate into people checking out my writing.

I’m going to see how much traction those options pick up. I’m also considering doing a wide release and making it a freebie to see if that gains any traction as I already have a couple of other books in the series written. I stupidly did so because I was having so much fun with it and didn’t expect it to flop as hard as it did.

You live and you learn. I’ll be sure to write updates on how it’s going. Basically I want to take a book and start from nothing. No mailing list because I don’t want my real name associated with my erotica and romance pen names that are paying the bills. No advertising because people who are starting out don’t have money to throw at advertising and I’m not a fan of the whole pay to play ecosystem that’s slowly been building up over the past few years. No Kindle Unlimited because I want to try a wide strategy that doesn’t involve Amazon pumping money into their bid for author exclusivity.

Maybe it will succeed. Maybe it’ll crash and burn. At the end of the day at least I tried something, and that’s what this business is all about!

Check it out at Royal Road!

Check it out at WattPad!

Huion GT-191: first impressions

I’ve already detailed all the problems I’ve had with the latest offering from Wacom. That was frustrating, to be sure, but I still found myself in need of a tablet of some sort. An iPad Pro with ProCreate was nice, but the screen was small enough that it was irritating to work with Photoshop for long periods of time.

So I decided to give Huion a try. They’re a Chinese company based in Shenzhen, aka that place in China where all of your electronics are manufactured. They’ve been up and comers for a couple of years now making cheap Wacom alternatives. At first it seemed like their products were a crapshoot, but the longer they’ve been around the better those reviews get.

I picked up the Huion GT-191. It’s the latest version of their stuff and at 19″ it’s just a tad bit bigger than the Cintiq Pro 16 which comes in at 15.6″ diagonal. I looked at their GT-221 Pro, but I’ve had a Cintiq 22HD on my desk before and the thing was too big for my space. Not to mention I don’t use express keys so the GT-191 with its lack of keys was perfect.

I’m going to break this down into three parts. The good, the bad, and the mildly annoying. Is Huion the Wacom replacement they so desperately want to be? Read on and find out!

The good

Price¬†– There’s no arguing with the price. The Cintiq Pro 16 goes for $1500. Go back a generation for the nearest equivalent and the Cintiq 22HD retails for $1700. Compare that to the $500 for the GT-191 and you’ve got a hell of a deal! If you’re looking for an entry level pen screen then this is the way to go.

Looks – Right out of the box I was impressed with how sleek and nice the 191 looked. The first time I unboxed a Cintiq 22HD I was struck by how damn bulky the thing was. The Huion is still thicker than the new Cintiq Pro line, but it’s nowhere near as bulky as the last generation Cintiqs.

Connection – The GT-191 has connection options for VGA, DVI, and HDMI. After all the drama surrounding the breakout box for the Cintiq Pro 16, which only supports USB-C natively, it was nice to have something that would plug in directly to my mid-2015 MacBook Pro without any go between.

Screen resolution – The GT-191 is “only” 1080p, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At 19″ the screen looks very crisp sitting beneath my main monitor, and I have to get up close to the thing to see pixels. Compare that to the Cintiq Pro 16 which looked a little pixelated running at 2k through the breakout box. Not to mention at 4k everything was a little too small. 1080 on the 19″ monitor feels right.

Size – The size is just right for my desk. The Cintiq Pro 16 felt a little small and I didn’t want to use it as a second monitor. When I tried out at 22HD the thing was too big for my workspace. I could see it being a good primary monitor for someone who only used the Cintiq, but for my setup where I mostly write on another monitor it wasn’t ideal. Plus I felt that the 22HD screen looked a little pixelated. The 22″ size was just a little too big for 1080p viewed at close range. The GT-191 feels just right and is also a nice second monitor positioned just below my main monitor.

Pen response – Of course this is the main reason to buy the thing. The pen. I’m here to report that it works beautifully. I’ve been using Wacom products since the Intuos3 back in 2007 and this feels more or less like a Wacom pen. You can adjust the pressure curve if you want to, but I didn’t find that to be necessary. Note that the pen doesn’t have tilt support. That’s not something I’ve ever used in my work, but I want to put that out there if it is the sort of thing you use a lot and it’d b a dealbreaker if the pen doesn’t have it.

The stand – The stand is amazing. It bolts to the back of the tablet and it’s small and unobtrusive while also being large enough to comfortably hold the thing up. Adjustments are super easy as well. It’s easy for me to pull the monitor into an upright position to act as a second monitor and then pull it down if I need to do some work in Photoshop. It’s far less bulky than a Cintiq 22HD stand and fits nicely on my small workspace.

It’s also way better than the stand Wacom is providing with their new Cintiq Pro line. Anything is better than nothing, right? It’s also way better and more solid than the flimsy folding joke of a stand that came with the Cintiq 13HD.

The bad

Color accuracy – What you see on the screen isn’t necessarily all that accurate. Out of the box the colors were skewed a bit towards the red. I switched the monitor to using the User color profile on the monitor and set it up on an sRGB profile in MacOS and that got rid of that problem. The colors are still a little washed out and the whole monitor feels like it has a slight blue tint to it compared to my Asus 278Q which hovers above the Huion for a constant comparison. The whites are white on the Asus monitor and they seem slightly blueish on the Huion.

I’ve looked at videos of other people doing reviews and that seems to just be a thing with these monitors. Having said that, Cintiq monitors also appear “washed out” as well, so I’m not sure if going with the more expensive alternative is going to necessarily “fix” the issue.

Having said that, once I’ve been using the monitor for awhile my eyes adjust to the color oddness and it doesn’t seem so bad. I also have a second Photoshop window open on the Asus which I feel has more accurate color reproduction just to keep an eye on things. If you plan on using this as your only monitor for art it might be an issue, but even then I’d say that’s more a problem for professional artists and not people using this occasionally for work or as a hobbyist.

The mildly annoying

Lack of eraser – You can’t flip the stylus around and use the eraser functionality. I’m sure that’s an annoyance for some, but come on. This is a digital stylus. It’s easier to hit the keyboard shortcut for the eraser tool than it is to flip the damn pen around and erase, but I include this in my summary because I’m sure that’s a hill some people are willing to die on.

Charging a pen – This is another one that I don’t think is terribly annoying, but include it because I’m sure there are some people who will think it’s the end of the world. Yes, you have to charge the pen. I’ve gotten used to charging my Apple Pencil so it’s not a big deal, but it might annoy some. Thankfully Huion provides two pens with the tablet which means you can always have one charging while you use the other one. I think this is a non-issue, but include it here for the sake of being thorough.

Lack of express keys – Another non-issue for me that a lot of people might care about. For me the lack of express keys along the side was a feature and not a bug. When I’m in Photoshop I always have one hand on the stylus and the other hand on my keyboard. I’ve always felt that the keyboard or my Razer Tartarus were way better than express keys and was happy to see a cheaper model offered without the damn things.

Some people love their express keys though. Of note is that even Wacom has stopped including them on their device though. Now you get a nice upsell for a $100 bluetooth express key device. I think that $100 would be better spent on a bluetooth keyboard or a programmable gaming pad, but if you’re the kind of person who lives and dies by the express key then this tablet might not be for you.

Cables along the bottom – This is a very minor annoyance, but it is a thing. The cables stick out of the bottom of the thing which means if you’re constantly pulling it forward and pushing it back then you’re going to have to wrangle those. A plastic tie goes a long way towards taming this and it’s not entirely fair to complain about this since any drawing tablet is going to have cable management issues, but it is something that bugged me so I include it here.

Parallax at the edges – Yes, this table has some Parallax. I’d say it’s better than a Cintiq 22HD and worse than the new Cintiq Pro line which has mostly eliminated this by putting the pen right up against the monitor. The parallax effect gets worse as you get closer to the monitor’s edge which is also something that happened with the 22HD. It’s an annoyance, but it’s an annoyance that’s been with the Cintiqs up until the Pro line and something you can easily adjust to if you watch where the cursor is on the screen rather than where the pen tip is.

Wrapping up

Is the Huion GT-191 worth it? Honestly you’re going to have to read above and see what you think. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with all the good and bad that comes with the tablet. As with all drawing monitors you’ll have to decide if the good outweighs the bad.

Drawing monitors have never been perfect. Even with the super expensive Wacom stuff there have always been issues. Check out my thoughts on the Cintiq Pro 16 for a laundry list of issues that I feel shouldn’t come with a $1500 piece of kit.

That’s the thing. There are always going to be issues and tradeoffs with these tablets, but with the Huion you’re paying a fraction of what you would on a Wacom. If you’re a professional artist then maybe this isn’t the tablet for you. If, like me, you only use the tablet occasionally for Photoshop stuff related to work, or if you’re a hobbyist looking for a way to get away from your Intuos, then I think this is a great value for the price.

Wacom has issues. Huion has issues. Huion’s issues come at a far more reasonable price point, though, and that makes all the difference for me.

Huion “device disconnected” and a lesson in humility

After trying out and returning a parade of Cintiq Pro 16s I decided to give the much cheaper competition a try. I picked out an inexpensive Huion GT-191 which arrived today.

I loved the look of the thing from the moment I unboxed it. The 19″ monitor looked beautiful even before powering it on. I didn’t care about the lack of side keys because I always have a keyboard sitting beside me.

I wasted no time in setting the beauty up and powering it up. I installed the drivers. And no matter what I did the Huion software helpfully told me that the device was disconnected.

Huh.

I looked around on the Internet for a solution, but most of the solutions out there involved messing with stuff in Windows which wasn’t helpful to me since I’m on MacOS. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling drivers. I tried going with an older version of the driver. I restarted the computer several times. I did a complete power down and back up.

Nothing was working. I was ready to give up on the thing. I was angry. Clearly you got what you paid for, right?

Then I decided to do one final thing. It said the device was disconnected. So I flipped it over and double checked the USB connection on the back of the monitor.

Sure enough, I either hadn’t plugged the damn thing in all the way to begin with or it got jostled loose while I was putting the monitor in place. The software kept telling me the device was disconnected because the device was, quite literally, disconnected.

I sheepishly plugged it back in and so far the monitor has proved to be a lovely little Cintiq replacement. Only it’s not little since the thing is much larger at a fraction of the cost.

I’ll do a full writeup here in a day or two when I’ve had more time to play with the Huion, but so far I’m very happy with the thing. Especially for the price!

Finding a cover artist and covering your butt

Today I’m going to cover something that’s been on my mind because of a situation I’m dealing with: finding a cover artist.

There are a lot of resources out there for finding cover artists. A lot of author databases that you can go through and hope to find someone who’s good. I don’t bother with any of that stuff though. Not when I know of a great artist community that has a job board specifically designed for people seeking commissioned art.

That site? The Deviant Art jobs forum!

Finding an artist

This is the easy part. Create your own account on DeviantArt and post on the forum letting people know what you’re looking for. You’ll quickly be inundated with artists who are looking for work, and they’ll continue to stream in for a couple of days as people check the forum.

From there it’s a matter of sifting through the various offers you get. I maintain a note that I’m constantly updating when I find an author who looks promising. In that note I include the artist’s name, a link to their profile, and information about what they charge if they make that available.

You’re going to get some people who clearly aren’t up to the standard of what you need for your cover. You’re going to get people who are amazing and clearly out of your budget.

Here are a few things I look for when settling on an artist:

  1. What kind of styles do they work in? Is it cartoony? Full realistic renders? Realistic but with some exaggerations? Does their style fit what you’re looking for?
  2. Does the art flow? Are they able to do multiple poses and different scenarios? Is it stiff at all? Are they able to do men and women or is it clear that they’ve been drawing sexy ladies or sexy men since middle school and never bothered to learn how to draw anything else?
  3. Do they have a lot of work on display? I’m wary of artists who have newer profiles or don’t post all that much on their DA profile. Not all of them are scammers, but it is suspect.
  4. Do they have comments on their profile from people who’ve worked with them? Are those comments positive or are their complaints that they’re scammers?

Those are just a few things to consider. Look for an artist who has a varied portfolio and clearly is good at what they’re doing. Compare between several artists until you find one you like, and then start negotiating the price.

Settling on a price

Give serious thought to what your budget is for this project. I wouldn’t recommend including that budget in your initial post because that’s going to encourage people to come in at whatever price you offer even if they would’ve started lower. This is a negotiation even if you are going to pay the nice artist what they are worth.

We’re looking for a sweet spot. Someone who clearly has the ability to do what you need but comes in at a price you can afford. You need to go into this with the attitude that you’re paying a business associate for a service. You want to get paid for your writing, and you should be willing to pay a reasonable sum to an artist as well.

I can’t reiterate that enough. Good artists who are responsive and deliver good work in a timely manner? They’re unicorns, and you should treat them like the precious and valuable resource they are.

If someone is amazing but they’re a little out of their price range then don’t be afraid to ask them to come down just a little. This is a business transaction, after all. The worst they can say is no.

Don’t be afraid to work with someone from halfway around the world. If you’re in the U.S. or Europe then that exchange rate is pretty favorable if you’re working with an artist in, say, Asia or another place where USD or GBP or the Euro stretches pretty far.

If someone is coming in with a quote that seems too good to be true then that’s probably because it is. I’ve been burned a couple of times by artists who had amazing work but ghosted once they got their payment. Again you’re looking for a sweet spot, and someone who comes in too low is probably trying to lure you in.

Covering your ass

There’s no way to guarantee completely that you don’t get scammed, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself while searching for an artist.

Social proof¬†– A serious artist is going to have lots of happy comments from people who commissioned them. Look for these. Don’t be afraid to ask the artist for references. This is a business transaction, and if they aren’t willing to provide references then you should run for the hills.

Half and Half – Whenever I make a job offer I make it clear that I’m paying half up front and half upon delivery. This makes the cost of the commission hurt a little less, and it also is likely to scare off some scammers. Not all, but some.

Use protection – A lot of people will want you to pay with a PayPal money transfer. Don’t do this. There are no buyer protections built in with money transfers. What you’re going to insist on is that the artist invoices you via PayPal, and only then will you make your payment. This means you have PayPal’s buyer protection if they ghost you.

Other considerations

Contracts – You can do a contract if you want. There are indie author sites out there that offer boilerplate contracts. I tend not to mess with them. I have a paper trail of email conversations where expectations are clearly laid out and make sure the invoice include exactly what’s being bought and paid for. Including considerations like copyright transfer. If a contract makes you feel better then by all means go for it, but I’m not an IP lawyer so I’m not going to comment on them other than to say I don’t use them.

Copyright – One of the conditions of commissioning your work should be that all copyright to the work transfers to you. Full stop. I wouldn’t work with anyone who isn’t willing to do this. Some people will charge a little extra for this and some will throw it in. I’d recommend indicating you want the copyright transfer in your initial post and seeing what the artist says.

This is something that you need to have spelled out in your conversations with the artist and in the invoice so it’s clear on the off chance they try to come after you later. It’s also an area where it might be helpful to get a boilerplate contract from somewhere on the Internet, but again I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

Price Increases – I’ve heard a few horror stories over the years about artists who commissioned a cover, then when their book did very well the artist turned around and jacked up the price for future covers. This can lead to situations where book releases are delayed while things are renegotiated.

I’ve never had this happen to me before, but if it did then I would politely tell the artist to go and pound sand. I believe that artists deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work, but if someone raises the price by some exorbitant amount because they think an author can cover it they’re essentially trying to hold future releases hostage. That’s not someone I’d want to work with, and there are plenty of other artists out there who’d be able to do a new cover.

Having said that, there are instances of artists who raise their fee as they get more popular. That’s to be expected if they’re making a go of making a career as an artist. In that case you’ll have to decide whether or not the slowly increasing rate is worth it, but that’s a completely different scenario from someone trying to extort an author because of some success.

Lettering – Cover artists make cover art. Letterers do lettering. There are some people who have both skills, but not necessarily. Ask your cover person if they’re comfortable doing lettering, and if not then look for someone who can do this and expect to pay a little bit for it. Good typography on a cover is every bit as valuable as the art beneath it.

If the artist can do typography then be sure to get a copy of the art without all the lettering on it.

Timeliness – Figure out what your release schedule is going to look like. Then figure out whether or not your artist can keep up with that schedule. Art can take time to complete just like it takes time to write and edit a book, and if you have a release schedule that doesn’t match up with what your artist is able to do then it’s time to find someone else for your project.

Wrapping up

Finding an artist! There’s a lot of stuff to consider if you want to find someone who’s good, reasonably priced, able to complete their work in a timely manner, and isn’t out to scam you. The good news is that it’s not all that complicated so much as it’s time consuming. That’ll be time well spent when you get that perfect cover that drives the sales to you though!