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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

Friday before a holiday weekend--blog about the finer points of the industry day!

As long as we're generating content....

Cover art is an intriguing subject. Normally, we don't get much say over it. That's something every writer should probably understand going in.

My Spectra covers? I see when my editor takes pity on me and emails me a file... unless I stumble across the concept art on the Internets first. Roc asks me for input, though they have yet to take any of my suggestions. (I was campaigning for a pony on the cover of Whiskey & Water, and Elaine and the horsy for Blood & Iron. I get... no pony. Matthew got both covers, as I mentioned the other day. Good thing he's not vain.) Spectra, however, sends me cover flats; Roc does not.

Anyway, I spent part of this week coming up with photo references for the cover art for Whiskey & Water, and also the cover flats for Carnival arrived.

That's always an interesting process, especially as we're dealing with characters who appear in several books and are seen from several points of view, and people don't always agree on descriptions. And my characters tend to not look like movie stars (they're just usually not pretty enough, Murchaud and Vincent excepted... well, and Lucifer. Because of course the devil is pretty. [I've never seen an actor who looks like Vincent; a tall light-skinned fiftyish black man with hazel eyes, auburn hair in little sproingy braids, and freckles? Murchaud at least is easy; he looks exactly as you'd expect the best-looking elf around to look, which is to say exactly like Ioan Gruffudd with blue eyes--but Murchaud will never make it onto a cover. He's not a major enough character.][Oh, wait, Isolfr was pretty. Until we mutilated him]) so the time-honored technique of saying "Oh, he looks like a taller X" is right out.

Sometimes I do better with art. I can say, oh, Morgan looks like the redhead in Froud's "Tapestry," arrogant and angular and intimidating. (She might also look like the rather fantastical Sharyn November, whose hair. I. covet.) Carel looks like Queen Tiy; Matthew thinks she's drop-dead gorgeous (Matthew is one of those lovely men who thinks most women are beautiful; he's sort of profoundly, perhaps even abjectly heterosexual), but she's certainly not somebody whose type you find often in publicity photos--a plump woman with a classic Ethiopian or West Indian face, full lips, flat nose, broad cheeks and high cheekbones.

So, yanno. Hard to pull up a picture of that on a celebrity website.

Except when you're providing photo references for cover art, that's exactly what you have to do. So I point randomly at pictures of Eric Stoltz and Matthew Gray Gubler and say "Well, Matthew's more muscular than they are, and not as good-looking, and not very tall, and fortyish, and he has more of a light blond motorcyclist blunt-cut just long enough to get into a ponytail, oh and he wears glasses."

And you see what you get.

(One reason I love the cover art for Carnival so is that Michelangelo looks like himself. Not that this matters at all from a marketing standpoint, because the purpose of cover art is not to illustrate the book but to make somebody pick the book up and turn it over to read the back. But it gives me a happy every time I look at that flat, because I'm looking Angelo in the eye. That's him; a heavy-featured, heavy-boned, dark-skinned sub-Saharan African with a scowl. And he looks just about as pissed at me as he probably should.

I had nothing to do with any of this, but it makes me happy. I have no idea who that chick on the back is, though; that isn't Lesa. I think it might be Angelina Jolie.)

Anyway, my part of this process, when I am consulted (which I like; it's just important to remember that the people doing the marketing actually are better at this than I am) involves those photo references. And another part involves groveling through various manuscripts for character descriptions (I used to not describe characters very much, and then I realized that character descriptions were fun.) and pasting them all into one email so the artist has them to work from.

Which, since my characters notice different things about each other, sometimes leads to contradictions. And inconsistencies.

Well, for example, here are two separate descriptions of Elaine, both of them from Matthew's point of view, under different circumstances:


She was big-boned, too thin for her frame, in a green peacoat and blue jeans, her dark hair falling loose except for a few seemingly random braids swinging among the uncut tresses. Her nose was a stubborn, Grecian edifice, her chin notched as if by a thumb. She walked quickly, boots clicking, glancing up now and then at the buildings arrayed like broken teeth against the sky.

Only tourists look up in New York City, he thought, and noticed that she, too, drew her large long-fingered hands from the pockets of her peacoat to rub them as if they hurt. That wouldn't be from any iron rings; the city itself pained her.


The chill up his spine had nothing to do with the Seeker's slow turn, the tilt of her head as her gaze fell on him. Her long neck gleaming dull gold where the lights over the bar touched it, or the breadth of her shoulders under her black turtleneck. When she smiled, lines sprang into relief from the corners of her mouth to her aquiline nose, and the unlikely angles of her face rearranged themselves into vibrancy.
She's Fae. Half-Fae. It only follows that she's lovely.

And then, unbidden:
she looks like her mother, doesn't she?


The second time, she's wearing a glamour. He responds very differently to her this time than the first. (A couple of my readers have called her "beautiful." Which leads me to another point, which I will segue to, below.)

But what is there, there, for a cover artist to go on? I sent in a picture of Claudia Black with the caveat "heavier bones and not that pretty," but since they didn't use Elaine on the cover, I got away clean. *g*

I had a wonderful, perfect, marvelous photo reference for Whiskey, alas; the great joke is that it's a mare.

We'll see how Matthew turns out. And Lucifer. For whom I provided pictures of Tilda Swinton and Travis Fimmel and said "He looks like he could be related to these people."


It's all approximations.

Which brings me to that segue.

The other thing to consider when thrashing about the mullets in one's cover art is that readers will own the characters, if one is doing one's job. And so the art doesn't matter.

The reader will know what the character looks like, if they are the sort of reader who cares about these things. And so, your Elaine may very well be Hollywood beautiful. (Mine isn't; she's quirky and interesting-looking and has a fantastic smile, and bears a certain resemblance to a younger Ellen Kushner with straight, long hair. Not that I did that on purpose; I hadn't met Ellen when I started writing Elaine.) Your Matthew might be as cute (and as un-bespectacled) as the one on the cover of Blood & Iron. (I hope he doesn't have the mullet, though. And the spectacles are a plot point and he doesn't see that well without them, so you might want to give them back.)

Which is the other reason why the cover art doesn't matter. Because the image in your head is the one that is right.

Which is why books are more fun for me than movies. I get to make them look, in my head, any way I want.


Just Curious ...

Have you been keeping up with Peter Watts' cover art debacle? He's doing something exceedingly clever with it in the lemons-to-lemonade vein :D

Re: Just Curious ...

I have been. I particularly like his new author photo
One reason I'm glad that most of the books I read these days doesn't have cover art is that a truly bad cover will definitely color my perception of the book--there's one Bujold book I can't bring myself to reread because Miles looks like a dwarven leather daddy and, well, just no.


dwarven leather daddy, MAIS OUI!

How can you resist?
Chuckling over your notes on Roc (although they didn't send you cover flats? I got cover flats. Perhaps I should just never expect them ever again). Yes, I had a lovely conversation with my (our) lovely editor over ideas for the cover and I felt all listened-to and included and warm and fuzzy, and of course they went in a completely different direction altogether. But like you said, it's their field of specialty, not mine, and I'm happy to let them at it (plus, I liked the cover, and am hoping the same guy does the sequel).

Only issue with my cover is that I've lost count of the number of people who have asked me if that girl on the cover is actually *me*.

No. No. A thousand times no.

(And that character is not *based* on me either, even if her name *does* start with a J.)

And I hear you are sometimes known as eBear. That is just so dangerously cute and frisky.

aka ebear


Hey, it's nice to feel consulted. *g*

Oh, god. There are only two of my characters I am willing to cop to being anything like. One is Elspeth, and the other is Matthew.

The rest of them, not so much.
For me, everyone I like or admire in books is beautiful - or at least, you like looking at them. This is a real problem for me when reading Patrick O'Brian, because Maturin so plainly *isn't*, and Aubrey only may be, depending on your tastes.

Incidentally, this applies to people I know only electronically as well. I've seen enough photos to know roughly what you look like, so the image in my head isn't too far off, but it's probably an idealized version. (I was going to say the Hollywood version, but the people in my head are more varied than Hollywood ideals.)
I'm much prettier than I look. ;-)
Alas, from a drawing-type's perspective, it's usually easier to make people symmetrically pretty, especially if you don't have a good reference or if portraiture isn't your strong point.

That's probably why most artists end up with one nose to share between many subjects.
Well, pretty is sort of neutral, isn't it? Unless you get that quirky-fantastic face thing going on.

Which I rather prefer.
She was big-boned, too thin for her frame, in a green peacoat and blue jeans, her dark hair falling loose except for a few seemingly random braids swinging among the uncut tresses. Her nose was a stubborn, Grecian edifice, her chin notched as if by a thumb. She walked quickly, boots clicking, glancing up now and then at the buildings arrayed like broken teeth against the sky.

That's a very spiffy descriptive paragraph. Just sayin'.

Sometimes BL sends me cover images before the book is even a quarter of the way done. When I was working on book three, my editor sent me the cover image, which shows the main character against the backdrop of a burning city. Included was a note: "Be sure to put a burning city in the book somewhere!"

Le sigh.
I don't know, I think that could be a handy plotting tool.

Of course, I think LJ polls are handy plotting tools.
Which is the other reason why the cover art doesn't matter. Because the image in your head is the one that is right.

i wish. it doesn't work that way for me. or rather, i really have to work against the cover, insisting that it's ok to totally ignore it. visuals affect me much more directly than descriptions, they worm their way straight into my mind. where they'll run right smack into the descriptions, and it is a battle to change them to match. it is probably easier for me to ignore the descriptions, except i really rather want to view the people similar to how the author saw them.

i know that the cover is meant to make me pick up the book and read the back blurb (which i also resist, because so many blurbs are teh evil). but i do sincerely wish publishers would make at least a reasonable effort to depict characters as the author envisioned them. it takes some of the joy out of reading if i have to fight to visualize things.
We need to send you books in brown wrappers.
(She might also look like the rather fantastical Sharyn November, whose hair. I. covet.)

The other day in a game I was asked to briefly NPC a character with little more guidance than "she's a fuck-off scary hundred-year-old pyschic who can change her body to look however she wants." Pondering what she should look like, the first thing that came into my head was Sharyn November. So I cranked her up a bit (six-foot-tall pale woman with ankle-length dark red hair), and away we went. <g>