Over the weekend, I got in the galleys (aka ARCs, Advance Reading Copies) of my novel, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom. Like much of the publication process, it’s a bittersweet experience.
It’s wonderful to hold the book in my hands, to flip through it and see my words sitting on the pages waiting to jump into other people’s imaginations. It’s a book. It has mass (though not a lot of mass, since it’s not that long a book; you won’t be holding any doors open with this tome, James Michener I’m not).
The cover is colorful and bright, and very cool, so that’s good…though also bittersweet. See, back when I was writing the book, I started thinking about how I wanted the characters to be represented. Most authors have little to no say in the actual packaging of their work, and I’ve seen some scary art out there, and didn’t want that to happen to my books. So I did some extensive web searching for an artist who’d be ideal for my, excuse the pretension, vision.
I found Gary Chaloner, a fantastic comic book artist (and fantastic writer too) living in Australia, who was also a huge fan of old-school pulp adventure, especially the tales of Doc Savage, the character I pay homage to with Doc Wilde. I approached him, he loved the book, and he jumped on board excited to help out (assuming things worked out as planned).
While I worked on the book, Gary worked on visuals, on spec (that means for free, hoping something will come of it eventually), as much as he could in his busy schedule. He engaged me in a meticulous discussion on all the details, especially the depiction of the characters. His sketches were awesome, and he put together an overall design for the book that was lovely. Together we came up with a concept for the cover, and he put many hours into painting a rough version:
The plan: I figured when I found a publisher, I’d show them Gary’s awesome work, already completed, and they’d love it and not stick me with someone I didn’t know, someone who didn’t get the book, and/or someone who sucked. And the Wilde franchise would grow, with these lovingly wrought characters already established visually, ready to spring into comics or cartoons or action figures or whatever (fingers crossed).
What actually happened was Putnam bought the book, but they, of course, have their own way of doing things. And they opted not to use Gary on the book, even after I made an utter pain of myself lobbying for him.
If you’re an aspiring writer, learn from my mistake. I was unproven, and I went to a major publisher thinking I would maintain creative control of factors not traditionally controlled by the writer. Even most well-established writers don’t have actual control of the artwork on and in their books.
All I managed to do, lobbying for my creative preference and chosen artist, was create a lot of stress for myself and everybody else involved.
Putnam, being Putnam, is actually pretty good at making books. They opted to go with Tim Gabor, an artist whose work often evokes pulp/noir/grotesque. I don’t know him, and I had very little say in what he did, but he seems to have got the book, and he definitely does not suck.
Things worked out. The book looks great. Do I still have regrets? Sure I do. But I’m mostly pleased.