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  • Writer's pictureWendy Brotherlin

Ten Tips To Consider When Working With a Professional Artist

Walt Disney said, “Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” I believe that statement to be true, now more than ever. In today’s publishing marketplace, nothing could be more important than the images you create for your work. Whether you are publishing independently, creating marketing pieces, setting up a website, or even printing a business card to catch an agent’s eye, the artwork you choose can make or break your project.

Way back in 2004, I wrote a short sci-fi story titled Shadow Walker. The independent editor I was working with at the time suggested that I hire someone to work up a sketch of what the creature in the story looked like. My editor felt sure that a piece of art might help my work stand out in the slush pile. Plus, if I owned the copyright, I could put the art up on my website to promote my story.

Well, of course, I hadn’t the faintest idea how to hire an artist. And since I didn’t know any professional artists who had a passion for creature concept and design, I turned to the Internet for help. There, I discovered Mike Corriero on an artist’s forum.

Since I had no experience working with a professional artist, Mike guided me through the process. Being the consummate professional he is, Mike had a contract on hand. He walked me through every stage as the art took shape and was approved. He was patient with me, and I, in turn became one of his biggest fans.

From that first sketch, I knew I had found an incredibly gifted artist. But even better than that, I had found a wonderful collaborator who could take my manuscript and create mind-blowing images that captured the essence of the story. Mike Corriero is a delight to work with and I feel like a child on Christmas morning every time we start a new project together. His art elevates my work, his ideas challenge my original concepts, and creatively, he raises the bar.

Here are ten tips to consider when hiring an artist to bring to life a character for your science fiction, fantasy or horror novel.

1. Hire a professional artist with experience creating the type of art you wish to own. Yes, he/she will be more expensive, but the quality of your artist’s work will be worth every penny. Some great promotional art sites to visit are, or though there are many more out there that I’m sure a good search engine can help you find.

2. Hire an artist you feel comfortable with and whose work you absolutely love. Most artists have their own websites dedicated to their artwork, plus you can follow them on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Many artists also have resumes and references they can e-mail to you as well.

3. Hire an artist who can take your ideas to the next level. Artists see the world differently than writers do. So when it comes to designing characters or alien tech, hire an artist who will go beyond your words to graphically interpret the very soul of your character, as well as visually capture your world.

4. Set deadlines for the various sketch and review stages during the process. This should be done when negotiating the contract.

5. Put it in writing. Before work starts, use a contract that states what you will get for your money. Mike sent me the artwork to be approved and refined in stages. I always knew how much I would owe and when my payment was due.

6. Never delay when your artist sends you a piece of art for approval. Remember, your artist is busy too. To hold up the process due to uncertainty, a crazy schedule, or laziness is just plain unprofessional on your part. Be mindful of the fact that your behavior is a reflection on you and your work. Always strive to be as professional and easy to collaborate with as possible.

7. A little kindness goes a long way. When reviewing what your artist has sent you, I suggest emphasizing the positive about the piece before mentioning the things you may want changed. Remember, your artist needs to know what you like about the artwork just as much as he/she needs to know what you want improved upon. Never be rude or crass when critiquing a draft of your artist’s work. Your artist is a professional too and it won’t take but the slightest nudge to correct or improve upon the art. I would also like to mention too, that keeping an open mind to your artist’s interpretation of your character can lead to new discoveries about that character. Your artist may delight and surprise you in the best ways possible.

8. When the work is done, pay your artist. Just like independent writers, independent artists get stiffed a heck of a lot of the time. Your artist’s talent is a gift and he or she has spent a lifetime honing his/her skills. Respect that. Do not haggle, balk or groan. Professionally hand over the payment when payment is due.

9. Purchase the rights to your artwork, if you can. Yes, this will cost more money, but by retaining the exclusive rights to the piece, you will be able to use the artwork forever––on your website, on swag, even on your book cover if your publisher agrees to that. When you own the copyright you are taking responsibility for your book’s brand.

10. Consider hiring an Intellectual Properties lawyer. Yes, I know, lawyers are expensive, but their advice is invaluable when it comes to protecting your ideas and the artwork and copyright you have just purchased. A little bit of legalese can go a long way when it comes to safeguarding your intellectual property from the big wide world out there in cyberspace.

Bai Lee’s Eyes by Mike Corriero. ©2014 Wendy Brotherlin. Bai Lee and Devon are both characters from my debut YA novel Freaks of Nature, published by Spencer Hill Press, May 5, 2015.

Investing in high quality artwork for your project isn’t a guarantee that your book will sell any faster. But boy, when it does sell, you suddenly have a magical key that can open doors at a glance. We are a visual society. A picture does stand for a thousand words…and that one, perfect piece of original artwork can instantly spark interest in you and your novel.

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