As publisher of Science Fiction Trails, with a magazine and occasional book, the most vexing problem for me has been working with artists. Frankly, most of them are a bunch of flakes. Getting someone who will actually do a good job on time is really tough. I’ve run the gauntlet from poor quality to getting nothing. Twice I’ve had artists who “really wanted” to do covers for me and have never, to this day, submitted anything. I’ve been waiting three years for one guy to give me the cover that he’ll “get right on it.” Yeah, right. Deadlines come and go and nothing ever happens. It’s really frustrating.
At Mile Hi Con a few months ago this topic came up a few times with my counterparts at other outfits. They all said the same thing. Getting cover art is the toughest thing they have to deal with. The consensus was stuff is either of poor quality or it never even comes at all. Deadlines seem meaningless.
I don’t have the budget to pay what a large New York publisher pays. That’s sometimes the problem. I understand that. Art is still my single biggest expense. I pay artists way more than writers. The odd thing is, the artists who demand unrealistic amounts seem to be the worst. A few years ago one guy gave me a proposal with some sketches that looked so amateurish I honestly felt I could go down the street to the middle school and find some 8th grader in art class and get better art there. This guy wanted three times more than I've been paying.
I guess what set me off is I’ve gotten two pitches from artists this past week. They were both bloody awful. Their timing was good. I’m actually thinking cover for our next issue. But the samples I was sent were positively awful. One normally leads off in a portfolio with their best work. Boy, if what they sent me was their best, I’d hate to see their worst. People are sometimes blind to their own weaknesses. I’ve seen dozens of writers who have no talent whatsoever and are deluding themselves as they send out stories no one is ever going to publish. Alas, the same thing seems true about art.
Before Science Fiction Trails, there was the cross genre Trails. That thing had clip art covers. They were often better than what I get submitted now. The only reason I don’t go back to clip art is most of it is low resolution. For digital based publishing the minimum these days is 300 dpi. Most clip art out there is less than 100 dpi, making it useless. What worked on a photo copier machine a few years ago does not cut it now. The clip art publishers have been very slow to adapt.
Lastly, we've had some darn good cover art. It is out there. I'm not in any way attacking those artists. I even have a cover artist lined up for our next issue. But it is not a simple or easy process to get there.