Making Art Isn’t Just a Hobby

Over on the Dancing Lights Press website, I published a piece explaining why there’s little or no art in my books. It’s going to be boilerplate in most of the things I release going forward. If you don’t want to stop and read it, I’ll sum up: I see tabletop roleplaying as a verbal medium, not a visual one. Packing a book with full-color illustrations that serve no inherent purpose just because everyone else does it that way makes no sense to me. My emphasis is on reading, writing, and telling stories. If having a piece of art adds something, helps to explain a rule or gives you a better grip on the tone and style of the setting, it should be there. If the only value it adds it to make the book look pretty, inflate the page count, and jack up the price, it’s meaningless and doesn’t belong. If I really, truly feel that an illustration is required in one of my books, it will be there.

While this is controversial in and of itself, there is another reason why I eschew art in my books. It comes down to business and ethics. On the former, I work on a Roger Corman paradigm. I can turn out an entertaining product in a short time, with a low budget, and make a profit on it. Art costs money. Adding illustrations just because everyone else packs their books with it increases my costs and decreases my profits. While I want to create quality products that are useful and solve problems for creative writers and tabletop roleplayers, I am running a business. This isn’t my hobby. Writing and publisher are how I pay the rent.

Which leads to the ethics part. On a regular basis, people tell me about various ways that I could get free artwork for my books. These suggestions are based on what other publishers have done. I could run a contest, for example, paying the winner but retaining the rights to all of the entrants’ work for use later. If I wanted to be a real scumbag, I could charge a small entry fee, so artists essentially pay me to steal their artwork. I could visit various websites and sweet-talk artists into giving me illustrations in return for the exposure I could bring them. There’s always the option of getting them to work on spec, giving me art for this job with the promise of hiring them for the next gig — if this one works out, which of course it won’t, because I’m already on to ripping off the next artist.

If I expect to get paid, then I need to stand up for the rights of everyone else who works for me to get paid, too. Their talent has value. Their time has value. The resource they use, whether it’s paint and brushes or hardware and software, has value. If I have to choose between paying my bills and paying an artist, which is where the business is art right now, I’m going to pay my bills. Which means that if given the choice of hiring and artist and not paying them or not hiring an artist, I’m not hiring an artist. For those who feel that if I can’t do things “right” (i.e. the way everyone else does them) I shouldn’t do it at all, well, 41 best-selling titles and counting, good reviews, and the fact that I’ve managed to support my wife and I doing this for over a year would seem to indicate that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”