-By Lauren Panepinto

Hey Everybody! Thanks for the hellos & warm welcomes! I have been following Muddy Colors for a long time, and I’ve always been really thankful that such a great site exists for our community. Since coming to Orbit, and working in the “geek” publishing world full-time, I’ve been so blown away by how nurturing the SFF art community is, and I’ve loved becoming more and more involved. The greater art world just does not have the level of available mentors, the enthusiastic teachers, the intimate cons, and the “helping others is not hurting myself” attitude most fantasy artists hold. Consider yourselves so very lucky.

After that amazing intro from Dan, you all have a little background on who I am, and I thought a good first post would be a little roundup of the questions I most often get asked by artists. There’s been some great blog posts lately on this topic, but artists keep asking, so here we go:

(in no particular order)

1—Where do you find artists?

It’s pretty random…outside of the icons of the industry, people you just know, here’s my top sources for new artists: Spectrum Annuals, ImagineFX magazine, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Cons, the hotel lobby at Illuxcon, agent emails or mailings, artist postcards, recommendations from other artists, recommendations from other art directors. Once I was giving an informational interview to a student from SVA at a sushi bar, and the guy on the other side of me eavesdropped the whole time, and then at the end said, hey, I’m an illustrator, can I give you my card?

The best way is a recommendation from another AD. We talk. A lot. That works for you or against you. Consider yourselves warned.

2—Do you read all the books? Do I have to if I’m doing an illustration?

Ideally, if it’s the first book in a series, or especially if it’s a new author, then I absolutely read everything I can. The problem is, I’m often designing a cover way before the manuscript is finished. In some cases I get a few chapters. Sometimes a summary. More is always better, because the more of the universe and tone you pick up, the more accurate the art will be. I’m a geek at heart, and it kills me when a cover isn’t accurate to what’s in the book. Often I talk to authors directly for details (see next question).

When commissioning an illustration, I always pass along as much of the manuscript as I have, but I also will always have worked out roughly what scene we want illustrated, and I will put as much detail in from the book or straight from the author as I can. I don’t depend on the artist to have to read the manuscript.

3—How involved are your authors?

They are very involved. And I think this is something that I think is very unique to Orbit. Most publishing houses keep all author communication funneled thru the editor. And there’s a lot of good reasons for doing so. Authors can be a bit crazy. That’s their baby you’re illustrating! But at Orbit we have a bit more of a small team guerrilla mentality. Art sits in the middle of Editorial and Marketing and Publicity, so we’re all working on things simultaneously, and overhearing everything develop. The author is contacted by many different people on the team, including art. Some authors have a lot of ideas, some aren’t visual thinkers at all and just trust you to figure it out. Either way, there’s so much world building and pure imagination in SFF that I feel it’s really nice to get the author’s point of view in right at the beginning. Even if you don’t end up using their specific ideas, they feel like they’re part of the process.

4—Where do you get all your crazy leggings?

Black Milk Clothing. 

5—How much time do I get from initial pitch to final art needed?

This varies greatly. Orbit is on a 2-season-a-year schedule, so I get about 50-60 covers twice a year, but things are popping in and out constantly. So ideally I love to give an artist 8 weeks. It’s generally closer to 6. 4 weeks I consider pushing it, and there’s always crazy insane projects that need to be turned around in 2 weeks. However, if you are a newer artist, there’s no way I’m risking a project that needs to be turned around in under a month. And if an artist does get asked to work on a crash, and they can’t schedule it in, no hard feelings at all.

6—What’s the best part of your job?

Paying amazing artists I love to make amazing covers that I hope end up as show pieces in their portfolio. The collaboration process, whether it’s an illustrated cover, a photo shoot, etc. is what keeps me energized. Those amazing projects when you have an author you love write a book you’re really into, and get the perfect art for it, and the editors are floored, and the author cries with joy when they see it (it happens), and it totally makes the bestseller lists.

7—What’s the worst part of your job?

When you’re caught in the middle of warring factions. Art Directors are like the mediators at the UN. When everyone gets along, it’s fabulous. When the author, the editor, and the publisher all want different things, it’s the worst. That’s when covers get killed, or muddied up into oblivion.

8—Why do illustrations get killed?

Luckily it happens very rarely at Orbit. If I am trying to convince editorial to be risky and do something they’re not on board for I generally commission just the thumbnails/concepts from an artist. Then we either continue or not. And I am very careful to show all the progress on a piece of art to the editors, publisher, author, and keep everyone in the loop, so we can adjust during the process. But things can go off the rails. I’ve never had to kill an illustration because the illustrator didn’t do their job. Reasons have included: The manuscript coming in after the art is done and it being radically different than was expected, and that affects the target audience, which can mean you need a different style of art. Or the author (this was Iain Banks, so he could do this) can decide that they no longer want to show the awesome equatorial girdle planetary city you’ve spent weeks figuring out with an artist, and decide they want a “metaphoric” cover instead so fans can imagine the city in their head.

9—What’s your pet peeve with artists?

It’s generally tied to bad communication. Sometimes it’s vanishing—not answering emails in the middle of a job, or emailing the day something is due that you’ll need more time. (If you give us a little warning, ADs can almost always massage the schedule a little, but we get cranky if we don’t know till the last second, because then it makes us look like we aren’t doing our jobs.) The other frequent communication problem is only reading half the email. It sounds silly, but I can’t tell you how many times I get half the revisions I’ve asked for in an email. Do people just get tired? Glaze over halfway thru? I go out of my way to bullet point things, or number lists, but still, happens all the time.

10—How can I work for Orbit?

1) Be the best there is at what you do. Which means either being reallllllly skilled, or having a really unique vision or style.

2) Make sure I know who you are. (see question #1)

3) Be a good communicator. This has been said before across the internet, (thanks, Neil), but I stress it. You have to be good, and/or on time, and/or pleasant to work with. 2 out of 3 will get you work. 3 out of 3 will get you more work than you can handle. Generally I’ll work with a less perfect artist if I know they are easy to work with way before I’ll work with a perfect artist who’s a pain in the ass.


I think each of the above could probably be their own blog posts, and I’m also missing a ton of important topics. I look forward to tackling such issues as social media and marketing for artists, the no spec work controversy, gender issues, getting artists paid and what goes wrong…tons of ideas. But if you have anything specific you want me to write about, or questions you have, definitely leave comments & I’ll add them to the list!

Nice to meet you all! I’m super-excited to be here!