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Sunday, February 25, 2018

ACTUAL Protip: Don't Do This

I don't normally mess with author gossip here on Writing About Writing. Our incestual little industry has enough tricky-to-navigate gullies and plateaus without accumulating the enemies one would by taking sides every time there was some infighting.

This one, however, caught my eye.

It caught my eye for two reasons. 1) It was a shocking display and 2) it went viral even among my NON-writing friends.

The writing world doesn't get lessons like this very often. It takes years of learning how to learn, watching and studying masters craft skillfully, and practicing their techniques with infinite forbearance (and no small measure of patience for attempts that do not measure up) to have even a sense of what TO do that goes beyond instinct and perseverance. 

But it only takes one bumbling mistake to be a lesson for the ages in what NOT to do.

Here's a short rundown for the uninitiated: Terry Goodkind announces a contest on his Facebook over how bad his cover was. "Laughably bad," is his exact words.

And this was by way of a contest where the stingiest stinger about how shitty the art was would get a free book.

The artist who DID the cover art, Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme, basically said "Hi. Artist here. This isn't cool," in the comments and then made his own post pointing out that in decades he's never been treated that way as an artist. Terry has since kind of backpedaled, blamed the publisher for commissioning a work that didn't really reflect the emotional core of the book (or something), and that the quality of the art is good. He didn't go so far as to apologize, but did say that it wasn't their Lecouffe-Deharme's skillful art he was upset at, but rather the publisher that overruled his objections to the artwork.

Make a mental note here folks. Lesson number one happens before the breakdown even starts: This is a VERY established author who has (apparently) ZERO control over the cover art on their book. That's the way traditional publishing works.

Personally, I don't read Terry Goodkind. I've got enough in my TBR list to last about 80 years and that's if no one writes another word starting now, so I am pretty okay with not reading overtly Randian/Objectivist themes that use rape every other chapter as a plot device in my fluffpuff fantasy.

To be sparkling, crystal lake clear, I'm absolutely okay reading what I call "popcorn books" (the saga/chronicle SF/Fantasy books of NOTORIOUSLY flat prose that started flooding the market in the early 90's when publishers realized they were cash cows [of which Goodkind is sort of infamously associated]–popcorn books are light, fluffy, and not very nutritious). I'm also totally okay–and even enjoy–reading authors I disagree with and who really force me to think about things, but when I reach for a book by choice, it is almost never the combination. 

But this isn't about Goodkind's writing. I don't have an opinion on that. His professional behavior though is a cascade of lessons in what writers should never, EVER do. Particularly with regards to an aspect of their creation that involves the creative efforts of other people. It's sort of en-vogue for authors to low-key hate their publishers (a strange sort of antagonism if you think about it for just a moment), but the other artists involved in a project are another matter.

Goodkind isn't in any danger of losing his die hard fans–they have raced to his defense on every post. But folks who just so-so liked Goodkind have a bad taste in their mouths. Those who were ambivalent are recoiling in disgust. And those who never knew him are vowing they won't pick up a book of his willingly. Ever. I'm guessing this costs him, and for an author as commercially popular as he is, I'd bet it's low to middle five figures of pain. Whether you agree or not (and clearly I have my opinion) that's probably not the result he was looking for doing a social media promotion.

If he simply didn't care, that would be one thing. We all have our lines in the sand and our principles. Sometimes I have to let the dudebros and Status Quo Defenders walk away offended from my own social media interactions knowing that they may never buy a book of mine again. And fuck if that isn't just a-okay with me.

But if it's not a matter of principle, that's a lot to pay for not just apologizing to a (very rightfully) insulted artist with some sincerity and grace. Or better yet making the OP clear that you're talking about the publisher-commissioned content (and not the quality of the art in the first place). Or even better STILL, contacting the artist before you run your art-bashing poll and taking their temperature on the language. ("I was thinking I might describe the cover as 'laughably bad.' Oh hey, yeah. Yeah okay I can totally see how that might..... Oh absolutely. So you'd prefer it if I used the term 'Great work but laughably out of touch with my vision'? Yeah okay. I can really feel how that changes the flavor. We cool?  Okay awesome. Nice chat.")

I mean how do you think the visual art world is going to feel about working on his projects now?

"Gosh Terry, it looks like your bardbarian psychic in front of the
Death Legions guarding The Castle of Ultimate Doom to me!"

Here's the crank of it: I can totally see this happening. You get wrapped up in your own shit. You hate the cover. You kick and scream. The publisher vetoes you. That really sticks in your craw because you've published like a zillion books (and all but four of them in one never-ending series) and you'd like to have your artwork taken seriously. You kind of feel like that cover is a part of your book and so you can trash talk it all you want without any consequence. And you start talking about how the cover sucks in open company. And in your mind this is really only between you and your publisher.

We've all done something similar. We see things through OUR lens when we're upset, and we sometimes take petty steps on social media that maybe ignore the nuances of who else might see our wording in a different way or be hurt by it.

But fuck if the artist of that cover personally shows up and calls you out, you don't say "Pffft. Wasn't talking to that pissed off guy–so anyway about this contest," on another post speaking to your fans. (Not unless, of course, you want to be remembered for taking a shit on an artist for a very long time.) If, on the other hand, you care about trashing the professional reputation you've spent years building, you trip over yourself to make sure that, from one artist to another, you apologize profusely for the miscommunication and you walk it back for the world to see. You salvage that shred of professional integrity that will be left if–IF–you get forgiveness from the artist and make nice with everyone involved.

If he didn't mean to dis the author, the language in the OP and the whole "contest" was unconscionably insensitive, and it was incredibly naive to think the artist wouldn't find out. If he did mean to dis the artist he probably forgot that shit can go viral in a New York minute. Either way, it's a pretty big lesson for all of us in the bleachers about what not to do.

Social media is a ridiculously unpredictable animal, and today's writers are pretty much condemned to have to navigate it. So without telling you WHAT to do (as that is your choice), please remember that if you step on another artist's toes the world may get the instant replay in screenshots and links and then be watching to see what you do next. Doubling down and nonpologies can actually do your writing career some very real damage.

But perhaps more importantly, even if the world weren't watching, if you botch your writing so badly that someone thinks you're cutting into their creative work of hundreds of hours (and that's not exactly what you were trying to do), perhaps it is better to be good and kind. And less Goodkind.


  1. He DID write a second post acknowledging the artwork was good quality and trying to claim he hadn’t been dissing it - presumably because even through his overweening ego he was able to do the maths, and hundreds (if not thousands) of people explicitly saying they would not touch his books now (one chick posted a photo of her collection of his books dumped in a rubbish bin) finally registered as a financial threat.

    But it was too damn late afaic.

    Not, in fairness that I was ever likely to buy his books either - I caught a few episodes of the TV show adapted from The Sword of Truth series, and while I know adaptations aren’t a solid gauge of a book’s quality, it seemed SO generically awful that I had a visceral Hell No response. Still, I had no particular notion of him being a douchebag before this art fracas.

    The Artist’s comment was icily courteous and understated, and starts out “It was nice working with you, Terry” which I interpreted as “over my cold dead body will ever create artwork for you again, motherfucker”; Goodkind responded with a childish and dim protest that they HADN’T worked together, as he hadn’t been part of the cover-design process, and then he claimed the artist was misrepresenting events and “trying to stir the pot.”

    TRYING TO STIR THE POT! From the guy who made a post calling the cover laughably terrible, AND OFFERED HIS SYCOPHANTS A REWARD FOR WHOEVER COULD TALK THE MOST SHIT ABOUT IT!!!!!

    I really hope to God he cannot find an artist willing to work on his next project. This was egregious AF.

    1. Agree with absolutely ever word you said. And I actually hadn't thought of that. How poetic would it be if no quality artist would work on one of his covers after this?

    2. To be fair, the television production was NOT the Sword of Truth story of the books. I used to love Goodkind, but he should have stopped writing that series after the 4th book. Each subsequent addition to the series has just been an obvious wank. His behaviour in this particular matter was atrociously puerile.

  2. So, even if the mockery wasn't directed at the artist themselves, Goodkind did urge his fans to mock and deride the work of *someone* ... whether it's the artist, the production manager, or whomever is in charge of saying "Print that," at his publisher. Encouraging your Own Personal Army to mock/deride/scorn and giving out a prize for the best zinger is a pretty cruel thing to do one way or another.

    1. Yeah it sort of surprised me that his response to that was "No I was trying to throw someone ELSE under the bus."

  3. On top of everything else, this action on Goodkind's part seems horribly counterproductive to his goal of getting to have more input on his covers. Is this action more likely or less likely to make his publishers want to consult him (or even work with him at all) in future? They may very well insist that he contractually acknowledge that he doesn't get a veto on any aspect of the book cover illustration or design.

    Goodkind mentions that the publisher revealed this cover without consulting him when it was too late to make any changes to get more accurate character details, etc. Perhaps it's not too outlandish to speculate that they did things this way because he'd abused consultation privileges for cover illustration process in the past. There's evidence to suggest (in one of Keith Parkinson's art books) that Goodkind has a history of demanding full control over aspects of the cover design and illustration... and having a massive chip on his shoulder when that hasn't always been given.

  4. Thanks, Chris Brecheen. My comment on Goodkind's post:

    Memo to artist Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme: I like your picture. I think it's a powerful image. If any of my fantasy novels get published, I'd feel honored if your art were the first thing the readers see.

    Hang in there!

  5. This is just a new chapter in the awfulness that Goodkind spews on a regular basis. The fans seem to have also forgotten that, when the tv series came out and we commented that it was too generic and close to nothing to do with the books, more a "monster of the week" thing, he outright told them to get over it and that "compromise was needed, be grateful you're getting anything".

    Not to mention his repetitive writing where 300 pages per book could be removed and you still get the actual story without the "previously on..." chapter upon chapter of "communism and any kind of socialism is bad, mmmmkay?"

  6. That's why I love the work of Michael Whelan.. whenever he's commissioned to work on a book cover, the art matches something from the book. That said, I haven't read Goodkind (and probably won't), so I can't comment on the graphics argument in this instance. I _have_ read plenty of instances where the cover art didn't match anything from the book, which is how I learned to pay attention to Whelan's art.

  7. Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme is a talented artist. I think the real pain might be Goodkind not getting another talented seasoned artist to work with him for a while.

  8. I think it's fair to say that damage-control in general is comedy gold.