And lots of good things happened at Westercon

I'm halfway through Westercon--I'm was thinking about not going Sunday, but I hear that's a really heavy day for attendance, and I want to develop some idea if 250 flyers are too many or too few for that size con (which is supposed to be roughly 500-1,000 people--I'm guessing 250 is too many, but we'll see).

Anyway, obviously it wasn't all ignorant douchebaggery. As a matter of fact, I've met quite a number of really interesting and helpful people--despite the fact that I was having trouble not tipping over today and had to leave early.

One fellow was a writer named M. Todd Gallowglas (who said that self-publishing can be "like crossing the Atlantic in a bathtub," hee). He was on a panel on POD books, so I brought a copy of Trust (you know, just in case), and he looked at it and had a really good suggestion for the layout: I have large paragraph indents, and if I shrink them (and I could shrink them a lot without having it look funny; once he pointed their size out I was immediately like, Yeah, that is large), it would make the layout shorter and the book cheaper.

Am I going to run off and lay out Trust and Trang again? Oh, God no. I'd have to really be hurting for a beta project before I'd start another freakin' layout. But it's definitely something to keep in mind with Trials and Tribulations. I assume they are so big because Word (curse you, Word!) gives you an indent appropriate for an 8 1/2" X 11" sheet of paper and doesn't shrink that when you set the page to a smaller size.

Another panel on art in books was really interesting, because it was basically a bunch of artists discussing how they do what they do. Artists often aren't really good at explaining themselves in words, but they had to explain things to each other (because it's a new world for them, too), and there weren't any props.

Except that Frank Wu (who is marvelously entertaining, by the way) had a couple of prints. I knew about the importance of rays or lines, which he mentioned, but he also talked about how you can think of cover art as a bunch of shapes that fit together.

He showed us a couple as examples (pointing out that you couldn't take something with a vertical orientation and easily make it a square, since you'd have to chop up your shapes), and looking at them, I made a couple of quick sketches just getting the shapes down.

Of course, I can't find the originals to link to online, but rest assured that they are MUCH more artistic, beautiful, and detailed than what I'm going to show here. All I was trying to capture and to think about was the basic, underlying shapes, and the way they fit together.

So here's the first one:

Now, this was a story about a dragon. So the curvy line was the dragon, standing up on two legs menacingly, facing left. The pointy wedge was...light? I think? Like someone had opened a door to a dragon's lair and the dragon was not too thrilled about it. The beginning of the title actually kind of curved down to fit over the curvy dragon. (Yes, I am that limited as an artist--even my crude block-shape rendition manages to be a less-than-fully-acceptable crude block-shape rendition.)

This was a city of dragons. So you have both sides of an alley with two walkways spanning it (and tiny dragons on them). Down at the bottom you have a larger dragon poking his head up.

I had never really thought of cover art in this way before, but it makes a ton of sense--it draws the eye in, and it also likely helps when you have to scale a full-size cover down into a teeny little thumbnail.

Oh, and Wu loves to license existing art for book covers. It's free money!

(Other things to remember from the panels: If your cover artist uses stock photos, models, or even pictures of some locations (!), you need to be sure you have permission from those sources as well. A fascinating and unique cover can be made by taking a fascinating and unique item--like a hobo nickel bought off eBay or a jack o' lantern doused in lighter fluid and set aflame--and taking a photo of it. And bookstore owners get really cranky when people go e-book only, because they can sell books--just give them a chance, damn it!)

I spotted a booth for the Northwest Independent Writers Association, and I got all excited! An indie writers' group in the Pacific Northwest! But then they told me that they're in the Portland area, not the Seattle area...le sigh. But it's something to look at and someplace to get ideas....