SPEC ART COMPETITIONS: Exposure all creatives can do without...

August 13, 2016

M/M Romance


Indie authors I salute you.


I approach this subject as an Indie author and an artist with a twenty year career under my belt. Indie authors are the mavericks and adventurers of the publishing world.  We don’t have the support and backup of in-house editing, proof-reading or an art department.  We support one another.  We risk our own money and spend long hours perfecting our latest opus, and then try to sell it. 

When I speak of risk, self-publishing is a huge risk.  We are not adhering to a ‘house style’ and we choose our own path which could take in to account, or ignore publishing trends.  We have to make a whole host of decisions that authors who release work through a publisher, rarely have to deal with.  Like finding an editor who can do a quality job within a tight budget, and make marketing decisions - the biggest of which is the design of the book cover. 


The cover can make or break a book, and when it comes to cover art, many Indie authors find the process hugely challenging.  Cover design is big business, and generally Indie authors know what they like and what they want on their book cover.  Some authors have a creative friend who will ‘throw something together’ as a favor, others buy stock covers or hire a designer.


I have experience of both sides of the coin, as an artist and a author.  I have wanted to write about this subject for a while now, but have always held my breath and moved on, for my own sanity’s sake.  But, yesterday I saw a post by an author that made my blood boil and I had to write some words to get it out of my system.  As a professional author, you need to know




At the start of my art career, I did do a lot of spec work.  My Art School lecturers always told us that to ‘get a foot in the door’ we would all have to work for free… it gets you experience and builds your resume. it gets you EXPOSURE. I learned over the years that this is in fact bullshit and art educators who spout this ‘work for free’ mantra should be ashamed of themselves.  Most people who work in creative sectors have dealt with spec work.  For those of you who don’t know what I mean, I will explain:


-  A prospective client contacts an artist/designer/writer with a brief.


-  They contact more than one creative.


-  The artists /designer/writer is expected to provide a ‘sample’ design/outline for the client… at no cost.  Let me repeat that THE CREATIVE GETS NO MONEY FOR THEIR WORK.  If the client likes the sample, they *may* commission the creative.


-  No matter if the work is commissioned or not, the idea/images are out in the world… and ripe for pilfering.

This link with a video titled "What is spec work" explains further.  https://youtu.be/DsstOs-K7gk


If you watched that video, maybe you'll agree with me.  Spec work doesn’t make sense.  How is anyone supposed to make a living by doing the work and chancing that they'll get paid for it?  It’s hard enough to compete in the creative industries, and even though I did do spec work in my early career, I can honestly say that it NEVER led to the promised ‘exposure’ or ‘foot in the door’ that is always promised.  An artist’s time is just as important and valuable as an author’s.  Whether you are a professional, a student or just love experimenting with art.  These kinds of competitions NEVER benefit the artist and only benefit the client.



Most authors I know have more integrity than to try a stunt like this, but only yesterday my blood boiled when a post popped onto my Facebook news feed.  An author in my genre had a ‘super idea’.  She was looking for a logo to represent her books and decided a competition would be great.  Artists were to design for her and allow her to use their design on her merchandise… for the chance to win an Amazon gift card.  Not only did this make me furious, it also made me lose respect for the author.  She had readers who asked questions about the competition… READERS.  So she wasn’t just attempting to exploit the artists in her circle, she was attempting to exploit her readers. 


Maybe it was ignorance that made this author think that a competition would be a good idea, I don’t know, but I’ve seen far too many of these types of competitions online, and have been castigated by other authors for having the guts to say its exploitation.  The usual response I get is ‘No one is making them do it, people are free to choose”  Yes, people are free to choose.  But when artists are starting out in their careers, they are open to opportunists who care little that they spent twenty hours straight, perfecting a cover for their competition entry.  And when it comes to fans, they are in a precarious position. 


Most authors have the common sense not to cross the line, but others need a reminder of how easy it could be to misuse the adoration and trust of their readers - for their own personal gain. 


Authors who set up spec book cover competitions are in it for themselves and have no issue with taking advantage of fans.  They want a selection of work to choose from and care nothing for the time and money it has taken to create the work.  This is a bad deal for the artist and everyone in the creative industry who is trying to make a living from their art.  If you’re a professional, you will deal with others in a professional manner- this includes not trying to get your design work for free.


I can understand that some authors just cannot afford to commission top designers, but there are lower budget alternative sites like Fivrr.com which enables you to commission to suit your budget from $5 upwards, and Canva.com which offers simple customizable templates for covers and banners.  There are so many sites that will walk you through basic design. Creativindie.com have a fabulous webinar about book cover design,




All creatives need to earn a living- from the author to the artist, the musician to the filmmaker, we ALL have bills to pay.  Anyone who asks a creative to work for free or spec is looking to exploit their talent and they are not worth your time.  Commission original work- and pay cash or barter. Let’s support each other in our creative journeys.

©Isobel Starling 2016



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