Hi everyone, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of the We Make Books Podcast - A podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between!
We are SO excited about this week's episode! We were luck enough to sit down with the incredible LD Lewis of FIYAH Literary Magazine - a quarterly speculative fiction magazine that features stories by and about the Black people of the African Diaspora. L is, to say the least, a simply astounding and amazingly talented person who sat down with us to discuss the ins and outs of cover art, design, and direction for a magazine. To call something like this challenging is an understatement; unlike a novel, a magazine cover has to appeal to the reader while somehow representing the multiple stories and author featured for that issue. L gave us a look into her process and took the time to explain what she is looking for in a cover artist and how she strives to find the best work to represent what FIYAH is publishing. FIYAH's covers are commissioned rather than licensed so each one is directed by L and completed by a different artist. L even had some advice and suggestions for any aspiring artists out there, so be sure to listen to the end!
You can, (and should!) check out L online and follow her on the socials:
And be sure to check out FIYAH Magazine!
And while we touch on the first annual FIYAHCON (happening this October!), the team has since announced The IGNYTE Awards and are asking for donations to help support the event and the trophies, so toss them some cash to lift underrepresented voices!
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
We Make Books is a podcast for writers and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Hit us up on our social media, linked below, and send us your questions, comments, concerns, and the your favorite cover that FIYAH has released so far!
We hope you enjoy We Make Books!
Episode 41: These Covers Are On Fire!! Magazine Cover Art Direction with LD Lewis of FIYAH Literary Magaine!
K: Hi everyone! Welcome back to another episode of We Make Books, a show about writing, publishing, and everything in between. I’m Kaelyn Considine, I am the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press.
R: And I’m Rekka, I write science fiction and fantasy as R.J. Theodore.
K: And we had such a great time recording this episode. This was a real treat for us. We got to sit down with L. D. Lewis, who, I guess we can’t even call her, specifically, the art director of FIYAH Magazine because it is just one of many hats that she wears.
R: And she was part of the foundation of the magazine as well, so we can’t really just call her the art director.
K: But for this episode, we got to sit down and talk with L about art direction for FIYAH Magazine and for magazines and publications in general, which is one of the many things that she handles at FIYAH.
R: Yes, yes. So Kaelyn had proposed that we do an Artwork August and I made her promise that we weren’t going to do nine episodes in August.
K: It wasn’t going to be a repeat of Submissions September.
R: And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that FIYAH Magazine covers are just…
K: Absolutely beautiful.
R: Every time. I love them. So, to talk to the person responsible for these—and I did expect that she was going to say that some of them are just licensed pieces of art that, you know, they pick ‘em out and license them because, knowing that it’s a staff of volunteers, I wasn’t sure if the budget was there for commissioning artwork, but no! As you’ll hear, L commissions every piece that goes on a cover of FIYAH Magazine, which is excellent. But let me, I want to introduce FIYAH in general before we get into the episode.
So, if you are not familiar, the title, fiyah, is a colloquialism for fire and it’s an homage to the creators of the Black speculative fiction magazine, FIRE, devoted to younger Negro artists, which was issued in 1926.
K: That’s right, people, that long ago. Almost a hundred years.
R: Oh, god! I wanted to say I feel old, but I wasn’t alive back then. So I don’t have to feel that old. But that one was started by Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and others. So, that history is there and it’s imbued into FIYAH Magazine. So what happened to bring FIYAH about was that in July of 2016, Fireside Fiction issued a hashtag, #BlackSpecFic. Out of 2,039 stories published in 2015, the report found that only 38 were written by Black authors. 38 out of 2,039. And more than half of all speculative fiction publications did not publish a single original story by a Black author over the span of the previous year.
So P. Djèlí Clark had already pitched the idea for a spec fic version of Fire Magazine and, in response to this report, Troy L. Wiggins, L. D. Lewis, and Justina Ireland, among others, got FIYAH up and running, basically, in response to this. This can’t stand—and it absolutely can’t.
“[FIYAH Magazine] seeks out Black excellence among stories of Black space captains, Black wizards, and Black gods. It is an exploration of what it means to be Black and extraordinary in new, exciting, and refreshing ways and it arrived right on time because the future of genre is now.” That last bit, of course, I’m quoting from their website on their About page.
This is an incredibly worthwhile magazine for everyone, and it should be supported by everyone in the genre and readers of science fiction, because too long now we’ve been reading science fiction by the same group of people, with the same demographic, who have dominated the genre.
Fireside kind of kicked it off with that report, and FIYAH has carried the torch, literally. So they are doing very well, as we talk with L. I don’t think we accented enough that they now have been nominated for awards and such because of the work that they’re doing. And we are very, very happy for them and want to support them.
K: Yeah, the first publication of FIYAH was 2017. They have grown massively in, really, I guess at this point less than three years, coming up on three years.
R: Yeah, it’s just about, actually as this comes out it will probably be really close to the anniversary.
K: Yeah, and to go from not existing to nominated for Hugos within that span of time is—
R: It’s just amazing.
K: —phenomenal and I think really speaks to the quality of work that is being curated by magazines like FIYAH.
R: And not just that, but the professionalism of the covers, as we get into with L in this episode.
K: Absolutely, yeah.
R: A long route to introduce them and to come back to the covers, but we wanted to give them the props for what they’re doing and support them and we suggest you go support them. It’s fiyahlitmag.com and, of course, that will be in the show notes.
K: So, anyway, we had a fantastic time talking with L. If you’re interested at all in cover art or cover design, or maybe you’re an artist, yourself, and thinking of sticking your toe into that pool, L’s got some really great suggestions. Some words of caution and advice, even.
R: If you’re thinking of putting together an anthology, there’s a lot of experience here that you can definitely use.
K: Absolutely. So take a listen, we’ll see you on the other side of the music.
[intro music plays]
K: Giant insects everywhere. She’s sending me pictures of stuff that she’s finding hanging out on her kitchen counter. [laughs]
L: Yeah, that’s accurate. I didn’t know you could have a pill bug infestation, but they’re somewhere under the concrete slab and they keep getting into the house and I don’t understand it.
R: And it’s not Animal Crossing where you can just catch them and sell them.
L: It’s not, no! A couple of times I’m like, “ew, spider! I’m going to catch you! Wait, no. What?”
R: Yep, I do that with dragonflies every day.
L: That’s what this game has done to me. But, no, no you have to die. This is the real world, you shouldn’t be here.
R: There’s no chameleon that will adore you forever.
K: Okay, so I don’t play Animal Crossing, but I still am playing Pokemon GO, so you know I understand the seeing something and just being like, “Ah, yes! For my—oh, wait no. Nevermind.”
R: So today we are sitting here with the lovely L. D. Lewis, who is a friend of mine and a fantastic author and also the art director of FIYAH literary magazine. L, I don’t wanna step on your toes. I wanna let you introduce yourself. So, why don’t you go into your introduction, as much as you wanna say about your own author career, because we also talk about writing on this podcast. And tell us a little bit about FIYAH magazine, too.
L: Okay, well, I am all of those things you just said. I am an art director for FIYAH literary magazine, we are Hugo nominated and I can’t wait to lose that award tonight.
[R makes a frowning noise]
L: We [laughs], we’ve been around since about 2016 which means that cover-wise we are on our… I wanna say sixteenth issue, coming out in October.
L: Apart from that, I am an author, primarily of fantasy or science fantasy, some kind of merger.
R: That’s a mood.
L: I don’t know what I am.
L: I write the stuff. I write the stuff, I send it to people. I have them tell me what it is.
K, laughing: “Listen, here’s how we’re gonna market this!” “Oh, cool, that’s what that is. Awesome. Thank you for letting me know.”
L: Exactly. That’s my life. I sold a reprint recently, to Lightspeed, for a story, my short story “Moses” that appeared in Anathema: Spec From the Margins, I believe, April of last year. I didn’t know what genre that was when I wrote it.
K, laughing: I love it.
L: Much less that it would end up anywhere other than Anathema, so that’s kinda cool. mY writer career is kind of taking a back seat to all of my random mini-careers that popped up during the pandemic. So now I’m directing a convention, FIYAH Con. That’s going great. I’m also a researcher on the LeVar Burton Reads podcast. And I’m sticking my nose in a couple other editorial places as well, so.
K: So, a wearer of many hats.
L: Yes, and headphones.
K, laughing: And headphones, yes! So do you wanna tell us a little bit about FIYAH magazine and your role there?
L: FIYAH, as I said, started in 2016. Our first publication year was 2017. We’ve won a World Fantasy Award. We’ve been nominated for two Hugos, I wanna say. And we’ve had some of our poetry features get Rhysling Awards. Our cover artist for our first year, Geneva Benton, now Geneva… Bowers… she got married. Yay.
L: She won a Hugo for Best Fan Artist and she did all four of our first year’s covers. After her, we actually did one artist per issue. She just did all four for the first year because we were like, “We don’t know how this is gonna go, or if anybody’s gonna pay any attention to us. So we’ll just stick with the one artist, not make it too complicated.” And that actually went super well.
We will be a professional paying market as of, actually, our upcoming, our October issue. We’ll be able to pay SIFL qualifying rates.
K: Congratulations, that’s very exciting.
L: Yeah! We used to do our subscriber drive in October, but kind of State of the World things popped up and people kind of threw money at us, so.
R: I think you got boosted with a couple of people with a few extra followers and suddenly your subscribers were doubling, was it?
L: Yeah, we have over 1600 subscribers now.
K: That’s fantastic.
L: I think we were somewhere around the mid-300s pretty much since inception.
K: That’s great!
L: So now we’re pro-qualifying and we’ve got a convention for some reason.
R: And I will mention, for anyone who somehow hasn’t heard of FIYAH magazine, it’s comprised entirely of Black speculative fiction.
L: Yes. And by Black, we mean Black anywhere in the world. It’s African Diaspora but we are based in the States and so we publish writers who live in Africa or in Europe somewhere, or if you are an Afro-appended person you can be published. And we also—all of our cover artists are also Black.
R: Which is excellent. And so if you’re out there thinking, “How do I find more Black writers?”
L: This is…
R: L and her team are putting them together right in front of your face. Go subscribe! They’re also, I have to say, and this is why you’re here today, the covers are just so luscious and so amazing. I just want to wallpaper the house in them. The colors…
L, laughing: Luscious? That’s—
R: They are, though. They’re so—
L: No, that’s exactly the right—it’s definitely [laughs]
K: Um, yeah. They’re gorgeous, amazing covers. So, let’s jump right into that. How do you find these? How do you pick things like this? Is it the most fun in the world or is it maddening because you can only pick one per issue?
L: It’s maddening because we haven’t been able to pay artists as much as I would like to pay them.
K: Okay, all right.
L: So that’s probably my only issue. I find them primarily via social media. Like, every time there’s a Drawing While Black hashtag or something, that pretty much sucks up the rest of my day because I’m kind of trawling to see who I might wanna tag and solicit for artwork. Right now we actually have a submission window for our portfolios, over on the website fiyahlitmag.com/submissions. That’ll be going through August 20th. But I do pick some people from the slush. Olivia Stephens, I believe I got her from the slush. Wait—do art directors have slushes or am I just calling submissions piles that by default now?
K: I think you have… portfolio—what’s the correct term here? Portfolio slush piles? If you have a slush pile of portfolios, what do you call it?
R: As a graphic designer, I have never heard that my portfolio will go into a slush pile. So I think just, um, portfolios? I don’t…
K: Portfolio collection, yeah.
R: Submissions works. I don’t know.
L: Okay, yeah. So the submissions, yes, when they come in I look at those and we, in our first year, I believe our first two years, each one of our issues was themed. And so I kind of would base people’s art styles on how well they fit the specific theme. So it’s not like I would just pick four artists and randomly distribute assignments. It would just be, your style is best suited to something dealing with animals, in the case of Dominique Ramsay. So you’re going to do this animal or this nature-themed cover. Stuff like that.
K: I imagine you get a lot of portfolios sent to you. I can tell you, just at Parvus Press we get a lot of unsolicited emails for, “Hey! I’m trying to—I either do or am trying to get into cover design. Here’s my portfolio if you want to take a look!” And the way we handle that is: if it’s something where I’m like, “Maybe in the future we’ll have some interest or use for this,” we just flag it. Do you—are there certain things you’re looking for in a portfolio?
Do you solicit artists directly or do you tend to collect what’s out there and see what fits? Or is it a combination of both?
L: It’s a bit of a combination. When I do my social media searches for things, it’s things that just kind of fall into my lap, so to speak. But in some cases I will get a direct submission, in the case of our open calls. Which we don’t do often. It really just depends on whether or not I have, in my head, filled out who’s going to be doing covers for the following year. It’s just… it’s a hybrid method. I do get unsolicited things. When I do, they just get deleted unread. Like, I’m very much—if I spend hours cobbling together these submission guidelines or I’ve set up this form for you to use for submissions—
K, approvingly: Absolutely! Yep.
L: You have to use it! Because I’m not going to go out of my way to, you know—This is not gonna be a situation where you’re going to be like that diamond in the rough. Like, “Oh, well I didn’t follow the submission guidelines and still loved it anyway!” I don’t care. [laughs]
K: No, listen—
L: Yeah, I will delete.
K: I’m an acquisitions editor. I have the same issues. If we’re not open for submissions, don’t send me things. And if we are open for submissions, you need to submit through that portal. It’s one of those, you’re not more special than all of these other people.
K: But, along those lines, you’re dealing with a very interesting scenario, as opposed to doing art design and direction for a novel because you’re doing magazines. These come out frequently. They have multiple contributors, multiple pieces in each issue, and you probably have to get the art for this well before you know what’s actually going to be in the issue.
L: I do so many other things for the magazine that I kind of knock out my art director duties as quickly as I can, so I can focus on those things. So, I do the actual issue composition; the formatting of all the digital issues; and getting everything going in terms of the newsletter; and updating shot pages on the website; and all these other things. So this is pretty much done, pending my availability. So, in August or early September I’ll make story selections. In August, the team also decides on the next year’s themes or whether or not we’re going to have any.
L: Next year we’re doing— Or, in 2021 rather, we’re doing two themed issues and two unthemed issues. So, now that I know what to expect in terms of the themed issues, I then go into the people that I’ve bookmarked in the back-channel and see who would be a good fit for those two. And then, for the unthemed issues, it’s really just, in terms of the direction I give them is based off of themes that I have in my head, essentially.
K, laughs: Okay.
K: No, that’s great.
L: It’s things that wouldn’t fit if the stories in an unthemed issue are varied, the cover art is yet another story being told. Just in a different medium. So, it doesn’t have to fit, necessarily, in terms of the prose and the poetry, in order to be its own self-contained story. So when we have artists do those things, we then interview them—and we post those when we do cover drops—on their process and what story it is they’re trying to tell with their illustration. And it’s usually very interesting and it’s good to see that after artists end up on our covers, they end up getting agents. They end up getting other assignments—more ~prestigious~ than ours, probably—but I’m always a very happy art director mom when that happens.
K: That’s fantastic. So, along those lines, I’m gonna ask two questions here that maybe kind of overlap. One is, you’ve mentioned artists that you’ve bookmarked, so to speak, that you have in mind for certain themes, or artists that you just wanna use for non-themed issues: what makes you bookmark someone? And then, the second question is: how much variety do you try to get across your issue covers? Do you ever come up against, “Ugh, I really like these two artists, but I’ve gotta space them out because their styles are a little similar,” do you make a deliberate attempt to have a lot of variety between issues and the covers? Or whatever you come across that you like and think works, that’s what you’re going with?
R: Also, within sixteen issues, you have maybe developed a house style of some sort, that you could use as a guide.
L: Yeah, I love particularly Black artists’ use of color. There’s, I want zero negative space where possible. Artists have to have an understanding of composition. I don’t want someone to have these grand images and then constantly have a lot of little details in the lower third of the cover, because that’s where we have our logo and the table of contents, things like that. So it’s… it’s not—let me think. I don’t think that we’ve ever had anyone’s styles who were too similar. I don’t try and compare them to each other. Moreso, the styles that are popular in other medias.
So if it’s clear from your portfolio that you’ve gotten an entirely anime style, it’s probably not going to work with us. Or if your style is modelled extensively after Steven Universe, that’s probably not going to be a great use, either. I think in the beginning, after Geneva, it was definitely—because we had four covers of that person’s style. At that point, it become, “Okay, well let’s make sure that whoever we get for this year, their work doesn’t piggyback too much on that.” Because we don’t want to get pigeonholed as having just this one type of art style. The sort of whimsical, femme vibe that she does. But I think, to that extent, we’ve diversified pretty well.
I think, probably, our most interesting cover, in terms of a departure from like a simple, character-based illustration was probably Sophia Zarders’. It would be Issue #12—Yeah, that’s her. It’s different, definitely.
K: You know, you had specifically mentioned things like, maybe, somebody whose art style is modeled maybe primarily off of Steven Universe or anime. That’s not gonna be a good fit for you. Do you have levels of technique that you’re looking for when choosing artists to work with? Or is it just you rule out by style?
L: Definitely, I think some level of technique has something to do with it. There needs to be an understanding of composition, something coherent about color theory. It has to be something that’s not drawn on lined paper in someone’s notebook somewhere. It really, there has to be some sort of refinement to it that differentiates it from a sketch.
K: I guess, yeah, refinement is the word I was looking for there, yeah.
L: Yeah, it’s—the bulk of what I receive is sort of on that sketch level, but I’m all about it because, I mean, shoot your shot wherever.
L: But in terms of actually making the cover, some level of—I have to get the sense that you take this craft of illustration, of drawing, whatever, I have to get the sense from it that you’ve taken it seriously enough to put some study into it. Rather than just practice.
L: I don’t think there’s anything that automatically becomes a disqualifier, in terms of when I’m looking for those things. But, yeah, I just have to be able to tell you put some effort into it.
K: I’m assuming: have a portfolio, have spent a lot of time and work on this already, and not just like, “I did this one drawing, here you go.”
L: Yeah. There’s—I yell at people a lot about their websites.
K, laughing: Ohoho! I understand why you and Rekka are friends now.
L: I design them, first and foremost. And I’ve done that since forever, since like high school. We had a whole mentorship thing, that’s where I had to learn it. So when I can’t access your body of work or your contact information, the only things that you have sent me are pictures you’ve taken out of your doodle book, it’s—
K, amused: Do you really get that?
L: It’s gonna make me not wanna work with you.
K, laughing: Is that a thing that actually happens?
L: Oh, gosh…
L, laughing: Yeah. And there’s definitely another conversation to be had about that. But it’s just, it’s kind of—there’s an expectation of, particularly, intra-community, that you’re automatically going to support someone because of shared racial or ethnic experiences. And so some people use that as a way to determine, “Okay, well I can just send any old thing and because they’re pro-Black and I am Black, that’s the marriage. That’s how this is gonna happen.” That’s not how this is gonna happen.
L: So, I do send—when I send rejections, I try not to disparage anyone. I definitely want to continue to be encouraging and I wanna encourage the artists’ growth and if you come back and submit to me next year, I’d love to see, at least, that you’re still at it and still working on improving. But I think that we have reached a point where we can reasonably expect a certain amount of professionalism and refinement in the work. And I think you can really tell who actually has subscribed or read or knows anything about what we do, by what they send us.
L: So I can tell when you’re just an artist trying to make money, versus someone who wants to be part of FIYAH as an entity.
K: Yeah, and somebody who has a love and appreciation for the genre—
K: —I think, is very important in, especially something like—it sounds strange calling a magazine cover that’s gonna include multiple contributing authors and, probably some additional artists in there, as well, a very personal thing, but it is a very personal thing. I would imagine, especially on your end. You have a gargantuan responsibility of choosing a piece of artwork to not represent just one author being showcased in there, there’s multiple. And you’ve gotta find something that’s gonna serve everyone that’s being represented in that particular issue. So that’s something that I couldn’t do. [laughs]
When I work on a novel, I flag parts of the book where I’m like, “This is a good scene that could serve as a great cover. This is, you know, here are some thematic elements that we can really emphasize in that,” and even that can be very overwhelming when it’s just one story that you’re trying to build a good picture representation of. Obviously, it’s a little bit different per magazine, what you’re putting on the cover, what you’re trying to show, but it’s still incredibly difficult, I would imagine.
R: And you don’t just have to represent the stories, but since FIYAH is the name on the cover, you’re also representing FIYAH magazine at the same time and that does seem like a lot to try and balance in your mind as you go through it.
Well, at the same time, pictures are really cool-looking so sometimes you can just go, “Oh that’s a cool picture. That inspires me to want something like this.”
[L and K laugh]
R: In a person’s portfolio.
K: Yeah, and so then that’s what I was gonna ask is how do you find that balance between like, “Wow I really like this artist and I think they’re doing cool things,” and then because you’re commissioning these, so you’re giving them direction, you’re having to tell them, “I’m looking for something like this.” You know, we talked about this a little bit at the beginning of the episode, but to the listener, just to be clear, L is finding artists and then getting them to create something new for the issue of the magazine. That’s what it means—just for clarity’s sake—that’s what it means when we say that she’s commissioning these covers.
So it’s not finding a picture and going, “That’s great, I’m gonna license it and then we’re gonna put it on the cover of that issue.” You’re having to give them direction. So, do you have an approach to that? Do you let them give you ideas, or do you go to them with the ideas? Or a combination of the two?
L: I usually go to them with the ideas. I think, probably, the most successful example would be our Issue #3 cover, the Sundown Towns issues, which has been, in terms of prints and things, it’s been wildly, by far our bestseller. It’s the cover where there’s a girl and she’s got these mirrored shades on and in the mirrored shades there’s just a horizon of things she’s going to have to beat down with this bat with the nails in it that’s like strung from her back.
R: I do love that cover.
K: I’ll just—sorry to interrupt real quick. All of the previous covers are on FIYAH’s website. So if you’re listening to this going, “Oh, that sounds really cool!” You can go see them on there.
R: Yep. And buy the back-issues.
L: Buy everything! I mean, there’s a shop with merch in it and the covers there are actually prints.
R: So I could wallpaper my house if it weren’t stone.
L: Yeah, you can check ‘em all out, support ‘em there. And actually purchases of prints, be they framed or not, a portion of those sales actually do go back to the artist.
L: So we’re not just pocketing all of that. For the issue #3 cover, the theme was Sundown Towns and so I wanted to, I actually think I directed that one fairly closely. I generally try to say, “Okay, so here’s what I’m thinking,” even if it’s not a themed issue. “Here’s what I’m thinking thematically for the cover, open to your interpretation on that.” With issue #3, I was a bit more hands on and I was like, “Okay, so I want to get this impression. It’s a sundown situation, I want this character, we’ll do a torso proportion, and I want to be able to see something on this horizon at sundown that’s going to—I want danger, I want menace, but I want this character to be marginally unbothered by it.” And you can see that with the toothpick basically lolling in her mouth. Like, she’s ready.
K: She straight does not give a fuck.
L: Yeah, and so however it is I worded that, Geneva just took it and did this miraculous thing and I was like, “This is amazing! I’m an amazing art director!”
L: So I think that was the one I was probably the most hands-on with and I think was realized in a really cool way. I had direction in a lot of subsequent covers, but particularly where there’s a theme, I’m like, “Here’s our theme, I’m thinking… this or this or this or this, also open to your interpretation, so if you have any pictures or whatever just let me know, we can hash it out.” It ends up working pretty well most of the time. I think the Chains issue—I selected Sophia because in her portfolio there was a lot of political work. A lot of protest type designs as well. So I definitely wanted to get her take on the Chains issue. And that came out amazingly.
And there is—I don’t think there intended there to be a political message there, but if there was she did a great job illustrating it.
R: You mentioned when it goes really, really well it seems to just—they’re reading your mind, an image you didn’t even know was there, and then it’s just fantastic. So, when you have to get a little bit more in up to your wrists on the art direction and send them back, maybe, for additional rounds of thumbnails or something. Has that happened, and how do you manage not just the product that you’re going to get at the end, but the communication and happiness of both parties?
L: So when I start the commissions, it’s a pretty wide window for them to get the work done. And then I’ll check in periodically, or they’ll send me progress updates, asking about colors or composition or, usually, to get an idea of how it’s going to be set up on the cover with the title and everything, just to make sure that there’s nothing going to be lost in the details that’ll only be available on the larger prints. Because we don’t put the table of contents or anything on those.
L: But yeah, we check in periodically. By periodically, it could be a month, it could be two months. If I’m commissioning you August 202 and you’re doing the October 2021 issue. I mean, I commission everybody at the same time.
L: Once I have you finalized, just let me know when you want to get to work and I’ll send your deposit, is how that works. So, over the course of time, if I’ve needed to send anything back—I think it’s happened maybe one or two times. There was an issue with—Oh, yeah, well Sophia. She was our first cover to incorporate a border, and so later on when I ended up remastering the issues—’cause that did happen. Because I can’t just leave stuff alone—we ended up resizing it and so the proportions for that couldn’t be altered without losing the border, so we had some issues there. A little bit that kinda needed to be addressed. But that was mostly on my end, not really her fault.
Couple of times there were some color issues that got sent back. And it’s really just a matter of, “You’ve sent me this thumbnail, you’ve asked for feedback, here’s the feedback.” There’s nothing that really needs to be, you know, nothing for anyone to get emotional about. So there haven’t been any catastrophes, thus far. Mostly any drops in communication that have ended up in a cover perhaps being rushed, you can’t tell which cover it was, so it worked out.
L: But, yeah. It’s all pretty straightforward.
R: That’s very good.
K: Well, I’m jealous because it’s not always straightforward with the people I’ve worked with and dealt with. You know, it’s very hard to take an image out of your head, or a sentiment you’re trying to communicate, like this intangible idea, and say, “Now put it on a piece of paper for me.”
L: I think that’s where my work as a writer actually helps because I do that myself. Like there’s an image in my head and I have to put it into words, so I think if I wasn’t able to do it in the beginning, becoming an art director has kind of helped me do the reverse. I have an image in my head that I have to put into words enough for you to replicate the image in my head.
K: Along those lines, do you have any hard requirements that, when you’re working with an artist and you’re commissioning work from them, you—It doesn’t need to be a specific thing, but your art must display: this. I imagine use of color is very important. Art-related things. But do you have any requirements of things that you want to appear in all of your covers, be they themes or specific elements?
L: It’s largely, here’s what I’m thinking in my head, open to your interpretation on it. I think that any requirements, subconscious or otherwise, that I have factor into the selection process, but once they’ve been selected it’s at that point I’m like, “Okay, well because I picked you, because I trust you to have some type of vision for this that you’ll be able to execute.”
L: There was a situation where I had to sidestep someone’s submission because the issue was me. I was not confident enough in my communication abilities to get what I had in my head out of them.
L: So to speak. So it, sometimes a rejection is not your work isn’t good enough, we can’t use you right now. It’s that I’m not sure how to get the best work out of you, and that’s on me.
K: I assume you have multiple conversations with the artists before commissioning them, before giving them a deposit. Do you kind of talk to them about, “Hey, I’m looking for this specific thing,” or do you start by just talking to get a feel for them and see if they’re somebody that you want to work with?
L: The process is different in solicits and submissions. So, in terms of submissions, I ask for a bio and that kind of acts as your cover letter. If you’re rude—
[R laughs knowingly]
L: —when I ask you for your cover letter, I’m not gonna work with you. If you send in a portfolio which includes demands and details about how you will not accept direction or direction will be an additional fee, then I’m not going to work with you.
K: Oh my goodness! That happens??
L: Really, in the submission process, that’s my first glimpse into your personality. So I don’t have to give you the 12th degree later on when actually trying to get work from you. I’m looking at all of your submission materials. If you’ve got a great portfolio, but a shit attitude—I don’t know if I can cuss here, sorry—
R: Yes, absolutely. Have at it.
L: We’re not going to work together and good luck having anyone else work with you because I’m so reasonable.
K: I always say, you know, in acquisitions, and I’ve said this multiple times on this podcast, your first part of the “interviews” portion of the submissions process is: can you follow the submissions guideline?
L: Exactly. If you can’t follow instructions, if you’ve got a chip on your shoulder, attitude problem, it’s not gonna work. I’m sorry.
K: It is something that consistently amazes me, the attitude problems I come across. Where it’s like, “Don’t you understand this is a relationship? I’m hiring you to work with me. Why, all you’re showing me is why I shouldn’t.”
L: Exactly. So, I get that being a creative is a work of ego. In any medium, it’s a work of ego. So you’re going to be protective of your work and you’re going to be confident if it’s something you intend to sell. You cannot be a dick. It’s a universal rule, and one that people don’t seem to follow.
K: I will even take that a step farther and say that I understand the protectiveness of your work and your time. I understand wanting to make sure you’re not gonna get jerked around, but there’s ways to do that and be polite, if not at least professional.
K: I will take professional, even. [laughs] I can work with that. Okay, so that’s actually a good segue into one of the last questions I had here. Dos and Don’ts. Maybe any advice you have for people who are interested in trying to get into design and cover art and, you know, things you like, things you don’t like?
L: UPDATE. YOUR. FREAKING. WEBSITE.
L: And by update—
K: I think that’s gonna be the title of this episode. We’re just gonna get Rekka a framed picture that says that, yeah.
L, speaking plainly: By update, I mean… to have portfolio samples of your most recent work because it should be your most improved, your most developed work! Available and easily accessible on your website. Social media. Stick it in your bio. If you don’t have a website, which is fine, some people don’t. Our submission form allows you to alternatively just submit work samples, if you don’t have a website I can get to. Fine.
When you’re sending your work samples, make sure that the work samples are a good fit for the gig you are applying for. If I say we are a speculative fiction magazine, do you know what speculative fiction is? If you don’t, look it up. I’ll give you a hint: it’s on our website. The same website you’re using to view our submission guidelines. Which you should also be reading thoroughly. And implementing in your submission.
And I say this. In the slowest, clearest way I know how. Because for some reason, when I get off this recording, I’m going to go into my inbox and there’s going to be some someone who has sent me… something they drew on their desk in high school and think it’s going to be cool to submit to the magazine. It’s not. It’s a photo of your dog. It’s a gorgeous rendering. In Sharpie…
[R and K giggle]
L: It’s not a good fit for a magazine.
K, laughing: Oh my God, my heart is singing right now! This is… I have not given exactly that talk, but you could paraphrase large chunks of it.
R: The volume of salt in the talk is about equal.
L: Yes, I’m very—I don’t know how much clearer I can be. When people are discussing speculative fiction, know that it’s sci-fi, fantasy, horror, assorted subgenres. And if you’re applying to be on a cover of a publication of speculative fiction, make sure that you know that. And that the works that you submit reflect that you know the venue you’re… proposing to, essentially.
K, contrarily: Maybe that dog was a magical dog.
L: But it wasn’t because it was just furry. It was just a dog. That’s it. If he was in a mech suit, there you go. Speculative fiction all the way. Give me the dog in the mech, it’s fine.
K: With a good cybernetic eyepatch.
L: Yes! Yup.
K: Maybe like some satellites coming out of his ears. Something.
L: Does he have wings? Give me dogs with mech suits and wings. It’s fine. I can work with that! I cannot work with… the photorealistic rendition of your grandmother. It’s not going to work for a speculative fiction magazine. So [clears throat] apart from that, really, it’s more than just a scattershot of finding places that will give you money to produce artwork.
It’s—you have to have an actual interest in the venue because for three to four months at a time, you are going to be the face of it. As the, you know, as the cover artist that’s going to be the cover. The first cover people see when they approach us on social media or on our website or anything. You are the newest thing, you should want to know what it is that you’re representing.
K: That’s another good question. I mean, you guys have a really, I don’t think it’s going too far to say, important mission statement. You have something that is really representative and significant, still, in the community. If you have an artist come to you and they just do not have a clue about, you know, any of this. The realm you’re working in and trying to promote, is that a dealbreaker for you, or…?
L: Absolutely. Yeah. I am a wearer of many hats. I am a busy person. I don’t have time to entertain or educate people on information that’s readily available if they would have elected to actually educate themselves. I am very friendly in customer service emails. I am not friendly in emails that show you did not read the required material.
K, laughing: Good!
L: You know, mostly when I send rejections, it’s: Thank you so much for submitting! Here’s where—Like, I’m gonna keep you in the catalogue, I encourage you to keep writing to us, submit to us next year. Whatever. For rejections to people who clearly had no idea what they were sending me, it’s like: okay, this submission failed to meet the guidelines. Here’s where. Thanks. And that’s that.
L: I try to—I think our submission guidelines have been tweaked multiple times a year since inception because we keep trying to catch those people who are, willfully, just ignoring things. And I’ve come to realize that there’s no way to do that. People are just gonna do what they do.
K: Yes, it’s true. Yeah.
R: It’s a shame that you create these guidelines as a filter to keep these people out, but it’s still so manual. You still have to say you have to abide by them, and then I have to review it and I have to go, “Oh, come on. Really.”
K: Well, I mean, you also have people that just look at it and go, “Meh, I’m good enough. They won’t care.”
L: Yeah, and I promise you, you’re not.
L, not sorry: I’m sorry.
K: Trust me, I run up against the same thing where it’s like, I have actually gotten unsolicited manuscripts sent to me that I’m kinda like, “Oh, this is… I’m not doing backflips over it, but this isn’t bad. I could certainly be interested in this, but we don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Sorry.”
L: Yeah, and I don’t even get that far. You send me unsolicited stuff and I’m just… okay, cool. Delete. And that’s that. Noooo you don’t get a response email because you don’t follow directions, so.
K: Yeah, I’m guilty of sometimes opening those things out of curiosity. I’m very—
K: Well, especially because—granted, I’m dealing with novels, so a lot of times people just copy and paste their query letter into the email—Yeah, I know. Sometimes I can’t help but catch a few words where I’m sort of like, “Alright, I gotta open this and see, is this actually interesting or is this a dumpster fire on a train wreck?” And, I’ll give you a guess which one it frequently is.
L: Yeah. It’s never—It would be different if the people who sent in unsolicited works were qualified. But it’s always the ones who need further development, who also can’t seem to follow instructions. So I wonder if there’s a correlation.
K: I’m gonna go ahead and guess yes, but…
K: But, yeah, okay. So I would imagine, especially just in the part of speculative fiction that you’re working in and what you’re trying to promote and make more common, more accessible to everyone. Having some, if not involvement knowledge of, at least some awareness of the existence of this. Yeah, that’s incredibly important. And I would imagine it would be very difficult to work with somebody who didn’t, at that point.
L: Yeah. We’re—FIYAH is very much mission-based. And so we’re not going to work with anybody, if it’s a writer, if it’s a sponsor, if it’s a poet, if it’s an artist, we’re not gonna work with anyone who doesn’t serve that mission—
L: —in the best possible way. So if it’s, you know, I like to see that representing us well is a priority for you when you submit work to us. So if that’s not the case, then you can find some other magazine to be on the cover of.
R: Yeah, that’s great.
K: Absolutely. So, that’s all the questions I had. Rekka, anything?
R: UM. I have the technical questions, but we did go a little long on the first half, so I’m not gonna take up too much of L’s time because, as she mentioned, she’s wearing many hats. It’s already a busy day and it’s supposed to be a Friday, but we don’t know what those mean anymore. But—
K: But the Hugos are tonight, so at least we have that to know what calendar day it is, if not day of the week.
L: I actually still don’t know what calendar day it is because it’s in New Zealand time and…
K: Oh god, you’re right!
R: Yeah, and you can’t miss the ceremony, that’s for sure.
L: I probably can.
L: I think we know who’s gonna win. I think we do. I’m not gonna say any names, but I’m pretty sure.
R: Well, I know who I voted for at the top of my ballot, so. I’m still crossing my fingers for you guys. But, my technical questions. Just a couple quick ones. So, you are commissioning covers for what is, primarily, so far, digital only.
R: So that lets you do a couple of neat things, but I wonder, does FIYAH have any tickle in the back of their mind, collectively, about doing print issues or anthology Year’s Best Of kind of things in the future? And what does that mean for you, your planning?
L: So, we have—Our initial thought, I think, after Year 2, was to put together an omnibus of the years’ issues and sell those as kind of a box set, if you will. Didn’t pan out. I think there was a contract snafu where we had to like stop that. And then starting in Year 3, we added the clause to the contract that would allow us to get anthology rights and things. We would love—I would, personally, love to do a print issue. Like, annual print things. But I’d want to add more stuff to it. Which probably isn’t a great use of the editorial team’s time. So we’ve kind of stuck a pin in that.
It’s also super expensive and we just got all of this money. And so our priority is to make sure that we’re paying our contributors well. So if we can keep that up and then, maybe some money coming in from the convention can go towards, you know, funding print aspirations. That would be nice, too. But we hope to get there one day. I don’t know what it would change, apart from the timeline. In terms of when we request work, how long we give people to create it, when it’s due on a print schedule and stuff.
I did editorial work for Fireside Fiction and, so, Pablo’s been really great in like a mentorship capacity, in terms of learning the ropes of print stuff.
K: And that’s Pablo Defendini?
L: Yes. So, I’ve just made sure that I’ve absorbed whatever I could from my experience over there, in hope of taking it over to FIYAH and see what we can do with that. I’m hoping to have something commemorative printed by this con next year.
L: That’s kind of in a super nebulous space right now, along with everything else in the world. So, that’s it. So, if things in the world happen, maybe this will happen.
L: We will, hopefully, be able to pull that off. But I think we’re looking at it as kind of a one-off thing, sort of experimental, to see if it’s going to be a sustainable model going forward. It would be cool if someone were to reach out—someone from a publishing house would reach out and want to back yearly anthologies. I think we’d be super into that. But we just don’t have the money for it right now.
K: Anthologies are very expensive. They’re worth it, but they are very expensive and they are multiple times more time-consuming than a single book.
K: It’s um. As Rekka mentioned, we did ITGO, the science fiction political anthology, If This Goes On. It was fun, but it was… I… it took a couple years off my life, to be sure.
L: That’s my understanding.
L: I have the technical skills, I’ve been working with the Adobe suite of products for… wow, I’m old. Far too long. So, you know, when we’re ready for print. I’m ready, but we just gotta get there funding-wise.
R: The saturation of color in your covers, I was worried if you ever did a print issue that you were going to lose some of it going to the CMYK, but that’s a me-thing. That’s not even.
L: I mean, that’s probably something to consider. But, I mean, that’s probably something we’d work through with the printer. Everything that gets turned in to us, I think the only traditional media—Odera is doing the Joy issue and that one’s being painted—
K: Oh! Okay.
L: So, I mean, we’d have some media considerations to work through. But I think a lot of that would depend on what the capabilities were of our printer and we’d figure it out. I always figure it out. We’ll figure it out.
R: Oh! And another thing I forgot to mention was that because you’re a digital magazine, you got to put that one cover on your website, and I noticed it was animated.
L: Yeeeeeah. B)
R: So that is extra fun.
L: Yeah, I wanna do another animated—I wanna do at least one animated. I mean, those are more expensive, obviously, because it’s an additional skill set, but yeah. I wanna do more of those. I figure we’re a digital venue, so we can have some fun with it. Same thing with virtual conventions. You can do some different fun things with it—
K: Yeah, absolutely.
L: —just because it’s digital. It doesn’t have to be something that’s on a lower tier than a physical book or a physical event.
R: So we’re referring to Issue #13 which, if you view at their website, you see a great illustration to begin with, then you get a pause and then a nice little message that just warms the heart.
L, giggling: And other things!
R: Yeah. Did you work with the artist directly on the animation, was that part of the commissioned artist, or did you then take it to somebody who animated it after? Or did you do it yourself?
L: No, that was part of the deal with the artist. Steffi has an amazing portfolio and so I went through it and there were animation samples in there and I was like, “Ohh! Ooh! Let’s do that!”
L: So I went back and I was like, “Heyyyy! So I wanna bring you on board. I wanna have you do this cover. It’s unthemed, but we’re thinking about adding some animated components to it. How much would you charge for that?” And that’s pretty much how that happened.
That was really fun, and I wanna do another one. I’m hoping to find some more animation in portfolios in the Ye Olde Art slush.
R: So if you are an artist listening to this episode, you’ve just been giving a leg-up in terms of what L wants to see.
K: Uh-huh, some inside info there.
L: Yeah, I wanna do at least one animated cover. It doesn’t have to be one of the themed ones. But I wanna kind of do at least one of those a year.
K: So, L, along those lines, just to wrap up here. You currently, by the time this episode comes out, you’ll be open for submission for nine days more? It’s coming out August 11th and you’re open till the 20th you said, correct?
L: Correct, yes.
K: And where can people find you guys to submit?
L: Fiyahlitmag.com—F-I-Y-A-H-l-i-t-m-a-g dot com. There is a submissions link on the homepage. You can go to fiyahlitmag.com/submissions and find all the additional information there. It does involve an AirTable form. So if you are unable to access it for accessibility reasons, you can just shoot me an email at email@example.com and I will send you an alternative means of submission.
K: And we’ll link that link in the show notes and if you haven’t already come away with this notion—well, that’s probably a different issue, you haven’t been paying attention—Please read the submissions guidelines!
L: Please! Because I will totally subtweet you if you don’t. Like… come on.
K: It’s just gonna be… you’re just gonna get a link to this episode of the podcast. And just…
L: Yeah. In fact, that’s what I do. If you send me work without reading the submission guidelines, I am going to send you an email that’s just the submission guidelines link. That’s it.
R: That’s more than you deserve.
L: Yeah. And it’s passive-aggressive, but it makes me feel good. So that’s what we’re doing.
K: Gotta get those wins where you can take them. Well, L, thanks so much, really, for taking the time to talk to us on such a busy and important day for you. We really, really appreciate it. IS there anything you’d like to leave us with before we sign off here?
R: Or where can people find you, et cetera.
L: My website, ldlewiswrites.com has all of my published works thus far. There may or may not be a novel included in it at some point. Who knows? I have a story coming out in the Glitter and Ashes anthology coming out whenever that comes out. I’m sure you guys can help find that.
R: I think it’s September, at this point, was Dave’s last estimate.
L: Okay. Well that’s cool. That’ll be the only thing I have coming out this year ‘cause… I have started too many non-writing things and I have to cut that out. FIYAH Con is theconvention.fiyahlitmag.com. That event is online and taking place October 17th and 18th. It’s gonna be super fun. I’m very excited about some things we have coming up to announce in the next couple of weeks. And it is a virtual convention centering Black and Indigenous people of color and their contributions to speculative fiction, so.
K: Great! Very cool.
L: People are like, “Oh! FIYAH’s all Black people, but what about… why is it everybody else in the convention?” Because I said so. So there.
L: Black Lives Matter. Give the land back. And that’s it from me.
R: Thank you so much for joining us! And I’m so glad that I know you because I love these covers and, like, that was my first thought when Kaelyn said she wanted to do book covers as a topic for August. I was like, “I KNOW the book covers! That I wanna talk about!” So I’m so glad you were available and thank you so much for your time and keep going awesome work because you are doing excellent, excellent awesome work.
L: Well, thank you so much for having me. I look forward to seeing you both on the internet somewhere.
K: Thanks very much L, take care.
L: Thanks! Bye.
[outro music plays]
R: Hey, friends. I hope you enjoyed this episode and interview today with L. D. Lewis and usually this is the part where I’d say hit us up on Patreon.com/wmbcast. Wait, I just did it. Well, you know what I mean.
Normally, I would say that. And that’s great. You can do all that if you want, but I’d really like if you, today, would go and get a subscription for a year or more to fiyahlitmag.com. The content is excellent, the people who put it together are excellent, and it’s one thing to say that everyone’s welcome at the table of SFF, but it’s another thing to actually support the people who need their voices lifted. So, please, go support fiyahlitmag.com, the link is in the show notes. And, you know, read some stories by some marginalized people. Specifically, in this case, Black writers. And check out these fantastic covers by Black artists. And, you know, really appreciate what FIYAH is doing in a time when so few are. So, again, thank you for listening today and go check out fiyahlitmag.com and support this fantastic magazine and keep it going in the future.
Alright and we’ll talk to you in two weeks. Take care, everyone.