The argument against working on spec (or, Why it feels like my idea was stolen) #nospec

Way back on April 6, 2007, I received an email from a publisher that I won’t mention the name of here. I thought I finally got a bite after all those postcards I had been sending out. Here was what she wrote:

“Thank you for your interest in working with [us].

We have several projects that we feel match your talent and are interested in knowing if you are still available to illustrate picture books.

[Our] process is simply (sic). We ask that you create a rough cover and one inside spread from the text we provide. From your work we will select an illustrator based on who we feel has the best conveyance of text through art and understanding of appeal in the children’s genre.”

I ran the proposal past some of my colleagues in the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators, and I got advice that went both ways. I reasoned that even if I didn’t get picked I could still finish the image and use it for my own self-promotion (yet another postcard).

So I did. Here’s the sketch I did for the cover.

This was the exact file I sent in (on April 18), with my name and copyright really noticeable right there at the top.

And this was how the image looked after I finished it. To be fair, I didn’t actually email the publisher the final image, so the argument could be made that they never saw it.

The editor/publisher replied that if I didn’t hear from her by that Friday, then she would get back to me when she got back from the Bologna Book Fair. When I hadn’t heard anything by May 11, I sent an email to find out what was going on, and she said she was “still digging out from business travels, but promise to get back to you.”

O.K. I guess I needed a little patience.

On September 17 I sent another email asking for the status of my submission, and that’s when I found out they weren’t interested in my idea.

This evening I was doing some updating of my mailing list, and I was checking out that publisher’s site to see if I should keep sending to them (no, I hadn’t removed them from my list yet) when I found this.

Yes, stylistically my image and the one here are very different. But nowhere in the manuscript was there any mention of the boy casting the shadow of a monster in his bedroom. Is that so obvious of an idea that somebody else actually thought of it after I did? And if this illustrator and I both sent in the same idea, wouldn’t you as an editor/publisher want to go in a direction that wasn’t so obvious?

As an aside, when I first found out that they didn’t want me to illustrate the book, I kept watching for the book on their site to see what they had picked instead. In the beginning, there was another image on the cover that I can’t seem to find on the Internet. It was a computer-generated image of a purple monster standing at the foot of a bed. The monster was in the middle of the frame, looking directly at the viewer as if the viewer was in the bed. The image above isn’t the original image I saw online.

I know the illustration on the final book cover isn’t taken verbatim from my idea (especially having seen what other companies have tried to get away with in swiping artwork for their designs), but knowing that the editor saw my rough and seeing the similarities in the final cover image, my post Bedtime Monster anti-spec policy has been firmly cemented.

Just say no.

P.S. I’ve now removed them from my mailing list.