Welcome to my blog, Ben, and thank you for giving up what I know is very valuable time to answer some of my questions.
It would have been very easy to show people the work you’ve been doing for me when the time for the cover reveals comes along. However, as I undertake the process of releasing four titles from my back catalogue on Kindle, I wanted the share as much of that journey as I could with my readers – particularly if it helps other authors like me to move forward. It also strikes me as important to demystify the writing/editing/publication process for those who enjoy reading my books but are outside the industry.
We first ‘met’ when I was working with Horrific Tales Publishing on my duology of novellas, The Veil. HTP’s editor, Graeme Reynolds, was very confident in your ability to create eye-catching cover art. As we moved toward publication, I came to understand why. The image you came up with for the book remains one of my favourite covers of all time – more like a movie poster – and that was the reason I wanted to hire you for my current self-publishing enterprise.
As we’ve yet to met in real life, I’d like to use this opportunity to find out more about you and how you help writers and publishers achieve excellence with their projects.
How old were you when you realised you had a talent for art and did you begin to develop the skill immediately or wait until later on in life?
Thanks for the kind words Joseph! Art has always been something that I’ve enjoyed doing from when I was very young but I’m not sure when I would have actually thought that I had a talent for it. I just enjoyed doing it but I was always (and I still am) quite critical of anything I did and could always see ways that I could have done it better. I don’t think that a talent for drawing came naturally to me but I’ve always had images that I’ve wanted to create. So it’s something I’ve worked on over the years and in my early late teens/early 20’s I began to explore ways of generating some extra income with it.
How did you get into working as a professional artist and does it pay the bills?
This took a little while partly because initially I don’t think I had much direction. I was trying a bit of everything – exhibiting paintings, designing flyers for nightclubs, painting UV backdrops, selling prints and t-shirts all of which brought in a little trickle of money here and there but not enough regularly to live off. At some point I decided to get into book cover design and that’s pretty much where all my work comes from now.
It took a good few years before I was earning a regular income from it. I spent a long time emailing and writing to publishers and sending off samples of my work before I got my first commission and then it was probably another 4 or 5 years before I was regularly getting enough work. It’s a slightly precarious existence but I always have a queue of work waiting and I have enough coming in that the bills are paid.
Are book covers your main area of endeavour or do get hired for other projects?
Yeah it’s mainly book covers and occasionally internal illustrations. I’ve had a few offers of concept work for films that never got financed and possible album covers for bands but none of that has ever come to anything at this stage. I am also working on the art for a very cool graphic novel but I’m really behind on that at the moment (sorry Paul and Ricky!!!)
How much time do you have to create art for art’s sake?
Not much! I have a two year old son now and whole days can go by when I’ve only managed to grab a couple of hours early in the morning or late at night to get any work done. So I don’t really work on anything that’s not commissioned at the moment. But I have been working on an art book of my own work which is completely unrelated to any commissioned book covers so that probably counts. It’s called ‘Refractions’ and has been nearly finished for the last year, I just need to polish a few bits and pieces but haven’t got to it yet. Hopefully soon. My local pub also does life drawing sessions so occasionally I’ll go there if I have a free evening and have a beer and do some sketching.
Of all the book covers you’ve done to date, which are you proudest of/happiest with?
Probably the one I did for Stephen King and Richard Chizmar‘s ‘Gwendy’s Button Box‘ They only gave me the first chapter to read for that and then pretty much let me do whatever I wanted. That’s only cover I’ve done where I was able to walk into a high street book shop and see it on the big displays right by the entrance which was very cool. And I was able to license the image for use on several foreign editions so it was also published in Russia, Brazil and a number of European countries.
In your opinion, how crucial is the ‘right’ cover when it comes to selling a book?
It depends on who the author is. If they’re a bestselling one then the covers are often just their name in big letters with a smaller illustration below and people will buy the book no matter what the cover looks like. If it’s not for one of these small handful of authors then the cover can be absolutely crucial in getting people to stop and pick up the book or click on it online.
What percentage of your work is for indie authors?
It’s not a huge amount but I’ll have something every couple of months or so. When I was starting out I was doing a lot of work for self published authors before I could get much work with actual publishers. Then when I began to mostly work with publishers I cut back on the indie authors and now over the last few years I’ve had quite a few authors approach me who are either re-releasing their back catalogue independently or are publishing new books by themselves. Quite a lot of authors seem to be working in both worlds nowadays – self publishing some books and working with established publishers for others. E-books can do really well online nowadays and I think a kind of composite approach works pretty well for a lot of people. Mass market publishers are understandably very commercially driven but I think that ends up with a situation that misrepresents what books are worth spending their time and money on leading to everything becoming slightly homogenised. So a lot of great authors who may have already had book deals in the past are now having to find other routes to get their work out there.
Creating so many book covers, you must do a ton of reading. What are your top five books of all time?
No idea! I like different books for different reasons and I don’t really like rating them. I pretty much enjoy everything I read for my cover work and I’ve been really lucky to work with some fantastic authors. I could probably include some of these in my top five but perhaps I should go with books I love that I haven’t done covers for. So, in no particular order and I’ll probably have changed my mind before I’ve finished typing this:
‘Vurt’ by Jeff Noon, ‘Against the Light’ by Kenneth Grant, ‘The Contortionist’s Handbook’ by Craig Clevenger, (linked this author’s Twitter profile because The Contortionist’s Handbook is one of my favourites too!) ‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter, ‘The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
What does the future hold for Ben Baldwin?
Well, I have my art book coming out soon form SST Publications and before not much longer I’ll get the graphic novel finished. These are both things I’ve never done before so I’m really keen to get them finished and published. Hopefully a few people will buy the art book as I already have plans for another one. Other than that I haven’t got anything major lined up at the moment. I’ve got a load of cool books to do the covers for so that’s keeping me busy and hopefully that’s how it’ll continue!