This week I had the great pleasure of talking to my cartographer Glynn Seal from MonkeyBlood Design. He has done every map for my novels so far, and in this episode, he talks about how to find the right cartographer for your bookish map, what to know before you hire someone, and more!
You can find out more about Glynn and get in touch via his Twitter and his website.
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Sarina: Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.
Sarina: Welcome back, friends and sparrows. It’s the 8th of March 2021. This is Episode 26. Today, I have a special guest, because it’s my cartographer, Glynn Seal. He’s done the beautiful maps for all of my books. He’s somehow done it from the terrible sketches I gave him. Welcome to my podcast, Glynn.
Glynn: Hello. Thank you very much for having me.
Sarina: Thank you so much for making the time to be here. I think you’ve been quite busy lately.
Glynn: Yes. There’s quite a lot going on. I’ve just [00:01:00] fulfilled a Kickstarter campaign for a role-playing game book. It’s an adventure for one, but it’s a box set. It contains four books, a couple of bookmarks, two posters. Yeah, there were 300 backers, so that’s a house full of packaging materials, boxes-
Sarina: Oh, congratulations. It sounds a-
Glynn: -type. Yeah, it is.
Sarina: -lot of caffeine is necessary.
Glynn: Yeah, Pepsi Max all the way.
Glynn: Yeah, that’s been pretty much full-on. While that’s been going on, I have not been keeping up with the commissions and stuff, so I’m back onto the commissions now. So, yeah, very busy.
Sarina: I appreciate you making the time to have a chat with me.
Glynn: Yeah, no problem at all. I’m glad to talk to you.
Sarina: First of all, tell me a little bit more about what you do because [00:02:00] I think the bookish maps that you’ve done for me aren’t what you would normally do. I think usually you work more with game designers and people like that, is that right?
Glynn: Yeah. Primarily– MonkeyBlood Design is two parts, really. There’s my webstore, which sells role-playing game books and materials. Then, there’s the freelancing side of things, which is commissions, mainly for RPG books, but also for authors like yourself. The bulk of the freelancing work is definitely for RPG materials, though, which– my background is in technical drawing and kind of role-playing games from about 1985. [00:03:00] I guess, this was almost a destiny-
Glynn: -of sorts that I was going to end up here. But prior to about four or five years ago, I was working in the security industry.
Sarina: Oh, wow.
Glynn: And worked for a company for 29 years, and started off doing drawing work on the drawing boards. Then, it turned into CAD, then became project engineering, then project management. I’ve run the whole gamut of jobs within that company.
Sarina: Yeah, you’ve done a bit of everything there.
Glynn: Yeah. Where I am now, which is working for myself full time.
Sarina: Which is the dream.
Glynn: [00:04:00] Yeah, it is the dream really. I’m really lucky to be in the position that I’m in. I see that the 29-year career, all of the things that I learned from that, like project management, the technical drawing side of things, all of those have combined with a love of role-playing game stuff to end up where I am now. So yeah, I see that this must have been a destiny. [crosstalk] [laughs]
Sarina: It certainly seems like everything has sort of led up to this point.
Glynn: Yeah. I’ve always wanted to do something with role-playing games, but never realized I could potentially make it a career. [00:05:00] It was only when I’d had enough of the security industry that I realized that maybe I could because I’ve got all these other skills that I’d learned. That meant that I could manage projects, run Kickstarters, I know how to budget things and how to run a project. Yeah, it’s all worked out. I’m feeling very privileged and very lucky.
Sarina: Well, I know from personal experience that you have an awful lot of skill that you put into the maps that you do, because everything that you’ve done for me is just so beautiful. You say you’re quite lucky though, but really is probably also a lot of really hard-earned success.
Glynn: Well, yeah. I definitely work hard.
Glynn: All the work long hours. I think anybody will tell you that working for yourself is a full-time [00:06:00] job above and beyond the normal 9 to 5.
Sarina: It really is.
Glynn: Yeah, I get up and work all day and work all evening. No, the evenings are spent mainly doing-[unintelligible [00:06:13]
Glynn: -for all the things that I do during the day. Yeah, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sarina: Would you say that creating a map for an author like myself is any different to creating a map for a roleplay game?
Glynn: No, not really. I think they’re pretty much the same. Normally, you get a sketch of what the author wants. Whether it’s like a real-world map or a very fantasy map will depend on whether I [00:07:00] offer some advice about river and mountains and things like that. The most common thing that I come across is rivers kind of just ending or-
Sarina: I feel like I did that with the first map I sent you. [chuckles]
Glynn: I can’t remember, it was a little while back. Sometimes, you might have a lake, and then two rivers coming off it, which is not really that common, I don’t think. The way to think about rivers is that they generally start off somewhere high and they’re always trying to get to the lowest point, which is sea level. You’ll have other rivers [00:08:00] that join them on the route down to the sea. If you always think about water wanting to get to the lowest possible point, which is sea level, then you can design your rivers to go from the mountains and hills and flow down. They might collect in a lake at some point, but then when that lake fills up enough to breach over the lowest point then, it will then spill down and carry on its way to the sea.
If it’s natural geography, then I might make some comments or just provide feedback about why something’s like it is. But other than that, if it’s a lava world with floating castles, then you can have what you like.
Glynn: I don’t even question it.
Sarina: It’s things like that I didn’t really consider with my first map [00:09:00] because for me. Geography was one of my weakest subjects in school. When I did my first map, I honestly had no idea what I was doing with it. As I’m sure you know yourself very well, I cannot draw to save my life.
Glynn: To be honest, your sketches were really good.
Sarina: Really? [crosstalk]
Glynn: [crosstalk] -some of the sketches that I’ve had.
Sarina: That makes more sense and if it’s in comparison.
Glynn: Yeah, I’ve had some– just like blocks, like mountains and this bit sea. You get the whole list of variants of sketches.
Sarina: [crosstalk] I think you said at some point to me that once or twice, you’ve only really had a description, rather than [crosstalk] sketch.
Glynn: Yeah. This is more a role-playing game thing, but [00:10:00] if somebody wants a set of crypts or something, but they might just send me the text of the description from the game. It might say, a rough-hewn set of steps lead down 20 feet into a 30-foot square room, and there’s a door to the north and a door to the east. I read through the descriptions and then sketch something out based on what I think the author meant, and then send it to them just to check. Then, they’ll say, “Ah, yeah, you covered it wrong, it should look like this.” “Yeah, you’re right. Okay, brilliant,” and do the map.
Sarina: Wow. All right. So, you even kind of get to design a little bit what it’s going to look like?
Glynn: Yeah. Some of the work that I do is colorwork. All artists tend to have a style. [00:11:00] If normally people will come to me because they already know my style and how I draw things, there’s no expectation for it to mimic a certain type of way to do it. Although I’m working on a map at the moment, and it’s for a French RPG publisher, they’ve had a map done in a very distinct style. What they want is the new map to be in pretty much the same style. The warning that what we say is, it won’t look exactly the same, because I don’t have access to the same textures and overlay and brushes and things like that, but I can generally get it something close [00:12:00] to what they want. I’ve had an email this morning to say, “Oh, yes, that’s perfect.”
Sarina: Oh, great. That’s a lot of pressure off.
Glynn: Yeah, those are the jobs with the most pressure where somebody wants something in a very specific style because the chance of getting it exact is nil. You’ll get something close because you don’t have access to all the assets the person who created the original map had. Like a Middle Earth map. I can draw a Middle Earth map, and it will look something like a Middle Earth map, but it wasn’t drawn by Tolkien.
Sarina: No, it’ll be a new style.
Glynn: [crosstalk] -Middle Earth map. Yeah, you need Tolkien to draw it.
Sarina: It might be difficult these days, but–
Glynn: I’m definitely not Tolkien. Yes.
Sarina: When I first started to build my team five something years ago, [00:13:00] I for some reason, really struggled to find a cartographer the most. I had a list of cover designers to email and I just bumped into my editor on Twitter, so I didn’t need to do any searching at all with her. But when I looked into cartography, I found a lot of really high-profile, professional sites. Obviously, yours is professional as well, but I didn’t really find anything for fiction really, if that makes sense.
Glynn: Yeah. Not to do myself out of any future work, what I would tend to– if I was looking for an artist for illustrations for something in particular, the way to think of cartography is to not think of it specifically as cartography, to think of it as illustration, because that’s basically what it is. It’s just illustration [00:14:00] of a particular thing, like some people do character art really well and some people do scene, landscapes really well, and some people do cartography really well. I would visit places like ArtStation or DeviantArt and do a search for maps or cartography and see what pops up. There will be any number of people, and then you just choose a style that you really like or find a few artists whose styles you like, and then approach them and find out. But yeah, if you search for cartographers– I’m not sure where I would come up in the list. [chuckles] There’s a lot of them out there.
Sarina: You must have been somewhere on the first two pages, at least of [00:15:00] my Google results at the time because I literally just googled ‘cartographer,’ possibly ‘bookish cartographer.’ I don’t remember because it’s honestly so long ago at this point, but I don’t remember where I came across the idea that I should have a cartographer for my fantasy novel. It was mostly because all the fantasy books that I read, because they had maps and I thought [crosstalk] cartography and they are thanking a cartographer in their book, therefore, this is what I should search for. But it never occurred to me to look on places like DeviantArt, which is weird, because I spent many years of my life on DeviantArt, but it never had occurred to me to look there. That makes way more sense than what I did.
Glynn: Yeah, like I say, when I’m looking for a particular art– I’ve done it recently for something that I’m working on. One of them is a DeviantArt artist, and one’s an ArtStation artist and [00:16:00] their work is mind blowing, but the mind blowing comes with the cost.
Sarina: That it does.
Glynn: That’s another important point, which is, if something looks really detailed and looks like there’s hours of work being put into it, that’s because there’s hours of work being put into it. The hours that people spend doing something cost money, in the same way that you’d pay anybody, you pay them an hourly rate. If something’s going to take a whole week to do, eight hours times five, then 40 hours, then that’s a lot of money, because you’re paying for 40 hours of somebody’s time. I think that’s the thing that I [00:17:00] would always say to bear in mind when you’re commissioning art of any kind, and that is– the thing that you really want, that is really hyper-detailed and looks like professionals created it is going to cost probably quite a lot of money, but I’m cheap, so that’s– [crosstalk]
Sarina: [laughs] But still very good. I think anyone looking into my books can see that, and I’ve got your maps listed on my website, and then we will link to the page on my website that people can actually look at them. Obviously, we will also link to your website in the show notes, it’ll all be in there.
Glynn: Yeah, brilliant[?].
Sarina: Coming back to what you said about, if it looks like hours of work have gone into it, [00:18:00] it’s because hours of work have gone into it.
Sarina: I think too many people maybe who don’t do art themselves, beyond writing, it might look really effortless, but chances are that, as you said, a lot of work has gone into the art, so expect to pay for that kind of skill, because it is a lot of skill at the end of the day.
Glynn: Yeah. Another thing that I saw recently was sometimes you’ll see a map, or I think more– because I know how some of the maps are created, I can see where– if somebody is drawing a mountain, and then they’ve replicated that mountain all over the mountain range, I can see that that’s been done as a bit of a time save, but that’s [00:19:00] not to say that it devalues the amount of hours that have been put into it because what you tend to do is you pay for the– this is a quote that I saw, “You don’t pay for the hours, but you pay for the hours that I spent learning how to do it quicker.” There’s that aspect of it as well, which is– I think with your map, all of that was drawn totally by hand. There’s no shortcuts to creating it, and that tells sometimes because I look at maps and I go, “Oh, they’ve just copied that all the way down,” and I can do that, [00:20:00] but it doesn’t look as good as if somebody has drawn it totally by hand, because I can see that, I know that. Yeah, it’s interesting stuff when you get into it.
Sarina: I remember, your first email when you said, “I’ve got your map for you, it’s ready.” It was so quick as well, by the way, because I think with cover design, you expect that it’ll probably take a month or so and with editing, you definitely expect it to take a bit longer than that, but I think I got your maps always back within a week.
Glynn: Yeah. What tends to happen is, I can have 10 projects– I’ve got a list on my board at the moment. Well, rarely do you get somebody say, “Right. Here’s this is the information, carry on,” [00:21:00] then you pretty much just start and then get to the end and stop and say, “There it is. Do you want any changes?” There’s always things in the way. I might need to do a sketch first just to make sure that I’ve understood it. Then, you send that off and then you have to wait. It can be a week, two weeks sometimes for somebody to come back with some adjustments, because everybody’s got a busy life and they’re all doing things. What happens is, I have gaps quite often in projects that I think are going to take me a whole two weeks. It ends up they take a month or two months, with all of these big gaps in between. What happens is, I end up with space in the workflow to deal with the projects. I can’t quite remember what I was doing at the time that I did your map.
Sarina: It’s been a while.
Glynn: Yes. [00:22:00] Generally at the moment, I can get on to a project within a couple of weeks, make [unintelligible [00:22:10].
Sarina: I wanted to say was that, not that you just knock them out and then that’s it done, but every time then I’ve had your maps come into my emails, they’ve always looked really beautiful, and you can really tell the attention of detail has gone into it. You can tell looking at them that you really enjoy what you do.
Glynn: Yeah. Like I’ve said earlier, it’s probably a bit of a destiny. I was sitting here yesterday, working on– it’s a map of the Greek Empire, kind of fantasy style, because the Kickstarter is out of the [00:23:00] way as well, so I was probably thinking relief. I was actually sitting there thinking, “You know what? I’m pretty lucky to be sitting here doing this today rather than–“
Sarina: It’s a really great feeling.
Glynn: Yeah. Some days are harder than others, but generally speaking, compared to the previous 29 years in a different career, where the days could be very stressful.
Sarina: I think having had an experience like that really makes you appreciate it when you have something like what you have now because you know what the alternative is.
Glynn: Yeah. I think the last few years of that were getting involved in online groups and sharing pictures of maps I’ve drawn and starting to build up a reputation for the cartography [00:24:00] side of things. I think I’m still working out when I launched the first Kickstarter. Yeah, 100 more things not to do, which is work full time and run a Kickstarter for your first 224-page offline game accessory.
Sarina: Oh, blimey. That seems extremely stressful.
Glynn: Yeah. Having said that, it was also a bit of escape as well. I had to finish the day job, and then I’d get totally distracted by the day job to something else. I was leading up to eventually doing this full time if it could possibly support it. It does, taking into account that the two sides of the business that there currently are, which is the webstore side and the freelancing side.
Sarina: All right. We’ve got two [00:25:00] more questions left, they’re quite similar. What’s something you wish we knew as your clients before we approached the cartographer?
Glynn: I wouldn’t say there’s anything that you need to know. You know your own world better than I do at the point of contact. Any good cartographer or freelancer should be able to work with a client, whatever their needs are, and whatever their skill level in geography or artwork or project management is. A good freelancer should make a [00:26:00] client feel like they’re valued and that you’re really engaged in their project.
Sarina: I’ve always had that with you on every project. I’ve never felt like-
Glynn: Oh, thank you.
Sarina: -you didn’t really care about the map or anything like that.
Glynn: Yeah, no. As soon as I’m sitting down, I want to be there, I want to be in that world, and I want to stand on that hill that I’ve just drawn. What could I see from standing on it? Also, I really enjoy being part of other people’s worlds and helping them imagine them. So, yeah, that’s great.
Sarina: As an editor, I really feel that because I always feel quite honored when an author says to me, “Can I give my book to you so that you can edit it for me?” It’s quite an honor really, because, obviously, our–[crosstalk]
Glynn: Yeah, it’s a responsibility as well.
Sarina: Yeah. Well, because our projects are obviously quite important to us, [00:27:00] and many authors refer to their books as their babies. So, I think when I give you my, honestly, really terrible sketches to transform into beautiful maps, and that’s because I trust you to do a good job of it, and because I know that you won’t take it lightly, or that you won’t care about it, I know that you do care, and [unintelligible [00:27:20], I think.
Glynn: Yeah. I’ve heard– people who have been in touch with me said, “I’d like to do this project,” but I’ll confess, I did have somebody else working on it originally, but I sent them an email, and I had some questions and stuff, and then they never responded.
Glynn: I just think, “Oh, why?” Lots of things happen in people’s lives and I understand that. But for me, keeping people informed, and just making sure that I didn’t let them down, [00:28:00] that’s a really valuable skill. I learned that when I was project managing that clients don’t like not knowing what’s going on. They don’t like these big long gaps in between communication, because they want to know that something’s happening. Or if it’s not happening, they just like to know. Communication is just massively important, and I’ve heard some horror stories, and I just think, “Oh,” [sighs] [crosstalk] I don’t know how people work like that.
Sarina: I don’t know. I mean, I have worked with some people on different projects before where I did get the results eventually, but they sometimes are quite long gaps where I don’t really hear anything. From my point of view, especially, maybe if it’s the first time you’ve worked with them, there’s always a bit of worry in the back of my head of, did they just completely forget about it? Or, did they just–? [00:29:00] I made that at that point, I probably haven’t paid them anything yet, but there’s always– because I’m quite a paranoid person anyway. There’s always a [crosstalk] worry of–
Glynn: That’s a good way to be. [laughs] [crosstalk]
Sarina: I think so. I think there’s always this weird bit of worry of, “Did they just take my money and run, now I will never hear from them again?” Even if I’m–
Glynn: Yeah, and that happens.
Sarina: Yeah, I bet it does. I really appreciate being kept up to date. Even if they do eventually come back to me and then they do give me an update, or they tell me that they are finished with it, when there’s a really long gap, there’s always this worry that maybe they just forgot or maybe something has come up, and you just want to know as a client.
Glynn: Yeah. Just a caveat to something I said earlier about going on to DeviantArt and ArtStation, those people that you find will potentially be people that you don’t know. You don’t even know what country they’re in [00:30:00] insome instances. Doing a bit of due diligence is always worthwhile. Search for the artist in other places. Just make sure that– see if you can get any feedback on them and that kind of stuff. I’ve tried to make sure that my website, and all the stuff that I do, I’ve run eight Kickstarter projects now, and all of that helps build a reputation. That means that people– I hope people come to me, and them worrying about me running off with their money is the last thing they think about, because my online presence is such that it’s not a concern. I’ve got enough positive reviews [00:31:00] and stuff that hopefully that would mean that nobody would think that. [crosstalk] I mean run off with your money.
Sarina: Yeah, it’s– [crosstalk] [laughs] in writing, it just comes back down to do your research and if anything in that doesn’t feel quite right, don’t do it.
Sarina: If you have any concerns–
Glynn: You do get a feeling about some people, and they’re very eager on their first email. Then, it’s a week before you hear of them again, you’re just thinking, “I don’t know whether this is turning out to be the best decision.” [crosstalk]
Sarina: Final question. Do you have any words of advice for writers wanting to work with a cartographer for the first time?
Glynn: Yeah. I think we’ve kind of covered some of that in the previous discussions. I would say it’s more about choosing somebody that’s drawing a type [00:32:00] of map, that is the map you want, whether that be a full color, which tend to be more– there’s more style involved in that because of choice of colors and textures, and all that sort of stuff. But yeah, you just want to be comfortable and try and find somebody that’s got some background or history in doing it, and they’re already published, that nobody wants to do stuff and then get a bad reputation. So, if there’s people out there that have worked and got some reputation, they’re going to be highly unlikely to want to tarnish it. Just do your due diligence and pick a style that you’ve seen that that person does, because then you can say, “I want a map, but I want it to look like that one that you did for that.” [00:33:00] Then you can write, “That’s absolutely fine.” Then, send them a sketch. Yeah, and hopefully you get exactly what you wanted.
Sarina: Don’t worry if the sketch is rubbish because mine are too, and you still managed. [chuckles]
Glynn: Yeah. We’ll turn anything into a map.
Glynn: Take a photo of some liner on your kitchen floor or whatever and put some dots on it or something, and we’ll make that into a map.
Sarina: Maybe on my website, I should include the sketches that I sent you next to the map that you then sent back to me, so people who are interested in hiring a cartographer can really see just how well you can work with something truly awful. [laughs]
Glynn: No, honestly, your maps were absolutely fine. I’ve had some horror story sketches. Well, sketches is [00:34:00] being kind. [laughs]
Sarina: I was really surprised to hear that because I really thought, “This is terrible. He won’t see anything in it.” But clearly, I need not worry.
Glynn: Yeah. No, don’t worry at all. You can certainly send me anything and it will end up in a map.
Sarina: Well, thank you very much for stopping by. I really appreciate your time.
Glynn: No problem at all. Thanks so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Sarina: Yeah, thank you so much. Bye-bye.
Glynn: Okay. See you, bye.
Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, at Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.
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