Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creating That Perfect Cover

Covers have been a recurring theme this month. I thought I'd share how my cover artist, Dave Fymbo,  and I worked to create the cover for Book 3 in my Pine Hills Police series, Saving Scott. I asked Dave to share his process, and this is what he said:

I start by asking clients what the book is about, what the tone should be, and if they have any images or colors in mind. Then I'll do an initial exploration. I search for free images that would work as well as lay down some text options. Sometimes the right font is the design. But usually the hardest part is finding the right image. For the first round I send between 5 and 10 options. Then I strip away all the text and go round and round until the imagery is perfect. This often includes compositing multiple photos, adjusting colors and contrast, and lighting effects.







(You'll notice he'd already inserted my name in these samples. That's because this is the 3rd book in my Pine Hill Police series, and having continuity is important so readers can identify both my name and the series. The font and placement is the same for all the books.)

We discussed these, and from this selection, we eliminated the scenics because they didn't fit the story(and the book takes place in the summer, so the snow wouldn't work). We also eliminated the chocolate, because although it fit the bakery, it wouldn't match the focus of the book, which was Scott's personal growth, not Ashley's bakery. I also told him I didn't want a "cheery" color scheme, because of the nature of the book.

Once I'd looked at his proposed images, I narrowed it down to three. By this time, I'd decided on the title, so Dave started working those treatments into his samples.




The bakery building and the street scene gave the cover a "cozy" feel, which wasn't appropriate for my romantic suspense genre. Dave worked on the remaining "possibles" and sent another round. I told him which background I preferred, and then he really got to work. In his words:

Once the client picks a background, then I'll start on text exploration. The right font is key. The text is really what separates a professionally designed cover from something that looks homemade. If you have smaller words like "the" or "in" it's helpful to make them smaller. Colors, shadows, 3D effects all help to make a title that pops off the page. Again, I like to send at least 5-10 font choices, so that authors can pick their favorites. And if they don't feel like any are working, I'll come up with 10 more.




And he means it. Dave has the patience of a saint, I swear. After we decided on the right image for the cover, he was willing to tweak things like colors, fonts, lighting, and teeny tiny nudges to the layout—I think we ended up with 16 variations before we agreed we'd found The Cover.

This is the final version:


Dave's philosophy: Because it takes a long time to write a book, the cover should match the writing effort. You can find more about Dave's work at his website.

 You can see all the Pine Hills Police Covers here.

One last tidbit - since covers are one facet of indie publishing, I thought I'd mention that I did a series of "lectures" at the Coffeetime Romance & More forum (and there's no genre discrimination--indie publishing is open to all). If you want to see them, you can find them here.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

27 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing the entire evolution of the cover, which not only showcases the artist but lets us in on the collaborative process.

    As a designer I had one tiny quibble that leaped out at me from the final design. I don't know that it would bother anyone else, but the reflected light cannot be dead on the center frame of the window. It would have to be off the glass slightly to one side or the other. Otherwise, I think you two came up with a perfect cover.

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  2. Larry - thanks for the comment, and the quibble. I'm glad the cover worked well enough for you despite the liberties taken with physics. To be honest, Dave threw that variation in as a afterthought, thinking I wouldn't like it, but the way it fit in with the story worked for me. I thought it added to the 'suspense' feel and didn't think about placement. (I did, however have him nudge the title up just a hair between this and the previous versions--we each notice different things. I'm more sensitive to characters thumbing safeties off Glocks in books!)

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  3. By the way, I've given Dave a heads up about this post, so if you have questions, he'll try to get by to answer them.

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  4. Terry, what an interesting post! I like seeing all the ideas you went through to get to the final. Striking cover, but I agree with Larry about nudging the reflection. I like having your name the same throughout the series too. It does help with recognition.

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  5. How nice to see the evolution of this cover, and I like the final version very much. Not having a scientific mind, I did not wonder about the placement of the light, but I did wonder why the light was there. That would make me pick up the book to see why.

    I'm currently working on a cover with the graphic artist I work with and we have been going through a similar process. We have finally nailed down an image, and she is now playing with different fonts, etc.

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  6. One thing about e-books: you can change the cover easily enough (and a light-in-the-window tweak wouldn't confuse anyone about whether it was the same book).

    Maryann--a cover artist willing to tweak is so nice, especially after traditional publishers who are more of the, "if your name's spelled right, then it's final" mindset.

    Then again, the pros also know what's likely to sell a book, and often we writers have a concept in mind that might 'fit' our story but not sell books.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  7. The simple answer for the placement of the light is that's where it looked the best. Especially at a thumbnail size, the centered light seemed to pop the most.

    I come from an advertising background, so I'm used to taking a few liberties for the sake of the final product.

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  8. Interesting process. I love the final product. My sister and I have created a few of my covers and it does take a lot of fine tuning. Thanks for sharing, Terry.

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  9. LOVE this post you two - seeing the creative evolution is fascinating, and to the untrained, this probably looks like a lot of nitpicking halfway through, but it makes a difference. Another important consideration in modern publishing is how that cover will read online and with a thumbnail. I'm sure you keep that in the back of your mind, right, Dave?

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  10. I like the one you chose the best as well, Terry. And Dave, the addition of that reflection is intriguing, as is the upward focus of the shot. They suggest a story, which is what the reader is looking for, right?

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  11. Sandy, Dani, Kathryn - thanks for your comments.

    I think if there's one thing you're going to consider when creating an e-book cover (or any cover that's not going to get major placement in brick and mortar stores) is the thumbnail. Click over to the main pages of Amazon or Barnes & Noble and look at the covers. They're tiny, and that's the first look anyone's going to get. Dave and I definitely look at thumbnails before we move to step 2. And also, look to see if the e-store does anything to the cover images. B&N 'folds' up the bottom right corner, so if you have text or something important there, it will disappear.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  12. I'm also interested in spine and back cover considerations in cover design. Who gathers the back cover text and blurbs for your books, Terry? We could probably use back cover content as a separate theme in the future. I admit the back cover is important to me when choosing a book, and I miss seeing it with e-books.

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  13. Dani -

    What used to be on the back cover and/or jacket flaps is now on the book's product description page in the e-stores. Another reason to make sure your cover grabs in thumbnail, because none of that will show up until a reader clicks through to the product page.

    It's up to the author to decide what goes there (although it was up to me when my books were traditionally published as well)

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  14. Is it just me who spends a few extra seconds on those chocolate treats? Drool!

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  15. I should have clicked over to Dave's website before I started asking print book questions. Sorry! Dave apparently just does e-book cover designs. And for a terrific price!

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  16. As to back cover on e-books, I know there is added expense to design art, but once you're reading the book on the Kindle, it would be attractive to end it all with an actual back cover that matches the front cover that started the reading session. I find all the pages of text and links at the end of the book, mostly just matter to overlook. Almost none of my Kindle books show I've read 100% of the book. Because I skip all the end matter when the story is over. Maybe I'm alone in this. Anyone else?

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  17. Dani, I see no reason why you wouldn't be able to add any image you want to the end of your book (although when I finish on my Nook, I just hit "go to page 1" and it takes me to the cover)

    Nooks have page numbers, not percentages.

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  18. Yes, the cover is everything. It says it all. (Sometimes I think the words inside are superfluous!) I only realized the hazards of a do-it-yourself cover when I tried to produce a book this week in Kindle, using a cover I'd concocted in Word using a generic background. It looked great on the screen. In Kindle, it appeared like a smudged postage stamp circa 1860.

    Back to the drawing board... or, with hindsight, somebody else's!

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  19. I like the light in the window. It draws your eye and makes you wonder what's going on.

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  20. John, I can highly recommend Dave!

    Helen, I liked the light, too, whether or not it should be centered or shifted. It says "something's going on"

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  21. An interesting journey to a wonderful cover! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. The cover really IS the most important first impression.

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  22. Following the evolution of the cover from concept to creation to completion does, indeed, parallel the development of the story. This is most interesting, Terry. Like Dani, I'd like to see the spine and back.

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  23. Linda - since this is still e-only, there was no reason to create a spine and back, but my daughter does them for me when/if I choose to put the books in print. For my Deadly Secrets and Deadly Bones covers, we used the mountain image that comprises the background of the front cover and then she added blurb/review text to that. The spines are solid colors, with title and my name. The font's the same on both so that if they're on your bookshelf, they're recognizable as coming from the same author and being part of the same series.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  24. Terry, Kindle books have page numbers as well as percentages. Some even have "real" page numbers and I have yet to figure out how to format to get those. Btw, I have a Nook also, but I find myself using the Kindle most of the time these days. I'm not sure why exactly. But, I digress.

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  25. Love the final cover. It's the light in the tower that did it for me. Something sinister must be happening up there.

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  26. Carole -- thanks. I like it, too. :-)

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  27. Yes, Font makes a huge difference between professional and amateur looking covers. Also, it pays to get the cover just right no matter how many tries it takes!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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