Book Cover for Fate’s Door

Last month, when I shared my step-by-step process for creating the book cover for my novel Fate’s Door, I concluded by saying that I was not quite satisfied with the gold texture that appeared in the title and byline.

Since that post, I’ve found a texture I love. Take a look!

Fate ebook cover 600 px

If you’d like to see the full account of my search for the right gold, read the Edited to Add section at the very bottom of the post: Building Fate’s Cover.

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
Amazon I B&N I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books

 

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Building Fate’s Cover

Fate web cov 200Usually I don’t think about a book’s cover until I’m close to completing the manuscript, but the cover concept for Fate’s Door leaped into my mind fully formed as soon as I started writing of Nerine in the Mediterranean Sea.

I could see her so clearly on my mind’s eye, emerging from the water, with her blond hair and hazel green eyes, and a wave crashing behind her. That vision stayed with me all through the writing of the novel, and I began the search for the right photographs much earlier than usual.

After several separate tours through the Dreamstime site, I thought I’d found the right model. She looked like a sea nymph to me. Finding the right wave was even easier. I wanted one that was still rolling along part of its length, while crashing into white foam on another part.

2 The wave

I downloaded comp copies of both photos to see if they would work together the way I thought they would. And they did! I was pleased.

However, I did not immediately purchase the files and set to work on building the cover. I was still in the middle of writing the book, and it was important that I not distract myself from that task. It’s a good thing I made the prudent decision.

I remember Lois McMaster Bujold mentioning on her blog, some years ago, that a certain novel of hers remained just three chapters from the end for a good half of the book.

(Unless my memory is utterly wrong. Which it could be. I have a terrible memory.)

But Fate’s Door was like that book of Bujold’s. Once I’d written 100,000 words (roughly 300 pages), I was just 15,000 words from the end. For the next two months! At 160,000 words (roughly 400 pages), Fate’s Door had finally reached “The End.”

After I readied the manuscript for my first reader and sent it to her, I turned my attention to the cover. And decided that I didn’t like my choice of photo representing my heroine. She was too serious. Just as important, she simply wasn’t Nerine.

This same thing had happened to me when I designed the cover for Caught in Amber. I had to go photo-hunting again, and discovered exactly what I wanted among the dozen or more models I’d originally considered. That was Nerine!

1 Nerine

Once I’d purchased the right to use the photos on my cover, I downloaded the files. Then I isolated the wave from the sky over it, and clipped Nerine out from her background of tree leaves. I’ve shown the clipping required in the images above.

3 Wave on coverThe next step was building the progression of waves in my cover file. I’d already done this in the test comp file, so I followed it as a guide. The waves flowed together very nicely, creating a marvelous sense of the sea’s power. I was pleased.

The next step was to place Nerine. Again, I followed what I’d done in the comp cover, but using the newly chosen photo of a different model. I discovered that the green of the tree leaves shining through her hair was very close to the green of the sea. A stroke of pure luck!

4 Nerine on coverI carried on with placing the title and the tagline that goes above it. Next came my byline and the tagline that goes below it, as well as the underline that visually connects the descending letter “J” to the tagline “Author of Caught in Amber.”

At this stage in building a cover, I can see whether or not the design is coming together. The design for Fate’s Door was definitely coming together, but like every other cover I’ve created, some problem areas remained which would require tweaking.

The first correction I made was to place a translucent green screen over all of the water. It’s fully 70% opacity, but with the light quality set for “soft light” rather than the more usual “normal.” I did this, because I really liked the color quality of the water in my test comp, and the full resolution photograph had a darker, more blue quality. My green screen gave the water a more inviting hue and restored it to that of the comp image.

5 first conceptionHowever, the most obvious problem area was the back cover. While I really liked the scene I’d created – Nerine rising from ocean waves – the back cover was not going to provide the even color tone required for cover copy. In fact, the alternating white of sea foam and dark green of the waves would provide the very worst possible background for text.

The dark green would call for white text, while the white foam would need black text. And alternating black and white text would look awful, as well as being hard on a reader’s eyes. Something would need to be done. That something felt rather obvious to me. I’d had doubts about the layers of waves from the beginning, but been beguiled by the scene I was “painting.”

6 Adjust the backThe solution was to stretch the dark green portion of the wave to cover the entire back cover and feather it to gently transition into the foaming wave on the front cover.

Fixing the most egregious problem caused the next worst one to leap to my eye. The title was hard to read, because its first word – Fate’s – was neatly bisected by where the white foam of the frontmost wave gives way to the green of the next wave rolling in. I tried moving the frontmost wave down, so that the color change occurred between the two words of the title. The golden color showed up equally well on the two colors – white and green – so it worked, in that sense. But I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like splitting the title. And I didn’t like how the overall composition looked with the white sea foam positioned at that lower level. I decided to try something else. What if I left the sea foam essentially in place, but stretched it vertically, so that the upper edge fell near the top of the first word?

I tried it.

And I liked it. Very much.

7A Move wave

I considered Nerine’s dress. I’d already changed it from pale pink to white. I’d hoped it might look like sea foam, but it didn’t. And Nerine doesn’t wear dresses in the sea. But I had a plan. I selected a section of sea foam with the right shape, copied it, and placed it over her dress.

It needed a little stretching to make it right, but Photoshop’s warp tool is a handy thing for just these situations. The foam was a little too white, as well, since it was out from behind that “soft light” green screen that I’d placed over all the water. Another easy fix: place a similar screen over just this front portion of sea foam.

Next I poured in the back cover copy.

Still looking very good.

Now it was time for the final tweaks, mainly placing translucent screens with softly feathered edges behind some of the text. The tagline above the title got a 20% screen of wave green behind it. My byline received two screens, a hair-colored one at 30% behind “Ney-G” and a 20% wave screen behind “rimm.” I made both large enough to also fall behind “Author of Caught in Amber.”

8 final Fate cover

A few more similar screens went on the back cover behind “Wild Unicorn Books” and the price and genre. I decided to remove a small awkward piece of Nerine’s hair, where it protruded from behind the ISBN box and simply looked odd, separated from Nerine herself as it was.

My cover was nearly finished. The spine needed all three of the usual elements: title, byline, and Wild Unicorn logo. The elements themselves are simple, but I expected to have trouble with them because of the pesky flower in Nerine’s hair.

Now, I love the flower. I can just imagine it plucked from a blooming tree by a lover, and cast on the waves as a wish, to alight in Nerine’s hair as she surfaces. But its location on the spine is problematic, because it might all-to-easily interfere with the title – either crowding the title or making it hard to read by peering out from behind the letters.

This proved to be the case when I first placed the title. The flower was located behind it. Not good.

However, I usually start with the title larger than I need it, because making it smaller is always an option. Whereas, if I decide I need it larger, I must start over with the larger image again. Each time I shrink an image, some of the data is discarded. Taking the small image and enlarging it does not restore the lost data.

As I made the title smaller and smaller, I could see that it would probably fit very nicely between the top of the spine and the flower. There is even a little room (considering aesthetics) to make it smaller yet, if required. But I’ll need to see an actual physical book – the proof copy – before I decide. On my computer screen, the title looks a little crowded by the flower.

But the only place the spine will be seen is when a reader holds the trade paperback in his or her hands. And I’ve learned that the size of type on a screen appears very different from its appearance on a physical book. This post will likely go live on my blog before I’m working on the paper edition, but I’ll add a note to tell you how the title issue turns out.

Once I placed my byline on the spine, I saw that the flower was not the only constraint. The title has essentially 9 “letters” in it, when you include the space between the two words. My byline has 12 “letters.” I like the letters of title and byline to be the same size on the spine. Which meant, in this case, that the letters had to be small enough for both title and byline to fit, along with the unicorn profile which is my imprint’s logo.

All of the elements required translucent screens behind them to make them easily readable – hair-colored for most of the type and the logo, water-colored for the “E” and the “S” in “Fate’s.”

And here it is, with the spine complete. For now. 😀

9 cover spine

Edited to Add April 2016

My first reader gave me excellent feedback on Fate’s Door. I made revisions to correct the issues she found, and then sent the manuscript off to my second reader. My second reader gave me equally good feedback, and I made yet more revisions.

All in all, three-and-a-half months passed while my readers read and while I wrote revisions.

During that time, I also revised the copy that appears on the back cover of the paperback. Below is the corrected version of the cover.

Fate's Door, final cover, 600 px

Given that the cover for the paperback is complete, where – you may be wondering – is said paperback? Why can it not be ordered on Amazon or anywhere else?

Here’s my problem: the metallic gold title looks good at full size on the paperback. But it’s not quite right at thumbnail size on a website page. I’ve tried many variations to see if I could improve it: metallic brass, jade green, copper orange, and more. All of the variants looked worse than the metallic gold. Much worse.

Fate's Door, cover variations

I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel and go with the gold filigree.

And thus the paperback still waits on my hope that I can figure out a solution to my title quandary. Cross your fingers for me – and for my readers who prefer paper to digital – that I dream up my solution soon! 😀

Edited to Add May 2016

In the comments below, my friend Alicia suggested that I try a different gold texture for the title treatment. Her suggestion stuck with me all week after I read it. I’d already tried five alternate gold textures, and none of them worked. But I had a feeling she was onto something.

I searched for yet more gold patterns and found half a dozen possibilities. None of them worked either, but I still felt that Alicia was right. I took a week’s break and then searched again. This time I found one, but I hoped it just might be the one.

When I tried it…I liked it! A lot! Alicia was right when she said, “You’ll know the minute you find the right combination…”

Thank you, Alicia! I doubt I would have persevered so long and so successfully without your suggestion and your encouragement.

Fate tapestry cover

I saw one more problem after I created the new title treatment. It’s a little crazy that I hadn’t noticed it sooner. I did my first work on the cover when I was still writing the book’s manuscript draft, and when I returned to the cover (many months later) I’d forgotten that the tag line above the title was originally a placeholder.

I’m still shaking my head at myself. Really, J.M.? Really?!

Alas, really. It’s fixed now. 😀

Secrets, like troubles, come in threes – when you possess one…

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
Amazon I B&N I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books

For more cover builds, see:
Building Wild’s Cover
Building Glory’s Cover
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

 

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Bookkeeping Prompts Another Cover Revision

Ashkenazi Sefer TorahI’ve been catching up on my bookkeeping. This is appropriate, because my current work-in-progress, Tally the Betrayals, is about a bookkeeper.

(He inks his tallies on scrolls. Thus the photo above.)

Now he’s not your ordinary bookkeeper.

He works in the “dark tower” of Silmaren in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, keeping track of the tin and copper flowing into the smithies where the weapons of the troll-lord’s armies are forged! And one of his tin ingots has gone missing.

But I digress. (And, yes, that was a tease.) 😀

Back to the bookkeeping at Casa Ney-Grimm.

I was updating my year-on-year spreadsheet, where I see how many copies of each book title sold each year, from 2011 through the present. It helps me assess the big picture.

web imageSeveral things became clear after I tallied the numbers for 2015. My short stories sell sporadically and by the handful. This is normal. Short stories just are not as popular with readers as longer works.

Except my Crossing the Naiad, which sells steadily. Still by the handful, but every month readers are choosing Naiad, which intrigues me. It’s a great story, yes. But so is Resonant Bronze a great story. What is it about Naiad that has extra appeal?

More experienced writers than I tell me that this is always the unanswered question, so, moving on…

Next conclusion: novellas sell better than short stories, still by the handful, but steadily. (Sort of like Naiad, in fact. Except that Naiad is not a novella.)

And novels sell best of all.

None of the above is really surprising. But the thing that caught my attention was that Livli’s Gift – a novel – is alone amongst my novels in selling merely like a novella. What’s up with that?

I think I know the answer. It was the cover. The old cover just wasn’t right.

Now I revised the cover a few weeks back and blogged about it. But seeing the cold, hard numbers made me revisit the issue. Sure, I’d revised the cover, and I liked the new version a lot. But had I revised it enough? If the old cover had been hurting its popularity that much, had I truly fixed the problem?

No, I didn’t think I had.

So I’ve been tinkering with it some more. I’m not quite done tinkering. I have a few more details I want to change. But I thought I’d show you what I have thus far.

Livli's Gift, night sky cover, 350 px

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What do you think?
😀

To see the original cover of Livli’s Gift, created step by step:
Creating Livli’s Cover

To see the cover revision of Livli’s Gift:
Why Revise a Book’s Cover

To see the inspiration for my novel Tally the Betrayals:
Tally the Betrayals

 

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Why Revise a Book’s Cover?

original cover for Livli's GiftI love the illustrations done by Kay Nielsen for the collection of Norse folk tales East of the Sun and West of the Moon. His work inspired the North-lands in which so many of my stories take place. And his drawings appear on the covers of several of my books.

The cover for Livli’s Gift features an illustration of the gardening queen in the folk tale “Prince Lindworm,” a story that is mentioned as part of the folk lore in my novel.

I still love the cover I originally created, but I felt some qualms about it after I submitted it to Joel Friedlander’s monthly cover design contest in March 2014. Joel found the design depressing. I didn’t agree with him at the time, but his opinion introduced a sliver of doubt into my awareness.

What if he were right? Was my cover causing readers who might love the story to click away from the book’s Amazon page without ever checking the “Look Inside”?

Livli's Gift at thumbnail sizeThat doubt niggled and niggled inside me. Finally I realized what bothered me. At full size, on the paperback or on a Kindle Fire, the cover still looks great to me. But at thumbnail size – the way you initially see it online – it does look gloomy. Or at least somber. Which is all wrong. Livli”s Gift is not a gloomy tale. Honestly, none of my stories are. I infinitely prefer hope and redemption!

I decided my cover needed revision. After all, every indie publisher should revisit the covers of her backlist every 3 to 5 years. Times change, cover styles change, but stories can be forever. Every good story deserves a cover that isn’t dated or stale. And Livli’s Gift deserved a cover that didn’t give a false impression.

But I didn’t want to change the art. I love the line drawing of the queen bending over her cherished plants. Could I achieve my goal by changing the title and byline treatment? That’s what I decided to attempt.

Some thinking was required.

Quantum Zoo thumbnail coverWhat sort of a title treatment should I attempt? Livli is a healer who works with magic, a magical hot spring, massage, and herbal treatments to cure her patients. Perhaps I could give the title a leafy texture to reflect this?

The cover for Quantum Zoo came to mind. I’d given its title a watery texture. Perhaps the same font, Orial, might even work well for Livli’s Gift. The curling ornaments of Orial had the right feeling for Livli, and the broader letters would provide a little more space to give the plant texture visibility.

I put all those elements together.

Livli's Gift cover with Orial titleAnd I didn’t like it. The colors were dull. The letters were too blocky. They’d looked graceful on the Quantum Zoo cover, but they seemed clunky on the Livli cover. I didn’t even bother to test the byline with the Orial-leaf treatment.

I was going to have to try something else.

But I still liked the idea of a leafy texture. Maybe I just needed to find leaves with a brighter green. I remembered a walk I’d taken through my neighborhood, photographing spring flowers and bright green foliage. I checked my files of photos and found the very thing!

But what font should I use?

Livli's Gift, Palatino with leaf textureMaybe I didn’t need to change the original font. Maybe the Palatino on the original cover would work just fine when a texture was added to it. Excited, I put all of these elements together.

Okay!

Now I felt like I was getting somewhere. I liked the brightness and the warmth of the green. I liked the allusion to life and growing things. It still wasn’t quite right, but I could work with this. Where would I go with it next? How might I manipulate it to make it fully right?

I looked at what I had, and looked at it some more. And then one of those inspirations that every artist loves struck me. What if I gave the Palatino font some of the curlicues that were part of the Orial font?

Perfect! It would be perfect!

I set to work again, slicing and dicing, moving this piece here, that piece there. I was knitting or crocheting with Photoshop, and it was fun!

Livli's Gift, lacy green titleWould this be it? Would this be the cover I was longing for?

Yes! It totally rocked! I was so excited. I’d done it!

With the peak so high, you know the fall would be low. And it was. As I looked at my work, I realized that despite the bright warmth of the green, combining it with black yielded the feel of the horror genre.

Oh, no!

Livli’s Gift hasn’t even one speck of horror. Readers who like horror would purchase the book and be disappointed and feel cheated. Readers who like warm and human fantasy with streamers of hope and joy – the perfect audience for Livli’s Gift – would never give it a chance.

Gloom buried me.

I recovered, naturally. But I let the whole project rest. I’d reached the “I got nothing” stage.

So Livli’s Gift kept its old cover for another year.

Then, just last week, I had another idea. The lacy version of Palatino I’d created really was perfect for Livli’s Gift. What if I filled it with a different texture? What if I filled it with a water texture? Livli worked with water far more extenisvely than she did with plants anyway!

With trepidation, I opened that year-old file to see what I could do.

Livli's Gift, water texture titleFilling the title with water was actually quite easy. The challenging work of creating a lacy Palatino was already done. I pasted in the water texture and looked at what I had.

Hmm. It was a nice idea, but it just wasn’t working. For whatever reason, the green leafy texture held together and didn’t confuse the eye. But the water texture didn’t behave similarly. It was too variegated, acting almost as a camouflage pattern, breaking up the edges of the letters and making the title hard to read.

I decided I would search for a better water texture.

After a night of sleep.

When I awoke in the morning, I had another idea. The original blue in the original cover had the bright, warm hue that I wanted. What if I simply used that, instead of pouring in a texture on the already complex lace of the altered font?

Livli's Gift, revised coverI selected the title, filled it with blue, deselected it, and took a look.

I noticed the byline was wider than the title. For no good reason. I modified it, so that the edges of the byline on the right and the left matched up precisely with the edges of the title. Much better!

I liked it.

The lacy Palatino has a pleasant liveliness to it. That particular hue of blue is indeed warm and bright. I hadn’t realized how much the unmodified Palatino creates a somber mood. Somber enough to overpower even the brightness of the warm blue.

Had I achieved my aim?

Livli's Gift, revised versus original coverI reduced the cover down to the tiny size of a thumbnail and studied the result.

Well, first off, on my computer screen, looking at the image in Photoshop, and looking at it on my own website, the original cover looks much more cheerful than it did on either Joel’s website or the Amazon site. That’s because both the other sites don’t render the blue accurately. Different sites really do render colors differently, unfortunately.

On the Kobo site, the cover for Perilous Chance suffers the most of all my covers. Instead of a clear and luminous indigo for the sky, it becomes a dingy purple. Ugh!

And even beyond the alterations caused by the hosting website, there are also all the variations caused by how each individual computer monitor is set. Each reader browsing online will see a slightly different view of each book cover in existence.

In fact, if we want to be through and precise, each reader’s brain and eyes will be calibrated slightly differently from every other reader’s. That way – considering every individual viewer – lies madness.

So, back to Livli’s Gift and how the thumbnail looks on my computer through my eyes. And it looks good. Not quite as nice as at the larger size, but still more cheerful than the original.

I double checked my assessment after I uploaded the new cover file on Amazon. There, the improvement was marked. At both the thumbnail size (which turns up in searches) and the slightly larger size that appears on the product page, the new version is much better than the old one. I’d say it’s a keeper.

Until I decide – in 5 years or so – that it’s time to revise the covers on my backlist again. 😀

To see the original building process for Livli’s cover:
Creating Livli’s Cover

For more about Kay Nielsen:
Kay Nielsen

And for more cover builds:
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Building Glory’s Cover
Building Wild’s Cover

 

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Building Amber

Amber web cov 200I always have fun sharing the process of creating a book cover. My latest is the cover for Caught in Amber, a soon-to-be-released novel in my Mythic Tales series.

As always, the first step was finding images that work. My initial idea was to show my protagonist – Fae – with a fabulous castle in the background. An outside view of the castle.

In the story, the castle is located on relatively level ground amidst rolling hills. I wasn’t going to demand absolute fidelity in the landscape. Finding the right castle in terrain that wasn’t too different would be fine.

But I couldn’t find the right castle. At all.

The castle in Caught in Amber is embarrassingly similar to the Disney castle in Florida. But bigger. Much bigger. With wings constructed in all the architectural styles imaginable. And the real world doesn’t have anything like it. Or, at least, doesn’t have any photos of such a castle available.

Caught in Amber, build 1As is necessary in cover composition, I developed another idea. I would show Fae inside the castle. Which was probably a better idea anyway. Most of the book takes place inside the castle, not outside.

There were more interior photos of castles than I would ever need. Even if I wrote nothing but castle stories for the next ten years! I couldn’t decide amongst them. So I bookmarked several that I liked and moved on.

Time to find Fae!

She’s a gray-eyed girl in her mid-teens with curly brown hair. Surely she wouldn’t be too difficult to match.

But she was.

The brunettes with the right face didn’t have the right hair. The brunettes with the right hair were too old. Or else they they wore big grins on their faces. Fae doesn’t do much grinning in Caught in Amber. Her situation is too scary and dangerous.

Finally I decided to combine two photos: one with the right face and one with the right hair. I did a quick mock-up using comp images, and my idea definitely worked. Both the face model and the hair model had widow’s peaks, so the two images could be combined comfortably.

Once I’d chosen Fae, it was easy to select a castle interior. There was one that complemented her particularly well. I pasted it into my mock-up. It looked good!

Then I went back to revising the manuscript. Sent it out to my second reader. Got her feedback. And revised again.

I save designing the cover as a reward for after the manuscript is complete and close to its final form. Also the blurb. I really need a treat after blurb writing, which doesn’t come easily for me.

More than a month elapsed.

As I arranged to purchase the right to use the photos I’d chosen for the cover, I had second thoughts about my choices. The model looked a little too pugnacious. She just wasn’t the right one after all.

I reviewed all the photos I’d bookmarked and discovered a model who was perfect. I’d rejected her initially, because she looked a little too cheerful. But part of her cheerful aspect was her bridal gown and her studio setting. One of the things I’d learned from my mock-up was that the castle setting caused a really serious model to look too serious. Perhaps a mildly serious model would look exactly right.

I tried the new Fae in my mock-up. She was indeed perfect. This was Fae. I would need to change her brown eyes to gray, but that was an easy fix.

However, the castle scene for the first Fae wasn’t quite right for the second Fae.

I returned to all the castles I’d bookmarked. With such a wide selection to choose from, finding the right castle interior was easy. I was ready to start!

Caught in Amber, cover build 2

I purchased the right to use the two photos, set up my book cover file in Photoshop, and pasted in the castle photo. I extended the right side almost immediately. I knew I would need that extra for the cover bleed.

Then I looked at what I had. The photo was a little overexposed for my purpose. It would undoubtedly be fine as a framed photo on a wall. But as the backdrop on a cover, the brightest parts of the photo – where the sun shone through the arched windows – needed to be less bright.

Caught in Amber, build 3

I selected a portion of the photo that would work well on the back cover (the top left) and pasted it into the file. Then I set about correcting the overexposure as well as changing the color balance to a more saturated hue that would give the castle more density.

I put a translucent screen over the back cover to make it a suitably smooth background for the back cover copy. I lightened the shadows in the wall niches on the back cover for the same reason. The image behind text musn’t vary from light to dark too much.

The odd seam between the front cover and back cover in the lower half did not need to be addressed. Fae would cover it, once she arrived.

Caught in Amber, build 4

With Fae in her castle, I could see that I had a problem with her shoulder. As it wrapped across the spine of the book and then onto the back cover, it would look odd appearing in isolation as it would with all of Fae excepting her hair on the front cover. I followed a shadow line in the photo to reshape her shoulder. That was better, but not quite what I wanted.

I tried adding a few extra curls of her hair. Perfect!

Amber build 5-1

I created the title and my byline. I added the tag lines and the back cover text. It was definitely coming together nicely.

But there were two problem areas.

Fae’s pearly head dress interfered with the title on the spine, making it hard to read.

And the small strands of Fae’s hair that stood away from the main mass of her hair were too bright, making it hard to read the back cover copy.

On the spine I placed some carefully selected and feathered pieces of Fae’s hair under the spine title and over that portion of the pearl head dress. It worked beautifully. Now you could read the title without strain.

I placed a translucent and feathered shadow over the ends of Fae’s hair on the back cover and under the text. That worked well also.

My cover was finished!

I got that fun frisson of “This is real!” when I looked at the composed image. Even though I am the one who worked to put the two photos together, in my heart of hearts I believe that I am looking at Fae as she explores the deserted castle where she awakens without her memories. 😀

Amber build 6-1

For more cover builds:
Building Wild’s Cover
Building Glory’s Cover
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

 

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Building Rainbow’s Cover

art for Rainbow's Lodestone

The first time I created a book cover for Rainbow’s Lodestone, I couldn’t find any art that looked like my spirit of the rainbow. So I settled for a landscape. It was a dramatic landscape – beautiful – and it had a rainbow against a looming cloudy sky. But I didn’t think it conveyed the essence of my story well.

art for original Rainbow's Lodestone coverSo, when I was ready to create the paperback edition of Rainbow’s Lodestone, I went looking for more suitable art. And I found exactly what I was looking for. The instant I set eyes on the image, I said to myself, “That’s her!”

It was exciting. I purchased the right to use the image on my cover.

The first thing to do was flip the image. I wanted the spirit of light looking to the right, supporting the eye’s natural tendency to move from the top left corner of an image to the bottom right.

The next adjustment needed was creating room for a title. As you can see (above), the art didn’t have room at the top. Nor did it have much room at the bottom for my author byline. I had some work to do. I started to “paint” the extra margins I needed.

I’ve talked before about this “painting” I do in Photoshop. You might be wondering what I mean since that’s not very specific.

This is what I do to extend the background: I take the “lasso” tool and draw a rough shape around a suitable piece of the background. Then I “feather” the edge of my selection, essentially creating a fuzzy edge instead of a crisp one. Next I copy my selection and paste it on a new layer in my file. I move it around until it looks good. Then I merge it back onto the main layer.

That’s it in a nutshell.

But I do it over and over again to fill in the area I need.

modified art for Rainbow's Lodetone

The next steps were less time intensive.

I assessed the back cover area to discern whether type would be easily read atop it. Rarely is it just fine as is. Usually I must either lighten it to receive dark type or darken it to receive light type. Additionally, if there is a lot of variation in lightness and darkness, I must even it out.

Type needs a fairly bland background behind it in order to be easy on the reading eyes.

The art for Rainbow’s Lodestone didn’t extend far enough to the left after I’d added to the top. I could have “painted” yet more background, but I had a better plan in mind.

I sampled three colors from the back ground: a dark blue, a dark aqua, and a black. I selected large irregular triangles in the area that needed to be filled – feathered the edges a lot – and filled them with these three colors. The result was a varying wash of color that blended with the art and also yielded a good background for the back cover text.

Rainbow art with title

The Lodestone Tales follow the lodestones created by Zandro Mytris through the history of my North-lands. Which means I want the covers for all of the stories to look like they belong together.

I’d already chosen the font Bradley Gratis for the titles of the books and the font Gloucester for the tag lines and the back cover text. Working with those choices, I placed the title on the front cover so that it lined up with one edge of the cover and framed the art. Adding my byline and the tag lines was a straight forward matter.

Rainbow’s Lodestone is a short story, which means that its “blurb” is fairly short. I wouldn’t want to plump up the blurb with a lot of spoilers! I had to play with the best size for the text and line spacing, as well as seeking the best way to break the text into paragraphs. It was a matter of trying different arrangements until I got one that looked good.

I submitted this cover to a design contest held every month by Joel Friedlander. He’s a publishing and design professional active in the indie publishing world, and his good opinion is very worth having. I was delighted when Rainbow’s Lodestone won a rare and coveted gold star award!

(Rainbow’s Lodestone is the 30th in the long column of covers shown. Joel doesn’t list them by rank, but randomly.)

Paperback cover for Rainbow's Lodestone

To see more cover builds:
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Building Wild’s Cover
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

For the basic principles of cover design:
Cover Design Primer

 

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Building Glory’s Cover

y Magnus Sjöberg (Larsson), photo used under a Creative Commons license, FlickrI was so lucky finding images that were perfect for the covers of Fate’s Door and Caught in Amber, I hoped I might be equally lucky with photos for Winter Glory.

I found a gorgeous northern landscape: a snow-covered pine forest with the sun setting through the tree trunks. (Similar to the photo at left.) But I couldn’t find anyone who looked like Ivvar.

This didn’t truly surprise me. Ivvar’s a tall fellow with shoulder-length gray dreadlocks and tan skin. Not tanned by sunlight, but naturally tan, the way my Hammarleedings are.

I searched for a photo of Ivvar last October when I finished writing Winter Glory. I searched in November when I got feedback from my first reader and started revisions. I searched in January when I received feedback from my second reader and made more revisions. I searched in February when the file came back from my proofreader with typos corrected.

I searched one last time when it was time to create the cover.

illustration for East of the Sun and West of the MoonThen I had to face the fact that I simply was not going to find Ivvar photographed by chance by a modern photographer. 😀

I wasn’t panicked. I had a plan B. I would use the illustration by Kay Nielsen for “So the man gave him a pair of snow-shoes” in East of the Sun and West of the Moon. It’s a gorgeous piece of art. It was probably for the best that I’d failed to find a good photo.

As I scanned the Nielsen art, I talked with my husband about my plan for the cover. He was in the other room, so he was not looking at the piece of art concerned. He said: “Oh, yeah! You’ll make one of those black & white covers, like the ones for Troll-magic and Sarvet’s Wanderyar. Great! They’re really your trademark look.”

Right then and there I had an epiphany.

The art showing a man on skies is a color piece. But in the time it took my husband to speak, I’d envisioned it rendered in black & white, and I loved it.

Plus my husband’s suggestion made so much sense. A color painting would be a whole new look for one of my books. But a black & white Kay Nielsen piece would fit right in with the other North-lands and Hammarleeding books.

And I was sure I could do it. The print quality on the black & white illustrations of my 1914 edition of East of the Sun and West of the Moon is very poor. In order to get a clean image for my covers with Kay Nielsen art – crisp lines without inkblots, black blacks, and white whites – I’d always placed the art on a light table and traced it.

I was certain I could do the same for a color illustration. It would be trickier. I’d be making value judgements all the way through about how to render shades of color as either shades of gray or patterns of black & white lines. But Nielsen’s work lends itself to black & white interpretation. Even his color work has interesting line and texture present.

I scrutinized the piece of art depicting the skier. Yes! I could see in my mind’s eye exactly how I would do it.

So I set to work.

black & white sketch for Winter Glory

I was nervous at first. So nervous that my hand kept shaking. I had to talk myself down. “Jessica, any small mistakes can be corrected in Photoshop. And if you make a big mistake, it won’t be the worst thing if you have to start over. Relax. Relax. Relax.”

My hand was still not steady with that first line of ink on paper. I got a fresh sheet of paper. And started on the skier’s hair, which was supposed to be squiggley. By the time I finished the hair, my hand was steady. I’d forgotten my nerves and was enjoying the drawing.

I was almost sad when I finished, except that there was more fun ahead.

I scanned my black & white drawing into my computer and started building the cover for Winter Glory.

The first step was to select the stars and turn them from black to white. Then I put a gradient screen from the top of the cover to the bottom, thus creating the sky. I loved how that made the skier pop!

Adding the sky to the cover for Winter Glory

Next step? The title.

I already knew I wanted to use the cloak texture from the original color illustration, but I wanted to get the title’s size and placement settled using Photoshop’s type managing tools. I would turn the layer from a type layer to an image layer after I got the type exactly the way I wanted it. So I used a bright red to help me visualize the final result.

Adding title and byline to the cover for Winter Glory

The cloak in the original illustration was a lovely patch of color. It was big enough that I could have just selected it and “pasted it inside” of the letters of the title and my author byline. But it would have been a lot of pasting.

cloak textureSo I made a square of the texture first – pasting and pasting and pasting that cloak patch into a separate file. I increased the saturation, and heightened the reds and yellows to achieve the effect I wanted.

Once the cloak texture file was ready, I selected the whole square and pasted that inside the letters of my cover file. It took four pastes to fill them all. Instead of ten or more!

The textured title softened the overall effect of the art. The black & white art with the solid red title has a crisp and definite look that I like. But it’s a little too hard-edged for the story, which blends life-threatening action with romance.

Winter Glory cover with textured title

Then I was closing in on the finish line.

I added the tag lines – one above the title, one below my author byline. And my trademark line, connecting the big “J” to “Author of Sarvet’s Wanderyar.”

I placed the back cover copy. I placed the title on the back cover. Next came the spine: title, byline, and Wild Unicorn logo.

And finally the publisher info and the box for the barcode.

I was done! It’s ready to be placed in an InDesign file for the paperback cover, and to be windowed for the ebook cover. 😀

Glory cov build 7

For more cover builds:
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Creating Livli’s Cover

For the principles of cover design:
Cover Design Primer

 

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Back Cover Design: Hunting Wild

Hunting Wild back coverThe front cover gets all the love!

I’ve seen a lot of information about designing the front cover for a book, but only a little about the back cover. There’s a reason for that, of course. The front cover sells the book. It catches the eye of a prospective reader and encourages him or her to look inside.

Ebooks don’t even have back covers. And, until recently, none of the online bookstores ever showed the back cover of a paper book. If you wanted to see the back cover, you had to walk into a brick and mortar store. (Or wait until your purchased paperback arrived on your doorstep.)

But any book that has a paper edition needs a back cover for it. That back cover must be attractive and harmonize with the front cover. It needs to have sizzle, as well as the “steak” of the back cover copy. And it needs to have certain information, such as the bar code, the publisher, maybe the price.

I thought it might be interesting if I shared some of my experiences with back covers.

The first thing I learned was that when I create the front cover for the ebook and wait until I start building the paperback to design the back cover, it’s much harder! I did the covers for Troll-magic and Sarvet’s Wanderyar in this piecemeal way. I got them to work, but…hoo boy!

All the books that came after, I created the paperback cover first and simply used the right half for the front cover of the ebook.

Let me show what the paperback cover of Hunting Wild looked like when I was ready to start finalizing the back cover.

Hunting Wild back cover

One of the things that you’ll notice in the image above is that it’s a whole lot bigger than it needs to be. There are two reasons for that.

1) It has an extra half inch all the way around the edge. That’s because I’ve learned from experience that it is infinitely easier to chop off unneeded edges than it is to add more later if it turns out you miscalculated and need the art a little taller or a little wider. I give myself plenty of wiggle room.

You need only a one-eighth inch bleed when you upload the cover file to CreateSpace. But I have found that when I paste my TIFF file into my InDesign file – I do covers in InDesign – the margins sometime get funky and weird. There have been several times I’ve been very glad of my extra margin.

2) Because I am creating the paperback cover before I create the paperback interior, I don’t know exactly how many pages the book will be. Which means I cannot calculate the precise width of the spine. So I allow an extra inch on the far left of my image, in order to have enough image to go from the bleed on the far right all the way across the front, then around the spine, then across the back, and finish beyond the leftmost bleed.

For Hunting Wild, I had planned to purchase a photo of a stone wall to use as a continuation of the wall coming off the stair tower on the front. However, when I tried a mock-up using a watermarked comp image, I didn’t like the result.

So I decided to “paint” that wall extension by copying and pasting the stone blocks (and smoothing the joins) from the left edge of the stair tower photo. I was very pleased with how that worked. It looks natural to my eye, and it makes a good, even background for the back cover text.

Hunting Wild back with text

I’ve cropped the cover image above, to the approximate size it will be on the paperback, using an estimate of the spine width. It is easy to move the text and the title on the back cover from side to side. So I will place it more exactly when I know the precise spine width.

My second reader is still reading and generating feedback for Hunting Wild, so I have another round of revisions on the book before I can send it to my proofreader. When I get it back from my proofreader, I will start formatting it for both the ebook edition and the paperback edition.

Only when I have the precise spine width will I place the white box needed for the bar code, as well as placing text indicating my publishing imprint (Wild Unicorn Books), the genre (fantasy), and the price (which is determined by the page count).

I’ll also wait to place the title and my byline on the spine.

There are a lot of elements that must go on the back cover, and it’s important to use some of the same design principles that go into designing the front cover: alignment, grouping, and type fonts that match those used on the front.

I’ll be posting more about back covers. Until then, here’s the link to my Cover Design Primer, so you can bone up on those design principles. 😉

And, if you missed it, here’s the post about designing the front cover for Hunting Wild.

 

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Building Foe’s Cover

Egypt 300 pxI’m imagining that some of you might say: “That J.M. Ney-Grimm! She has too much fun creating the covers for her books.” And you’d be quite right. It even seems a trifle unreasonable to me that I enjoy cover design as much as I do.

Not only do I love designing covers, I also like showing you how I did it. Today I’m going to pull back the curtain on the creation of the cover for Serpent’s Foe.

I found art that I adored long before I needed it, so I posted the art on the story’s “coming soon” page on my website. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it work on a cover, because the art has no space for the book title near the top. And the image at the bottom is too variegated for my byline to show well there.

sky 300 pxWhen it was time for me to decide what I would do, I searched for another alternative. One that wouldn’t require as much Photoshop “painting” as I guessed this image would need. But I couldn’t find anything I liked better. Probably because I liked this image so very much.

So I committed to the painting “Egypt Personified” by Farid Fidel and started thinking about how I could make it work. The first thing to do was find a photo of clouds and sky that matched the clouds and sky in the painting. There must be a bajillion such photos, and with so many to choose from, I was able to find one that looked really close.

a lot of empty spaceTo begin, I placed “Egypt Personified” into my file. As you can see, when room is made for a title, there’s a lot of space that needs art behind it and doesn’t have it. The next step was to place the clouds-and-sky photo behind the painting. The edge between the photo and the painting was very sharp, as I expected. I had a lot of Photoshop work to do, so I dove into it.

The sky in the photo is a more yellow blue than the sky in the painting, and it’s a harder, more saturated hue. The clouds in the photo are also yellower than the clouds in the painting.

I color corrected the photo’s sky, shifting the blue away from yellow and toward magenta, also desaturating it to get a softer blue. That helped the clouds match better as well, but I needed to pump up the brightness to get the clouds fully white.

Egypt w-rough skyOnce the colors matched fairly well, I stretched the photo to get its clouds close to where there were clouds in the painting.

Then I put copies of both stretched photo and painting on the same layer in my Photoshop file, so that I could start obscuring that edge by “painting” over it and blending the areas of the two images that were close to one another.

I’ve gotten a lot of practice at this sort of “painting” lately. (Yes, I’m grinning and thinking of the cover for Hunting Wild.) Because of all that practice, this sky “painting” felt fairly straight forward.

I’d paint a bit with the screen magnifying that portion so I could see exactly what I was doing. Then I’d zoom out to see what the whole looked like. And then I’d zoom in to do some more. Back and forth until, several hours later, I’d gotten it all done, and I was satisfied with the result.

Egypt art readyThe sky wasn’t the only item that needed adjustment. I tried my byline against the bottom of the painting, hoping it might work. Not only was it impossible to read, but it was hard on the eyes.

Potential readers would be clicking away from the web page with my book on it just to save their eyes from the “ouch” that my byline generated – half on the water lilies and half on Egypt’s gown.

Once more I set to work. This time I selected the lilies and pasted them into another layer where I could expand them. Egypt would be up to her knees in lilies, rather than just ankle deep.

I created a lavender mist to match the one rising off the Nile River in the painting. And I added a translucent shadow across the lily leaves to make a better background for my byline.

Since I’d already created the byline, and seen that it needed a different background than the one originally there, I made it invisible while I “painted,” but clicked it visible to check my progress.

Had I placed the higher lilies in the right place? Was the translucent shadow in the right place? Was it deep enough? Again, there was a lot of back and forth, zoom in, zoom out.

Serpent feature cover 300Finally, the blended images blended well enough to seem all of one piece. And then I was nearly done.

When I first placed the painting in my file, I’d done a mock-up of the title to be sure Egypt was standing in the right place. But now it was time to finalize the title.

I wanted it to pick up the different shades of gold in the painting and to harmonize with Egypt’s skin, so I color corrected the title, deepening its hue, saturating it, and reducing its brightness.

It still didn’t pop as much as I wanted it to, so I painted over one of the clouds (in the photo part of the image) with blue sky. That was much better, but still not quite there. I added a translucent blue shadow behind the title, and then I was satisfied. The cover for Serpent’s Foe was complete!

For more cover builds:
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Cover Makeovers

For the principles of cover design:
Cover Design Primer

 

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Building Wild’s Cover

As I gain experience with building covers for my books, I find the process growing more and more like painting with Photoshop. All of my covers, even the earliest ones, required some manipulation in Photoshop. Darkening the blacks. Balancing the colors. Adding to the edges of the art when those edges were ragged or simply didn’t give me enough extra for the trimming that occurs when paperback books are made.

But the cover for Hunting Wild required the most “painting” of any cover yet!

I found the process of transformation – from photos purchased on Dreamstime.com to finished cover – fascinating. Naturally I want to share the journey with you. 😀

purchased Dreamstimes photo of Chambord The original photo of the interior of a palace tower depicted one of the stair towers from Chambord, an incredible chateau in the Loire valley of France. The tower was perfect as a rendition of my own Baloron, the castle in which Hunting Wild takes place, except for two things.

One: Baloron is made of reddish stone, not white. And two: the landscape visible through the tower windows should be a dry plain studded with olive trees, not a palace courtyard. Luckily, both were problems I felt confidant I could correct.

 

H Wild red towerMy first step was to cut away the courtyard seen through the openings of the Chambord stair tower. Then I turned the tower stone red. This image shows the arched fill-in I created for the square window at the upper left. In the process of building the cover, the window change came later, when I was trying to fit my title over the art. It was not working well – the title didn’t pop enough where it crossed the open window. I added the arched fill-in to give a better background for the title.

As I worked on the title, I also found I needed a little more tower at the right edge, so I “painted” that in.

I purchased a landscape of olive groves to use for the landscape around Baloron.

olice grove landscape photo purchased from DreamstimeIf I were being absolutely strict about Baloron’s landscape, I would have insisted on a grassy plain, perhaps with a lake in the background. I did look for such an image, but couldn’t find anything suitable. Since the region around Baloron includes olive groves (and cork trees), even though its immediate acreage does not, it seemed reasonable to compromise.

I didn’t use the entire photo that I purchased the rights to, just a portion of it. If you look closely at the right edge, you’ll see that I used the mirror image of a portion of the photo to extend the edge with the textures that my “painting” required. It creates a funny Rorshach-like pattern that isn’t visible in the final cover image, but that would be problematic if it were.

There’s another anomaly in the lower right portion of the photo. I pasted a portion of the tree tops into the area behind the right balustrade to achieve a more pleasing effect than what was there without editing. I find it interesting that the backside of this “tapestry” is so messy. 😀

H Wild tower wLandscapeWhen I pasted the landscape into my painting, I initially used the photo in its original state. I needed to see what exactly showed through the tower window and the tower balustrade. I moved the landscape around to get the view through the window right. Then I started copying and pasting different pieces of the photo into the landscape that showed through the balustrade. There was a lot of trial and error.

Nope. Nope! No, not that either!

Eventually I achieved a result that I liked. Yay!

Then I noticed that the landscape looked a little too dark for the composition. The landscape photo was taken out of doors, of course. But when you look out at a landscape from indoors, your eyes are adjusted to the light levels indoors, which are much dimmer than outdoors. This makes the outdoors look brighter in comparison. So I adjusted the brightness of the landscape layer in my cover file. Another “yay!” when I nailed it.

H Wild both girlsNow my setting was ready for my heroine! I purchased all three of the photos at the same time. I’d looked at hundreds, and only made my final choices when I was sure they would work well together. Even then, I did not purchase the right to use the photos until I’d downloaded low-resolution (and watermarked) comp images and put them together in a test cover to make sure they would work.

Each of the three photos cost $15 for the right to use it on my cover. Plus there was a fourth $15 image that I’d need for the back cover. I didn’t want to spend $60 until I was sure my selections would go together the way I envisioned them. I have planned compositions that simply didn’t work. This one, I am happy to report, did.

H Wild tower wGirlFinding a young woman gowned in garb suitable to a medieval setting who also looked like my heroine was hard. I searched and searched and searched. Finally I settled on a photo in which the model was perfect, although her clothing was not. There wouldn’t be much of her gown showing, so the style (which is Victorian) was not critical. But the fuchsia color would simply not work in my “painting.” I would need to change it to green. Also, she really needed to have the ruffles of a chemise (an undergarment) showing at the neckline.

Even more difficult, the position of her arms would not work. I felt confidant I could change fuchsia to green. I even felt confidant I could create the chemise ruffle. I’d copy the neckline of her dress and paste it onto another layer of my file. Then turn it to a creamy white. Then set the translucency to 50% or so. As I’d envisioned, those changes were fairly straight forward. But the arms?

In my mock-up test cover, the arms proved to be no trouble. Only her shoulders were showing. Plus I’d tipped her forward to have her gazing out over the tower balustrade (rather than staring at the tower wall). I simply removed her arms from the image! (Ew! Sounds gory, doesn’t it?) In the final draft, I found I needed more room for my author byline, which meant I needed to show more of her upper torso. I had to do a lot of copy-and-paste “painting” to lenghthen her sleeves. But I was pleased with the result.

Next came the title, author byline, and taglines. I’d say this part was easy – and it was, compared to the work required for my heroine – except you know from my account above that I had a lot of trouble placing the title. I found a gorgeous font for the title: Mephisto And I discovered that the font Aclonica – for the tag lines and back cover copy – complemented Mephisto perfectly.

But I had to reposition the tower, which involved extending it at the top and right side. I had to create an arched fill-in for the square window. And I had to reposition my heroine, which involved lengthening her sleeves. Yikes! But I did it!

Then I decided that I wasn’t satisfied with how the author byline looked in the Mephisto font. It just didn’t look right to me. (You can see that version in my earlier post: Cover Preview: Hunting Wild.) Plus the points of the letters extended so far down that I couldn’t make my trademark byline work – underline connecting the “J” and the “Author of Troll-magic.”

H Wild wTitleI fretted about the situation for several weeks. I created a cover for another book, on which my trademark author byline worked beautifully. I growled to myself about Hunting Wild. Finally, it occurred to me that I could use Aclonica – the font in the taglines – for my byline as well. I couldn’t just type it in, however. Small caps looked weird. Upper/lower case didn’t match my branding. So I customized: upper/lower for most of it, stretched lower case “M” and “N,” and an upper case “Y.”

There! Finally! I liked it! 😀

 
 
 

Let’s take a quick look at the finished cover side by side with two of the photos that went into creating it. Do you see why I call it “painting” in Photoshop? The transformation is rather dramatic. At least – I think so. 😉

H Wild triptych

For more cover builds:
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Creating Livli’s Cover

For the principles of cover design:
Cover Design Primer

 

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