Things I’ve learned Making Covers

black zone with extrasWhen I first started making covers for my books, I took the concepts literally (Ha! Punny).  With each one, I’ve learned.  Every genre has its own style.  Every reader has their own preference.  Every author wants to brand their work.  Trying to get all of that to happen every time?  I’m convinced it’s a small miracle.

After being a published author for a whole year – and releasing 8 books – I’ve learned a few things.

First: Vague is best.  Never, EVER, try to tell the entire story in a single image.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words?  Well, my books run around 120K.  That means I’d need 120 pictures to show the reader what it is I’m talking about.  I get ONE.  How about I choose something that catches the feel of the story, without catastrophically violating any of the details.

Black Zone2Second: Symbolic is best.  The title of the book is usually symbolic, why shouldn’t the cover be the same?  Does it need to be a literal planet, or does the silhouette of one work better?  Does the landscape need to have exactly the right house, with the car parked on the exact side, a baby carriage by the front porch, empty, and every other detail from that one scene?  NO!

See, the people who are going to pick up your book haven’t read it.  They don’t know what those little details mean.  We authors love to pat our own backs over the intellect we tossed into the story, but who cares?  Most readers don’t.  What they want to know is the genre, the tone, and the necessary information.

Trust me, how much the book costs matters more than how many leaves are on the tree!

And third: Characters matter more than scenes.  A while back, there was a theme with paranormal fantasy where the main (female) character was always wearing skin tight pants and facing away from the “camera”.  In part, this was to allow the reader to imagine her face.  In reality, it had more to do with number four on my list… but it also is because we want to see the PERSON, without being spoiled on the person.

In romances, this tends to end up as the faceless beefcake.  C’mon, you all know what I’m talking about.  The guy with rock hard abs, his pants ready to fall off, but nothing shown above his mouth.  The potential buyer can see his manscaping perfectly, but not the color of his eyes.  We can decide for ourselves what that dark haired hottie looks like.  We aren’t “forced” into placing the cover models face on every salacious scene in the book.

Which brings us to the fourth thing: Sex SELLS!  We’re all guilty of it.  In actuality, we’re programmed for it by our DNA.  Beautiful women, athletic men, and sensual poses have a higher click rate than a flower laying on a table.  That doesn’t mean every book is going to have a beautiful woman, athletic man, or even sex… but it still sells.

Want an example?

My book, When We Were Kings, has undergone a few changes while I learned what the readers want to see.  On the left is the final cover.  On the right is the next to last version of it.  No, we won’t talk about how many times it changed before I learned this stuff.  *ahem*  But, as you can see, the left image draws you in a lot more than the one on the right.

Why?  Because you can see Leyli.  Her face makes you wonder what she’s thinking.  The soft light of it sets the tone (wistful, hopeful, dreamy).  The armor tells you it’s got some fighting in it, even though I lost the gladiatorial accents from the right image.  Yeah, Tristan’s gone, but who cares?  The book isn’t about Tristan.  It’s about Leyli’s journey.  It’s symbolic of the realizations she goes through over the course of the novel (hence the expression on her face).

But mostly, it just makes you feel like you want to know HER.  You want to read her story.  Granted, my cover artist did an amazing job making that picture.  See, with fantasy, it’s hard to find a stock photo (free or paid) that has enough things right to work for the already written book.  So often, it’s close – except that the main character is black, not a blonde caucasian, or such.  Because of this, I found someone who can make me “fake” people who fit the traits I need.  Like ears on Salryc Luxx.

And what brought this up?

Rise of the Iliri #4!  Tonight, I got the first pieces of the cover art, and it’s so good.  Everything, from the landscape to the characters headsets matters, but it doesn’t give away the good parts.  Looking at it one way, you can think “hey, here’s what that cover means.”  After you read the book, you know “Oh, that’s why the person is…”  Oh, yeah.  And it’s really pretty.  From the vibrant colors and intense shading, to the picturesque scenery and amazing layering skills of the artist, the whole thing just has that “look at me” feeling often found in so many 3D renders like this


found on a free wallpaper site long ago

I’m not perfect with my cover designs.  I’m pretty sure no one is.  Even the big trade publishers miss the mark at times – and they have a whole lot invested in getting it right.  For me?  I just want to make sure my readers can pick up a book they know they’ll like, and find a story inside that meets their expectations.

And who knows what I’ll learn in another year.  For now, I’m going to focus on getting the next book out, and keep hoping that my fans like what they see on the front.


In full swing!

e-book-1209040Defiance comes out on the 19th, at midnight.  That means just a little over a day away!  I can’t tell you how excited I am for this.  Sal’s journey still has a ways to go, and I think you all will understand a lot better around… oh… chapter 4.  And that’s all the hint you’re getting!

But, the next book in the series, Inseparable, is proving to be in a lot better shape.  If you’re a follower of my blog, you might remember that I had to do a WHOLE lot of editing on Defiance.  Early writing, crude foreshadowing, and some jilted dialogue all had to be cut and replaced.  I think Defiance clocks in around 130,000 words, and I had to replace nearly 60,000 of those.  Not quite half, but the book is a lot better for it.  And while I didn’t change the plot, all of the shrapnel got cleaned up.

Inseparable is completely different.  My only real flaw as a writer, this time, was skipping some detail (which I’m fixing as I go through it again) and some really juvenile dialogue tags.  No, really.  Even when they weren’t necessary, I stuck in a “he said” or “she said”.  Everywhere!  It was kinda gross.  But they’re going away – and those details are taking their place.

And the story!  See, I tend to be rather critical of my own work.  I’m always convinced that I need a cleaner plot, or another twist.  I know those things don’t really go together, but I’m convinced that if I was just a better writer, I could make it work.  (Thankfully, I have a team to keep me in line, but that’s a WHOLE other post).  Inseparable, however, is non-stop something.  There’s action, there’s emotion, there’s conflict upon conflict.  Just when you think you know what’s going on, you realize you don’t, and that something else important is happening.  And the end!  AH!

Well, I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me, the ending is worth it.

Right now, I’m waiting on proofs for the cover.  As soon as I finish this pass on the book, it goes to the editor.  After that?  We’ll start working toward a release.  If I wanted to be like some authors, I could hold it for 90 days to generate hype, but I prefer to let my readers enjoy the story.  I’m hoping you’ll all see it around early October.

With Rise of the Iliri #5 right on its heels!  Yep, that book should be even easier to clean up and finalize.  You see, my beta readers kicked it back once, claiming a plot hole that needed to be fixed.  It’s already gone through four re-writes, so the final clean up and polish will hopefully go fast.  But, I still have to wait on a cover, so don’t expect it too soon.  Sadly, making a book requires an entire team to complete.

So, that’s where we’re at.  In the middle of all of this, I’ll be moving.  My cute little cottage is almost done!  The better half has a few more details to completely, and then I’ll finally have a quiet space to lose myself in my writing.  For all of my fans, that means more books!  So, if you haven’t already, consider clicking the link above to join my mailing list and get early notices about pre-orders and keep up with my quarterly sales.

And if I’m quiet for the next couple of weeks, don’t worry.  It just means I’m lost in a book.