You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover? Really?
Okay, you probably can’t tell how expertly plotted a book is, or how deft a writer is with a phrase by the cover, but you can or should be able to glean a heck of a lot from it. In today’s increasingly visual/on-line society it is more important than ever to have covers that are not only eye-catching, but convey the genre, mood, and texture of the story. The cover art is what grabs the browser first, then hopefully they read the tag-line, then the blurb, then take a peek inside at the writing. If the cover has done its job, the reader won’t be disappointed and they will buy the book! If they are looking for a sophisticated, well written book, I think a sophisticated, well developed cover will draw them in. A cover is a promise, very much like a first kiss. Gone well, it is a tease for more and leaves the reader wondering, “What will you give me if I pursue this new relationship?” If you disappoint them by not following through with what you have promised, you have lost the reader forever.
That said, I am thrilled to announce that my cover art is in for the e-book releases of heartbeats (28 days and counting down!) and my new novel freefall, due out in June—and, suffice it to say, I am quite pleased with the covers! As well as being eye-catching, I think they do a great job of giving you a pretty good idea of what you will find when you look inside. Many thanks to Art Director Kelly Shorten at Musa Publishing for designing the covers.
When you look at the cover of heartbeats, you see the city of Chicago at night, bathed in a red light. It is sophisticated and a tad mysterious. The heartbeat graph above the title promises that the story inside is about life and death, about hearts pulsing, throbbing and probably something to do with the medical profession. Dramatic, yes, but the story is dramatic. One of my first ideas when I answered Kelly’s questionnaire about what I thought should be on the cover was blood dripping somewhere—to denote murder and passion. Kelly did an excellent job on the first mock-up of creating the title with blood dripping from it. After one look at it, though, I knew it didn’t work. The dripping blood made it look like a vampire novel. Heartbeats is not a vampire novel—it is very much a romantic suspense. I suggested the heartbeat graph, thanks to an excellent idea from my daughter. Well, duh—Elizabeth, the main character, is a cardiologist and it just made sense. In truth, I had always envisioned the heartbeat graph on the cover. Kelly ran with it and came up with the final version. Coupled with the tag line: “Love makes your pulse race, but passion can kill…”, I think the cover definitely does its job.
Now examine freefall. At first glance the basic design of the cover is similar, the titles in the same font, etc. It tells you it is from the same author—okay, the name does, too, but it also lets you know that it is most likely a similar story to heartbeats—not medical, but definitely has some mystery and romance. How? Again, I gave Kelly lots of ideas. The story takes place in Wisconsin, in the Kettle Moraine area and Door County. It involves a small aircraft repair shop, a couple of plane crashes, a romance, and a murder or two. Armed with my suggestions, Kelly came up with the first mock up, very close to the final art, but the plane was too small, not dramatic enough. She enlarged the plane and changed its direction—bringing it down at an odd angle, and that made all the difference. That simple change gave the cover dramatic effect, tension, especially when juxtaposed against the idyllic scene. Tension is also heightened by the turbulence in the water. Couple that with the tag line: “Everett felt as if he was falling—freefalling through 15,000 feet—without a parachute. It was exciting, thrilling, and deadly…” And again, I don’t think the reader will be disappointed!
I have to admit, I was a little anxious when we started the cover art process. I was curious as to what Kelly would come up with. I answered her questionnaire, giving her mini character descriptions, theme, blurb, objects central to the story, time of year, setting. Kelly also encourages authors to send her links to web sites of pictures that give the feel and texture of the setting. She was no doubt inundated with my sites, especially since I had so many ideas. There were a lot of pictures of Door County, Wisconsin. Of course, as an avid lover of the area myself, I could have just sent her a bunch of my own pics. Armed with all my info, Kelly set to work. After getting the final artwork, I thought it would be fun to ask Kelly how she approaches the cover art for each novel. I figured readers and writers alike might be interested. Following are my questions and Kelly’s answers. After you read, please feel free to go to the blog Kelly did on Musa’s BlogSpot where she goes deeper into her role as Art Director for Musa Publishing. And, fellow authors, if you’d like to add a comment about your own covers, please do… Readers, any other questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them!
Susan: How do you first approach a cover? The blank page, so to speak. What is the first thing you take into account? If an author gives you multiple ideas (like me!) do you go with your gut on what you think will work? How do you choose?
Kelly: The cover details form our authors fill out about their book helps me to design a cover. I start to get an idea in my head about the cover and go searching for images. Sometimes in looking for a specific image another idea will come to me and I will modify my original. I do not read the blurb or the excerpt about the book unless I am really blocked for ideas. I go solely based on the author’s information because this is the author’s vision I am creating not mine. I am just trying to bring it to life. With multiple ideas from the author I choose the one that stands out the hardest in my head. If it grabs my attention then it must be a good place to start. Sometimes I have to force (not sure that is the right word) the vision to come to me, but by the time the cover is final I usually see what I should have from the start. That didn’t make sense outside my head. LOL
Susan: What happens if you and the author aren’t on the same page? Has that ever happened where an author just is not happy h what you have come up with? How do you work through it? What are the most mock ups you have done?
Kelly: Surprisingly enough it is very rare for me not to be on the same page as the author on the cover. It has happened, but doesn’t seem like very often. I can tell when I go back to look at a cover that the author is just not going to like it. Of course I can be surprised and the author loves what I have done and I still want to make changes. When an author and I just can’t work out a cover I usually have someone else look at the mockups and get their opinion. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it is nice to get an outside opinion to see if a vision comes to me. I had one cover that I did 32 times before we had a final. (None of our awesome Musa authors!) I now limit because by 15 both of us were frustrated and not making art, just noise. So I try to limit the mockups created.
Thanks, Kelly, for those answers! If you’d like to read more about Kelly and her position as art director at Musa, please check out her blog post on the MUSA site.
You can see more of Kelly’s covers and explore more of Musa’s offerings at www.musapublishing.com