Sunday, October 11, 2009

Designing a Book Cover

When I self-published my first novel, Shadows in the Mist, back in 2006, I formed my own publishing company and switched from being novel writer to being publisher and art director of a product I was bringing to the market. My novel is a supernatural thriller set during World War II. I was an unknown author at that time. So I decided the cover had to be good enough to compete with all the other novel covers out there grabbing people's attention. I also wanted bookstores and readers to take my self-published book seriously. More than anything I wanted a book I was proud to share with the world, so I invested most of my publishing money into the cover design. The investment paid off. My book not only won a gold medal in an international contest, within one year it got bought by Berkley/Penguin for a small paperback deal and also by a German publisher to be translated in German. For any writer considering self-publishing, my advice is hire the best in the business to design and illustrate the cover. Below you will see the various stages my covers went through from initial sketches to final products.

When I self-published the trade paperback version, I had the great privilege to work with two talented, award-winning artists--cover designer, Kathi Dunn, and illustrator and painter, Les Edwards. Kathi Dunn was awesome to work with as she designed the layout of the cover and offered professional guidance throughout the process. She and her associates not only know how to design an eye-catching cover, they also understand the publishing business and what makes a cover sell books. It was Kathi who recommended that I hire an illustrator to paint a cover that would bring out the story. To see more of her award-winning covers, check out Kathi Dunn's website.

I researched a dozen illustrators, looking at portfolio after portfolio of paintings from some of the best cover artists in the industry. It was easy to find great talent, but I wanted to find an artist who would capture the essence of my story and appeal to the readers of horror and supernatural thrillers. Fortunately, I came across the website of Les Edwards. I was stunned to see that I recognized many of the paintings from books and movie posters that date as far back as my early childhood. He's illustrated countless Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and horror covers for bestselling authors like Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, Graham Masterson, and Anne McCaffery. He has won several awards. And he painted a movie poster to one of my all-time favorite movies, John Carptenter's The Thing. As I studied his portfolio, I was blown away by his use of light and shadow, color, texture, and details. The paintings seemed to magically take on a life of their own. I knew I'd found my illustrator and was thrilled to see Les was still taking on projects. I contacted Les' wonderful wife, Val, we negotiated a deal, and Les got to work reading my novel and sketching a first draft. You can see the evolution below. After reading my novel, Les Edwards sketched out this drawing for me to approve the concept. The pencil drawing alone had given me chills. After seeing so many of his breathtaking paintings, I had faith that Les would turn this pencil sketch into something magical.

My instincts were correct, and still I was blown away by the painting. It was better than I could have imagined. There are so many details and nuances to the piece if you look real closely. I was thrilled and didn't change a thing. Les Edwards had delivered an awesome painting on the first attempt. Next step was to send the illustration to my cover designer, Kathi Dunn.

Once Kathi had the artwork, she designed the front cover first. With a skilled designer's eye, she came up with the title fonts that best portrayed the novel and went with Les' painting. Kathi designed the spine and back months later, because that design stage requires having all the back cover copy finalized. After I received some reviews from authors who read the book, I selected the best quotes to put on the cover. I also wrote up a teaser to the story.

Lastly, we added all the necessary elements that the book selling world requires: category, price, ISBN#, bar code, designer credits, and publisher and author websites. Having an artist as revered as Les Edwards paint Shadows in the Mist's cover was an author's dream come true. To see many samples of his book covers, check out Les Edwards' website.

In 2007, I signed a deal with Berkley/Penguin to re-release Shadows in the Mist as a small paperback. They assigned the book an art director to give the cover a whole new look. Illustrator Eric Williams was hired to paint the cover. He's an award-winning artist who has an impressive body of work. Eric, along with my art director, made the cover even scarier, bringing out the horror elements of the novel. I was ecstatic to see how Eric applied his unique style to my story. He first sketched it by hand.

Eric then painted the final piece in Photoshop. I love his brush strokes and the layers of texture he applied to give the cover a mystical feeling.

After the painting was complete, Berkley's design department added the title accented with black phoenixes to reference the Nazi occult element to the story.

Below was Eric's original design with glowing eyes. I actually prefer this version, but instead the publisher went with the second version directly above. See more of illustrator Eric Williams' amazing art at

Below is the German version of my novel which releases in Austria and Germany through Otherworld Verlag in February, 2010.

And there you have it, the evolution of a novel cover from concept to finished product. Shadows in the Mist is available through all booksellers:, Borders, and Barnes and Noble.

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