The Making of a Book Cover

Years ago, my then tweenaged daughter was invited by the folks at the delightful bookstore Children’s Book World to interview author Jacqueline Kelly about her book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (one both my girls would recommend, both in print and audio). Since my daughter was only eleven, I came along. When the discussion centered on the book cover, I was surprised to learn that while Kelly felt lucky to have suggested the woodcut style for her cover, authors rarely have much input into the cover design of their books.

While I suppose it makes sense on some levels to hand this over to marketing and design experts, when it came time to publish my first novel I was glad that going indie meant I could have full control.

I was quite happy at the beginning of the process, and in the end. But in the middle, it was hard to be the one to make choices that could make or break the success of the book.

So, I thought I’d share how all this went down for readers who might be interested and for other authors (who can hopefully learn from my missteps).

First task: study current design styles in the genre. For me, a difficult part of my process overall was pinpointing this book’s genre. I started out writing a 3rd person romance. A year and a half in, I decided to switch the point of view to first person, which was surging in popularity. Then I noticed that the Romantic Comedy sub-genre seemed to have been nicked from the movies to replace the somewhat offensive Chick Lit sub-genre. (See “Chick Lit,” Genre or Insult? and Chick lit? Hate the term. Love the genre for more on that subject.) Since Romantic Comedy could embrace my not-quite-contemporary-not-quite-historical setting, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

And I loved the rom-com covers – the colorful, quirky, illustrated covers.

I was determined to have one.

Trick was finding a designer who would work with an indie author. After checking the copyright pages of the books whose covers I loved, I did my best to contact the designers. But most of them aren’t freelancers, they worked for a publishing house. Often, there are two people involved; an illustrator and a designer.

Thankfully, after many internet searches, I found Lana Pecherczyk and Bookcoverology all the way across the world in Australia. Lana is an illustrator and a designer (and a writer – we had such fun working together that I’ll be recording her first audiobook), and she was excited about the 80’s theme. So we got to work. First we talked about illustration styles. Lana had the idea to use the Aha video of Take on Me as an inspiration.

Which led me to the 80’s artist Dennis Mukai’s work.

I sent her character descriptions, a synopsis and lots of images, including these for my main characters.

One of the most exciting moments of my new writing venture was opening the email attachment with this drawing of my characters.

It was like I was seeing the characters I’d created in my head for the first time, perfectly rendered.

Then I made my first mistake: I got a bit too literal with the elements I thought should be there to give readers hints about the story. Everything from a vest (Will always wears one but in the design it kind of made him look like a crossing guard), to a motorcycle helmet (he’s not a total beta hero but the helmet just wasn’t reading), to a skyline (it’s an urban setting but Boston just doesn’t have an iconic skyline), to a bust of Shakespeare (important but I don’t know why I thought it should be tipped over).

Thankfully, Lana was willing to work through a LOT of drafts to get a design where the various elements would give hints about the setting, characters and themes without being visually distracting, but most importantly where we get that these two people are fated to fall in love, but will have to work to make their strong connection a lasting relationship.

Then we had to figure out the font. Big mistake number two coming. Fonts have trends and say a lot, it turns out. I thought I’d done my research but after some feedback from trusted sources, we just went too far and too literal in trying to create an 80’s vibe with the neon and the shading of this font, losing what makes the cover current to readers.

Again, patient Lana tried out another batch of fonts for me and we settled on this Pretty in Pink font, but in what I’m calling the “Karen Grey” gray color – with a few faded areas to give it a vintage feel. Finally, we had a winner (with at least twenty more variations on the above themes emailed back and forth in the process).

The book releases June 23, 2020 and will be available in paperback, ebook and audiobook (CDs and digital download) at all retailers. Ebooks are available for pre-order now at Kobo, Amazon and Barnes & Noble now and other pre-orders are coming soon. Follow Karen Grey on FB to get all the news.

Find out more about the book on Goodreads or Bookbub.

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