Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Cover Artist Speaketh!

Books need good covers. That's no secret, and I'm glad to have had a not-so-secret weapon in my pocket since October. That weapon is my cover designer, Leigh. I'm very fortunate in that she designs my covers. She has dedicated untold hours to helping me put the best face possible on my books. The time and effort she has put into my projects is something I don't think anyone else would've been willing to do. She has collaborated with me on all my covers except my first two releases, "Strange Bedfellows" and "The Odd Couple."

And here she is today for an interview! :-) Some interesting tidbits in there (did you know that Anne on the "Third" cover and June on the "Switch" cover have my eye color? Yep!).

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to do my covers.
Hello everyone! My name’s Leigh, I’m 34, Sign: Cancer. I’m not a professional illustrator or graphics designer. I do some graphics design mostly as a hobby. I have had some formal classroom training through non-certification courses offered by a local community college on the weekends and the rest I’ve learned via online resources and tutorials.

How did all this get started with the book covers? Well, it all started back around the end of last August with me and you discussing your newly released novel "Strange Bedfellows" and about some of your anticipated upcoming works. A couple of months went by and you were looking to release "Waiting" really soon, but there was a problem; the cover was not ready.

The book cover for "Waiting" had suffered some unfortunate difficulties and delays. You at that point had decided to go ahead and do the cover yourself with a cover concept that you had already drafted up, but needed someone with the right software to do the finalization. I offered to do it and within a few days we had our present working cover.

Since then we have kind of just always done the book covers in collaboration. It hasn’t always been easy. I have often felt overwhelmed and many times one or both of us have been very frustrated. Things go wrong: the background image isn’t right or the typography doesn’t work or even just about everything’s right with what we have but there is some little element that is just so wrong and we have to scrap the whole project.

All in all, it has worked out quite well. Once we get synched on a base design, it’s done within a couple of days. It has been a learning experience for me and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to do it.

You said before you're not a creative person. Has that opinion changed?
Maybe a little. I've still got a long ways to go before trying to do illustration in any professional sense. I have however found that maybe there is a muse somewhere in me, but she's really hard headed.

I enjoy working with graphics and maybe some day I might look more into doing book covers or something similar on a more regular basis.

For now, just working with me is enough, right? You're not looking for more clients?
I have to limit myself a lot right now especially in light of the fact that I'm going back to school near the end of may. After that I may be able to expand farther. Time will tell.

You usually haven't read the book before doing the cover. Sometimes the book isn't even entirely written (or as in the case of "Switch," started). Do you think reading the book beforehand makes a difference one way or the other? I have to admit I like having the covers done really early. It's a motivator for me and helps me get the book finished sooner.
Reading the book never really has been a factor for me. A good blurb or even just the overall idea of what the book is going to be is pretty much enough.

I need some basic info to get the cover started:

1.) Character ages, general appearance, etc.

2.) General time frame the novel occurs in. For example the "Third" cover image was geared towards the far past and "All in the Family" was very near past [current times].

3.) A general feel for the tone/mood of the book. I don't want to create a dark sinister theme for a book that is not going to be that way.

Reading the book may be of help if I was wanting to add in some kind of special symbology or tokens into the cover graphics like the necklace on the "Strange Bedfellows" cover that Joy [Argento] did.

Yeah, I think it helps a lot that I tell you the general concept that I see possible for the cover (like the reflections in "Switch"). The hourglass necklace on the "Strange Bedfellows" cover was my idea, by the way, but Joy wanted to read the book before starting on the cover. That prompted the above question, really. I love the "Miss Lucy Parker" cover, and you pretty much did that all yourself, including the concept. Anyway, I really like that you believe in me as a writer. You feel a special affinity for most of my stuff, and I think that shows through in the covers and the care they get and display. Can you expand a bit on that?
Well, I do believe in you as a writer and have developed a special interest in--let me correct you--all of your works.

As to how it affects me in creating the covers is twofold:

First, having a special connection to the particular book that I’m trying to create a cover for sets up a sense of personal responsibility for me to make that cover as absolutely perfect as it can possibly be and then to go that one step further to make sure it stands out above all the others.

Secondly, just having a fondness for the genre or the nature of any given book drives me to make very special effort in the creation of a cover for it. I don’t think I would have much interest (right now) in doing covers for books like say ~ westerns.

I realize that professional illustrators are called on to do covers for books that they may not necessarily like or care about and I applaud them for that capability. I hope that someday in the future I will be able to take the reins on any project I’m called on to do.

On a last note, I think some of my attention given to covers has to do with the fact that my muse, besides being hard-headed, also has O.C.D.

Which cover is your favorite and what was the process for it?
The cover for "Third" is my favorite so far, but the cover for "Switch" was my favorite to do. The process for making the "Third" cover was actually very difficult at the start. Coming up with the background imagery for this cover required both of looking through hundreds (possibly thousands) of images to find what we wanted.

We started with a concept of having three women on the cover, but that turned out to be somewhat unrealistic because the image we wanted simply couldn’t be found or the creation of the cover would have been too cost prohibitive.

We changed gears and decided to go after a single image for Anne Boleyn. Somehow I managed to find this image that I simply loved and you found some alternatives that I didn’t even know existed. We agreed on the one [alternative] you see on the book cover presently. [Side note from me: I was torn between two of the alternatives. I was leaning toward one, and Leigh was leaning toward the other. We brought in my wife as the tie-breaking vote. She went with Leigh's selection. We've also had to bring in Melanie for a few other tiebreakers. More often than not, she goes with what Leigh preferred. ;-) ]

There were some modifications that needed to be made to the cover image to make it the final product and this is the rough breakdown:

1.) The eye color needed to be changed: I grabbed a sample of your eye color and used it.

2.) The hair need to be filled in around the area of the part of her hair (she had a really severe part in her hair). I grabbed some patterns of my hair and use them to fill in the part to soften it.

3.) The image needed to be cropped and re-sized to focus more on Anne and less of the background.

4.) Beyond that it was just creating the gold typography and a lot of little adjustments till we got the perfect cover.

The vast majority of this cover was created in Photoshop CS5 with a little external work done in Adobe Illustrator CS5.

So, "Switch" was your favorite project, right?
Yes. It has been the most technically challenging so far.

Finding the working image for "Switch" was just as hard as all the previous covers, but I found this really cool background and knew that it was the one.

It was a very striking image and I just knew it would catch people’s attention. There were changes that needed to be made though. We needed two women on the cover who were similar looking, but not exactly the same, and we wanted some imagery of how they were reflections of each other, but not the same person.

This is how we went about it once we found the base background image:

1.) The original image had only one woman on the cover, so I duplicated it, flipped it and moved it over to the other side of the picture.

2.) The next part was to create the subtle differences between the two women. I changed aspects like eye color, facial shapes, lipstick, skin tones, eyebrows, etc. [Side note: Leigh used my eye color for June on the "Switch" cover, like she did with Anne for the "Third" cover.]

3.) We wanted a title typography that reflected the nature of the story behind "Switch. It needed to show similarity but difference at the same time. You figured that one out. We went with a reflected title that used two similar, but different fonts.

The cover for "Switch" was the most challenging I had ever tried due to the numerous subtle alterations which need to be made to make it a finished product, but it was fun and a definite learning challenge.

So, which book of mine is your favorite?
Well, since the Sasquatch series is still on hold, I think I'll go with "Third."  "Third" appealed to that side of me that loves plots that are unusual or complex or unique. It definitely appealed to the hopeless romantic and the sci-fi geek girl in me. And as you know I've totally got a crush on Anne. 

I think it's interesting that a hopeless romantic would find "it" in a polyamory book. I know we discussed this before, and you don't think poly is for you. I love that my poly book appeals to the hopeless romantics too. I'm gonna make a sales plug for "Third" right now: the love story is a love story, poly aside. Please give it a chance. :-) Before "Third," your favorite was "Waiting," right?
Yep, "Waiting" is actually a very close equal as far as I'm concerned. Everyone is going to have their favorites and even though I may not see myself in a polyamorous relationship doesn't discount the fact that love can exist between more than two people.  "Waiting" was that book that made my ears perk up and made me wonder "What's this gal all about and what are the future possibilities? Maybe I should stay tuned." 

Hmm, really? I thought "Strange Bedfellows" was (the first book by me that you read). You wrote such a long and eloquent review on it and friended me on Facebook. I guess you needed another book to confirm.
You are actually kinda right. With "Strange Bedfellows" I was intrigued; with "Waiting" I was hooked.

What are your favorite and least favorite aspects about making covers?
Funny you should mention that, considering my primary love/hate thing about book covers are so closely related. One the worst things about doing a book cover is finding the perfect background image. I’ve personally reviewed hundreds if not thousands of images trying to find one that is appealing and most notably workable. I know you’ve done the same with these covers.

One of the best things about doing a book cover is finding that perfect background image. That is the most wonderful feeling ever, because you know at this point that we can get it moving. Everything is finally falling into place.

Beyond all this, I guess the next up and down is typography. The title and author name must be readable and attractive and the placement is so very important. Everything else is pretty straightforward because once you have your base cover, all you have to do is season to taste.

So I guess you're not at a point where you can go out and photograph yourself the perfect background image?
No, I'm not ready to do that yet. I enjoy working with graphics and that's enough for me.

You said before that you like having success through me. How does it feel knowing that 25,000+ customers (and growing) have seen your cover work?
Well, I love it! And it at the same time makes me very nervous. I want readers to enjoy the covers, but I always worry that some may not. I don't know how to describe it very well, but the covers are not for me. They are for the readers out there. I want to make something that they can keep on their bookshelves or coffee table and proudly display. If they can't show it off with a smile then I've failed.

So, proudly display, bookshelves, coffee table? Does that mean you won't do nudity or heavily suggestive covers?
Nudity can be beautiful. I think you might remember some of the cover ideas that we had at first for "Third." I would definitely do nude covers as long as they are artistic and appealing.

No porno-type covers, eh?
Hehe, no sorry!

OK, we're about done here. Anything you want to add or say?
No matter how much you think you can't do something, you just need the chance to try once. Make the decision then. I didn't think I could do this kind of thing with the covers, but you gave me the chance to try. I made the decision that I could possibly do it after that.

I just want to say thank you again for all your time and effort and for believing in me. Thank you very much! :)


Annnd, there ya have it. :-)


Cheri said...

I love Leigh's work and I can't wait to see more of it as she gets even more confident in her abilities.

Great job, Leigh!

Karen said...

The cover of "Third" is beautiful! It is fun to read some of the background work that went into it. Keep up the good work, Leigh. You have a talent for this!