Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Confessions of a Cover Artist

Confessions of a cover artist. How to make your book beautiful and increase your selling potential.
By Tamra Westberry

You've sold your first book, or maybe your tenth book – Congratulations! You've spent weeks, months, years crafting your baby and now a publisher is going to breathe life into it by putting it on the market for readers to enjoy.


That is, as long as you have a marketable cover. Because yes, it's true, we writers know that sometimes bad covers happen to good books. If this happens to you, don't panic. There are some steps you can take to hopefully fix it before it hits the shelves. But first, let's look at a few things you can do to prevent disaster before your cover is even made.

As a cover artist and a writer, I am in the unique position of viewing the production process from two angles. I realize that each time I make a cover, it costs me time, and my publisher money, which is why I strive to get the cover right the first time. Sometimes, it's not always easy when the writer gives me limited information on the manuscript information sheet.

Example: My heroine has blonde hair, my hero has brown hair, and I want them kissing in the trees.

I can easily envision ten scenes from this. What length is the hair? Is it wavy or straight? What are they wearing? What kind of trees? Is there snow? Are they sitting in the trees or near them?

Then, of course, there's the writer who bogs down the cover artist with three pages of description and important details can easily be overlooked as we're shifting through the information. Keep it simple, but don't leave out important details.

Example: My heroine has long, wavy blonde hair and my hero's dark brown hair is in a crew-cut. It is summer, so they are wearing hiking shorts and t-shirts. I envision them in a tender embrace along a hiking trail in evergreen woods.

Keep in mind though, that many epublishers and now even some NY publishers are using stock photography for their covers. Sometimes, these stock photos don't have the exact models you want. I work for an epub and although we have a large supply of stock photography, I might find a similar couple in jeans, but not in shorts. That's why you should list three cover options on your manuscript information sheet. Just remember to keep all the pertinent information, without making the request too lengthy.

So what if you get your cover, and it's still not what you expected? What if you gave your cover artist three options, and she's got a woman with brown hair in a parka kissing a guy with blond hair beneath snowy pines?

First option – Panic. Second option – Bury your head in a hole. Third option – Try reasoning with your editor and the graphics department.

Third option is usually your best bet. Some publishers won't let you contact the cover artist. That's understandable. If you can't get a message directly to the cover artist, ask your editor to forward your concerns to your artist. Just follow these three guidelines when composing your message: Don't panic, be polite, and point out the positive.

'Is this some kind of joke? This is the ugliest cover I've ever seen!!!' probably won't get you your desired results.

Here's another approach: First of all, I think the font on the book is just beautiful. Even though I thought the snow capped trees were lovely, my story takes place in the summer, and that setting doesn't fit the book. Because it is so warm outside, my heroine and hero only wear shorts and t-shirts throughout the book. Also, although the hair length for the hero and heroine is correct, my heroine has blonde hair and my hero has brown hair. I would appreciate if you could make those changes to my cover, as I want my cover to reflect the story inside.
Thank you, _________ Author

As a graphic artist, I'm always the critic, and I've seen some pretty bad covers out there. I've also made some bad covers. We writers have written bad chapters that we've had to toss. Maybe we didn't even realize it until our critique groups pointed it out. Hopefully, your critique group let you down easy, pointed out the good as well as the bad. Cover artists should be treated the same way. I've had writers ask me to make changes and I made those changes, realizing that the original cover didn't reflect the book.

Later, if you are happy with your cover, send a thank you note to the artist. You never know if that person will design the cover for your next book. You can also request her as your artist on your next contract.

However, not all cover artists will be accommodating. Sometimes, the publisher is on a deadline or maybe can't spend the extra money to buy the art or pay the models. Or maybe the artist/publisher doesn't see a need to change your cover.

According to a recent poll at http://www.livejournal.com/HYPERLINK "http://www.livejournal.com/poll/?id=1007999teresareasor@msn.com" Poll 1007999, book promotion 101, sixty-three percent of readers have bought a book based on a cover. Ironically, Teresa Reasor was the author who posted this information on my readers' loop. The original cover I made for her historical romance, Highland Moonlight, didn't reflect her story at all. I was glad she asked me to change it, because her new cover is one of my personal favorites.

Update: After my last blog, authors wanted to know what sells on covers. I polled 30 authors from all genres at TWRP as well as my local RWA writers' group, asking them to list their five most important cover art aspects. The top rated element is cover matching the theme of the book (100 percent), followed by the composition of the cover (97 percent). Clean graphic artistry (You can't tell where the head of one guy was pasted onto the body of another, etc.) came in at 97 percent as well. Writers also want the cover to have vibrant colors (90 percent). A hot male body came in as the fifth most important element at 40 percent. If your art work has all five elements, you've got a smokin' cover! This validates my personal belief that bold colors and hot guys sell well.


Tamra Westberry is a cover artist for The Wild Rose Press. You may check out some of her covers and her YA paranormal series, Whispers, by visiting http://www.tarawest.com/ .


Helen said...

Wonderful post, Tamra! I'm in the same situation - writer and artist - and you're spot on about all these things. I would rather get the cover art right for an author. A simple message letting me know what needs to be changed is all it takes, and I'm happy to do the changes. But artists do need to know the important details to create a cover. Leave those out, and you can depend on not getting the cover you want!

Tamra said...

Thanks, Helen. It can be frustrating when an author is vague about what she wants and then is unhappy with her cover. I want to make all authors happy, but they need to understand that each change takes money, not to mention time away from other covers.

Having been with my company for two years now, I have developed great relationships with several writers. They know what I need to make their covers and I have worked wtih them enough to understand their tastes.

Terry Odell said...

Gee, Tamra, I can remember when short stories at TWRP didn't get covers at all. My first two were generic 'nothings'. Just the title, my name (which is still cool!) and the color coding of the line. Then they added the little icons, but a short while ago I got a surprise when RJ sent me brand new "real" covers for my older titles.

As an author, I can't really 'see' a cover, and I struggle with the information sheets. Once I see the cover, I can say, 'hmmm... that's close, BUT...' It's nice when the artists will work with authors, although I understand the time constraints.

I've got a release in December from Five Star, and I turned in the cover request form. I thought the artist was going to get back to me, but all of a sudden, I got an email with the cover. That was it. It doesn't look exactly like the scene in the book, but it's close, and I can't blame him for not reading my mind that the scene was in early spring, which I never thought to mention. So, it looks really wintery. But it does capture the mood, which I think is probably the most important thing a cover can do.

I'm also noticing a LOT of monochromatic covers lately.