Greetings, Carnival of the Indies visitors! You can check out what the finished product looks like by visiting its Amazon page or continuing to read. And definitely check out the other great articles featured in this month’s Carnival as well.
(Part 2 of my continuing series on the new novel, leading up to the big announcement on Friday)
The great part about self-publishing is you get to take responsibility over decisions traditionally left to a big publisher: editing, layout, cover design, etc. As it turns out, that’s also the daunting part. None of us got into this gig because we love obsessing over bleed lines.
When it came time to design the cover, I turned to Ryan Sawyer, who I’d worked with before in promoting Discount Shakespeare. He’d done up some catchy, colorful postcards that I really liked. We had a good relationship: friendly enough that we both felt compelled to give each other our best work and feedback, but not so friendly that we’d have a hard time asking for invoices or deadlines1.
Having worked in the ad industry for years, I knew the frustration of dealing with vague client feedback (“I like it, but can you make it … pop a bit more?”). So now that I was a client, the first thing I did was to create as specific a list of guidelines as I could for my book cover. This was tough for me, as I knew the motif that I was going for – paperback thriller cover – but not the specific vision.
I told Ryan the following:
+ Generally dark, muted colors: blacks, nighttime blues, blood reds, etc.
+ Title in block letters, author’s name in smaller letters beneath
+ The novel is about a female reporter investigating a disappearance. So a female silhouette in an action pose (running, or looking over her shoulder, etc) would work. Just an idea; not at all required.
+ Also just an idea: city skyline (doesn’t have to be of Boston, though novel is set there), lake cabin surrounded by trees (critical portions of the novel take place at Lake Winnipesaukee), suburban house with front door ajar (double homicide takes place here). If any of these are used, a color filter or wash should be applied (see first bullet).
+ Also, the female protagonist is a photographer, so if any of the above is captured through a camera lens / reticule, that’s fine too. Again, just an idea, not at all required.
+ The general appearance I want is “would not look out of place in an airport bookstore.”
After a few days, Ryan came back with the following (click for larger version):
Of these, I thought the first had potential. I really liked the second, but told Ryan it was a little grittier than I had in mind. The third seemed like something I was sure I’d seen before. Ryan was almost apologizing as he sent it, so we discarded that one early on.
Over the next 4 weeks, we went back and forth on several variations of #1, Ryan actually going so far as to track down a real Glock to photograph. I liked them all, but they looked a little static. Nothing about them commanded attention.
And I couldn’t stop thinking about the second version.
By the time I had the penultimate draft of Too Close to Miss ready, I was already thinking about the next book. So every thought I had about the production process was colored by how I would market a series2. And the more I thought about design #2, the more I thought it would work in a series. The same bold title up top. The same test pattern background, but with different color bars. And some different element of violence as a garnish – a bloodstain, a burn mark, a jagged tear.
What turned me off of design #2 initially was that Ryan, craftsman that he is, had made the blood spatter frighteningly realistic. It had texture. If I saw someone lying asleep on the couch with that book on their chest, my reaction would be, oh shit, what happened? So I asked him to tone the blood spatter down, putting it behind the title. We also did some back and forth on the width of the maroon bar at the bottom that had my name in it, as well as fonts and sizes.
The final result:
The process of turning a book from manuscript to novel had become a bit of a slog. But seeing that got my heart racing. That’s a professional cover. If this were a paperback book, that would jump out on the shelf. I felt proud to have that cover introducing my work3.
1 By which I mean: Sylvia is also a graphic designer, but I would never ask her to design a cover for me, largely because I don’t want to subject our relationship to my perfectionism. “I’d love to get a drink, sweetie, but shouldn’t you be experimenting with font sizes? Isn’t that a better use of your time?”
2. For instance, the next two books in the series are already titled. Each of the titles is four words. Try and guess what the first and third words are.
3. What I’m saying is, hire Ryan Sawyer to design your book covers.