I’ve been lost in book covers the last few days.
When I get close to a launch I must work on the cover more diligently and make sure all the elements of the cover work together to do right by the story inside. I thought a few readers might be interested in this process and what gets considered along the way so I put a few notes together. I use Gimp software to create my digital cover artwork.
While I write a story I search for images and fonts and layouts that can work hard to intrigue a reader. Sometimes this process turns into procrastination, so I have to be careful. The cover needs to be attractive and draw the right kind of attention. Like great art, the mix of details must be arranged carefully for balance, color, theme, and fit within the story’s genre. The whole image, including the text, must convey the genre immediately.
A problem then becomes how to fit within all the other covers in the same genre yet be unique enough so a reader searching for New Adult will have the opportunity to consider Cabernet Zin, And so the stress builds for any author and their publisher. Writers fortunately help each other out, as feedback from Elle Casey made me reconsider a few elements, and while I was in there I refined a few more bits.
A starting point is to look at titles of the other books in the genre category and see what trends are popular and effective in cover design. The array of covers below for the New Adult genre provide some clues. Soft light and shades of blue seem popular.
With this backdrop I created several versions of the cover for Cabernet Zin. I tried other model images but this one kept my attention – the picture creates immediate interest and action, but careful cropping was needed as the original image is much larger and stretches all the way down to the model’s feet. Referencing the benchmark covers shows torsos and head shots that match well with the new cropping. The background of the rising sun behind the windows is from a picture I snapped inside a great winery, Monte De Oro in 2010 when I first sketched out the ideas for this story in my little idea file. This gorgeous winery is located in Southern California – an easy day trip from Los Angeles or San Diego. I tried barrels in the first test image but took them out later when I realized I didn’t want the models “over a barrel”! I used differing contrast levels and color boosts to reveal and change the image definition of the models. The third version I added a white light above and in the lower corner which creates a diagonal “slice” across the whole cover drawing a browser’s eye to the title. The color treatment and the added light blends the cover better with the New Adult genre the story is in – it has that feeling of well-worn jeans that know a lot of your life because they lived it with you.
Fonts are surprisingly important in cover designs and cause authors and publishers endless stress too. When looking around, the shapes of road sign text and sandwich shop logos and everywhere else reveal how the shape of the text conveys meaning for the message as much as the words. The swirly script in the tile fits with many of the other books in the genre but is a little too cramped and difficult to read in the first two versions, even after dropping “Zin” down a line. The third version changed the font of “Cabernet”. The “Zin”, which is a bit like “Sin” (wink), still retains the fantastic script shape while the bright color splash retains its importance.
My author font changes between the three versions.The first one is a serif font “it has feet!” but a bit boring for this cover with other tension involved. Version two used a thick font that contrasted well with the title but was unbalanced across the image. Version three uses a thin font with open spacing or “wide kerning” between the letters so it blends with the windows as well as faded by the light. A different serif font was used for “a novel” in the third version to separate it from the title along with subtle curly grape leaf watermarks for interest even though they are difficult to see unless viewed full sized on a tablet eReader or computer.
The main text color started as yellow intended to pop off the image but it had a weird greenish tint. That yellow was warmed up to more golden-red tone for the second version but still was not right for the genre (thanks again Elle!) Adding a light powder blue to the final version works with the complementary color popping the “Zin”. Red could have easily been chosen, but I know graphic designers get scolded for putting red over a dark background because red text looks thin and spindly.
Another item is that covers are never static. While a story needs to launch with a great cover, other things happen over time to cause changes in the artwork. Reprints, re-launches, a movie is produced based on the book, the book is pulled from one publisher and sold to another, or just regular fashion tastes will change. I like to reference Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye since it is a popular and famous hard boiled detective story yet it has been covered with many different pieces of artwork. The most recent published version is the upper right and is probably my favorite because of the font selection, but a few others are intriguing still.
Which cover tells the most about the story that waits for the reader’s discovery?
The Cabernet Zin novel will launch is this month (May 2013).
New modifications are always possible depending on feedback and sales, so stay tuned!
Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments 🙂
May 11, 2013 at 3:17 am
Hi John! Interesting post. I really like your final cover, it has some of the same dreamy feeling that a lot of the breakout NA books do. I wonder if you’ve experimented with putting the ‘zin’ in front of the Cabernet? It feels like it’s getting a little lost behind it. Anyway, just a thought. Happy release month!
April 25, 2014 at 7:37 pm
this is a great article presenting so many of the different elements that need to be considered when designing a cover!