Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Adventures in Cover Art - Pt 1


Okay, I’ll admit it.  With all due respect to the artist, I never cared for the original cover of SHADES OF THE PAST (1999 Signet edition).  In truth, I believed it to have been created for another book altogether and then, for whatever reason, reassigned to mine.  Note the hero’s long flowing hair (my hero, Adrian, is an English viscount in the year 1882). The man on the cover rides bare-chested with a “baldric” across his torso — a wide leather strap that would affix to his belt to support the weight of a broad sword, sheathed at his side.  (Adrian would have used pistols at dawn).  Then there’s the horse, a beauty to be sure, but it is clearly an American Palomino. (My English viscount rides a black stallion named Sampson.) The one detail on the cover that is in keeping with my story is the tiny building in the distance (visible left of the horse’s tail), suggesting an architectural ruin or “folly”, both of which are to be found at my viscount’s estate, Royal Sherringham. At least there’s that.

When I mentioned the discrepancies to my editor, she assured me the cover was painted for my book, not another, and that she didn’t think readers would be so “picky”. As it happened, I did get mail and more than a few comments!

Fast forward to 2012. When I decided to venture into the bold new world of self-publishing, one of the great delights was the opportunity to give SHADES a new cover. This challenge quickly became a collaborative family affair. Thankfully, our oldest son is an experienced web designer, ebook author and cover designer (for his own works). Added to that, my newly-retired techno-husband was willing to learn Photoshop and help out. I brought an art background to the mix, both in applied art and a degree in Art History.  Greatest fun of all, being the author I got total input and the final say on the new cover!

In developing the new cover design, I especially wanted to emphasize the mystery aspect of the novel.  As I’ve previously written, SHADES is a classic Victorian Gothic Romance — dark brooding lord, heroine in peril, remote location, castle full of ghosts — in essence, strong on the mystery with a love story at its core, and hauntingly atmospheric.

In gathering ideas, I scoured through tons of fiction covers, current and past, to test which stood out from the others and why, what appealed most, successful color combinations, etc.  I quickly fell in love with Sharon Donovan’s cover, CHARADE OF HEARTS, featuring a pair of eyes, gazing out from a cloudy evening sky. Below appears a mountain and sea where divers search the waters, presumably for the heart shaped jewel, prominently featured. I loved the concept, and especially loved the mysterious eyes. To utilize the motif for SHADES, a castle would take the place of the mountain.  No water was required.

Our next search led us to websites offering royalty-free photos.  At, we found a woman with beautiful eyes and castles that might serve as Royal Sherringham.  Here are two early “mock ups” for the cover, the castle and daylight view being preferred by my husband and son.

While I loved the eyes, the bright sky did not possess the atmospheric quality I desired, nor did the castle fit my idea of Royal Sherringham. This sent me on a fresh search for a castle set against a darkish sky, filled with clouds for added interest.  Here are two more “mock-ups” that resulted from that exercise:

We also continued to play with the placement of the fonts and quotes, and blocking portions of the cover off with bands of color. Better I thought. The fellows did not agree. Admittedly, the castle still did not match what I’d envisioned as Royal Sherringham.

When we tested our sample covers on neighbors and friends, their preference, time and again, was for the bright, daylight scene. But none of the covers worked, to my mind.  In the darker picture which I’d preferred to that time, the castle looked “dirty” and still needed at least one good tower to be in line with the story. Off I went on another search.

At last, I found the sky and castle view I was after with a sunrise photo of Leeds Castle. I love its lavenders and blues. Also, the castle possesses wonderful towers.  Here is our next attempt at a new cover for SHADES:

Now, if you’ll go back and examine the castles on the different covers, you’ll discover they are all Leeds Castle! The photos were taken at different times of day, from different vantages. 

When my husband and I presented our latest artistic achievement to our son, he was slow to reply.  “Hmmm, something is missing,” he said.

He was quite right.  In so wanting to emphasize the mystery element of the novel, I’d left out an equally important component — the love story that is at the heart of this mystery.  Smacking myself upside of the head, I scurried off to Jimmy Thomas’ website, Romance Novel Covers, to see what I might find.  Jimmy came through with just the right pose, perfect hair (for Adrian), gorgeous coat, and a beautiful blonde in his arms.  Here is the next updated cover: 

We were getting close to a finished cover, but there were still a few additions and changes to be made. The entire image needed to be lightened, the castle “straightened” (due to the perspective, it looked to be sinking on one side). Fonts, banner, flourishes and quotes were also added. Voilá, finally, we had our cover. Front cover, that is. That is all that is required for the eBook editions. For the print version, however, we needed to also create a full cover flat, including the spine and back cover.  Here is the final cover for SHADES (eBook version): 

Next week, my husband will join us and contribute the first of several articles on the technical aspects, details, and tidbits we’ve learned in creating the cover art for SHADES OF THE PAST. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. How frustrating it has to be when you find yourself with a cover that doesn't reflect at all the spirit of your book ... and how very exciting it is to see all the stages that led to the final cover !
    In general, does the choice of the tittle is left to the editor , I wonder ? because it's another important part!