Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Cover Design: The Creative Process

[Guest post by Solaire]

Where is the starting point for your cover design? And how do you get the final result to look like the picture in your head?
While I am no expert in any way when it comes to designing book covers, I can take you through my personal designing process and try to give you a few tips on the way.

So, the cover for my sister’s upcoming first novel, which will be published through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing this May, was my very first cover design. And this is the path that I followed in order to create it:
-        Reading the book (of course)   
-        Brainstorming ideas to come up with a concept 
-          Doing research
-          Drawing a rough sketch
-          Scanning and editing the cover on the computer

1) The Concept

After you have read the book and gotten an idea of what it is about – and ideally taken a few notes about characters or settings –, it is time to do some brainstorming. Who or what do you want to feature on the cover? It can be something abstract, so the focus will be on the title. You could choose for the main character to be front and center or, especially when it comes to fantasy or science-fiction, feature an artwork that shows a glimpse of the world you created. If you're into photography, you might even put one of your works on the cover. The possibilities are more or less endless, the difficult task is to find out what's best for your specific book.

2) Doing Research

After – or, even better, during – the initial brainstorming phase, I learned a lot from the research I did online. In one video by Random House that I found quite helpful, a few of their designers talked about the process of cover design and also show which stages a few of them went through before publication. Some of my personal favourites are the designs for Ben Marcus’s books created by Peter Mendelsund. He is also the designer who, in my view, gave quite an important tip when he said that a character should never be shown in full on a book’s cover or jacket, in order to leave some room for the readers’ imagination.

3) Sketching

Before even starting up my graphic program, I use a good old pen and some paper and get sketching. The more ideas you have and bring to paper, the better, because during this stage, you should always check back with the author and get his or her feedback. For me, this came naturally, since my sister was the author and was also present when we discussed possible ideas.
This initial sketch can be quite abstract, as illustrated in the picture below, the important part is that you get it on paper and that you yourself have a clear picture of what you doodled there in your head.

First 'idea' draft.

For “Celtic Forest”, I actually didn’t have to do much sketching, because one picture had come into my mind sometime after reading the final draft of the manuscript, and both of my sisters (one the author of the book and the other fellow beta reader, marketing executive etc.) immediately liked it, so we decided to go to the next stage.

4) Editing

Most people will probably use a design program like Adobe Photoshop for this part, but I chose Jasc Paint Shop Pro 7, since I was already familiar with it.
For me, the decision to colour the picture on the computer was mostly based on the thought that this way, I could easily make changes to it if necessary. And also because my skills with watercolours are rather limited…

"Celestia" - tracing the outlines with black pen.
Black outline of the 'forest'.

So, at this stage, the process will be quite different, depending on your cover design. In my case, I went from one ‘layer’ of the picture to the next. At first, I started colouring the trees and simply trying out a few of the graphic program’s functions. From there, I went on to colouring the leaves, the forest ground, the snow etc. 

Colouring of the tree trunks.
The figure that I chose to be in the center of the picture was drawn separately and was the last layer that I inserted when the background was finished. Some of you might notice that, even though I mentioned Mendelsund’s tip before, about avoiding to show characters in full on a cover, I still decided to incorporate Celestia, one of the story’s main characters, in my design. However, I tried to avoid showing her face, plus I think that, since it is not a photo but a drawing, there is still lots of room for imagination.

5) The Finishing Touches

The very last thing left to do after I had finished the cover was to add the text. I left that task to one of my sisters, since she is more skilled when it comes to fonts.
Usually, the text on the cover comprises of at least the book title and the author’s name, as well as the name of the publishing house, if you’re not planning on self-publishing your work – and voilà! Your book is ready to be published – as long as you’ve finished everything else…
As for the final result of my cover designing process, it will probably be revealed some time in May, shortly before the actual release of "The Farnir Chronicles - Part 1: Celtic Forest".
As a final note, to see how fun this process of designing a book cover can be, I recommend you watch designer Chip Kidd’s TED talk from March 2012: “Designing a book is no laughing matter. OK, it is”.

And lastly, here are some of my favourite book covers, many of which convinced me to have a look at the books’ blurbs in the first place:

by Marissa Meyer
by Kerstin Gier
"Seide und Schwert"
by Kai Meyer
by Eva Völler
"The Night Circus"
by Erin Morgenstern
"These Broken Stars"
by Amie Kaufman

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