Evolution of a Book Cover

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In traditional publishing, authors have almost no say in what goes on the cover of their books. On a few occasions, they can correct outright errors or misrepresentations, but often by the time authors see the cover image, it’s far too late in the publication process to change more than superficial details. This lack of control is one of the reasons I chose to publish my series independently (although, as I’ve noted before, I would very much like to be a hybrid author-I’d give up some of my authorial control for bigger distribution and bookstore presence!).

Many independently-publishing authors choose to purchase ready-made covers, or commission an artist/designer for their covers. Others make their covers themselves. There is something of a stigma against doing the cover yourself, because the product tends to be…bad. Most authors aren’t graphic designers or artists, and the results of their efforts, while well-intentioned, look unprofessional because they aren’t trained to do that kind of work. For anyone who is in that position, I suggest that if you really want to do your own cover, you get lots of feedback from people you trust to give you an honest opinion before you move forward with the cover. And if it doesn’t work, you can always go buy a ready-made cover for $50. Chances are, that cover won’t capture exactly what you had in mind, but it’s possible to find one that matches the spirit of your book.

Fortunately, I have a background in art, design, and graphics, so I’m coming from a stronger position in terms of creating my book covers. But that doesn’t mean I get everything right from the beginning. My experience is entirely in digital art and web graphics, so I was shocked when the first proof came back and my cover looked like it had gotten a wash of red paint.

And even before I got to the proof-copy stage, I had trouble settling on a design that I liked. My first one looked like this:


You’ll note that some of those elements made it through to the final design. The stones in the background are still there, and the text elements are in pretty much the same positions (although the fonts have changed). I’d played with the text and settled on this layout before I even saved the first file.

But there were some problems with this version, so I played around with minor additions and changes, trying to get it right.

I added a shadow effect to the text, and the swirl of magic, but it still wasn’t working. My husband said it looked like a Star Trek cover, and that the model had too much makeup on for the look I wanted. A few other people noted that the fact that I’d faded out her body (which happens often on book covers—take a look at a few, especially in speculative fiction, and see what I mean) looked weird. So I went on a hunt for a new Etta stand-in.

That brought me to this version:


I never intended this as a final cover, but it was a proof-of-concept version that showed the layout, text, and basic design premise was sound. It went through MANY versions after this, where I tried a whole bunch of things to make it look less like a few layered photographs and more like a composed image. First I played with vignettes. Then I tried blurring the images to see if that helped. I also found fonts that I liked better. Finally, I ran the cover through one of Google’s new picture tools to texturize the image and found that it gave me an awesome, almost painted look, and really made the background pop with depth and shadow.

The next few versions don’t look very different to the untrained eye, so I won’t put them up, but I did clean up some of the edges, played with the magic effects, and fixed a few details on the model. I tried one version where the model’s dress was obscured to make it look more late-nineteenth century (because I had zero luck finding an appropriately-garbed woman who wasn’t completely wrong for Etta). But that version just looked wrong, so I decided that it was good enough to have the high collared blouse and I would just pretend that the overdress was something ceremonial handed down in the Fay clan.

Then I had two “final” versions. The only difference is the font for “Magic.”

My test audiences preferred the cleaner look of the version on the left, so that became the final cover design!

Then I sat down with a print layout template and made the print cover.

I decided to do a partial wrap-around for the spine based on a survey of trade paperbacks I have on my shelves at home. I thought about adding a different image onto the back cover, but honestly by that point I didn’t have much time left before the book needed to go to proof, so I used a technique I’ve seen in lots of romance and SFF books, and just copied a slice from the cover and put it on the back. Then I input the cover copy, put in two versions of my publishing company logo (Stars and Stone Books), the ISBN, price, and a blank spot for the barcode.


Ta-da! Except for the redshifting, my work on Essential Magic’s cover was done!

I hope everyone likes it as much as I do. And if you want to get the first look at the cover for A Theft of Magic when it’s revealed in my newsletter August 1st, now’s the time to subscribe. Everyone else will have to wait until mid-month, so sign up now!


As of 2/20/17, Essential Magic has officially been re-branded! So there is one more stage in this cover’s story. Actually, there were MANY intermediate stages, but most of them look terrible, so we’ll skip them and move straight to the finished product:


What do you think? I’m a little bit in love. Plus, it feels more like it belongs in the same world as the Theft of Magic cover and the Merge of Magic cover. Both of those, by the way, have been updated to match the fonts and other incidental details you see here. And, of course, the soon-to-be-revealed cover for Memories of Magic will look similar. I can’t wait to show it to you!

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