Writers are often the last person consulted about the cover for their work. In most cases the publisher turns the responsibility over to the graphic artists in the marketing department. Independent writers are their own marketing department so coming up with an interesting and attractive cover falls to us and is either a benefit or curse depending on your mindset. Many writers are left thinking, where do I begin. To that end I wanted to post about the design process that went into the cover for my latest novel, Undead Heart. I broke out each piece that went into the design and what I was thinking when I made the choices I did.
I had a good idea for the cover I wanted based on the content of the work. The novel is a YA vampire story with werewolves, zombies and features a teenage guitarist in a Heavy Metal band as the protagonist. This already gave me some very usable images and themes. I wanted to convey the music and the vampires right away. That is when I came up with the idea of having a guitar on the cover with a blood splatter. I had the guitar in my collection so that was a quick photo away. Finding the right blood splatter made for some interesting Google image searches. Remaining mindful of copyright and keeping on the law abiding side made some first choices unavailable, but eventually I came across something I could use and liked.
I chose my Charvel Model 4 guitar for the picture. It is my oldest guitar and closest in design to what one would associate with Heavy Metal music. It is also all white with black pick-ups so it does not overpower the text for my name and title. I wanted just the guitar so I decided to take the picture right in the case to make removing the guitar in the image easier if needed. As an experiment I used two cases, one with red felt and one with black. I eventually chose the black felt case over the red. I wanted this to be a full cover picture and since a book is longer that it is wide a vertical shot of the guitar worked best. I knew the title and my name would go across the top and bottom of the book to keep it in line with my previous works already on sale, so that limited the angle of the shot and what part of the guitar I needed to focus on. Knowing that I would be adding a blood splatter limited the picture to capturing mostly the left side opposite the controls.
Once I had the photograph I needed to add in the blood. There was no way I was putting either fake or real blood on my 25 year old guitar. To that end I used the photo editing program Gimp. It is an open source program very similar to industry standard Photoshop. The chief benefit for using it is that you can download it for free. I did not worry about image size just yet. In fact at this point the bigger the better. Once you have chosen the trim size for your book you can adjust the size down to fit. This is always easier and looks better than having to scale it up. Gimp, like Photoshop uses layers to create a picture. Each element of the picture rests in it’s own layer like the pages in a book. The background layer was the picture of the guitar. I then created another layer for the blood splatter, scaling it and positioning it to where I wanted. Once I was happy with how that looked I merged the two layers into one. I did this so that I could apply a lighting effect or filter to the picture as a whole. I didn’t want the effect applied to the text so I left the titles for another layer. After much experimentation I decided on a spotlight effect that I really liked and applied that to the image.
At this point it was time to add in the text for the book title and my name. Following my previous work I placed a title on the bottom of the cover and my name on the top. I tried a number of different fonts before finding one that I thought I could live with. Living with it was not my goal so that is when I enlisted some help. I enlisted the services of a colleague who just launched a new Literary Media company, IronQuill. One of the first suggestions was since this is a YA novel the font needed to reflect that, it also should have a Heavy Metal vibe. I looked at several possibilities until finding one that I liked the best. Another suggestion was to put the title at the top of the cover. Because of the arrangement of the guitar and the fonts used this created a more striking look. Lastly and something I had not considered, was replacing the spot effect with grungy patina on the guitar to create the idea of decay. I thought this was an excellent way to bring in the zombies to the cover. All in all it was a great process, working with IronQuill and now I have a cover that meets all my needs. So, without further ado I present the cover for Undead Heart.
The one thing I hope you take away from this and what I have learned is that cover design consists of several seperate pieces. Many of those pieces you will know but a few will not cross your mind. Working with someone is a great way of making sure you explore all the possibilities and get a design that is striking, informative and makes the reader pick up the book or hit the download button. The person you work with doesn’t have to be a professional but they should know something about the your book. A professional can make a basic design really shine but they can only work off of what you provide them.
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