Evolution of a Cover

Well, this is exciting. After seven years of languishing, my new fantasy series is almost ready to be published! Which brings me to some observations about self publishing – nothing new or surprising, of course, just a little exhausting when you face the massive amount of work involved. When I had my first three novels published by a major house, they did all the stuff that comes after the author writes “The End” – editing, typesetting and formatting, some portion of the promotional activities, and taking care of the cover. Now I have to do all those things myself.

Talk about typesetting and formatting can make for a dull read, so I’m going to talk about my cover. At least there are pretty pictures to look at. (After the jump, and prepare for the delay while they load.)

Early on in the second stage of editing – letting a few trusted friends and critics read it – I got a piece of helpful feedback. The Sea Between the Worlds is a story with multiple narrators from various backgrounds, chosen to flesh out different areas of this created world, as well as to narrate the story from different angles. In chapter one, my narrator was Tomas, a navy lieutenant who’s about to sail into a very important battle. In chapter two, my narrator was Demmina, a minor courtier trying to avoid palace intrigue while waiting for any news about her exiled cousin. My beta reader said she read the first chapter and didn’t think she’d like the book, “because it looked like a man’s book,” but she liked the second chapter better, “because it looked like a woman’s book.”

Does this look like a man's book? (© 1971yes|Dreamstime.com)

Does this look like a man’s book? (© 1971yes|Dreamstime.com)

I’m going to can-of-worms the man’s book vs. woman’s book discussion for now, but my beta reader had a point. First impressions of a book help potential readers decide whether that book is for them, and the first chapter gave a very different impression from the second chapter. (I have tentatively addressed this issue with a prologue; we’ll see whether that fix holds through the final round of edits.) But an even first-er first impression is a book’s cover.

My original thought for Sea‘s cover was simply a ship, much like the one above. The sequel, The Source in the Desert, was going to have a mysterious-looking scarved woman. I had a fabulous artist picked out – my tattoo artist, in fact – who can draw both ships and beautiful mysterious women in scarves. But as it turned out, she didn’t have enough time to work for the little I could afford to pay her.

Had I been able to commission Nicole for my cover, I'd probably have left the skulls out of the design.

Had I been able to commission Nicole for my cover, I’d probably have left the skulls out of the design.

It was a shame not to get my first choice of artist, but it gave me an opportunity to regroup. Had I gone with my original plan of a ship on the first book and a female figure on the second, it would have made them look like two different, unrelated books. In other words, the same chapter one / chapter two problem I’d just encountered. So it was time for a new plan: combine the two.

And now you know why I don't draw.

And now you know why I don’t draw.

I have to admit that this design was inspired by the cover for His Majesty’s Dragon. (I’m also going to can-of-worms my usual discussion about Confidence Game and the cover that “looks just like Kushiel’s Dart.” Suffice it to say that cover artists are influenced by styles, even at the big publishers, and covers with similar styles are used as a marketing tool to group together books with similar styles. Sometimes the books really are similar; sometimes they are not.)

I like this design because it combines the two themes that my beta reader picked out, and the two subjects I originally wanted. It also makes the second book match the first, so they look more like a set. I also figured I could do the covers myself if I had to, or with the help from my husband Lejon A. Johnson, Mister “Seven Semesters of Art Photography.”

After the photo shoot, I'm ready for your local Regency Ball.

After the photo shoot, I’m ready for your local Regency Ball.

The first step (after he critiqued my design – those pencil marks on my sketch for Sea are from his redrawing the frame) was the photography. I dressed up in the 105-degree-June-in-Phoenix heat, wearing a Regency gown I’d made for our local sci-fi convention’s Georgette Heyer ball, and for book two, a length of black fabric by way of a scarf. Thankfully this was indoors. After many adjustments of zoom and hand tilt, it was time for photo editing.

Detail by 1971yes | Dreamstime.com, edited

Detail by 1971yes | Dreamstime.com, edited. Let’s remind everyone to check and make sure you have the rights to edit an image.

The step I don’t have a copy of was the photograph of a sphere – in this case, a contact juggling ball – to provide a canvas for the ship image. I purchased the ship images from a royalty-free art site, and Lejon took over with the editing. I really did intend to help more with this, but once he got his hands on the computer it became his project. (Thanks, hon.)

© Lejon A. Johnson, ship detail © 1971yes | Dreamstime.com. Are you getting the message that proper attribution is important?

© Lejon A. Johnson, ship detail © 1971yes | Dreamstime.com. Are you getting the message that proper attribution is important?

Fill in with some background, add text, mess with contrast and saturation and other photography-type things I don’t fully understand, and voilá! One serviceable ebook cover. (See both of them on my bibliography page.)

The Sea Between the Worlds and The Source in the Desert – coming July 26 in Kindle, EPUB, and other ebook formats.

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