August 18, 2015
AHEM! We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for this bonus addition to BEYOND THE PAGE: a COVER REVEAL!
This just in: the first three books in the Dark Rituals series.
Says author Catrina Burgess, “Finally, the time has come. I can spill the beans. It’s cover reveal day. Cue happy music. I can finally show you guys the covers!”
Here they are!! Check out that pile of awesome. The books are available now for preorder, click each cover for the links. They are available directly from the FFFDig Store, Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo, and will soon be available on Google Play, Scribd, Oyster, and more!
Next Tuesday, we promise to return to the panic-inducing event of an author receiving edits. But to go along with our cover reveal, let’s take a peek into the process of designing a book cover:
Everyone knows the expression “you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but chances are that you do anyways. And that’s perfectly okay! We do, too. A good book is all about the writing and the story, but an awesome and compelling cover is naturally the first thing that draws a potential reader in (even if they don’t want to admit it), and this is especially true in the ebook space. There aren’t physical books for consumers to pick up and browse through, so an eye-catching cover can make or break a book. Who wants to click on a book with an unappealing, generic, or just plain boring cover? Not us, that’s for sure.
Designing an amazing cover is one of the most fun, most important, and most challenging parts of publishing a successful book. As with everything else, there’s no exact science, and it involves the collaboration, talents, and input of lots of people. Everyone has different inclinations and personal tastes, and there are always going to be disagreements on whether or not something “works.” Even the most beloved book covers aren’t appealing to everyone (which is a good thing, really, because not everyone will love the book!). It’s definitely a subjective process, and it’s all about capturing the right tone and “look,” which is often hard to describe. Sometimes, the designer gets your vision on the first try (this doesn’t happen often, but when you know, you know), and sometimes (more likely) it takes dozens of revisions and requires approvals by the editor, the author, publicists, a film team, your mom, etc. It’s both a frustrating and creatively fulfilling process, but a good final product is worth any struggle along the way!
A good cover should immediately communicate (1) who the book is “for” and (2) what it’s about…generally speaking. For obvious reasons, it’s very important that a YA book looks like it’s meant for young adults, and an adult book looks like it’s meant for adults. False advertising is never appreciated—people want to know what they’re buying! It’s helpful if a cover places a book squarely in a certain genre for marketing reasons (romance, thriller, contemporary, nonfiction, etc.), but it’s easy to get too caught up in portraying all the specific details of a plot accurately on the cover. The fact that your character always wears hoop earrings instead of diamond studs is important, but not important enough that the overall design should be sacrificed to fit in big, ugly, gold hoops. The design process often involves letting go of these smaller details in favor of the “bigger picture”—appealing to the audience and pointing the reader to what they should expect in the pages to come.
At FFFDig, a cover can be designed at any point in the process depending on scheduling and when inspiration strikes, but sooner is better. It starts with our team writing a cover brief to send to the designer. This brief describes the plot, characters, the exact verbiage we want on the cover (title, series, author name), a general vision or specific ideas that might work, and several covers to use as comparison or inspiration (hence the name “comp covers”). We’ve built working relationships with several designers we trust, and for each project we select the one whose strengths play to the specific genre or look that we’re going for (some designers specialize in fantasy covers, some are more versatile, some are good with designing creative typefaces, some are primarily illustrators, and so on). All designers have a different process, and we try to accommodate how they prefer to work—some like to have a phone call before starting the project, some are okay with just a written brief, and others request scheduling a full month for the project in case they experience an “artistic block.”
Typically, whoever is most familiar with the text (besides the author) ends up writing the brief and corresponds with the designer on each revision—this is usually the editor. We also work closely with our authors every step of the way to make sure they’re happy with the final product and we welcome their input. Although the publisher has the final say, it’s incredibly rewarding when an author is excited about their cover, and it’s VERY important to us that they love it as much as we do.
To give you a better idea of what goes into designing a cover, here’s a look into the step-by-step process behind Awakening, the first book in the Dark Rituals series. Some covers require more revisions than others before we get it right. The three drafts that went into Awakening give an example of a fairly average design process, but we’re willing to keep going for however long it takes—there is such a thing as a perfect cover!
For the Awakening cover, we knew immediately that we wanted to work with designer Fiona Jayde, who is amazingly talented at creating YA and genre-specific spooky, paranormal thrillers like this one.
In our brief, we told her that considering the dark nature of the book, we envisioned an ominous-looking cover. Here’s a bit Kayla’s original design brief:
“If you choose to put Colina, the main character, on the cover, we imagine the healer-version of her might pose with hands cupped or held in front of her, palms up. She should look very innocent and “good” with light-colored clothing. It might be cool if a warm glow emanated from her fingertips—her healing power. A possible background could reveal an encroaching darkness, swirling smoke, and dark, eerie colors. Perhaps it could look like the darkness is about to consume her.“
We were so excited to see what Fiona returned to us, and for the most part, we loved it! The green/yellow color scheme works well for the genre, and Colina looks like the badass heroine we envisioned (leather pants…nice!). Our biggest critique of this cover was that it looked too “fantasy”—it didn’t quite match the eerie, ghost-filled story. We suggested to Fiona that the typeface should change (this one is too flowery and graceful), and that there should be less of the yellow sparkly light surrounding Colina (it looks too magical and fairy-like). This cover needed some kind of creep-factor added in.
And what did our author think? Cat said: “I really had no idea what type of cover to expect. I knew the original cover I made for Awakening when it was up on Wattpad was too dark and creepy. I was really hoping for something much prettier…something with more color…something with a much less creepy Colina.
“When Kayla, the editor, sent the first version, I loved the model right off the bat. She looked strong and capable and I loved her outfit (who doesn’t think leather pants look cool?). I totally dug the magic swirling around her hands and I adored the color scheme—the dark background and green text. Of course I didn’t say any of that back in my email to them. Instead, looking back, I can see that I told them I thought her hair looked funky. I thought there was too much hair on the left side of her head and not enough hair on the right. And I wasn’t thrilled with the title font. It looked like something from a fantasy book.
“My name on the cover was super-duper BIG. I’ve always wanted my name up on billboards, in big lights, on Broadway…just kidding. I thought, ‘As much as I love being the center of attention, in this instance, Colina and the title of the book should take center stage.’
“I sent my email back to them with my comments and thought…. “Wow, I bet they think I’m a real pain in the butt.” But you know what? They never seem to mind my feedback. They never tell me I’m being silly or a pain. When I give them my opinion on things, they listen and try to incorporate the feedback into whatever they’re doing. So guess what? In the next cover you will see: the hair is fixed!”
This next draft was certainly creepier and closer to our vision. We loved the pentagram in the background and the ghostlike hands reaching around Colina. A few new issues did pop up, however. Although we liked the look of the hands coming up from the bottom, we thought it was overkill on this cover (but they actually work better for a later book…). Our team was split on the skull/fireball in Colina’s hand—half of us thought it was awesome, and the other half thought it was a little overly silly to show a sparkling skull.
We loved the new typeface (it’s much creepier), but decided that the red clashes with the color scheme, and we’d rather keep it simple and stick to yellow/green. The title and author name also needed to be moved to the bottom or top of the page, instead of sitting awkwardly in the middle.
Wondering what Cat thought of the second draft? She said: “When the second draft of the Awakening cover hit my mailbox, I was excited. How would the designer take all our notes? It’s a tricky thing, making covers. I’ve done it in the past. It’s hard to take a bunch of notes and visions that others have and turn it into the cover they want. That’s usually why it takes a few tries.
“In this version, I totally dug the zombie hands coming out of the ground—I just didn’t think they were right for the first book in the series. And I wasn’t sure what she was holding in her hand. A skull? An alien? Come on, you know you see a bit of an alien face in there from the Alien movies with Sigourney Weaver.
“…Okay, maybe that’s just me.
“I liked the new fonts, but I really loved the green color scheme from the first version. I really hoped that when I told them how much I adored the green, they would go back to it. And I thought the book title might fit perfectly in the space where the zombie hands are if we got rid of them.
“In the background, I thought the trees and the hands in the air becoming more visible was a great idea—with the exception of that big hand hanging in the air on the left. That hand is so big and prominent that it sort of freaked me out. I wanted to yell, “Run, Colina. Run!” which is probably a good thing, but it took the focus away from Colina. So I wrote all of that up in an email. Man, I have a lot of opinions. But in my defense, I used to be a web designer and I worked for years on web pages, banners, and an occasional cover, so I admit I may be a bit more picky than your average Joe.”
Ta da! Here’s the final draft! We knew we hit it on the head, and we just hoped that Cat felt the same. Fiona did exactly what we asked by pulling back on some of the creepy elements (again, those hands at the bottom were great, but you don’t want too much of a good thing) and replacing the skull with bright light. The title looks great pulled down like that, and we loved that Fiona created a cool green/yellow marbling effect.
And here are Cat’s final thoughts: “I’ll admit it, by the time version three hit my mailbox I was a nervous wreck. Would the font be green? Would the alien skull come to life and eat Colina? It was with much trepidation that I opened the email.
“What happened when I saw this version of the cover? I shouted out with joy. Birds began to sing outside. Life got a little more awesome. Honestly I really, really loved it!! I loved everything about it. I hopped up and down in my chair and looked around in excitement. I couldn’t wait to show the cover to the world! But I realized I couldn’t—not yet. I had to keep it to myself for the time being…keep it secret until the big reveal. It was crazy hard not to spill it to you guys.
“So now that you have seen the final cover for Awakening what do you think? I really hope you love it as much as I do! And did you see the cover for Possession? OMG that’s my favorite cover in the series. I also totally dig the Revenant cover. Don’t you think Revenant was the perfect cover for those zombie hands?
“Now, you may be asking, “What about the cover for the fourth book, Legion?” It’s not ready yet, but fingers crossed it’s as cool as the first three covers!
So there you have it. New covers, hard-core edits. Cat was so excited about the new covers, she made up this banner for them:
Next in BEYOND THE PAGE, Cat really comes back to tell us how she avoids murdering Kayla when she receives all these edits…
What is BEYOND THE PAGE?
Ever wonder what happens after you sign with a publishing house? Catrina Burgess, author of The Dark Rituals series coming this October, has convinced us to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how a manuscript becomes a finished book. Tune in every Tuesday for a new installment, and check out the series on the author’s blog at catrinaburgess.com!
Catch up here: