Welcome, Karen! Tell us about your creative journey. What was your path to becoming a book cover designer?
I used to be an author and I was helping organize a big anthology we were doing for charity. I’d been getting stories from others, doing the contracts and the formatting and everything, then we about 2-3 days to go before we wanted cover in time for the launch, the cover designer dropped out. Mass panic ensued and the end result was me promising to get one done even if I had to do it myself…. which is exactly what happened. It was an incredibly steep learning curve, but I not only produced a cover, I fell head of heels in love with cover design and haven’t written since. All I now do is cover design and all my free time is taken up with learning more and more about digital painting, 3D software, photo manipulation, typography, marketing and what’s going on in the genres I work in…. and I love it!
What part of book cover design do you find most compelling?
I adore typography! There’s just something about getting it to click into place with the right look and feel that brings the entire cover together, both from an art perspective and a marketing / genre one. I love playing with the font and trying to do something unique with it as well to really make it stand out and grab attention.
What does your creative/workspace look like? What tech/computer do you use?
Relatively tidy – a big desk with dual monitors, a PC my husband built, and a drawing tablet (without a screen). I have a few pretty things around, like a couple of cards my mother made a few crystals and a little statue, plus I have my mugs – I drink a lot of hot lemon water – so I have nice mug for that and a purple Yeti themos for a second one, that I got engraved with Believe in Yourself.
Some authors are mystified about how cover designers work. What is your creative approach when taking on a new project?
I have my clients fill out a questionnaire so I get a really good idea of what their character(s) look like, what sort of environments they might be in – or sometimes a fight scene that happened in the book. I also get them to list about 5 covers of books that are selling well in their genre that they like, and what exactly they like and don’t like about them – that gives me a really good idea of the look they’re going for, and ensures they understand what’s selling in their genre, so they’re open to being guided to what might help them sell better. After that when we start I might have them on a screen share for the first 1-2 hours as we sort though characters and outfits in DAZ and get some rough poses down so they can see the composition of the whole cover – yes it’s rough, but they tend to get a pretty good feel of how the cover will look once it’s finished. I find this goes a lot way to relieving a lot of stress of a new (to me) author. Then I carry on on my own, find background bits, clean up the poses, make sure it all works, check everything stands out at thumbnail and in black and white, change the initial template title I have (so I know I have enough space for it) into the correct title and get someway towards making that look good. I usually send people a screen shot at that point of what it’s looking like (often without the text as that isn’t finished and I’ve found people think it is if I show them that part). Then I start adding in the photos, doing the painting, color grading etc – whatever needs doing to finish up the artwork. If I have any questions as I go, I message the author, so we’re pretty much in contact (timezone dependent) the whole way through as no one wants a surprise at this point. Then close to last, I finish up the typography and make sure it really fits in with the art or even interacts with it. Lastly I add in any final touches to make sure it works as a whole, and send over the final cover.
What do authors need to know to have the best outcome when working with a professional cover designer?
The biggest thing authors need to know is what’s selling in their genre – Look in the Amazon charts to get some good ideas and make sure your designer has similar kinds of work in their portfolio, if you’re picking a new designer. I really think an author’s work should be done up front in picking the right designer for the job and educating themselves about their genre. When it comes to the actual project, give the designer info they ask for, and then get out of their way – if you’ve picked the right person, trust them to do what they do best and produce a cover that will sell your book in your genre. In general, the more input an author want to have on the design and the more ideas they want to get across, the worse the cover usually ends up. Designers are professionals who spend time studying specific genres and knowing what (design-wise) sells books, so the more leeway you can give a designer to create a great cover, the better your final product is going to be.
Share with us the process behind one of your favorite book cover designs.
I’ve recently been getting into typography covers because I enjoy the typography so much I wanted to really push where it could go and how much I could customize it. So I started with the title, which I got from a fantasy title generator so I knew it would work in the genre of dark fantasy, which is where you see a lot of typography covers. I spaced the words out to occupy the right amount of the cover and draw the eye through the title. After that I went searching for artwork that would echo the essence of the title “Soul of Blood and Ink” – so I found some images of red ink, some of blood, an inkpen and a bunch of others. Then I drew some swishy shapes that made me think of how a soul might look, as well as some little sparkles and just started playing with how they all interacted. The pen bit the dust pretty quickly, as did the swirls and a few other items I tried out. Once I’d got the general shape of the whole piece, I started customizing the text. I changed the shapes of some of the letters, brought in alternate swirly versions of others, then started to add extra curls and the like to the letters to really draw the viewers eye from the start of the first word, down to the end of the last. After that I worked on making the art pieces interact with the text, so I ended up with blood dripping through several of the letters. Overall it was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to a lot of more of these. ?
What does a typical day look like for you?
Read for 20mins so I can wake up slowly. Get ready for the day and come downstairs. Check email, Discord and FB. Get designing… have breakfast, back to designing…. have dinner, go for a walk with my hubby and talk through what we’ve each done all day, then sadly often carry on designing or watching tutorials, but what can I say, I love it – then around 9pm I log in to Guild Wars 2 and have a little fun before bed. Some days I’ll stream what I’m doing on Discord too, which I thoroughly enjoy doing.
You’ve also published books as an author. Which came first? And do you think the fact that you are an author yourself helps you to communicate with the authors you work with?
Writing came first, then I got signed to an small genre-specific publisher, then I discovered cover designing and thankfully the publisher was wonderful and let me just wrap up the story in 3 chapters and release it as a single massive book, instead a trilogy… and I’m not kidding about the massive! It’s a whopping 35hrs 16mins long in audio and 1265 pages: The Experimental Alchemist.
All kidding aside though it has helped me as a designer because I understand exactly what authors are going through – I know I made just about every possible mistake I could have made, but thankfully I picked the right designer and he patiently guided me through it all, and I now to try to do the same with the authors I work with, especially if they’re new.
What’s your proudest career achievement so far?
I think it has to be having one my covers featured in the July issue of Indie Author Magazine – that was amazing! I started “squeeing” when the email arrived- took me a while a get the words out to tell my hubby what all the excitement was about.
Thanks for spending time with us, Karen!