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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Guest post from YA author Lena Goldfinch, my cover design protege

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--> Creating a book cover is not unlike writing fantasy 
I love creating book covers and have been making mock covers for my work for years. Recently though, I've gotten more serious about it and Lisa Amowitz graciously offered to mentor me. She's been helping me develop some cover mojo. (Thanks, Sensei Lisa! :))
The process of creating a cover feels a lot like creating a book, actually. You take these disparate elements, tweak and mold them to suit the story, and, after you sprinkle them with magical Photoshop fairy dust, voila, you have a book cover! LOL
For me, it starts out with hunting down images, which is mostly an instinctive, gut-level thing. I browse stock photo sites for likely candidates. [Picture me in attractive jungle gear, wading through the dense, jungle-green undergrowth of the internet, searching for rare orchid-like images.] Here, I'm searching for a "click" of connection. I'm looking for tone: does it feel like the story, does she look like my character, is the image eye catching, romantic, are the colors evocative...?
And until I find that spark, I just start tenderly collecting samples in orchid-friendly storage containers (i.e. dumping them into my Favorites folders). A lot of time I don't know what's going to work until I try a billion things. Roughly.
Sources: For stock photo and images, I tend to go to Fotolia, iStockphoto, Flickr Creative Commons and deviantART the most.
Then comes lots of trial and error, trying different images and fonts as mock covers. And here's where I start collecting free fonts too. (I blame Lisa for my font addiction, pretty much ;) She's the one who pointed me to FontSquirrel and dafont.com.)
Here's a (much reduced) sampling of likely images for my romantic fantasy novella, The Language of Souls
From these, I threw together a bunch of designs and, from there, whittled it down to a short list:

And I selected one. (bottom right) Oh, I was so sure it was the one. I'd spent (roughly) forever working on it after all. There'd been a lot of endless tweaking involved and me with very bloodshot eyes. (Cultivating a rare and beautiful orchid is a lot of hard work, to stretch a metaphor. ;)) But then I started to question myself. I really felt I needed some input from teens, the very ones I wanted to read my book.
So I printed out sample sheets & posted them at the barn where my daughter rides and our local teen librarian let me post it on the bulletin board. My daughter and a friend also brought copies in to their high schools to get votes. The results were startling, for me anyway! The cover I'd chosen didn't get great results. It got a decent number of votes, but nothing like the bottom left cover, which was the overwhelming favorite. I love that design, but had initially discarded it because I felt it was too light. Amazon.com & all the other retailers have a white background, and I feared a pale image would get lost there.

Here's how the votes played out:

I decided if I was going to ask the teens, then I was going to LISTEN to them. Teens know what they like, and I value their opinion.
My new motto:
"Ask the teens, trust the teens."
But if I was going to listen to the teens that meant going with a cover I felt (strongly) was way too light. My next question was: how can I stand by my motto & also address my concerns that this cover will get lost on the white sea that is Amazon's background? (Ditto for Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo,, ... the same white background issue is pretty much everywhere.) 

Decision: I'm going to listen to the teens AND I'm also going to listen to my gut.

Q: How can I make this very pale design pop on a white page? (Above, which cover pops the most? It's not the pale tree cover, is it? Which one do you think stands out the most as a thumbnail?)
So I began playing with magical fairy dust...I mean, Photoshop. ;)
To back up a bit, there are actually two elements in the draft version of this cover & three elements in the final cover.
The girl in the dress, the tree reflected in rippled water, and an additional image, wherein I added hair extensions. :)
    
That last image is shown rotated and flipped, just as I used it. I was able to lengthen the girl's hair a bit with a handy application of the Stamp Tool, which Lisa introduced me to a while back. I also flipped the image of the girl, so the arc of her body echoed the tree line.
Clipping and trimming the source file for the girl was actually the most time-intensive part of this design. Looking back, I learned from this. In selecting images, how hard is it going to be to select, for example, just the girl? See how her hair blends in with the dark background above the blue sheet? Lesson from the newly wise: look for these things while selecting raw images! LOL
Anyway, I was able to isolate just the girl using the Magic Wand Tool. (Aha!!! Magic!! I told you! ;)) And I dropped her into that pretty tree background. Then used the Stamp tool, as I said, to lengthen her hair. I also tweaked the brightness and contrast, edited out that hair that was across her face, and etc...
I used a Mask on the girl's layer in Photoshop to select just the dress. That way I was able to adjust the  hue & contrast to modify the color (among other tools like Selective Color, Curves, and blending options like Luminosity). I played with fonts and text colors...
This led to a slew of new covers:
The one that popped the best for me—and also felt most like the story—was that last peachy-toned one.

Fast forward, and after much tweaking, here's the final cover:

And that is the story behind the cover design for The Language of Souls, complete with magic wands and fairy dust. And belabored orchid analogies. :)
Thanks for having me here, Lisa! And unbridled thanks for all your guidance in all things graphics design. I feel very much like I'm still in the apprentice stage and am looking forward to growing my skills.

Lena

Thanks for doing this Lena! It's been fun to work with you and to see your skills blossom.
You can visit Lena and find more information about THE LANGUAGE OD SOULS at:
Lena also blogs at the Enchanted Inkpot, a community of fantasy bloggers of which I am also a member:

12 comments:

  1. Any interesting creative journey. Thanks for sharing the process. My first reaction went with the teens, I liked the cover they chose. Once again, I'm amazed at Lisa's generosity of spirit. You are lucky to have her as a mentor. Keep up the good work.

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  2. Thanks! I feel very lucky to have Lisa on my side. :)

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  3. Fascinating to hear the story behind that beautiful cover! Thanks so much for sharing it, Lena and Lisa!

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  4. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Lena, my students loved your story and thought your cover is lovely. So, win!!!

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