Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cover Me

Blogger Varsha Dinesh recently contacted me about doing a guest post and asked if perhaps I would be interested in talking about the cover art for Delta Legend. Her blog, Wishful Thinking is beautifully designed and Varsha herself is a Photoshop Queen. I love it when bloggers have suggestions for guest posts. It gets me started in the right direction regarding the style of their blog and what they think their followers might find interesting. 

And the cover of Delta Legend, well that's a subject that's near and dear to my heart.

Not to sound vain, but I never tire of the image myself (I have one of the 13 x 19 posters of it above my desk). Thanks to graphic artist, Dave Williams, Delta Legend has a book cover that achieves everything a cover is supposed to do: it catches the eye, sparks curiosity, and people remember it. They also give it more than just a passing glance. Some have even said they were "drawn in" by it. Bingo.

As most of you know, for better or worse, Indie Authors don't have the luxury of being just writers. We're also the marketing team. When I made the shift from agent-shopping to embracing the idea of self-publishing, I knew it was imperative that the book's cover not only stand out from the crowd but be as good as any artwork produced by a traditional publishing house. Thankfully, my partner Tom Size knew just the right person for the job. 

Dave Williams is an amazing artist who does exceptional graphic design for a variety of products. He's the Creative Director and graphic designer for Mouth Man, the company that makes those magical animated hoodies that are all the rage.

Dave's also designed his share of album covers along with a slew of logos. And yes, all you Indies out there who are heading to the finish line and getting ready to self-publish, Dave is open to doing more book covers. Delta Legend was his first and judging by people's reaction to it, it won't be his last.

For our first meeting, I took Karsten Knight's Wildefire with me so Dave could see the level of artwork I was going for. When I first saw Wildefire in the bookstore, I was immediately drawn to it and quickly made it mine at the cash register in less than 5 minutes. Talk about successful visual marketing. 

We discussed a couple ideas I had and quickly narrowed it down to one. I knew from the start I didn't want any models or even ambiguous representations of Calvin and Mei Li on the cover. I realize I break from the rest of the YA pack here but I'm simply not a fan of casting on the cover. Novels are one the last forms of entertainment where we get to use our imagination to envision what the characters look like. The author gives us some descriptives and we take it from there. Once a book goes to screen, a casting director takes that privilege away from us, and more often than not, their idea of the perfect actor to play a character is nothing like we envisioned them. Sure we adapt and in most cases accept the actor, but why stomp on one of the best things about reading if you don't have to? I realize this puts me outside the norm in today's YA market where casting on the cover and book trailers are common place, but the hugely popular Wildefire (which was traditionally published) gave me the courage to go in a different direction.  

Working with a professional artist to bring a cover idea from concept to final product was a great learning experience. One of the biggest things I learned was that you don't really know what you want until you see it. You verbally describe your vision to the designer, they go off and create their interpretation of that vision, then you go back and forth adjusting it until it's a match. And even then, you need outside eyes and trusted advisors to keep you on the right path. I strayed off the path on more than one occasion but was brought back to clarity by both Dave and Tom. 

Dave delivered several versions of the eye, each of them slightly different and interesting in their own way. Toward the end, he delivered one that was exactly what I had asked for. It was completely black, glossy, and vacant. I was going for this whole black-crystal-ball thing. I went to bed that night thinking, this is it, this is what I want. By morning, Tom had all the images Dave had created up on his computer screen as thumbnails, including that last one that I thought was sooo perfect. As I looked at them side-by-side in the size that most people would be seeing them when shopping on, I realized that the one I thought was so perfect was not right at all. Dave had delivered exactly what I'd asked for, only what I'd asked him for was all wrong. There just wasn't anything going on in it. The previous ones were so much better and yet none of them were "it".    

Tom and I had done a photo trip to the Delta so he could capture the header image for the book's website, and this gave him an idea. He brought one of the Delta pictures up on the computer screen then held his 35 mm camera (with a convex lens) up to the monitor and took a picture - close up and angled into the screen. The effect was a magical light spectrum bounce back with just a trace of the original photo. Dave then took that image and worked with it to create the truly haunting and stormy effect of the eye. Now it really was perfect. Most people don't realize there's a very subtle image of Delta tules and water in the pupil, and that's the way I like it - it's illusive, like the creature itself. Having just a hint of the creature emerging from the darkness makes you want to know what the heck this thing really is. Dave did a brilliant job of alluding to the creature without giving it away.

Font? I hadn't even thought about it, but Dave asked the right questions and ultimately found a font that has both an Asian and Celtic feel, representing both the Chinese element in the story and the Celtic roots of my name. These are the kind of things you simply don't think about, yet they contribute to the feel of a cover image as a whole. The vibrant colors on black really add punch and the way the title rises to the forefront out of the dark - it's like a movie one-sheet.

Dave works in extreme multiple layers of Photoshop which creates a lot of depth. It also allows you to see slightly different elements when viewing it from different angles, especially in the poster version.

That's Dave Williams holding one of the DL posters. Thanks to him (and some help from Tom) I now have a great cover that I'm very proud of.  You can bet I'll be hiring Dave to do the cover for the next "Legend". 

Get ready Dave.