Sunday, August 21, 2016

Crafting the Cover

A timely topic for me this week as we just released book two in my Sorcerous Moons series, ORIA'S GAMBIT, which was a bit later going up than originally planned because we were tweaking the cover.

Okay - because I asked for a huge change after I saw the final cover. Here's the story.

See, I'm still new at designing my own covers. With my traditionally published books, like The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted Realms, the covers are presented to me as a fait accompli. I get a little input at the beginning, but that's it. Because I'm publishing the Sorcerous Moons books on my own, I work with my cover artist, the amazingly talented and infinitely patient Louisa Gallie to come up with just the right cover.

We started with me sending Louisa the draft of the book. She read it (one of the perks for her, she claims) and sent me some initial sketch ideas.

I liked all of them, but none felt exactly right. This is the hard part for me. I have a really hard time envisioning what I think it should look like and communicating that.I kept coming back to look at them over several days and ended up saying:

I think none of these really sing to me, though I totally see what you’re going for. I like the action of #1, though not the exact pose. LOVE Chuffta flying and flaming and I like that background. I also like the background of #2. What about this? What about a pose similar to #2, but in her rooftop garden, with them at kind of a tense standoff and Chuffta flying and flaming above? And maybe she should be in her mask? It doesn’t have to be a scene directly out of the story. Though another thought could be something from the testing scene at the end. I’m just throwing stuff out here....

Louisa replied:

So, something like the pose of 2 but with the tilted, actiony angle of 1, Chuffta, and the background from 3? Trying to get the image straight in my head.
I can put her in her mask, it would work for a tenser scene if we can't see her expression. They're described as smooth and featureless but I seem to remember cheekbones mentioned. So would her mask be shaped with the contours of a face (cheekbones , nose, browbone) but without eyes or lips?

We went back and forth a bit and she worked on it from there and next sent me these sketches:

I still wasn't totally on board, though I wasn't sure why. I was finding that I couldn't get closer to knowing what I wanted by seeing what I *didn't* want. Louisa sent me a new sketch with this caveat:

My clients are never supposed to see this stage of a sketch, but as we're exploring...

I could turn him like this? I did increase the tilted view simply because two people standing side by side, facing the same way, can get boring quite quickly, and it adds some drama. I think maybe I'd want to angle him more behind her just to add some more depth and so they still look far apart (although technically it creates less distance between them on the canvas, which helps with a vertical aspect ratio.

Hear that crazy artist talk? I was all, sure, what you said. Though I pointed out that he should probably be holding the axe in his right hand.

Turns out that's easy to flip! She sent me three more sketches, along with this explanation:

Ok, I've sketched the amended poses out properly, and there's a flipped version so the axe is in Lonen's right hand. I think it maybe looks a bit better the original way, but it's really not much difference either way. So your call!
The only small difference between the two versions here is whether their hands have actual canvas space between them. They're not actually touching in either but if they're just barely not-touching, then technically their hands should overlap because of where Lonen is standing. It does also let me bring them closer together and make the figures a little....but looking at them now, there's no real huge difference. It's a tiny detail and I'd be ok with either.

I was liking it and we went with the flipped version. She sent the next sketch to let me know she was making progress and would be refining details.

I gave her a few thoughts and she sent the almost finals.

At this point I discovered I'd missed something along the way. Enough time had lapsed that I'd forgotten I'd asked for her to wear the mask! I'd been thinking her face just wasn't done and now... well, the mask looked creepy. Also I remembered that Lonen has a scar on his face! I said:

So, what I said about the scar: They locked eyes and wills. His, densely fringed with black lashes, were a dark gray, like the granite their sister-city to the north, Arvda, sent in trade. Surprisingly lovely, they would have made him look feminine but for the angry line of a recent scar that dragged from his forehead, skipped his eye, and continued down his cheek. Nearly missed losing that eye to whatever had sliced at him, something thin and sharp by the look of it.
 Lonen lay on his back, face relaxed so the scar that cut from his forehead, over one eye and down his cheek didn’t pull to the side as it did when he was awake. More scars criss-crossed his chest and concave belly—funny that her sgath didn’t show them.

As for the rest – looking good! Love how the title/fonts look.

Her left, upraised hand looks funky with the way her fingers are spread – can we bring them together?

Also, I think the mask needs to be smoothed. I’d forgotten that we’d talked about her wearing the mask and I was all wtf is wrong with her face?? Lol. So *I* didn’t see that it was a mask, so I think we need to make it more mask-y. A blank oval might work better to make this more obvious?

Can we add a moon to the sky? Either is fine. Maybe too hard with the text and Chuffta, too.
 And it there’s any way to make her hair look more copper (maybe there isn’t) that would be great.

At least she didn't kill me. That was still to come. She said:  

Ok. I really tried with the mask but a plain blank mask, or even one with eyes and no other features, looked totally bizzare. At a normal distance it looked like she had no face at all (like we'd forgotten to add it) and even when zoomed it it just looked weird and at best, sci-fi.  So, I did my best to smooth out the features and make it more metallic so it looks more mask like. What do you think?
Moon did conflict with the text and Chuffta so it's partially behind a cloud, but still there!
I adjusted her hand and gave her hair more coppery metallic tones.
 Unless theres' anything really critical (or really really tiny) this is all the time I have more changes, as I'm on a train after work tomorrow. I'll have a little time at lunch or first thing before work if there's anything very quick.
I'll upload the high res files now, crossing my fingers they're ok, and send you the links! 

And here's that cover: 

And... people - Louisa did an amazing job! But I *hated* the mask. I showed it to a few people and they all used variations of the word "offputting." We were at the drop-dead mark for getting the book released on time, Louisa had killed herself to get this finished by the deadline and was going away for the weekend. 
This wasn't tiny.
But I also didn't want to put it out there with an offputting cover. 
I emailed Louisa with the bad news and she exercised that infinite patience. Five days later, Oria had a face. 
I'm really pleased!
And now we're starting on the cover for book three, THE TIDES OF BÁRA. I'm sure Louisa is breathing a big sigh of relief, as I just approved the very first sketch.

About the Book

A Play For Power
Princess Oria has one chance to keep her word and stop her brother’s reign of terror: She must become queen. All she has to do is marry first. And marry Lonen, the barbarian king who defeated her city bare weeks ago, who can never join her in a marriage of minds, who can never even touch her—no matter how badly she wants him to.
A Fragile Bond
To rule is to suffer, but Lonen never thought his marriage would become a torment. Still, he’s a resourceful man. He can play the brute conqueror for Oria’s faceless officials and bide his time with his wife. And as he coaxes secrets from Oria, he may yet change their fate…
An Impossible Demand
With deception layering on deception, Lonen and Oria must claim the throne and brazen out the doubters. Failure means death— for them and their people.
But success might mean an alliance powerful beyond imagining…