Anatomy of a Book Cover

As an author, one of my favorite aspects of the 'creation' process is working on the cover itself - taking an element of thought from the story and turning it into a concrete, visual representation. And let's face it, you can say 'don't judge a book by its cover' all you want, but people do, so this is arguably one of the most critical aspects of 'writing.' With my latest novella, Beyond the Wall, I wanted to break down the process, from beginning to end, and chronicle it here so people can see that 'oh so important' behind the scenes process.


For all of my previous books, I've hired a professional designer, but Beyond the Wall was going to become my new 'freebie' to introduce new readers into my world, and I was likely not going to make much, if anything off of it. I've used Fiverr in the past with a little success, and knew I could get a quality cover done for a very reasonable amount. When it was all said and done, this cover ran $95 USD...in this day, a nominal fee compared to the $600+ range for a 'professional' job. Let's see how he did!


The Request


Fiverr provides two options: Submit a request for designers to bid against, or find a designer yourself and request their services. At the risk of making this post longer than it needed to be, I'll let you know I submitted an open request and got about 50 offers, 95% of which looked terrible :) So, I did some research and reviewed several designers, opting to find one on my own.


The Designer


After checking out dozens of profiles, I landed on a young man named Anik from Bangladesh, and I have to say, he was one of the nicest guys I've worked with on that platform. He's a Level 2 Seller (means he knows his stuff!), uses the handle Onetouchman, and does environmental designs for an incredibly reasonable rate. Knowing my cover would be mostly environment, I messaged to see if it was something he could pull off. With a good number of solid reviews, I knew he would be a safe bet.


The Gig


If you've used Fiverr before, you'll know that their gigs are offered at a base rate, then go up based on complexity. Typically, the low end gig is just that, something they could whip up quickly, or a rough sketch of a concept idea. That's not what I want...this will be the cover of a book and has to POP! So I go straight to the highest level, the Premium package.


I messaged Anik and explained my idea, asking if it's something he could do with his skillset and if he thought the concept would be within his range. To my relief, it was!! He quickly drew up a custom order...now it was my turn to provide as much detail as possible, and allow his creativity to fill in the blanks.


The Submission


Before writing out my description, it's worth reviewing what I'll receive in the final delivery. I have to be able to make social media posts and web banners, and it obviously has to be full color. Anik threw in a couple revisions, a printable hi-res file, and of course, commercial use rights.


Create environment concept art and illustration

  • 2 Revisions

  • 1 Figure

  • Include Source File

  • Printable Resolution File

  • Add Background/Scene

  • Include Colors in Illustration

  • Include Entire Body Illustration

  • Commercial Use

It was now up to me to provide all the info he needed...this is what I sent:


I'd like a detailed concept for a book cover I have in mind.


Dimensions:

The book will be 8.5" tall by 5.5" wide, so the drawing itself will be slightly larger than an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, accounting for a narrow spine. (example pdf attached) The right side would be the focus as it would be the 'front cover' while the left side would just be back matter, covered mostly with text.


The concept:

I want a young boy, approximately 6 years old, standing by himself before an immense, medieval-style city gate. The stone wall is in bad shape from neglect and the surrounding area will be overgrown, as well as the region beyond the gate. I would like an old, rusted portcullis dangling from the open gate, like it is broken, and several stones from the wall will be broken/crumbling, while vines creep up, and along its edges.


The boy:

He will appear tiny compared to the enormous gate, looking up in awe (though we only see him from the back). He will have clothes too big for his body and will be wearing a bandana around his head, with curly locks of hair protruding in random directions. He will be holding onto a small, crude bow and a handful of arrows, though it's clear he's not sure how to hold them properly. His arms should be down to his side to further emphasize him being scared/in awe of the giant wall and the area beyond.


The overgrown grass on either side of the cobbelstone path through the gate will be as tall, if not taller than the little boy. If there's somehow room for a background, it will not be sky, it will be the rocky face of a bluff.


I've attached an image of my last release so

you can see the 'dead zones' where the font/styling will appear. Since the title of the book is approximately the bottom third of the cover, and my name is across the top, the focal point (boy/gate) of the drawing should be near the center and up. Again, since the back cover will be text, it can just be a continuation of the old stone wall / overgrown grass. Please let me know if you have any questions.



The First Impression:


Anik needed an extra day beyond what was agreed upon, but that's perfectly fine...I'd rather have a quality end-result than something rushed to delivery. After about 7 days, he delivered this first sketch:

Not bad!! For a 'first draft', this was pretty legit! I was very pleased and offered a few suggestions:

Things I liked:

  • Vines on the wall were amazing!! Loved them!

  • Cobblestone path was great, I really liked the detail.

  • Portcullis was broken, leaning to one side. I thought that was a really nice, artistic touch.

  • I liked the 'scale' of the wall...gave credence to how immense it would feel to a little boy.

Changes I recommended:

  • The 'perspective' angle wouldn't work well on a book cover ... rotate to level the horizon.

  • The cobblestone path is too narrow, this would have been a street that ran through the city.

  • The boy is too small relative to the gate.

  • The grass is too short, it should be as tall, if not taller, than the boy.

  • 'Zoom' in to frame the gate more in the center of the image...make it the focus.

  • Missing broken structures along the wall. I wanted it to look like a rundown part of town.

The Revisions


He got back to work quickly, making adjustments to the scaling and applying my recommendations. Within 48 hours, he came back with a detailed, colored revision. How exciting!


Another set of recommendations were made...lighting, grass, deeper shadows, etc. Plus, some of my initial recommendations like path width were overlooked, so he quickly got on that. Less than a day later, he sent his final revision:


It's not perfect...I'm not quite sure what's going on with the buildings along the wall and I see a few lighting issues, but I can correct that. I thanked Anik for his time and abilities, and moved forward with MY part of the book cover design...making tweaks and adding the font and styling for the cover!



The Final Touches


If you've read my series at all, you know it's fairly 'dark', both in description, and in content. As such, while Anik's cover is really good, it's also a little too 'clean' for my tastes, especially for the cover. I went into photoshop and deepened the shadows, added light textures, and a little dust in the air. In addition, I grimed up the walls a bit and made the area 'beyond the wall' (get it?!) a little more ominous. I expanded the wall to cover the spine and adjusted the zoom once more to provide focus on Dari and the gate.


Now, I know just enough about photoshop to be dangerous, so this part took me a while. I probably would have been better served to hire someone else on Fiverr to do it! :) But, I got through it, and here's the final result. I have to say, I'm incredibly pleased. With a fairly minimal expense, I got a quality cover for the book that will introduce a whole new wave of readers into my series!

How's it look in 3D, you ask? Well, here ya go!


A Final Word


I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at how a book cover comes together. Some may have a different process, others may be hands-off entirely, but I like to be involved in every step of the creation process, and I actually get excited about book cover design. Tried Fiverr yet? I've had great success, personally, and would encourage anyone looking for a little help in their creative endeavor to give it a shot. Get 20% off your first order by clicking here!

And finally, here's a side-by-side view of all the images used to create the Beyond the Wall cover. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to bringing you more behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Mists of Kel Doran Series!



Respectfully,

S.L. Matthews

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