Thursday, March 15, 2012

Behind The Cover Artist's Curtain

By Michelle Lee
BWL Art Director

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Anyone who has seen the Wizard of Oz should remember those words. As a cover artist, I often feel like the person behind the curtain – it is my job to assist the author in making their book sell, but all my work is, and should be, shrouded behind a curtain. After all, the purpose of my work is just to put a “face” on an author’s hard work. Most readers will never know my name (unless they glance at the copyright page) and are not likely to follow my work.

Which again, is at it should be. However …

The very curtain that I sit behind as a cover artist also leads to an almost air of mystery about what exactly it is that I do. Most authors never see the stages that a cover goes through from when a cover artist gets the assignment until when they receive the final cover. It’s very simple to many - they turn in a cover art form and then magically a cover appears.

I hope over the next few months to give the authors, and you the reader, a peek behind my particular curtain. Keep in mind, I can only speak for my process … mileage will vary with different publishers, and even between different artists. Still, I hope you enjoy the glimpse behind my particular curtain.

To begin, I would like to list some of the steps that I go through, and then in future posts I will start to break them all down, and if needed include sub-steps.

1. The artist fills out a cover art form which I, and sometimes the publisher, look over and start to formulate ideas as to what the cover elements will be.

2. I start to put images together to see how different elements look together.

3. I place the title and author name on the cover (often not in the color or font that I will ultimately use, but rather just a generic placeholder to start to formulate placement).

4. Then I start to play around with all the elements – the images, the font (placement, color, and effects), shifting them around until I get something that I am happy with.

5. After I get everything placed, I start in on effects of the font.

6. Lastly, I start adding in the extras – little things that just make the cover pop.

If the cover is part of a series, I also have to keep in mind what options I have for future covers in the series.
- For example, does the model I chose have other images that would work for future books.
- What extras can I add that I can tweak with future books, so that each book is unique but still has similar elements.

And then there is the X factor … the fact that I love to add little things in covers … playful things. I will of course address what I mean … but in a later post. : )

I also plan to address, to some degree, author branding.

So stay tuned.

I will also be doing a section of Ask The Artist ... so if there is something you have always wanted to know about cover art, feel free to post your question in the comments. (But for fun, make sure to sign it with a fun Dear Abby kind of feel)

'Til next time!


  1. Enjoyed reading this bit from behind the curtain. I've loved all my covers and the next things I'll be sending to BWL will be part of a series but I do have to write them first.

  2. Interesting, Michelle. I can't wait to read more. I'm especially curious about the author branding. I write romance, but with sub genres, like mystery or paranormal. Some are with the older hero/heroine some with younger. I look forward to your next post.

  3. Thanks ladies! I appreciate you taking time to read the post. : )

    Roseanne - author branding is a couple months out still, but I hope that you enjoy the posts between now and then. : )

  4. I really enjoyed your first post Michelle. I'll be following you over the months and also looking at all the covers you design to see if I can identify what you have added to make them 'pop' and then of course there is the x factor to look for too:-) Keep it coming.

  5. Thanks Sheila. : ) It's going to be a fun couple of months.


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