Friday, June 15, 2012

Behind the Cover: Images selection

By Michelle Lee
BWL Art Director

I’ve been called a Cover Goddess a couple of times, and as typical of me, I shrugged it off.  But now, I have decided, that if others are going to award me Goddess-ness, then I am going to start using it. So in true Goddess fashion, I have a few proclamations!

  1. No professor shall require a term paper to be written for any class that I am attending during my graduate coursework.  All term papers are to be voluntarily done for extra credit.
  1. No final shall be comprehensive.  In fact, finals shall be abolished!
  1. This crap with “self-teaching” is not going to happen anymore.  I am paying you, as my professor, to instruct.  Don’t tell me my learning is going to be self-guided.  If I wanted that, I would just buy the textbook and read it.
Wait … what?  You just want to hear the ones in regards to cover art.  You sure?  Cause I have a few more.  Well, okay …

Cover Art Proclamation 1:

No character, from this day forward, shall have hair.  None.  No wavy golden locks, no straight raven tresses.  Nadda, nothing.  Zero, zilch hair.

Number 2 …

What?  I can’t proclaim that characters can’t have hair anymore?  Why not?

Artistic freedom!  The heck you say!  But I am a Goddess … but, but …

*Insert several minutes of whining and whimpering*

Well fine then!

I guess I will return to the original topic I meant to address this blog post – image selection and how they relate to covers and artists.

The images that are picked for a cover are crucial.  CRUCIAL I say.  For, after all, they are the core of the cover.  And the cover is what a reader sees first.  Before the blurb, before the excerpt, generally they see the cover.

So you want a nice one.

You also want a sane cover artist.  S.A.N.E.  Got that?  Which means when you are selecting images to suggest, think about what you are asking for.

What I mean by that is, if the image has a woman with fly-away hair (you know what I am talking about, where it looks like a fan was turned on during the photo-shoot) and you don’t like the background, find a new image.  Isolating hair in images is tricky, so it is better if it lies fairly flat in the image.

Also, don’t pick a real dark image of a person, where they fade into a black background, and expect it to work with a sunny day beach scene behind him/her. 

It’s hard, as an author, to pick images.  I know – I am also an author.  So I know that there is a certain way a character is supposed to look, and often times, stock art is just too limited in options.  But doing photo-shoots for each and every e-book an author does is not cost-effective or practical.

So authors have to, in some ways, settle for what is available.  Which can be hard.

But if you take the time to make sure and pick images you are happy with, and that are easy to work with, you and your cover artist will both wind up happy with the finished product.

To that end, I am offering just a few suggestions, off the top of my head:

  • Don’t pick images with fly-away hair (see above) unless you LIKE the background
  • Don’t pick dark images, with dark background, and expect a bright background to be put in replacing it.  (Also see above)
  • Think about how many images you are suggesting.  Often, most covers have 1-3 images.  Any more than that gets costly.
  • Think about the perspectives of the images.  If you are looking flat on at a couple, and upward at the background you want behind them, it isn’t going to work together.
  • Make sure you know if the image is a photograph or computer generated.  Some times, a computer generated background can work in a cover – other times, it just doesn’t. 

For example, here’s one where it does work:

  • If you KNOW you are doing a series, and using the same characters, make sure there are other images of the SAME model that you like for future covers, and that there are enough for however many books you are planning.
  • If you know you are doing a series, think about the style of image, and make sure you can find other images in the same style to match your future characters.
  • Consider your images carefully – have you seen it/them on a ton of other covers?  If so, you should probably find something else unless you are just absolutely, completely in love with that image and it just fits perfectly and you have to have it or the world will just end in misery.
  • Be open to changes … I can’t stress this one enough.  Just because you suggest an image does not mean that it will be used.  Often times there is a very good reason why the cover artist will not use it (such as the sizes not being right, it is more long than tall – such as a woman laying down, it doesn’t match with the other images you selected, it can’t be isolated to fit with the other images, or there are terms that don’t allow for the image to be used on commercial items)
  • Speaking of isolating images, when you pick an image of a person, you want at least one side of their body to fully be in the image, not both sides running off of the image.  That allows for the person to be isolated from the background and merged with other images.  (Unless, that is, you just want that ONE image on your cover).
For example:

The image for CODENAME: ROMEO is one that I would not be able to move to the side.  Whereas the woman in WILDING NIGHTS I could move around the cover as needed.

  • If you are want the person moved into another background, be careful that you don’t pick an image with something from the foreground blending into the image.  For example, grass or wheat stalks, snow or rain, etc.  Both of these images work because they fit the changed background.  Had the author wanted either of these women at the beach, it wouldn’t have worked.

Well that’s all that I can think of right off.  Hope it makes selecting images just a little bit easier!

As for how I work them together, well, it’s not really something I can put to words.  I have to look at the angles/perspective of images, the colors and brightness/contrast to them, and just play around some times to get the right fit.

I do keep in mind previous covers I have done for the author, and also the genre. The hardest covers for me are mysteries and dark themes, since I like doing light covers.  I like happy couples – and especially SEXY couples.  Which can cause some problems, since I like sexy images, and some romances are sweet.  (So half-naked people just don’t work).

When I select images, I also keep my own “do/don’t” list in mind.  I also look at colors, and sharpness/starkness of images.  It a couple has almost a harsh lighting on them, then I won’t put them on a real soft focus background.  

Also, while brown/red hair can be switched fairly decently to the other, turning an image of a blond into a  raven haired person, vice versa, etc isn't that easy.  So I try my best to find images that fit the hair color as well as I can.

Eye color on the other hand is something that I can modify - so I never worry about it when I pick an image, because I know that I can modify it as needed (provided I know what color to change it to - so be sure to provide that info in your CAF).

Other than that, a lot of image selection for me is just flipping through images on stock sites and seeing if anything jumps out at me.  From there, I work all other elements around the image I selected.

If period clothing is required, then I will focus on the person, and worry about making the background fit.

If a setting is pivotal, and the couple’s attire isn’t that big of a deal, then I find a background that will work and then find a couple to fit.

And so on …


  1. Being artistically challenge finding images is probably the most difficult task for me. I could write 2 novellas in the time it takes me to look at pictures. My children wonder about me since I do not take pictures. I do not display them except they come in and display pictures in my house. I am so glad there is a cover artist to do create the great covers for our books. If I had to do this, I would never complete my writing schedule.

  2. Great article, Michelle. Thanks for the pointers on picking out images.

  3. Great, informative post, Michelle, with lots of good points to remember.

  4. Thanks for the article, Michelle. Very informative! :)

  5. Hi Michelle,
    That was very interestinging, I didn't realize it was so complicated, I just know I love the covers you create for us.



  6. Thanks, Michelle. I have a much better understanding of how graphic artistry works. Very interesting!

  7. Thanks, Michelle. I have a much better understanding of how graphic artistry works. Very interesting!

  8. Very interesting article, Michelle. Thanks so much for explaining the process.

    I adore the covers you've created for me, but must say I didn't realise it was so complicated!

  9. Janet - I hear you. Sometimes I spend hours looking for just the right image for a cover. : ) Other times, I think of just the right one right off and it just clicks.

    Roseanne, Gail, and A.M. - Not a problem. Hope you enjoy the rest of the posts on the subject.

    Margaret and Cheryl - Make sure to read the post posts under the category Behind the Cover. : ) I try to keep them simple and informative, without overwhelming anyone with too many details. LOL

    Sydell - Thanks!

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I appreciate the feedback on my work. I always worry that I will miss the mark when I create a cover. It makes me so happy to know that you like your covers.


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