Friday, March 15, 2013

Behind the Cover: Series

By Michelle Lee
BWL Art Director

Well, it's been a while, but then again, I have been hard at work crafting covers for the BWL authors when I am not chained up at the university working on the dreaded thesis work.

I know, I know, enough about me - get on with the cover information already.  Sheesh ... 

Series can be the joy, or the pain in the behind, of a cover artist.


The elements of the covers need to match in a series.   This can be a potential issue when an author either doesn't know ahead of time that they are going to continue in the same universe/with the same characters, or doesn't tell the publisher, or does tell the publisher but the artist isn't told.

Much of cover artwork is done using stock images.  This means, if I know ahead of time that an author is planning 3-10 books using the same characters, that I need to find a model that has numerous usable poses.  This creates an added challenge up front – but pays off in the end.  Because when that second book comes along, I already know what images are options, and I simply pull up my bookmarks and run with it.

Alternatively, if it isn't the same characters – the images still need to have the same feel.  So I will start looking for possibles that would work for future books, or I will make sure that I don’t go with an obscure style image, which would be hard to find a matching one later. 

Almost all of the covers that I have created are ones that I personally like.  (There have been a few exceptions however - I won't lie).  I also work hard to try and make each cover unique, despite the fact that I might have fallen in love with an effect, or with the way elements of a cover have come together.  It’s only fair to each author.  After all, cover art should not be like the suburbs – in my opinion, where possible there should be no cookie cutter version of a cover, duplicated numerous times with just small changes made. Obviously, some releases are in genres that just don't sell as well, or are of a length where the cost of an individual cover can be prohibitive.  I do not argue that they are wrong - it is just good business sense to evaluate cost:benefit ratios.  But if it is possible to create a unique cover for each release, in my opinion it should be done.  Yet, sometimes ... a certain cover will just tug at me, and I really wish I could return to it.  Series offer a happy middle ground - they allow me to return to effects and styles I previously used, without short-changing the author.

Series can also be a pain, since stock art is limited.  Again, if I know ahead of time, I can do my best to limit that having an effect.  But I am also an author, so I know how sometimes, secondary characters catch on with readers … or with the author.  Sometimes they just sit there and needle you, wanting to know when their story told.  So I never hold it against an author if they decide to do a spin off.  I just ask that if an author knows ahead of time that the book I am doing a cover for is part of a series, that they please let me know.  As mentioned in my post about the cover art form, there is a spot for just that, and since many series books with have a series title, that also tends to be a dead give-a-way to me.

So let's get down to discussing the details of what goes into a decision about series covers.


As you can see here with Jamieson Wolf’s Hope Falls series, all of the woman have a similar feel to them.  They are all soft, feminine woman, with their gaze over their raised shoulder.  When I was assigned the cover design for these, I know ahead of time that I was looking for a blond, a light haired brunette, and a dark haired brunette.  I wanted them all to have a matching look.  Then, for the background, I needed an image that was wide enough I could pan along it with each cover, so that the background is the same, and yet slightly different, with each cover.

When I don’t know about it being a series ahead of time, then there is a scramble to find images that match what I used before in style.  Take for example these two covers:

The coloration and feel of the image for Family Secrets is rather unique.  It isn't the standard cover image.  There are a lot of warm colors, and there is just a feel to the image that catches the attention.  Now I knew before I selected that image that there was another book in the series, so I made sure that I had something in mind that would work for the second book – Family Ties.  Had I not, it would have been a challenge to try and find an image that had the same feel as the one in Family Secrets.

When I didn't know, or quite honestly if I was told, I didn't catch it (because if Jamie knew ahead of time, I am certain she would have told me) - was that there would be a third book.  So when the third book rolled along, I did have a bit of a challenge to find another image that fit the same feel.  As you can see, there is a slight difference in the feel of the image, but overall, it does match well.  It has the same general pose as the second book, so it ties in, even though the colors are a bit off.

As an example of a series that just came into being (at least as far as I know) is Jude Pittman’s Healing Spirits series.  So I had no clue ahead of time that there would be future books.  It originally was just Bad Medicine.  

Then, she started planning for a second and third book - I am guessing because the characters started talking again.  At that point we had two options – try to match the feel of the first book, or redo the cover for the first book.  

So we have the original Bad Medicine cover, with a woman in a field.  A nice soft cover.  It really didn't fit with where the story-line is going to flow to next.  So unlike in Jamie's case, we decided to go with door number two and instead of matching the existing cover, just started over.

These are the results:

As you can see, the redesign allowed for the mimicking of elements.  Along the bottom of all three covers is a scene image of some kind - a cityscape, a deserted road and a lake in front of mountain, with trees.

Each of the covers has something faded into the upper background - a woman, a martini glass with car keys, and a Native American making music at a drum.

What about if the author wants to keep the cover (or the publisher does) but there still needs to be a way to tie it in?  Well that calls for a compromise of sorts - the tweak.

That's right, a slight modification to the existing covers that creates a series feel.

So, the story of that goes something like this ...

Once upon a time, there was a fair author princess named Shirley Martin.  And she had a couple of books that were kind of sort of tied together, but the nasty mean evil witch cover artist didn't know that. So she cast a spell on the covers, making them pretty - but not uniform.  (Except for the first two that she knew were in the same universe ... so fonts matched).

Then one day, the good fairy publisher came along, and discovered there was a spell on the nasty mean evil witch cover artist, and removed it with a spell of her own - a fourth book spell.  The most wondrous kind of magic.  That allowed the good witch cover artist to take control of her body again (seems she was just possessed, and wasn't really a nasty mean evil witch) and bring harmony to the covers with a touch-up potion.

 With the help of the touch-up potion, the covers were made to match with the use of the same fonts, and an added border.  Having a little bit of fun, the good witch cover artist also brought elements of the cover out beyond the border (see the sword in book 1, twinkles in book 2, twinkles in book 3, and dragon wing in book 4).

And so our story comes to a good end for the fair author princess Shirley Martin.  And for the good witch cover artist too, because she wasn't fed to the mean 'ol troll.

Great story huh?  Nah, I am not mellow-dramatic in any way!

Now if you are looking for the true moster-load of challenges as a cover artist ... let's check this one out.  Keep in mind, I DID know this was going to be a series ... so that didn't create the challenge.

The challenge on Vijaya's series comes about because they are all historicals ... and finding good historical images is challenge enough.  But some of the books have the same characters, and others don't.  Plus, time keeps on a rolling along ... so while a character might be dressed perfectly in period for one cover, it won't work for another.  So finding historical images of the same person, in the different period clothes that I need?  Um, winning lottery ticket anyone?  Cause that is the kind of luck it would take.  Which means something else has to be worked out.

For the first two books, I did luck out.  Jimmy Thomas fit perfectly for the first book, and for the second book, I found an image on his cover art images website with a woman showed from the back, and him in it.  Keeping the same background, just shifting it to a new angle, I was able to tie that in.  I also needed something to tie the whole series together - so there is the sword, and something wrapped around it.

 Now for the third book, since there was a new hero, I wanted to recreate the feel of the first book, so the heroine is front and center, with the hero faded into the background again.

Even though I kept the same style for the third book, I wanted something different for the fourth book.  Especially where the author said fire is a very important aspect to the fourth book.  So that was the focus of the images.  And yet - if you look behind the hero, you will see the same castle as for book three.  Now the woman chosen is thankfully very close to resembling the woman from the third book.  But what about the guy?  Well - chain mail takes care of that. : )

Now, the mermaid wrapped around the sword places this book with a certain heroine.  All of her books will have a mermaid, just like all of the books dealing with the first heroine had a dragon.  

I already have images planned for wrapping around the sword in each of the future books.

Ideally, when a new hero and heroine is introduced, for that first book, it will mirror book one and three, with any later books involving them done different to match the story aspects.

I did say it was a challenge -but not in a bad way. It makes me stretch my creative muscles.  Now had I not know about this ahead of time - well, all bets would be off then.  Remember, I am working on my thesis, so stress is already a way of life for me. : )

Yeah I know, enough about me ...

So you see, a LOT can go into creating a look for a series - because you do want the books to look somewhat similar.  At least as a reader I know I like it when they do.  I hate it when books change cover style mid-series.  Drives me nuts!  I have actually gone back and repurchased books in a series when they were re-released with matching covers, just so everything matches.

Ok, I never said I don't have issues ...  In truth, I have more issues than Time magazine.  : )

As a cover artist, I do my utmost best to make sure that I keep series matching each other - and make the author happy with the end product.

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in Behind The Cover where I will talk about the X-Factor.  After that, we roll on along to Author Branding.


  1. This is such an interesting post Michelle. I knew a lot of thought went into your cover art but I'd never considered the extra issues around a series. Now that I am well into my second book of the Pathway trilogy I'm going to have to contact you about it's cover fast, especially as I chose the first one from your prepared covers so you haven't had advance warning. Oh dear…is that going to be yet another problem for you? No, of course not I hear you say:-)

    1. Sheila,

      Like I said, some I can kinda figure out. When I have to put something that says series or trilogy on a cover, I know others are coming. : ) So yeah - it will be all good when it comes time to do the cover for the second one. All you will have to do is give me a desc of the couple, and what you want in the background. I can work it from there to fit the same feel.

  2. Hi Michelle,
    'What a great article, I knew you were a talented cover artist, your results are always fantastic, but I didn't realize how much extra planning went into it.



    1. Margaret - thanks for calling me talented. ; ) I do appreciate it. As for the planning - well it is nothing compared to what a writer must do. : )

  3. I really enjoyed this, Michelle, and learned a good deal besides.

    Makes me glad I don't write series, though - or at least I haven't yet!

    1. LOL Series are cool - you have to remember, I am just bat-shit crazy. LOL

  4. Thanks for the inside look at how covers are created. So much work, thought, talent and inspiration goes into it!

    1. Ann - I just hopes it helps when it comes time to provide information on what you envision for your covers.

  5. Hi Michelle,

    What a great glimpse into the mind of a cover artist at work. Knowing more about how you go from concept to cover gives me an even greater appreciation for all you do.


    1. Kathy - Thanks. I have had a lot of fun preparing these posts. I just hope that I have balanced the information with a light-hearted manner of sharing it. : )


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