Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Sides to the Cover

By Michelle Lee
BWL Art Director

On the one hand ...

As a fiction writer, you probably already know that research is vitally important.  For example, if you are focusing on a specific time period, you want to use historically accurate words.  Your characters need to feel, to the reader, like they are coming alive - and are authentic.

You polish your work, pouring all of your love and attention and determination into it, and almost grudgingly hand it over to a publisher.  And then the fun begins.

You get a cover concept back - and *gasp* the clothing isn't exactly right.  The waist of the dress is too high, the sleeves not poofy enough, or even worse, the dress isn't flaring enough at the bottom to be a ball gown.

All that research - and for what?

* * *

The other side of the story ...

A cover art form comes in, and after looking it over, the task seems almost impossible.  Finding a couple, wearing the exact clothing in the exact colors, with the perfect hair and eye color, and without modern looking manicures on the woman.

How on earth are you going to come up with a cover that perfectly encompasses all of those details, with stock art.   Especially considering you are not a historical scholar.

The answer is - you aren't.  Which means you are going to disappoint the author in some way (even if it is only a small detail).  And that is a very hard thing to accept on a day to day basis - but it is the reality of the job.

* * *

As an author, I know how important cover art is in not only branding your books, but also giving hints (at a quick glance) of what the story is all about.  I know how frustrating it can be trying to get your vision for the cover across in a two-page form.  I know the agony of waiting for the cover art to come in.  And I know the frustration when details are slightly off.

As a cover artist, I am very familiar with the hours that can be spent (and quite often just wasted) trying to find the perfect image for a cover.  Sometimes the angle is off and it won't merge well with the background, or the model has a very obvious french manicure, yet is posing in Renaissance clothing.  You want to create something both you, and the author, can be proud of ... and yet ... the images just won't cooperate.

* * *

I guess what I am trying to explain with all of this is ... the cover artist-author relationship is a lot like any other relationship.  There has to be some compromise to it.  A lot of understanding.  And the product of the relationship - the cover art - might be slightly flawed by not being perfectly accurate but it is a reflection of both the artists efforts to provide a reflection of the author's hard work and the author's work itself.  So before you get frustrated at the details, take a step back and look at the overall picture.

And ask yourself these simple questions:

* does it overall reflect the tone or feel of the story?
* is is quality and something you would be proud to have showcasing your hard work?
* is is obvious that the artist tried to meet your needs?
* will this cover help your book sell? (and will reader feel it is an accurate - within reason - reflection of the story)

If your answer is no to any of these questions, then you should feel the right to request some serious revisions to the cover, or a complete start over.

But if you answered yes to them all ... ask yourself this ... does that one little inconsistency, that one historically inaccurate detail detract from the overall cover, and is it realistically likely that a better image will be found?

* * *

If you are interested in other rambling about cover art by Michelle Lee, check out the following Inside BWL Blog Posts:
Alas Poor Images, I Cannot Find You
Fonts, Fonts, and More Fonts

and other Behind The Cover Art posts ...

* * *

Michelle Lee is a self-taught cover artist who has an opinion on pretty much everything, and a love of the natural world that often means tidbits and trivia are shared on a whim.  You can check out her portfolio at: Stardust Creations


  1. Michelle, interesting and informative article. Your covers are always great.

  2. Michelle, thanks for all you do on our behalf to create such great covers.


  3. Michelle, it amazes me that your covers are always so appropriate and appealing.

  4. It's a tough job, being a cover artist. It's also hard on the author side, too, as you pray for a cover which will hit your intended target in the "buy me" spot. :)

    1. Oh Juliet, I know that feeling so very intimately. Which is part of what prompted me to learn to manipulate covers myself - I hated some of my earlier covers from publishers. Now, I just create a cover I like to go with my stories. :)


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