Anatomy of a Book Cover

As usual, a slightly misleading title. I’m not going to share my theories of what makes the perfect book cover. I’m going to share my process of getting a book cover. Because I don’t have anything better to do.

Step Uno

The first thing I do is think what I want the cover to be. Quite an obvious step.

Shadow of the Wraith, Kindle coverPaperback cover

For Shadow of the Wraith, I decided I wanted a stark space scene, with the almost-titular ship looming over a planet featured at the end of the book. I later decided that I wanted a different cover for the e-book version (I don’t really remember why). I decided that one should be slightly more informative, so I decided that it should show the ship heading towards an Earth-like planet (Orion), having just cut straight through another ship. I thought/hoped that would give an idea of the threat before people even read the blurb.

Temple of the Sixth Cover

For Temple of the Sixth, I wanted an image of the titular character (the Sixth) standing at the mouth of her ‘temple’, seemingly oblivious of the predatory animals stalking her. She had to be looking out at an eclipse. From within, a thin stream of blood was to trickle out. The first part was a scene from the start of the book, and the blood and eclipse were references to the supposed End of Days omens that start appearing halfway through the book. The blood stream ended up looking more like a crack in the ground though.

Kira Cover

For Kira, the cover seemed obvious to me. The ‘camera’, as it were, was to be looking down a street in the city. Cold, dark, scary. The end of the street was to open into a stark desert, with nothing in sight. In between the two, I wanted Kira, as though stuck between two worlds, both equally unwelcoming. She had to be looking out towards the desert, where her future was. But it’s bleak, empty, nothing on the horizon. Above, the sky was to be dark and stormy.

Wyrd Worlds Cover

Wyrd Worlds is a sci-fi and fantasy anthology by several authors. To be completely honest, I wasn’t fond of any of the covers other authors were putting forward, so I created my own. It’s very difficult to put together something that portrays both sci-fi and fantasy at the same time, and I think the others were trying to hard to accomplish that, so I decided on something that didn’t try. Something fairly plain that also clearly showed that it was an anthology. The books putter-togetherer created a poll and mine was voted the cover to be used.

Acts of Violence Cover

Acts of Violence was different to all the others. I had to work at it! For the others, the cover presented itself to me easily, but for AoV I couldn’t decide. I had a few ideas, mostly comprising rain and darkness. Eventually I decided on a scene from the book. I thought that having the main character, Jack Mason, sitting in a diner, staring across the road at a club, gun on the table, would convey some sense of what the book contained. It would be the small, subtle things that would make the difference.

Step Zwei

Now, my second step is simply emailing the artist to see if he’s available to do the cover. But I had to find the artist first.

For Shadow of the Wraith, that wasn’t too hard. I did the cover myself. Then I decided to have a different one for the e-book, so I had to find a proper artist. My first (and only) stop was deviantART. deviantART is full of artists of all kinds and degrees of skill. There are amateur photographers all the way through to professional oil painters selling their work for thousands. Quite a lot of concept artists for games and films have their work on there.

First, I trawled through page after page of art to find artists whose work I liked. Then I would send them a message to ask if they were interested in doing a commission, and if so how much they would charge. Most said no, or were too expensive.

Secondly, I went to the forums, where there is a specific section set aside for advertising your project to find an artist. I got a number of responses there, including one from Mark Williams. I told him some more about what I wanted, and he thought he could do it and quoted me a good price for it.

Since it was the first time, I wrote up a brief contract to specify what work was being done and how much I was to pay him and who had what rights and so on. I don’t do that any more, but it’s probably a good idea the first time you work with someone.

Kira came next, and Mark was unable to complete it, so a friend of a friend (Cui Yuan) did the cover for me. His style is just right for what I want in my covers, so I stuck with him for Temple of the Sixth too. He was unable to do Acts of Violence, so I went back to Mark for that. The picture of Juni was drawn by Mark too, as an apology for having to stop halfway through doing Kira’s cover.

Steppe The Third

Now comes the tricky bit: working with the artist. Artists are fond of doing their own thing, and it can be difficult to get them to do your thing! You have to find a balance between cementing the important parts of the cover, and leaving the artist to their creativity and freedom with the rest.

The first thing I do is put together a very rough and ridiculous looking example of the basic layout. Thankfully, I’ve deleted those from my computer, so I can’t show you. Then I write as detailed a description as I can, including quotes from the book/s if it’s a scene, or involves a character.

Temple of the Sixth Rough Draft

By Cui Yuan

Next, the artist does up a rough example of his own, to show me what his vision of the cover is. Sometimes, I draw a little bit over it to show what changes I want. Then it’s a process of more and more alterations and slightly more detailed previews until the whole layout and ‘camera’ angle and sizes and so on are correct.

The artist then puts in full detail and colours and shadows. Then it’s a matter of going back and forth to sort out little details.

Step Chetyri

Once we are both happy that the artist has finished, he sends me the full-size image (and I pay). Then I make my own little alterations to it. These may range from simply inserting the title and my name, to changing colours and the like. I have not yet employed the services of someone who can create the title and its font for me. So far, basic and fairly plain fonts have suited the covers well enough.

And that’s about it. Below, I’ll post some images from the process of each cover (though I don’t seem to have the process images from the e-book version of SOTW).

I always recommend against people doing their own covers (mildly hypocritical), as I have yet to see more than a handful of covers that the author has done themselves that are actually decent. People DO judge books by their covers, and it will always be the first thing they see of the book. It needs to look professional. Searching the internet for some stock images and shoving them together in MS Paint will not achieve this. That’s not to say that getting a good artist will result in a good, professional cover. Book cover design is an art in itself, in a way. But I’ve also seen a good deal of covers created by so-called professional cover designers that aren’t much better than those stock image ones I mentioned. So you simply have to shop about and make sure you see plenty of previous work by the person.

Hopefully this was helpful, or at least vaguely interesting.

Shadow of the Wraith – Me (E-book version by Mark Williams)

My first idea for SOTW

My first idea for SOTW


Second try

Second try


Hardback Cover

Hardback Cover


Paperback Cover

Paperback Cover

Temple of the Sixth – Cui Yuan

Cui Yuan, Coloured Update

Cui Yuan, Coloured Update


Coloured and Shaded

Coloured and Shaded


Final Version

Final Version

Kira – Cui Yuan

Cui Yuan, WIP 1

Cui Yuan, WIP 1


Yuan's Final Version

Yuan’s Final Version


My Final Version

My Final Version

Wyrd Worlds – Me

Original Idea

Original Idea


Wyrd Worlds Final

Wyrd Worlds Final

Acts of Violence – Mark Williams

I started this one myself before I knew the title. It was more to waste some time than a realistic effort to make a cover.

Rough Attempt 1

Rough Attempt 1


Rough Attempt 2

Rough Attempt 2


Rough Attempt 3

Rough Attempt 3


Rough Attempt 4

Rough Attempt 4

Then I contacted a professional.

Mark Williams, First Sketch

Mark Williams, First Sketch


First Update

First Update


Mark's Finished Version

Mark’s Finished Version


My Finished Version

My Finished Version

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2 responses to “Anatomy of a Book Cover

  1. Pingback: Wyrd Worlds | The Last Days Of Planet EarthThe Last Days Of Planet Earth

  2. Pingback: How to Write a Book: The End | Nexuseses

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