The very best part of the work I do is creating book covers…there's nothing I love more than this part of the publishing process. Today, I'd like to share with you the steps to creating the paperback cover for My Beginning, a young adult novel (sci-fi) by Melissa Kline, published July 1, 2011 by Lucky Press, LLC.
Melissa is a very creative person, not just with words but also with art and craft materials. She is a miniature artist and has displays in the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys, coinciding with the release of My Beginning. Melissa's enthusiasm for all things creative made creating the cover of My Beginning even more fun.
My Beginning tells the story of 16-year-old Ivory, a blonde-haired girl who lives confined in an "institution" -- a place where many children live under the watchful eyes of mother-nurses. The children are not allowed to go outside, for they are told that if they do, they will immediately die, due to a plague that has almost wiped out humankind. Ivory meets Aidan, the first teenage boy she has ever been interested in and the only one of her friends who did not spend his whole life at the institution. After receiving harsh punishment for her relationship with Aidan, Ivory escapes with Aidan into the unknown world outside of the institution and that is her "beginning."
The scene I choose to illustrate, after talking with Melissa, was just after Melissa and Aidan open an old rusty door and emerge into a beautiful wooded area. Here's how I did the cover:
I began with a pencil drawing of how I envisioned Ivory and the woods.
Then, I colored the drawing using a technique that works well for me. First, I color in the major color shapes with Sharpie brand markers. Then, I go over that, in detail, with Prismacolor colored pencils (I use no other brand, as Prismacolors have the best wax content for blending, IMO). Here is a photo of the work in progress:
I saved coloring Ivory until last because I knew her dress would be white and her skin light and I didn't want that part of the drawing to get scuffed or "dirty" while I did the brighter colors. Here (at left) is a detail of Ivory once I have colored her figure.
After the drawing is completely finished, I scanned it with my Epson scanner. Because the drawing was larger than the scanner bed, I had to scan in two sections then merge the sections carefully in Photoshop. (On day I hope to have a larger bed scanner, but they are quite expensive!)
After scanning the photo, I convert it from RGB format to CMYK, the format required by book printers. I also reduce it to fix the dimensions of the finished book (5.5 x 8.5 inches) with an additional 1/4 inch on all sides for necessary bleeding of the image off the edge, to allow for the book to be trimmed to size at the printer's.
So, at this point, I have the illustration in my computer and sized to the correct size for the book cover. But, that is just the end of one phase; it is not yet ready to be a bookcover. This is the point at which many designers new to cover design or author's self-publishing and doing their own covers stop, put on a title and author's name and call it a day. But, by thinking more about the characters and story and letting them speak to you (I know it sounds weird, but it works for me) and also loving the process and the wonderful things you can do in Photoshop, yet knowing how to keep things simple…well all these things are learned by experience and become intuitive to the experienced designer. I have been designer, publisher, or production manager on over 200 books, and finally feel I can trust the process at this point. I dislike being rushed in the creation of the cover; it seems such an organic process. Often what happens is I'll be doing other things, and suddenly this compulsion to work on the cover whispers its way into my consciousness. I'll leave everything else and go to my computer (or drawing pad) and out comes the cover; it seems to pour out from whatever soup was brewing just under my level of awareness. Anyway…. the finished, colored drawing is shown at the top of this post.
Here is my first attempt at making a cover using the illustration. As you can see, it is not well integrated, color-wise or design-wise. It just does not have enough "umph" and the structure of the design does not lend itself to the open, hopeful feeling of Ivory's discovery of the world beyond the institution.
One thing I do like about this cover (at left) is that I choose to use some of the "artistic filters" in Photoshop to bring out the edges of forms in the drawing and enhance the illustration beyond my hand-work. Below, you can see part of this process.
Melissa mentioned the surface of an old white file cabinet; she thought it would work well for the background. I started wondering if I could drag one of Lucky Press's old metal cabinets outside and create a rusty surface using water and the yucky snowy weather we were having here in Ohio at the time. Lucky for me, I had been introduced to Dreamstime stock photos by another wonderful author, Chuck Zigman, who wrote The World's Coolest Movie Star (and another book that I'll write more about this fall).
Here are three textures I liked for this cover. I choose to go with the third one, at bottom left.
Below is the cover as it stood after merging the illustration with the textured background and after I added in the title and author's name. Still, something was not quite right...
Melissa had the wonderful idea of having the illustration show through a keyhole shape and also of having some sort of rusty looking texture behind the illustration. (You are seeing now just how collaborative this cover design process was… our ideas bounced off one another and made the whole process seem not like work, but like a creative adventure!) Here is my third version of the cover with the keyhole and with new fonts for the title (Melanie BT) and author's name (Gil Sans Condensed).
At this point, I knew we had nailed it, though some might think otherwise. Popular YA covers may feature photographs and quirky drawings, but this cover aims to capture the themes of confinement, freedom, nature versus machine, and the innocence and hope of a teenage girl.
After the front cover was completed, it was time to work on the "mechanical": the entire cover layout as it is sent to the printer. Melissa and I fine-tuned the back cover text (synopsis) and chose the reviews that would appear. I obtained the EAN barcode and confirmed the spine width with the printer. Here is the full mechanical for My Beginning.
One of the great reviews we chose to use on the back cover was by Terry Matalas. "Terra Nova" premieres on FOX Sept. 26, 2011 and sounds like a great show, too!:
"Kline has woven a rich tapestry of romance, science fiction, and adventure. Ivory's journey through an Orwellian post-apocalypse grabs hold of you and never lets go." ~Terry Matalas, television writer, FOX TV "TERRA NOVA"
As I mentioned, Melissa creates miniature scenes based on her novels. The final picture here today shows one of the miniatures she created for My Beginning as it displays in the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys.