Creating a captivating cover is a balancing act between cliché and individuality. Why?
If it’s going to let the reader know the book’s genre, a cover needs to conform to the conventions of that genre – i.e. it must reflect a certain clichéd quality. A mystery can’t have a cover that screams chick lit – it will attract the wrong reader.
At the same time the cover must have individuality, otherwise it looks like every other cover in that genre. If it’s too stereotyped, it doesn’t ‘sell’ the individual qualities of the book to a new reader.
I chose Julia Kuris at Designerbility to do the new cover. First she talked to me at length about the particular elements of the book that the cover image should reflect:
I also gave her a list of objects featured in the book that might find a role on the cover – moon, beach, mirror with attitude, graveyard on a cliff, little red suitcase, cowry shell necklace etc.
Talking is the first step, but seeing actual concepts brings home what works and doesn’t work. Julia presented me with eleven different concepts based on our discussions. These were to be shortlisted and tweaked, possibly combining elements from more than one concept in the final, changing title fonts and playing around until we found the cover that blew us away.
Unless you’re a photographer and a graphic designer it’s almost impossible to take a photo that does everything you want a cover image to do. Most fiction covers are created from a composite of images because you want them to hint at more than one element in the story in a visually compelling way. Julia used low resolution stock images (hence the watermarks that are visible) to give me as many concepts as possible to choose from.
Before I looked at the concepts, I reduced them to thumbnail size to see which ones would catch the reader’s eye in the Amazon store. Images need to be clear and captivating at all sizes.
Below each concept are the notes I made, based on the following qualities:
Silhouette too small
Add the sea?
Woman too young, looks like Young Adult genre
Doesn’t hint at a mystery, path not compelling enough
Strong & dramatic - has the WOW factor
Both faces compelling - left one haunting, right one haunted
Hints at paranormal elements of the mystery without telling too much
Mirror needs to be clearer
Monochromatic colours work
Mood too wistful, not threatening enough
Silhouette disappears in thumbnail, loses impact - make silhouette bigger?
Shoreline good, Hawaiian feel
Add a sense of threat/danger?
Not dramatic as thumbnail
Woman in overcoat suggests cold place, not Hawaii
Straight from stock photo, so not unique enough, might be used on another cover
Woman’s expression ambiguous
Don’t like colours
Shadows could be darker
Woman’s expression suggests menace but this woman appears on other covers, not unique
Shadow hints at paranormal elements of the mystery
Overcoat suggests a cold place, not Hawaii
Genre not right – looks too much like a woman’s book
Image a bit clichéd and doesn’t reflect the book
Like the black & white & red
Strong as thumbnail
Quirky, not clichéd
Great mood and colours
Movement of silhouette is strong, but arm, hair & skirt look odd
Love the suitcase!
Path looks odd, needs a different background – path across the sea?
Sky spooky and threatening
Look like Young Adult genre
Don’t ‘say’ anything, don’t reflect the quirky compelling mystery of The First Lie
Concept 3 became the final cover. It went through several rounds of different versions, tweaking the size of the faces, making the mirror frame more distinctive, adding a palm frond and selecting a more individual title font. This fine-tuning will be the subject of a future blog post.
You can read an extract of The First Lie here and see how the cover reflects the opening pages.
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