The Cover Artist and I

I remember looking at the front cover of Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone and it immediately discouraging me. Even now I still think it doesn't particularly look very good. I had no idea what it was about but my teacher showed it to the class because the film was going to be released and I just remember thinking "he looks weird, has a stupid haircut and he's in a train station. How boring". This was when I didn't like to read but the front cover didn't interest me at all and it took seeing the film to convince me to give the books a try. Even now, as a huge Harry Potter fan, I only like a few of the front covers. Harry and Ron look like seventeen year olds in the front cover of Chamber of Secrets, while I find the front cover for Order of the Phoenix boring, and the Children Edition Cover of The Deathly Hallows is so hideous that it was the Adult Edition that most readers bought (myself included).

My point is that while I only like three of the original seven front covers (and hate six of the new since they all tend to make Harry look like a mop-headed ten year old), I find them to be good books. It is literally a case of "don't judge a book by its cover" but my initial impressions of the first book's front cover are still fresh in my mind. I thought the book wasn't going to be good because I thought it looked horrible! If I hadn't seen the film then I never would have given the book a try and this was before the age of eBooks. It was a traditionally published novel! If horrible cover art can stop people from picking up a traditionally published novel then it would most certainly be even worse for an independent book.

Let's face it... there is a stigma against books from independent authors because of the mentality of "if it's not in actual book shops then it can't be good". Now we know that's not true. I have picked up a few books from indie authors and I have enjoyed all of them. With the success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, opinions on indie books have changed, both for the better and for the worse. On one hand the success of the trilogy has proven that books from self-published authors can be successful worldwide. On the other hand the Fifty Shades trilogy has generally received negative reviews from critics and readers, reinforcing the idea that if its not originally on a book shelf then chances are its not good. But, again, the success of the Fifty Shades books alone were enough to create a ripple effect by boosting similar titles of the same genre to success.

Near the end of last year I decided that I was going to self publish my first novel. I knew I needed to send my book in for editing but editors for independent authors could easily be found with a simple Google search so it wasn't my biggest concern. My main concern was what was I going to do about the front cover? I looked at several pre-made ones but none really represented my book. I could always try and make it myself but I had seen other authors attempt this and none of those front covers had impressed me. So many looked like the author had bought a royalty-free image and had attempted to use photoshop or Microsoft paint to make it look more interesting. So the pre-made covers didn't fit with my novel and I knew that my attempts at a DIY cover wouldn't fare any better than what had been attempted by others.

Despite the fact I'm not fond of the Harry Potter covers, I liked the idea of having my front cover being designed by an artist rather than using models. Last May I had developed an idea for an Alice in Wonderland short film and, although my friends and I had been unsuccessful in raising the funds, I had managed to get some concept art from Amy, a friend from high school, and knew that she was reliable. I contacted her asking it it would be possible and thankfully she jumped at the chance. It was very surreal discussing the story and my ideas for what the front cover could be. We ended up visiting Waterstones separately to have a look at the front covers of novels in the same genre to take note of the recurring elements for ideas and we both came up with several ideas.

I received the first version of the front cover on the 22nd of December and instantly loved it. If just discussing the ideas for the cover was surreal, it was nothing compared to actually looking at it. We had both noticed that many of the books we had seen had silhouettes of the characters, so Amy incorporated that into her first draft. Not only that but the cover mostly consisted of a wolf and she had cleverly used the limbs to create a silhouette of both London Bridge and the Elizabeth Tower, making it clear where the story was set with ease. The best thing about working with Amy was that she would automatically ask for any suggestions on what needed to change and she would ask what I liked most about what she had handed in. She would take these suggestions and use them when designing the next few versions. Not only that but each design would come in four or more different versions, each one with slight variations whether it be different colours, different text fonts and, at one point, she had even included claw marks across the cover.

It was all about capturing the feel of the novel and I originally thought I'd only be getting the two versions to choose from, but she surprised me by handing in two other designs, both of them with four variations. Ultimately I decided on one from the final set but it was a difficult decision. I literally had to show each one to multiple people to see what one was most popular. Each version had similar conventions to them. Each one clearly displays a London landmark (one even manages to display the London Eye, The Gherkin, Canary Wharf, the Shard and even the five main characters effortlessly without making it look overcrowded) and four out of five of them featured a wolf with varying levels of detail. I loved each one because despite their differences, each one had managed to convey what my novel was!

It was only when discussing my ideas with Amy that I realised how glad I was that I had decided to go the indie-route. Once a publisher has agreed to take on a novel, everything from marketing to the front cover is out of the author's hands. They might be shown the cover art but ultimately they don't get a say unless they're already really successful but there I was, having actual input and, not only that, but the look of the book actually depended on what I told Amy I wanted. She listened to my ideas and did research herself without being told.

It's easy to look for pre-made covers or to attempt to make your own, but my experience with Amy has convinced me that finding a good and reliable artist is the best method because your cover art is tailored especially for you and you have complete input on how it looks. You get to extend your creativity and everything about the book becomes 100% yours.