Custom cover designs – a process that works

Simple. Powerful. Attention-getting.

If you’ve written a book, I don’t have to tell you what you’ve given up to do it. Hours upon hours of your time. You’ve bared your soul onto the paper (or laptop). Social engagements, family obligations, even daily chores such as eating and showering may have taken a back seat while you were writing your literary masterpiece.

And now that the book is complete, all you want to do is get it out into the world. You haven’t given up this much of your life just to have the book barely get a passing glance on the shelf (or online shelf). You need a cover that will match your words. One that will give your future readers reason to pause when their eyes glimpse your cover. Is this the book they’ve been looking for?

But you’re a writer, not a designer. How do you convey to someone, using words, what you want them to create, using their vision?

Simple. You work with a designer who wants to know more than just title and author name. You work with someone who wants to get to know you and your work. How to start? Send us a sample chapter if you’d like. Send us a biography of you (we’ll need it for the back cover, anyway, if you’re doing a print version). Send us what the book cover looks like in your dreams. The colors you think your main characters would like. Who your readers will be. We will take your words, and translate it to become your art. Your cover art.

Recently we had the opportunity to work with the super-talented Elizabeth Ann West on her debut novel, originally titled Imperfect Timing. She actually asked me this week if I wouldn’t mind writing a blog post so that she could share the experience, and the importance of custom covers, with other writers. Absolutely!

Elizabeth’s journey with mod began when she came to me with two ideas that she’d actually put together herself (not a necessary step, but one that did allow us and her to examine what was and wasn’t working, visually). Here was her first try at a cover concept:


Elizabeth’s first concept


Elizabeth nixed this idea before we’d even spoken. The book’s premise revolves around a robotics engineer who is having to face the fact that a one-night-stand resulted in a pregnancy. Oops.

So she thought a blueprint-style mockup of a baby might tell the story. After creating it, she saw some issues. First, she called the baby “awkward” in a blog post about it. Second, it was quite a busy image – at one glance, would readers really get the message that she wanted to send? Although the character himself is a left-brained engineer, her readers likely would not be. This is a romance, chick-lit book. So we want to make sure to appeal to chick-lit readers (read: mostly female).

So, Elizabeth started thinking about what it is the book really is about. The baby is part of the story, but not the whole story. The main point is that the one-night-stand and resulting baby end up leading to a cancelled wedding. So, what better image to give the readers than a wedding invitation with a big, fat Cancelled stamped across it? Now we’re talking. That’s juicy stuff. Before she met me, she’d created this:

Elizabeth's second idea


Good idea, for sure. But, as a designer, I can see that Elizabeth’s idea could be taken so much farther. I was super-excited to help her with this concept.

Before we could shoot the art for the cover, we would need to design a wedding invitation. Created perfectly for her characters. I treated this project as I would any other wedding invitation – I asked her to give me information about the bride and groom. Who were they? What type of wedding would they like? How many guests? What color scheme? These characters may be fiction, but they still deserve the attention any other bride and groom would get.

Elizabeth gave me all the details. She’d make a great wedding planner, by the way … Johnathan and Alexis were to have a 1920s themed wedding, with a Great Gatsby-themed engagement party. So the invitations should take on a 1920s vibe, but not so much that the book looks as if it was taking place in the 1920s. And of course, they needed to be simple enough to still be able to tell what they were with a big Cancelled across the front of them. So, I got to work, and came up with 3 invitations for her to choose between:

The bride and groom (via Elizabeth, of course), were drawn to the first invitation. Instead of pink, though, Elizabeth wanted to see the invitation done in gold. We finalized the gold tones that would be the invitation, had them printed professionally, then got to work photographing the cover.

I should probably mention that by this point, I’d been calling the book “Cancelled” each time I spoke to Elizabeth about it. She decided she actually liked that name for a title better, so Cancelled it was. This worked out great for the design because we could really play up the Cancelled stamp.

Initially, our idea was to have a white or soft gray cover, which would allow the invitation to stand on its own.


But, as he was doing the photography, Jeff found himself thinking of a slightly different idea. He Jeff decided to reshoot the cover but with a contrasting background. He added some flowers to the shoot, which ended up lending some depth that would turn out to be perfect when we moved on to designing the spine and back cover for the print series. Both Elizabeth and I were sold on the black background. I created the final cover design, shown here:

As you can see, from the beginning concept until the end result, the look of the cover changed quite dramatically. But each step was closer and closer to linking Elizabeth’s book with her readers. The book is fantastic, by the way. Pick up your copy here if you haven’t already – and stay tuned, because it’s only the first in the series!

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