Forging a Look

I can see why authors typically hire others to design covers for their books.

Because, really, it’s a pain in the ass.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of experience creating, drawing and designing things throughout my life, a few examples of which can be seen in this very blog. But, until now, none of it really mattered. It’s all been simply for my own benefit, my own entertainment.

But now, this art has to sell.

There is a difference, of course, between most art and a book cover. Unlike a painting or a sculpture, for instance, consumers don’t buy a book exclusively for its cover. They don’t go home and hang the book on the wall to admire, wondering what the designer really meant. No, but if they’re attracted by a cover, if they find it interesting, if it merely catches their eye, that same consumer will beeline for a book they normally wouldn’t have given a second thought. The cover’s the hook. And it needs to be some damned tasty bait.

When I dropped into my chair with a Pepsi One in hand and booted up my computer, I already had a basic idea for what I wanted on the cover. It was simple and hadn’t been given a terribly great amount of thought, but I believed it effective for both eye candy and in conveying the book’s general premise. After describing my vision to my wife and receiving her input (though she seemed far more excited about designing the next book, for which one of her favorite pictures would make a perfect cover), I opened up Mozilla and began to explore how to best put my thoughts to paper.

In my head, the cover’s central area would be a shadowed, hazy view of the eastern coastline of lower Manhattan, as though it were obscured by a blizzard. I searched a bit for a picture that matched this description, thinking I could simply purchase the rights to it, but couldn’t find one to suit my needs (apparently, it’s somewhat difficult to capture such an image during a blizzard). I did, however, find a few that offered a splendid view of the skyline so, saving some for reference along with my own images, I opted to draw a loose sketch of the area instead, as seen below (you can tell I thought it was going to be too wide as I got increasingly lazy to the right).

Dropping this in Adobe Photoshop, I cleaned up the scan, adjusted some proportions (cropping as well to fit the proportions supplied within Amazon's publication guidelines), used the airbrush tool to thicken some of the lines, fill in and embellish the shadows and accentuate the shading, desaturated the image, dropped in a few filters (cutout was the last, though I think there was one or two others), and toyed slightly with the brightness/contrast. At this point, I wasn't satisfied with the look of the water, so I thickened it up with another go at the paintbrush and re-filtered the crap out of it. This, after an hour or so of strained aggravation, gave me my basic background (sorry to admit I didn't think of doing the step-by-step until after it was far, far too late).

Nodding to myself in satisfaction and rewarding myself with a quick round of videogames, I knew, even as I lobbed static grenades down on unsuspecting baddies, that I wasn’t entirely finished. Going back to the paintbrush, I added a quick white wash over a portion of the landscape in order to make it appear more blizzard-like (I debated using a simple gradient, but was satisifed enough with results that I didn't even bother trying it out).

Then, thinking back on the cover to Army of the Republic, which thoroughly impressed me and made me quickly tear the book away from the bargain bin, I added a few extra embellishments (they don't all show in this image since color has yet to be added) to really make it pop.

Taking a breather, I sat back, downed what was left of my (second, and unfortunately last in the house) Pepsi One, and opted to be done for the night.

But, next week: What’s a cover without some text?