The Nobodies: Crafting the Cover

When I launched the apparently doomed-to-failure The Nobodies Cover Contest earlier in the year, this is the kind of in-depth article I was hoping to post in association with the competition’s winner. In my fanciful vision of the future, it would have been paired with a number of others, such as a Q&A, a biography and perhaps a photo gallery of some sort. But, despite record traffic, here we are once again with my own cover design gracing my book.

Though I love the final version, I cannot help but wonder what could have been.

I ask the same question over my own designs, as the chosen cover was one of several I had planned to supplement any contest submissions. I had written these on a sticky note, and though I unfortunately seem to have mistakenly discarded it, my original descriptions were:
  • Smile
  • Chain-link fence
  • Dirty stuffed bear
  • Duck head cane
  • Walt bleeding on bed
  • Ruben in isolation
  • Penciled group shot
  • Frank’s shop
  • Whiskey on record player
  • Spilled whiskey mixed with blood
Some good teases there, as the images were meant to evoke select scenes from throughout the storyline (note that the above are only in the order in which they came to mind). A few made the first round of contest votes, and a few were meant for the second, though, of course, those never appeared. After cancelling the contest, I debated creating them for my own purposes—mostly to see which I truly preferred—but after creating the final version of the “Smile” cover, I was sold. Or, well, you know, mostly.

Until only a few days before revealing the cover (I actually tweeted just minutes after the decision), I was debating between the “Smile” cover and the “Dirty stuffed bear profile” cover (with the animal momentarily donated by my lovable terrier). Here’s the original photo and the closest-to-final version I created, to give you a sense of why I was so indecisive:

Still, “Smile” prevailed. So let’s talk about that.

The concept is based on one of the main protagonists—my personal favorite—and his odd smile, which most of the other characters throughout the narrative seem to see differently. While one character may think it warm and endearing, another will look at it as relentless and wolf-like.

I loved the idea behind the smile, so attempted to convey it in one photo using my best and most patient model—myself.

The above image is just a minor sampling. In all, I took 47 pictures, stopping as soon as I felt I had achieved the perfect shot. This one (please ignore the mosquito bite):

I wanted to play with negative space on the cover (as well as maintain the proper spacing and alignment), so to reach the desired effect, I first rotated and cropped the image, capping off the bottom edge of the chin with a grab from another photo.

Then I removed the background and shirt using a carefully sculpted layer mask.

It wasn’t enough just to get the smile right, though, as I also needed to convey the character’s pale skin and brilliant white teeth (created in separate steps, as shown below, because each was given a different treatment in different layers).

I really wish I had brushed just before taking these pictures rather than quenching my thirst during the process with Pepsi One.

With the final image in hand, I simply dropped the logo, name and tagline on top (well, not entirely simply, as noted in one of my previous posts).


And there we have it, the final cover for my upcoming novel, The Nobodies—coming soon to both Kindle and Nook platforms.