Monday, April 23, 2012

The Inside Scoop from a Cover Artist, Lex Valentine

Today, I have a guest blog from the cover artist of Live and Let Fly--Lex Valentine.  Lex did a terrific cover and was very receptive to my feedback.  She was great to work with and I've gotten a lot of comments on the results.  She's going to give you the inside scoop on cover art from the artist's POV.

I’m Lex Valentine and I’m an author. I’m also a cover artist for MuseItUp, Pink Petal Books, Passion in Print and MLR Press as well as for authors who self-publish. Karina asked me to guest blog here today because I created the cover for her new release, Live and Let Fly. I thought it would be a good opportunity to show readers and authors alike what goes into the creation of a cover.

The creation of a cover starts with the information the author provides to the artist. The artist uses the information to either draw an image or find an image or images that fit. They create the cover based on their interpretation of the information. When the author looks at it, they let the artist know what works and what doesn’t work. The artist then goes back and makes changes to bring the cover more in line with what the author envisions.

Most publishers that allow author input (some houses do not allow input unless the cover really misrepresents the book) up to a point, one or two passes of changes and that’s all. The reason they can’t allow more is because it’s cost prohibitive (time is money!) and it can build ill will between artist and author and publisher. The fastest way for a publisher to see an author as a Diva who may not be worth their time in the future is for the author to keep asking for more and more changes to the cover art. And believe me, if an author is Diva-ish when it comes to their cover and their book doesn’t sell well, the publisher may pass on future manuscripts from that author. Trust me. I’ve seen it happen.

The best thing an author can do when it comes to cover art is to realize there are limitations to everything. First, there are limitations when it comes to communication. If the author doesn’t articulate their vision very well, the artist is more likely to return a mockup that doesn’t match that vision. Artists don’t have crystal balls! They can’t read author minds! You need to be very concise about your descriptions and you also need to articulate what you are willing to bend on.

Second, there are limitations based on the artist. Some artists can actually draw. Others use photo manipulation. Those that can draw rely totally on the descriptions provided by the author. Those that use photo manipulation are limited by the images that are available to use. The more wild and diverse the characters and setting the less likely a photo manipulation artist is to find images that will work for the cover.

Third, there are almost always limitations based on cost. If a photo manipulation artist finds only one image that correctly portrays a character, the author may insist on that image. If the publisher pays the cost of the images and the image is expensive they may say no. If the artist pays the cost of the image and it comes out of their commission, they may say no. There are a lot of images that are cost prohibitive out there. And for artists who receive their fee based on the sales of the book, paying out of their pocket for images means they are fronting the cost of that cover in the hope that they will recoup what they have spent. They are in a sense, paying the author for the right to do their cover…at least until the sales start rolling in. No sales means the artist has given away that cover for free and the money spent on it becomes a loss.

Fourth, there are limitations based on time. If the cover art is needed quickly because a release date is very close, there may be very little time to make changes to the first draft of a cover. Also, when the artist is paid a flat fee for a cover, the longer it takes to create a cover, the less money an artist makes on it. At some point continuing to make changes becomes cost prohibitive. If an artist’s flat fee is $100 based on $25 an hour, that’s 4 hours the artist has to find images, create the cover and make the changes. If the work goes beyond 4 hours, the artist is no longer making any money on that cover.

Luckily for me, Karina’s cover required only two passes of changes. She wanted a very James Bond looking cover which immediately brought the gun barrel image to mind. Finding the inside of a gun barrel at the stock agencies turned out to be a piece of cake. I then decided to use the Mobsters font because it turned some of the letters into guns. Some of you may remember the font as the one used on the Sopranos TV show.

Next, I needed a red dragon. Since I write dragonshifters myself I did have a few dragons in my light box and they led me to the dragon I eventually chose for Vern. Finding a human Vern turned out to be fairly easy too. The man with the glasses seemed very James Bond-ish while still giving the reader the ability to see him as Vern’s human form.

I had a feeling that finding a Grace would be trouble. And she was. I looked at a lot of nun photos before I found one that might work. Lucky for me, Karina liked the one I chose.

We had some tweaking to do in terms of colorizing but all in all, this wasn’t a difficult cover to make and Karina’s requests didn’t outdo or match the Diva authors I’ve worked with. It ended up being a fun cover I think readers will be drawn to. The James Bond ties are obvious as is the fact that the book is humorous.

As an author myself, I always strive to give authors a cover that fits their vision. Sometimes I can’t do that. When that happens, I try to at least give them something representative of the book, something beautiful that catches the reader’s eye and makes them want to know more about what’s inside. I know that when I, as an author, have no input on a cover and the cover isn’t pleasing to me, I find myself trying extra hard to sell the book to people. And I’ve sometimes found myself trying to justify the cover even though I don’t like it either. As an artist, it can be really uncomfortable to sit in the author chair and not be given any say over my cover. And believe me, I have been in that position several times.

So there you have it, thoughts from a cover artist on what it takes to create covers. If you’re interested in my work, my portfolio can be seen at Many thanks to Karina for having me today and I wish her many sales with Vern and Grace!

Lex Valentine
Winterheart Design


Dr. Debra Holland said...


Great blog about cover artists. Thank you for showcasing two of my covers!

I've put the link in the self-publishing lecture I'm about to post for my online class.

Karina Fabian said...

Hi, Debra,

Thanks for taking time to comment. I'd gone through Lex's website and picked the covers I thought would most interest my audience. Now I need to go look up your books.

I love this article, too--Lex gives some great points authors need to remember.

Lex Valentine said...

Debra has some great books. You can't go wrong reading her, Karina.

Thanks for linkage, Debra! The first cover I did for you is still my fave of yours!

Karen Kelly Boyce said...

This insight into an artist's concept on cover design was very informative. Thanks to Karina and Lex.