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Anatomy of a romance cover

The General's Daughter cover

The General's Daughter cover The General's Daughter coverWelcome to my first cover reveal!

This weekend my first independent story will be released on Amazon. The General’s Daughter is s short story of a love campaign gone wrong as Margaret Covington, daughter of General Covington, is forced to watch as her carefully crafted plans to woo Lord Tresford are shot to pieces.

I decided to create my own cover for this story for a few reasons. Firstly, I want to learn Photoshop and the best learning is by jumping in. Secondly, I have no plans for this story to actually make money–it is short after all–so spending up big on a cover isn’t overly good business sense. Thirdly, while there are plenty of cheap premade covers out there, but I had a very specific idea of what I wanted, so premade wouldn’t work.

Mr Wickham, Pride and Prejudice.The design started with a mood board. It was a simple one, consisting of one photo. The story is set in the regency period, and the heroine feels a lot of pride at being a general’s daughter, to the extent where she deliberately wears red on this specific evening as her own version of a soldier’s uniform.

The next step was to find my main image. There are a couple of great sites to buy photos for covers. romancenovelcovers.com and novelexpression.com both have some fantastic historical images (along with other subgenres) but ultimately I chose my image from periodimages.com because their prices are really good for my tiny budget.

I spoke to my co-worker Darks about what image to choose. He’s a graphic designer, is a Photoshop master and I new he’d have some good advice. I’m glad I did, because he pointed out that the photo I’d chosen would be a nightmare to cut out from the background in Photoshop, particularly for the first time.

Marisa 02 from periodimages.com So this was the winning image! I love it–it’s so regal and strong. I particularly love the folds in the dress at the bottom, but they didn’t make it into the final image.

The initial plan was to turn her dress red, which is how it was described in the book, because I really wanted to have that link between her and the uniform, but unfortunately the colour of her dress and her skin tone were too similar for my amateur Photoshop skills to manage, so instead I changed the description in the book. Luckily she already had that beautiful red ribbon and red flowers throughout so I didn’t need to work any digital magic.

The General's Daughter mock upBy this point news of my cover had spread through the office–by the way, I’m a copywriter for a design company so I’m surround by graphic designers. D, my creative director, and I chatted about what was important for me–the mandatories– which were the girl, the red, and the balcony. From there she mocked up a quick sketch for me to work off.

So far so good right? Wrong. It was actually pretty arrogant of me to assume that I’d be able to work with Photoshop pretty easily. The thing is, I pick up most programs pretty quickly, but the Adobe Suite is like another language altogether. Seriously. I watched some videos on Youtube that helped, but really it sucked. I would follow the instructions and it wouldn’t work, or it would work but not the next time I tried. It took me so long just to cut her out from the background.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 9.54.54 PMThen I Googled free background patters and got this great eps file from vecteezy.com. I managed to piece together a background easy enough but changing the colour drove me crazy. Hours upon hours and I still don’t know how to do it. The method I leant (select by colour and apply a layer mask) worked sometimes, but not with this file.

Then I accidentally did something (still don’t know what) and got a red tinge over it all.

cover v1Staying with the free vector theme, I Googled balcony and chandelier and came up with these free images (right), but I didn’t like the look of it at all, so I signed up to istock.com and found photos of a balcony and chandelier. I liked these a whole lot more. Things were looking up! Time to add the feathering to a solid red. Again I thought I could just read instructions on the internet.

At first I got this:

Cover v3

And then I got this:

The General's Daughter early cover

And then I got some help from D:

The General's Daughter cover early

We were close to the mock up–it was time to think about fonts. There are a few key things to consider when choosing fonts for your cover. The most important is that it has to be easily readable when the cover is the size of a thumbnail. The next is that you want to start developing an author brand. One of my coworkers, Steph, loves lettering. She creates the most beautiful designs and when I asked if she’d create a special font for my name, she leapt at it. We created a Pintrest board that had a whole lot of cover designs from other historical romance authors, so she could get a idea of what I liked and how authors brand themselves. I loved the idea of having author titles that were completely unique to me.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.57.18 PMThis was the first draft of the titles. The main body of the font is a free font from dafont.com called Deriva. Steph then hand lettered my initials before uploading them to Adobe Illustrator.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.57.38 PMIn this second version the S has a stronger curve. I had given the first version to some friends for feedback, and they’s thought the original S could be mistaken for an F. You can see how good it looks next to the book title too. Steph did that layout for me, and it remained through to the final copy of the cover.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.58.15 PMThis is the final version. It was designed so that the two initials interlock. When I eventually publish in print books, the S & P interlocking can be removed and used as a symbol on the spine. The gold tint was inspired by the gold military braid from my initial mood photo.

The cover was looking good–but not great. For one thing, I hate the colour maroon, yet that had become the primary colour. And looking at the cover I didn’t get the feeling that it was a regency soldier’s uniform. Somehow I’d slid away from the initial design and mandatories.

Let’s face it, a complete novice is not going to produce a masterpiece. But I had done a lot of the legwork. Most of the best artworks from the Renaissance era actually had the underpainting done by an apprentice, and then Da Vinci or whoever the master was would come and refine the work and do the overpainting.

Enter Darks. I had reached the limit of what I was capable of in the time frame I had. Luckily Darks had my back. I gave him a short brief and he executed it, turning the okay design into a great one. There were some adjustments needed–my name needed to be bigger than his original and I initially gave him the wrong specs for the page size. Luckily he fixed that super quickly.

Speaking of page specs, let’s address that quickly. Amazon suggests 2500 pixels x XX pixels. I read on a discussion board that it looks a bit thin, and that you should choose page specs based on what device it’s likely to be read on. I chose an iPad and based my specs (2500px x 1875px) on that.

Which was a mistake.

Readers will only see the full size cover on an iPad after they’ve bought the book. And even then, Kindle skips the cover and goes straight to the first page of text. What i needed to do was make sure it looks good as a thumbnail on the Amazon site, and half of that is making sure it looks like everyone else’s. I looked at the specs from my favourite authors (Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Tessa Dare, and used those (2500px x 1550px). A great website to look at for page specs is ebookindiecovers.com They had a ton of great advice.

Now at least I have the basis for future covers–the next will be for the new edition of The Soldier’s Duchess, out November!

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