Designing a book cover is one of those assignments that illustration teachers love to give and illustration students hate to do. Another new cover for GREAT EXPECTATIONS? Really? Okay… well… there’s a convict, a boy, Miss Havisham… did I even finish reading this in high school?
As redundant as cover assignments felt at the time, I now live and draw (and pay rent) in the real world, where readers definitely judge books by their covers. And when it comes to my work, I want my books to be judged well!
Covers are—by far—a book’s most important image, because those few square inches of space have so much work to do. The writing and interior art might be the best in the world, but no one will know if they don’t open the book. There’s just too much competition out there to not put your very best work up front.
Off the top of my head, here are some of the jobs a book cover has to juggle. It needs to:
1) give an accurate impression of the content, mood, tone, setting, and characters of the book;
2) visually stand out on a bookshelf surrounded by hundreds of other books;
3) visually stand out in a line up of 1” x 1” cover thumbnails in an online store (basically, the size of a postage stamp);
4) fit in with the rest of a series, if it’s a series;
and—most of all—
5) sell the book!
That’s an unholy amount of responsibility. How do you create a cover that does all this?!
Luckily, at first all it takes is an idea and a few tiny drawings.
Designing and drawing the cover for The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair was definitely easier than figuring out the first book cover (read more about that here); not only did I have a cover precedent and a cast of already familiar characters from the first book, The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon, but this time there was an oh-so-cool octopus submarine in the mix! The moment Sarah Stewart Taylor told me about it, I absolutely knew it had to go on the cover in a super cool underwater scene. I also thought an aqua palate would pair well with the purply-orange Southwest palate used for the cover of Book One.
I took the idea for a test drive with some tiny thumbnails on a fresh sheet of graph paper:
After coming up with a few cover compositions, I paused on the drawing to spend a few days building a model of the submarine (read all about that process here). Once it was done, I returned to designing the book cover, combining my thumbnails, sketches, and model photos to create a few rough drafts to show Sarah and the rest of the team:
After several discussions and rounds of drawing, one cover stood out from the rest because it had a solid composition, it held up as a 1″ x 1″ thumbnail image, it would be a good companion to Book One, and (we thought) captured the content, mood, and spirit of the characters in the book. Notice that the legs of the submarine show up a little better by having the sub face left instead of right and, like the first book cover, Kit is facing the reader instead of looking to the right:
With the front cover that everyone felt good about, all that was left was to design the rest of the wrap-around jacket (and then, of course, actually make the final art). Here’s a peek at the thumbnails; the rest is TOP SECRET until September!
I’m tremendously pleased with our final cover and jacket, and so thankful for the collaborative team effort behind it all coming together so well. Keep an eye out for The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair, coming soon on September 23rd. Now available for pre-order online and in bookstores!
Thanks for reading, and see you at the shelf soon!