Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writer's Wednesday: Creating Cover Art

Is there anything more daunting for a writer than trying to fill up a blank page with thought-provoking, insightful words?

Yes: creating cover art.

I have a precious month of vacation before I am summoned to summer camp duty, and I want to utilize this time. I've set a goal of September 1st as my release date and I am going to haul ass to make sure I make it.

The morning of my first day of freedom, I set up a makeshift photo studio. I had to settle for desk lamps instead of soft boxes…

…and a curious cat instead of an assistant, but I felt my way long, stacking boxes where I needed to stack boxes (again, instead of light stands, I had boxes) and grabbing additional lights when necessary.

The nice thing is that, for about a month prior, I sketched out at least 10 - 15 design ideas for the cover, and decided on a fairly minimalistic (read: cheap and simple to do) stack of books with a teacup. I also spent the last week of (real) work figuring out the logistics. Where would I shoot this? How would I shoot this? I decided on the table in my living room/workout area, with the spine of the books facing away (lest I get sued for copyright infringement).

Doing this gave me a whole new perspective on professional photographers. I tend to be very whimsical about how I take pictures: if I take a great shot, awesome. If I miss the mark, delete. But with this, I had no choice but to eventually hit the mark. This meant taking lots and lots and lots of photos where the changes were extremely minute. This used to drive me nuts on modeling gigs; why do they need me to rotate my head 5 whole degrees? What difference will that make?

Well, a lot.

After I felt comfortable in what I shot, I disassembled my makeshift studio and went to work making the prototypes.

Like the photos, I made way more prototypes than I was comfortable with, each slightly different than the other. Different shots, different color balances, different effects.

And this is just page one.

When I *finally* settled on one photo, I created a .PSD (Photoshop Document) to serve as my base for the rest of my prototypes. This made my life a million times easier: with the layers still un-merged, I could dabble with the effects without mucking up the titles. Likewise, if I wanted to change something with the title, I could delete it without mucking up the effects on the picture.

I found myself at a loss. I liked the overall feel of the prototypes, but it all felt too…indie, for my tastes. Granted, there is nothing more independent than an unestablished writer using her own DSLR to take pictures of her own books using her own lighting, but I didn't want the potential reader to see the cover and automatically assume, "Oh. Self-published. Pass." Some prototypes looked good, but seemed to fall flat when I imagined them as an e-book (good practice for those creating their own cover-art: open the prototype and either expand it so that it fills the entire screen, or cover your hands over the rest of the screen. Does it look good as a stand-alone on a big screen? Would you want to read a book if that's what you saw when you clicked on the thumbnail?)

Speaking of thumbnails: I was happy that each prototype -- at the very least -- looked good in thumbnail form. The minimal design with big bold "CHICK LIT" (which gives you a good hint as to what part of the title is) at least catches the eye's attention. So at least there was that.

The best part of this whole operation is that, after I swore I had my chosen photo, I found another one I liked a smidgen better, one that hadn't been made into a single prototype from.

And not even hours after realizing that, my husband came up with the suggest: why don't I try drawing the stack of books and tea cup? Maybe a sketched look is what the cover needs.

I fully recognize that this is going to be a very long process. When I first came up with the idea for my cover art, I naively thought that I'd have a finished product before I even finished my last edit. But there's a reason why, even with a team of people working on a person's book, a manuscript isn't ready to be printed and distributed as a book for upwards of a year. I gave myself the ambitious September 1st deadline. Two and a half months seems like such a long time, especially when I'll have one of those months work-free, but, at the end of the day, this is my book, my baby. The first novel I've written that I am genuinely, genuinely proud of (as opposed to my previous attempts, which hide in shame in a binder somewhere at my parents' house).

Even I sell only 10 copies, I want everything to be right. And that includes working feverishly at cover art prototypes until I go cross-eyed, only to realize that I might have to start again from scratch.

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