Cover Design: Behind The Hart and Soul Series Covers

I’m finally getting myself ahead enough of the publishing schedule to start thinking about things other than editing and proofreading, and I thought readers might enjoy a little insight into the cover design process.

I do the covers myself, which is pretty much flying in the face of all good publishing advice. And for a girl who just scraped a C in GCSE Art, it might sound like a really bad idea, but I do have some design accreditation (official and unofficial) to my name. Most importantly, I know my way round Photoshop from my FanFiction years when I used to make banners for the stories I was writing, changing celebrity hair and eye colour to better suit the characters (no, I’m not telling you where you can find any of that stuff).

Those of you who read the Author’s Note at the back of New Dusk (I won’t blame you if you didn’t!) will know that this series has been a long time in the making, and it’s been through a number of cover designs. My initial plan was to use my sister and her boyfriend as models for the characters (they were a little young, but looked about right) and take some photographs of them to make the covers. I’m not a photographer, so I asked a friend of my sister’s to take the pictures.

I loved doing this, but the problem was, the pictures weren’t really good enough. This was not the fault of Kirsty, who did a fantastic job taking the pictures. The problem was with the set up. It was a budget operation – a hand painted green screen, spot lights and, at one point, a fan.

Seriously, this is what poor Kirsty had to work with:

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Hot, bright spotlights, combined with the curtain-less window meant the lighting was too harsh and uneven

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Hand made wind-tunnel effects – that fan weighed a ton

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Highly professional models too…. XD

Despite the difficulties, Kirsty managed to take some pretty good pictures, and I had a good go at making some covers out of them. This was one of my original attempts:

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It’s not terrible by any stretch, but you can see how the lighting is an issue. The contrast on ‘Cadence’ is way too pronounced (although I do like what I did there with the green reflecting on her shirt!) The light is also coming from three different places – one for each of the characters, and then the moon in the background.

The whole thing is too dark. The bad quality of the lighting in the characters meant they didn’t composite well with the background image. It had to be made so dark for it to work, that it saps any energy out of the cover and accentuates the issues with the contrast. I liked the concept of the two central characters against an urban landscape, but it wasn’t quite working.

I tried again with a more abstract background this time.

New Dusk lighter

This works in some ways. The lighting is better – less contrast. It’s brighter generally, and I liked the idea that it had a colour theme with all the blue, and the next book could have a different one. It was a way of making the series covers have a coherent feel.

But again, there are issues. The reason for the cheesy fog at the bottom was twofold. One, the image was busy, and that meant the typography didn’t show up very well. Two, the photos of Cadence and Matthew weren’t full profiles. They literally stop at the bottom there, their legs cut off. Because they weren’t taken standing next to each other, that mean I had scale issues, where one character was larger than the other, and when made the same size and the right heights, one’s legs ended much higher than the others. I had to disguise that.

The characters don’t sit in front of the backdrop very happily, either. They look like they’ve been superimposed. Which they have, but it’s not good design if it looks like that’s what’s been done.

And while we’re on typography, the letters at the bottom are far too close to the bottom, and the title at the top is too small, it gets lost.

It took me so long to make both of these, and the thought of doing it nine times was enough to put me off. I needed to rethink my entire approach. Which is when I decided to take it back a step, go a bit more simple, symbolic.

I’ll freely admit, I was much inspired by the trend that Twilight started, with a symbolic image on the cover that represents some element of the story. Say what you like about Twilight – those covers were amazing, and probably a huge part of what helped it to take off.

Powerful but simple symbolism

Powerful but simple symbolism

When I started thinking about the covers this way – taking one symbolic element of the story – the ideas came together very quickly. Using the Paper App for iPad, I mocked up some quick designs.

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Note: Not in any way sponsored by Paper. I just like it.

You can see how very simplistic those first sketches were – just an idea captured before I went to sleep and forgot all about it. But that was the genesis of the cover design. Next time, I’ll talk about how I brought those covers to life.

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