The Making of an Urban Fantasy Cover: Part I

The Art Department of a book publisher is a mysterious thing to a lot of people. Sure, you know what we do, we’re the ones who make the pretty bookcovers. But friends and family are always kind of mystified about the process of designing a cover. How do we find art? Who decides what the cover is going to look like? How can you possibly have memorized 5,000 fonts and yet still bemoan that you just can’t find the right one? (This is not unlike a teenager looking into a full fridge and complaining that there’s nothing to eat). So I thought I’d take you, loyal readers, through the process of a cover, start to finish.

Here in the Orbit Art Department, we’re working on the covers for Fall 09/Winter 10. This season I’m responsible for all kinds of covers – fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy titles. I thought a good book for a sneak peak into the design process would be Jennifer Rardin’s new Jaz Parks novel, BITE MARKS. I know in the real world, the previous book in the series, One More Bite, is just out, but we have to work way in advance.

Urban fantasy books are really fun because you almost always need to do a photo shoot, which is certainly the case for the Jaz Parks books. To refresh your memory, here’s the series covers so far:

Very fun. As the character progresses through the series, we’ve been going from more glam to more bad-ass, and that’s the direction we decided to go in for Bite Marks. Once the general direction is decided on between editorial (Devi) and art (myself), I contact the series designer, who, in this case, was Tim Hsu & Melissa Chang from Hsu & Associates. (If it was a new series, I’d have to choose whether I was going to design it myself, or hire a freelancer.) We decided to use the same photographer as One More Bite, Michael Turek, because we liked the slick yet (dare I say it again) bad-ass look of that cover. The photographer then decides on a model (Renne Kille), a makeup artist (Yuko Takahashi), and a stylist (Italo Vasquez-Velasquez).

Never realized how many people it takes to make a bookcover, did you? It takes a village, trust me.

Why a stylist, you ask? Well, who do you think gets the crossbow?! Never mind the fishnets, belts, buckles, unitards, etc.

The photographer also reserves a studio space for all this chaos to happen in. There are spaces all over the city for rent – some large enough to build a whole set in and drive cars into, and some that are more like blank rooms that just happen to be painted white, have great light, and have a industrial-strength coffee maker. We had the latter kind for this shoot ( Everyone meets in the morning, the model starts getting her makeup and hair done, the photographer (and especially the photo assistant Quincy Scott) start setting up lights and tripods and backdrops, and the Creative Director, um, drinks coffee. The stylist dresses the model and sets up the props. The photographer does some test shots to check the light. The Creative Director decides which crossbow she likes better, and, well, drinks some more coffee.

Finally, everyone is set up and we start shooting! Which is pretty much the photographer and model running the show and the rest of us hovering waiting for shots to come up on the computer. After every pose set Michael, Tim, & I looked over the poses, maybe had Italo adjust some belts and corset straps, and in general envision which shots would look good on a bookcover. And don’t forget to leave room for the type! Really the hero of the day is always the Model, who has to put up with all of us saying things like “can you turn your head a quarter turn to the left, your torso halfway right, look up, put your chin down, look angry, and don’t breathe.”

After a few hours and a bunch of different poses and weapons, voila! These are the raw files the designers will take to make mock-up covers. Once we decide on a final cover, the photographer will retouch the photo and give us a totally clean and color-corrected version.

The designer takes the photo files home, and goes through all the poses and tries to work up a few covers that look dynamic but also work well with all the type that needs to go on the cover. Next time: “Cover Designs: Or, Trying to Fit 10 Pounds of Type on a 5 Pound Cover”

Thank you! Feel free to comment with questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. Unless it’s something Top Secret – then I can’t make any promises.