The Making of a Cover: Final Cover Designs

Welcome to the most in-depth, behind-the-scenes, play-by-play account of how a cover is born, from the point of view of the Art Department. We’re charting the conception and birth of the Shadowdance series by David Dalglish.

So far we have talked about the first real step of a book, Acquisitionand then what goes into Cover Briefing. Then we let our minds wander and collect inspiration and form Directions for the cover. Then we agreed on a Photographer and Illustrator. We’ve even found our hero, the Cover Model. And we found a Trampoline for him to do stunt work on safely. We decked him out in book-specific Costume & Props. We spent all day at our Photo Shoot. We received the Rough Cuts, and while the illustrator was working, Kirk was developing the Design Roughs. We even looked at the Mapmaking process. Once the illustrator was done, he sent over the Final Retouched Illustrations for Kirk to input into his designs, getting us to Final Cover Designs!

You’d think, after all the work on the design, and all the work on the images, that Kirk’s work would be over, but there is still the cover mechanical to send to the printer for the final printed books. Here’s Kirk Benshoff to go into more detail about that:

Up to this point all of the focus has been on the front cover, which is ultimately the main draw to get people to pick up the book, look at it, and ultimately buy it. But what happens if the book is not face out in a bookshelf? What do you want the rest of the experience to be once someone has the book in his or her hands? The book needs a strong shelf presence to stand out amongst a lot of other titles in a bookstore.

In all, the cover is broken out into three parts: the front cover, spine, and back cover. The spine needs to visually identify the book when it’s shelved in a bookcase. In the event that someone who is familiar with the book wants to find the next volume in the series, an identifiable spine design will make it easy for that person to find what they need. If we’re looking to court a new reader who is not familiar with the property, we want the spine to be as engaging as a tall and thin surface area can be so someone can get a taste of the cover, be compelled to take it out, and look at it.

If the front cover and the spine are the proverbial hooks, the back cover is where we reel in the reader. The back cover will have some or all of these: the summary of the book, reading line, quotes from other authors, bio, continued reading, credits, price, barcode, etc. The back cover is where I need to make sure the content is presented in the best way possible, maintaining the look defined by the front cover but yet emphasizing all the details that communicate how awesome the story is.

I really enjoy working on all three parts of the cover because, with a printed book, it’s a real experience when holding it in your hands and rolling it back and fourth. Are you telling a mini story or emphasizing a detail that you only hinted at on the front cover? There are so many cool things you can do with the three parts of the cover, that (without sounding cheesy) you’re only limited by your imagination. Also, because the printing effects are tactile, you can sometimes think about how the book feels in your hands. Printing with different finishes make the book not only look cool but literally feel different ways: gritty matte, soft touch, gloss, spot gloss, embossing, debossing and more. You can really think about making the book something the reader enjoys holding.


I was originally assigned David Dalglish’s Shadowdance series which are fantasy books centering around a ninja like assassin named Haern who fights in this chaotic yet beautiful fighting style to overcome his adversaries. I wanted the cover to be beautiful and active. I wanted the color to draw you in, yet separate the book from the pack. The photo illustrations needed to be front and center at the same time making sure the other elements on the cover did not fight with each other. I wanted a simple and strict layout to keep everything in line. The final design accomplishes my goals and I couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out!

DanceofBlades_Dalglish_TPBook two of the Shadowdance series, A DANCE OF BLADES (US | UK | AUS), releases on November 5th! For the latest news about the series, become a fan of the Shadowdance Facebook page.