A Cover Designers Story
Hi, my name is Michelle Rene and I am a freelance cover designer and illustrator. I started a little over a year ago when my daughter had been moved away for college for a while and I found myself missing my creative side and a lot of extra time on my hands. I just started sketching again one day, drawing a friend, it turned out I still had some skills and I was surprised. I started a twitter account to share my artwork privately, away from friends and family, just to see what sort of reaction I would get and also find some outside inspiration.
It only took about two months and I was noticing that there were a multitude of indie authors on twitter and lots of them were sharing my work and had become followers. An old dream of mine sprang to mind and I bravely sent out three messages to authors asking if they would be willing to hire me to design their eBook cover so I could get my feet wet in the industry. I had become an illustrator for Ace books out of New York when I was in my early twenties, but then I became a mother and I didn’t think the work was reliably substantial as a career. With a new family to support. I put my artwork pretty much aside for twenty years until that recent December, and went about working my way through college and toward a financially dependable career.
I got lucky with one of those letters I sent, I couldn’t believe it, one of the three authors responded to my query and hired me. His name was Ben Brown. I was ecstatic! I was jumping up and down with excitement and couldn’t wait to get started.
Ben has love of scientific facts, futuristic possibilities, and fast-paced action infects his plots and writing style. He thoroughly enjoys pushing himself creatively, which means venturing into many types of storytelling. As a consequence, his catalogue is a mixture of sci-fi, speculative and horror fiction.
Ben now has a growing number of novels to his name:
I did an assortment of designs for Ben’s book and just seemed to miss the mark. Ben eventually published with a cover he created (left) from some of my artwork and photos he got off the internet.
I was let down that I couldn’t meet his vision for the book and I absolutely hated the cover he made, it was awful. Months later I ran across a bad review of the cover and I went bananas. I immediately got to work and designed four new covers for Ben and then gave him the one he liked for free. I told him about the review and he contacted the author who removed it from the article.
I’m happy with the final result and working with Ben was a great experience. I will never forget that he is the author that gave me my first chance and I will always be greatful.
Thanks to her drug and alcohol dependency, Elisabet Blumenberg’s FBI career has more or less sunk as far as it can; in the space of five years, she’s gone from heading up her own team to the data pool. She’s at rock bottom.
Then her neighbor, an aging holocaust survivor, asks for help finding her missing husband. As a favor to the old woman, Elisabet agrees to help…and unearths more than she ever thought possible—a Nazi plot to regain world domination.
Her investigation uncovers horrendous experiments and a whole new generation of Nazi monsters…in 21st Century America!
My next illustration experience happened a month after I had gotten the commission from Ben, a second author that I had messaged on Twitter took me up on my cover design offer. Stuart Harper from London, is a father, husband, reader and dreamer. Occasionally, as was the case with the young adult book he commissioned me to illustrate, he writes those dreams down, if only to stop him thinking about them when he really should be concentrating on other things. You can follow him on Twitter.
Stuart had some basic things from the story he wanted to include on his cover and I was thrilled that I was able to bring his characters to life for him. I loved this book immediately, it pulled me in from the very beginning and I became warmly attached to Oliver and Grace. This was the most enjoyable project I have worked on to date.
North Star Minions, a class from the Outback in Australia, read the book and fell in love with it too. “We are currently reading the book ‘Death on the Empress‘ by Stuart Harper. It is a mystery full of surprises and suspense. The book is noticeable for it’s wonderful descriptions of the array of characters on board. We spent some time looking at some of the character descriptions yesterday, then made attempts to draw what we think those characters looks like.“ – You can see them HERE.
After that the class asked both Stuart and I to do an Author/Illustrator AMA. “We have been reading the book ‘Death on the Empress’ in class. As well as having the opportunity to read such a great book, we have also had the opportunity, through the wonders of modern technology, to talk to both Stuart Harper, the author, and Michelle-Rene, who designed the book cover. The book has a thoroughly engaging narrative, with marvelous descriptive phrases that really evoke the imagination. Earlier this week we drew the characters from the book as we thought they would look like. Helping us in this was the marvelous cover drawn by Michelle-Rene.” – See them HERE.
Stuart Harper, British YA novelist:
“I launched my debut YA novel Death on the Empress less than a month ago, and in my very short time as a self-published writer, my proudest moment was when I discovered that a class in Australia was using my book, Death on The Empress, in their lessons. They were studying the character descriptions in the book and drawing what they thought the characters looked like. This made me realize what I really wanted to get out of writing.
“When I decided to go down the route of self-publishing, I didn’t really have in my head the number of copies I wanted to sell. What was respectable? 10, 100, 1000? Because I never really had a figure in my head, I didn’t know whether to judge myself as a success or not.
“It was only when I saw all those children, on the opposite side of the world, reading Death on The Empress and drawing the characters from my book that I realized that sales figures aren’t important to me. It’s knowing that there are people who I don’t know, who I will never meet, who I will possibly never be in the same hemisphere as, who are enjoying my book, drawing the characters and talking about the story. Even if I never sell another book (and I’m realistic that I probably won’t shift too many more), I will consider this launch a success.”
Needless to say I felt amazing too. What a wonderful experience to have touched the lives of these youngsters so far away. It is the best feeling to know that my work as an illustrator for Stuart’s book has inspired them. Stuart has started writing a collaborative sequel to Death on the Empress with children at the school and has asked me to illustrate the sequel.
Death on the Empress
In an alternate 1930’s Britain, where airships rule the skies, fourteen year old Oliver has started his dream job; travelling the world in the largest airship ever built. But when a priceless jewel is stolen, a passenger plummets to their death and an ancient curse strikes the ship, everyone onboard is thrown into mortal danger. Is there more going on than meets the eye though? Only Oliver can solve the deadly mystery onboard The Empress.
Stuart contacted me last Friday and has recently completed a separate young adult story that he gave me to read. He is commissioning me as the illustrator and is leaving the concept up to me. I am so excited to be working with Stuart again and this story is just awesome too.
Immediately following my work for Stuart, Susan Lattwein was referred to me by Ben Brown.
Susan lives in Canberra, Australia. She is animated, witty, and charming and her writing just sizzles. I was nervous about creating her cover for the second book because her vision was a military boat with party lights on it. I struggled at first to capture the feeling of romance with an edgy twist in the illustration. In the end I was surprised at how beautiful it turned out and Susan asked me to make a new cover for the first book in the series too.
Arafura: Blood, The Wet and Tears
Nobody said the build-up would be easy. No body…
Sensible schoolteacher Kat is planning to marry when her long-term fiancé finds the time. When the mysterious and damaged Adam arrives in town, Kat is jolted well out of her comfort zone.
Despite her loyal intentions, a dead body and enough pre-monsoonal weather to strangle a Kat, she must wrestle with an instant attraction that is emotionally risky and absolutely, definitely fraught.
Arafura will appeal to female and male readers who enjoy quirky, witty suspense with dark edges.
Arafura – Unfinished Business
Love is patient. Love is kind. Sometimes love is explosive ….
Schoolteacher Katherine is kidnapped by terrorists outside a supermarket one balmy evening after being stalked by an unconnected, odious suitor – a police officer.
Soon Kat is caught up in a plot to wreak havoc in Darwin, her unruly emotions over the man who rescues her, and an ex-fiancé who refuses to move on.
As time runs out, how can they convince the authorities to take the terrorists’ plans seriously?
Arafura – Unfinished Business is a gritty romance with a bit of sex, dynamite, and hilarity – not always at the same time …
I have had about one commission per month in my first year of book cover design and illustration. I am now published in seven genres and my creative diversity shows in my various works. Some of my designs were previously published in Creative Review magazine. I am an artist and have a true passion for my work.
I’ve had no formal training, so I consider myself to be very lucky. I went after my dream and now I’m living it. I work every day doing research in my field and also doing research on writing. I love what I do, creating covers for books is enchanting, it is somehow magical to me. I feel entirely lucky when I am commissioned by a new author. I feel lucky that they chose me for their book and I get attached to their story. All of these creations are a part of me and it’s the most amazing feeling. The hours are long and seven days a week. But it is completely worth it to me.
Despite my lack of schooling in design, I seem to have a natural knack for it. I think a great cover design engages the viewer by drawing them in with a design style that speaks for the story. Branding the author is imperative, the designer is responsible for presenting their image as a first impression to the public, special thought and time should go into font, color scheme and placement.
As a designer I feel that hearing the heart of the story from you, the author, and your passion for your creation fuels my creativity and design process. I want my authors to feel that my illustration and design is the vision they hoped for in representing their work to the public. I want to pull potential readers in with the cover, it has to stand out from the rest as a unique work of art.
Marketing your goods or services is something that requires some time and effort.
I spend a large amount of time promoting my services and figuring out new ways to promote my services. I also spend a huge amount of time on my social networks, keeping up with relationships that could turn to business and making new connections. I start in the early morning, writing my blog posts from the work I have done the night before. I schedule them to post the following day between 9:30 and 10:30 am. I save my top posts for Wednesday morning when the internet is busy. I spend time working on my illustrations and cover designs if I have commissions and then do research. Hours are spent creating promotional materials like Book Design tutorials and illustration and painting videos, new concept covers, meme’s, and info graphics.
It’s important to have and maintain a social networking schedule when you are trying to promote your business or your product. I post every day except for Sunday.
- I share my new articles, illustrations, designs, and marketing material.
- I share my business information.
- I share new concept cover designs.
- I also share posts that my connections are sharing and try to promote their books.
- I answer emails and messages.
- At the end of the day I again share my new articles, illustrations, designs, and marketing material.
This takes up at the very minimum four hours of my time. I have saved repetitive posts in a word document onto my desktop so I can copy and paste as much as possible and not have to retype everything, this saves me a lot of time considering how many social networks I deal with daily.
You have to know your target audience and how to reach them. My audience is authors and they are everywhere. I do plenty of reading, I pay attention to the way authors are marketing their books. But most importantly, I pay attention to their book covers. I pay attention to the market, the look of books, the latest book trends. I know my history when it comes to covers and I know what designs from the past that I love, that have inspired me. The ideas I come up with are endless and I plan to create more concept covers for my portfolio.
I hate to say it, but it is painfully obvious when an author has created their own book cover and in my opinion, it hurts the sales potential of the book. No one wants to buy a book from an author that does not value their writing enough to wrap it in a professional package. If the product doesn’t look professional, the writing probably isn’t professional either.
For those authors that insist on saving the money and creating their own cover, I am just beginning to put together a series of video tutorials on cover design to help them in their efforts. I feel so torn when I see a cover that doesn’t meet the mark and I want to help. You can find my videos on my website under the “Videos and Tutorials” tab. I also have been recording my painting process and plan to make some spectacular videos in the future as I develop my video editing skills. The quality of videos will improve over time.
As a professional cover designer, I think what makes me stand out above the rest is that I am not just a designer, I am also an illustrator. My work is unique and eye catching. The competition is all beginning to look the same to me, pictures altered in photoshop with interesting text font. They may seem professional, but there are thousands upon thousands of similar covers from designers that lack the creative skill to step outside the box in their design.
I have made so much progress in just one year. I am so excited to see what the next year holds in store for me. One thing is for sure, I will continue to give it everything I have got. I love my authors, not only are they making my dreams come true, they are my muse, my inspiration. I admire their craft.
Michelle Rene Goodhew
goodhewmichelle (AT) gmail (DOT) com