What’s Behind the Cover?

Some say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Right, sure. Well, maybe you don’t, or more likely maybe you shouldn’t. Except you do. At least I do. (Feel free to throw the book at me. Pun intended.) To be fair, it’s a part of my choosing process: when I don’t know what to read next, I can spend hours browsing page after page of book listings, and at one point my eyes will begin to entirely skip over the names of authors, titles, and the summaries and instead search for originality, beauty, or whatever else stands out in the cover, and will eliminate the rest.

This is probably why, subconsciously or not, I didn’t just want a random cover.

My idea of a cover is that, in itself, it should already tell a story. It should be the wordless voice of a writing genre and style. It should be focused on one particular element of the story and not try to “hint” at readers with so many details that it looks like some sort of treasure map. It should convey the tone of the book, and extend the story once the reader has turned the very last page—then when they close the book and look at the cover again, they realize, “Oh, I see what you did here,” or “Hey, I get what you meant by that!” It should be enticing. Yes, it should be all that, and much more. But that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, so that was my philosophy when I started looking for a designer. And after browsing several portfolios, I got in touch with Elena. I don’t know if it’s also frowned upon to judge a designer by their portfolios, but I judged hers as top class.

I couldn’t possibly tell her how I felt about book covers. I figured it was too conceptual, and I imagined that, as an artist, if I simply gave her elements of the story, the genre, the audience, and such, we’d be on the same wavelength. Plus, I’d seen her stunning work.

For reasons I can’t much detail because of spoilers, my book cover had to have two main colors: that of fire—because of the mythical Phoenix—and something dark. But I don’t like black; it’s too depressing and my book is anything but.

It also had to be focused one a young blonde woman. If Elena could add Gabriel in the picture, fine, but it was a lot less essential than having the mythological bird. That was mandatory.

The first proposals I received were at the opposite end of what I was looking for, and I must say I was a little disappointed. Frustrated. It was a little blurry in my head and I really didn’t know how to express what I had in mind—gotta be because of the “show, don’t tell” motto because I hardly ever have that problem while writing. To use a food allegory, say you own a restaurant and want to convince your customers of the quality of your food. Instead of telling them, this might do the trick: “White linen tablecloths cover the tables, and in the center of each one is a single lit candle with its glowing flame proudly dancing. Chairs wear white dresses that only partly hide their wooden legs and are livened up with satin bows tied to their lower backs.” That’s an sample from 24 Hours of the Phoenix, not from my cooking. (Not even close.)

At one point, I told Elena I needed some time to gather my thoughts together and be able to tell her what I wanted.

Thankfully, I have a background in visual communication and photo manipulation, so I started working. Since my vision of Phoenix’s face was so clear, and because none of the women Elena had found and put in her proposals fit my mental image of her—even when Elena offered to show Phoenix’s profile instead—I gave up the idea of using photographs and instead turned to vector graphics—which I’m also familiar with.

Again, to avoid spoilers, I’ll quote the Kirkus review: “Disjointed memories move the mind-bending, baffling, and delightful story back and forth between past and present. The present is filled with a plethora of complicated events that blur the line between fantasy and reality.”

Lyrical was what I couldn’t pinpoint then and never said to Elena. But once I’d done a—terrible—draft of a Phoenix and a face mixing together, I got back in touch with Elena and she created this amazing, marvelous cover.

Elena can be found on Facebook and 99designs.