Cover art is a very specific art form based not in artistic traditions but in genre conventions drummed into readers from the very first book they pick up. As an indie author, I have both the pleasure and responsibility for my own cover art, which can sometimes be a daunting task. In my traditionally published short stories, one of the artists stands out simply because she captured my characters so beautifully and so accurately that I requested the ability to use her artwork in the re-release as a standalone eBook, namely Star Olson’s illustrations for Curve of Her Claw. The pointed ears reveal it to be fairytale while the shadowing on the visible tree limbs and the elongated arms give a hint of darkness despite her cute face. Not only is it true to the story, but it also has the genre clues to tell readers what to expect.
Which brings me to Shafter. I revealed the new cover with its stark vision of a space ship that embodies Trina’s longing for space in one, clear image. It’s not a space battle, which would imply military SF; it’s not dystopian; nor does it convey any of the other clues that would lead readers astray. To flip to the blurb and discover this a story about colonies and escape should not surprise or jar anyone.
The road to this cover, however, was a long one. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the thinking that goes into cover art. Most of the below covers never made it out to the public, but they showed the patterns of my thinking, and the newest cover is a logical progression.
So, the first concept for the cover art was all about Trina’s longing. Here’s the mock up in which she stands at the fence securing the space station and watches a ship disappear into the sky. This is drawn from a scene in the book and underlies her motivations in the first part of Shafter.
The second mockup brought it more up close and personal, and drew on her preferred weapon to make the title stand out. I put this mock before some reader friends who pointed out that the ship was too small (actually, it became just an exhaust trail) and the knife implied murder mystery. Again, genre conventions are crucial.
So then I moved the focus from Trina (who the would-be reader didn’t know yet) to the spaceship. I tried a variety of spaceship styles (many of which didn’t make it to a mockup), before settling on the Bumble Bee (which comes with its own backstory). I also started playing with the title typeface and color. If you look in the top right, you can see how my designer was developing the science fiction logo at the same time.
There were a number of interim steps, but then we get to Shafter’s original cover with increased weathering on the spaceship, the use of a typeface for the title that was based on the one used in the London Underground (an inside joke for Shafter fans), and the final logo for my science fiction titles.
Though I had the cover redone, I’ll always have a soft spot for this one both because it was one of my first covers and because it taught me so much about what to focus on. You’ll notice that the new cover stays true to the elements of spaceships and planets, hinting at colonization and travel. Cover art is all about catching the eye, but it’s about catching the right eye. Both mood and genre should be amply represented so the people who read the back cover text or flip through the interior are the same readers who will love the story.
Would you like to share a cover that caught your attention? What genre elements are you looking for?
Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Cover art inspirations” — March’s topic in Forward Motion’s Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour.