We’ve talked about book production and book covers some (here and here), and I’m continuing that conversation by talking about a cover of mine that was particularly hard to pull together. And that was because my protagonist is a garden gargoyle.
First let me tell you that I never wanted to write a story about a gargoyle, garden or otherwise. But my two critique partners got it in their heads that it would be a fun project to write an anthology “about” gargoyles. We could write whatever we wanted. So they dragged me, kicking and screaming, into this abyss.
One of my critique partners, Patricia Simpson, is a Rita-nominated author of gothic romances. Beth Barany writes contemporary romance or fantasy, often for a YA or NA audience. I write light-hearted stories, which sometimes verge on comedy, with a romance angle. So we couldn’t be more different.
My story, “On a Wing and a Prayer,” is about Craig, a garden gargoyle who wants desperately to be able to fly because he thinks his “person” is in trouble (she is) and he could help her if he could fly (he could). Venus and Mars, the gods of love and war, respectively, hear his plea and bring their friends, the wind gods, to teach him. And Craig saves the day. Of course.
Patricia’s story is harrowing, about a monster who isn’t, who just wants to live her life. And Beth’s is a romance between two mortals who use the gargoyle as a touchstone for their time-travel adventure. Patricia is a web master, and she designed our cover (see right).
I like this cover a lot. It looks sharp. It doesn’t illustrate my own story as much as it illustrates theirs, but I was okay with that. You get the idea that the book is all about gargoyles, and that’s the main thing. It sells two of the stories exactly.
Over time, the three of us decided we wanted to sell these stories separately. So I recently commissioned Melody again to work on the cover.
I told her the book was almost light enough to be a comedy, so I didn’t want the gargoyle to look scary. In the story, he does look scary, but I’d learned during the last cover process that we want the cover to convey an emotion (not necessarily facts of the book), and I didn’t want to convey that either the character or the story has frightening elements. Humor, that’s the ticket.
We looked at—I swear to you—fifteen million pictures of gargoyles. Two were acceptable. The one we went with is more or less smiling. The rejected one looks mournful.
What about people? Melody said. We have to have people on the cover.
The humans in my story are insignificant in terms of propelling the story. Craig’s person, Bea, gets a lot of dialogue, but she’s a placeholder that fuels Craig’s desire to fly. The other people are the gods who come to help. Of the gods, Venus would be the obvious choice to showcase. She gets more dialogue than the others, she’s blonde, she’s voluptuous, she’s proactive. But she isn’t major to the story.
Melody found a great picture of a brunette in a tight, red dress with just the right look of sauciness for Venus. Great! I said. Can we make her a blonde? There’s no way Venus is brunette.
Can’t make her blonde, Melody said. Looks cheesy. Can we say she’s Bea?
Alas, there’s no way that this woman in the photo is Bea. Bea is brunette, but she’s neither saucy nor tight-red-dress. Using that photo as Bea would send entirely the wrong emotion. So we had to go back to the drawing board. We found lots of blondes: either too wholesome (cows and milking pails, PLEASE NO) or too slutty (pouty red lips, crotch-length dresses, provocative poses, PLEASE NO).
And that was a no. I like the image of the woman, but her look is too far off of anyone in the story. And she’s placed too big here; it looks like the story is about her, and then what on earth is that nutty-looking thing doing next to her? And you KNOW what he’s looking at. That’s just wrong. And the story is not about Bea. It’s about the gargoyle.
What about legs, Melody said. No faces.
Legs—now there was an idea. So Melody tried that, making the legs smaller and the gargoyle bigger, and giving them some grass to stand or sit on.
And that works. For some reason, cutting off the person’s face—besides making the gargoyle bigger—emphasizes the gargoyle. The motion conveyed by the hand holding the fabric and the kicking leg convey comedy a lot better than the static woman in the red dress, and I think the fact that they’re standing on the ground just anchors the whole image a lot better. I toyed with writing a longer tagline so that it would be abundantly clear that the book was about the gargoyle, but in the end I decided it was superfluous. There’s a description on Amazon; people will undoubtedly read it before they plunk down their 99 cents. They’ll know the story is about Craig.
The cover was done.
I have one more book that I’m thinking about. So far it’s been only an ebook; it’s begging to become paper. And if I do that, I need a spine and a back cover, and does that mean I should redesign the front cover, too? More decisions.
One thing for sure about indie or hybrid publishing: it’s not for the faint-hearted!
For an interesting post on “minimalist” covers, check out what the Smart Bitches have to say here.
What about you guys? What issues are you finding as you publish your books?