As you work your way through your NaNoWriMo novels, we’d like you to keep in mind the importance of cover design. Even if you have the most sublimely-written masterpiece, nobody is going to pick it up to read it if it doesn’t have a good cover. Your cover image is your advertisement, the first thing a potential reader sees, and what they’ll judge your book on, whether they think they do or not.

To that end, for the next couple weeks, we’re bringing you posts about all aspects of cover design every Friday. It’s the KWL “We’ve Got You Covered Friday!”

Our first post in the series is from Steve Vernon’s cover designer, Keith Draws.


The first thing I think about when designing a book cover is simple. What would make me pick this book up for a closer look?

What would make me BUY this book.

The cover is the first thing a person will see when looking at your book. In fact it is most likely the first contact it will have with its potential audience and so it is necessary to capture their interest. First impressions count.

First impressions are life or death for any book – ESPECIALLY an e-book.

So what makes a good cover?

A good cover – combined with a good title as to lead and tease the reader. A good cover has to be a bit of a cliffhanger. A good cover has to indicate the genre of the e-book and “hint” at the story just hard enough to leave the viewer LONGING to know and experience more of the book behind that cover. A good cover is like a well-made movie trailer. A good cover must spark the imagination of the casual onlooker. A good cover must turn that onlooker into a customer and a reader and hopefully – a lifelong fan.

There are many ways to do this, and what I’m showing here is just one way.

When I first started working with Steve on his “Flash Virus” we talked about how the story is filled with action and cliffhangers in each episode and this was a lot like the old pulp stories of the first half of the twentieth century and so with that in mind we set about designing a kind of updated “pulp” style and the Flash Virus covers were the result.

Normally, if I get time, I like to read the book, but Steve was working to a tight launch schedule and that wasn’t really possible. Instead he gave me a short précis of the events and a list of elements and characters that were dominant in the story.

First I worked out some typography, something designed to reflect the content.

Once I was happy with that I made sketches of cover ideas incorporating the typography and sent them over to Steve. We discussed the roughs until we nailed down the final layout. I then produced the final paintings.

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This process worked so well that we decided to continue in the same vein for Steve’s new novel “Trolling Lures”

Now I’ll go into more detail here.

First off Steve gave me a quick list of key cover elements:

A bumpy old red pick-up truck – one of those old ugly bumpy Dodge pick-up trucks.

A gigantic Mountie from Hell. I don’t want him to look a demon. I just want him to look as if he wipes his butt with coarse sandpaper and glass wool. A real hard-assed mean-looking sunnovabitch. We also need a Coyote – not just any Coyote but the Coyote trickster from native folklore. The whole novel takes place on a rambling old country road –think über-rural

So I dug around for reference and finally started sketching.

Now when it comes to layout I used to rely on instinct but I’ve found over the years that instinct is not enough. I needed something to give me an “edge” and I found that “edge” by looking at what the old masters did. Leonardo Da Vinci and his contemporaries laid out their compositions using the “Golden Ratio” as a guide.

Here is a pretty straightforward summary of the “Golden Ratio” (Courtesy of digital-photography-school.com) with some images to demonstrate it in action:

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The Golden Ratio is also known as the Golden Mean, Phi, or Divine Proportion, this law was made famous by Leonardo Fibonacci around 1200 A.D. He noticed that there was an absolute ratio that appears often throughout nature, a sort of design that is universally efficient in living things and pleasing to the human eye. Hence, the “divine proportion” nickname.

There is a lot of mystical talk about the Golden Ratio

but I am not really concerned with all the mysticism and math, I just want to create interesting engaging images. Using the “Golden Ratio” I can divide my imagery up knowing I will end up with a very pleasing and well balanced composition.

When converted to a grid for layout it looks like this:

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and because of its mathematical properties it is possible to use multiple golden sections overlaying one another: Here is an example:

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If you want to know more I discuss golden sections in more detail on my own blog.

Anyway, for some reason the “Golden Ratio” is a pattern that is especially pleasing to the human mind and I try to take advantage of that in all aspect of my design.

I’m not alone in that.  Just look at this cover by Stephanie Huntwork:

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The cover for “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett looks like it was designed using this principle ( I laid a “Golden Ratio” over the cover to demonstrate), and according to USA today it was the number one selling book of 2011. Of course that may have a little to do with the writing as well, but there is no doubt that cover really did grab the attention of potential readers.

Of course there are many other considerations important to composition, not the least of which is color. When it comes to books covers color is absolutely vital. Color theory is a complex subject, and I’ve covered a lot of it on my personal blog, but in this post I’m going to draw attention to one point that is essential when designing book covers. And it is a point that’s backed up by a substantial amount of research:

Tests indicate that a black and white image may sustain interest for less than two-thirds a second, whereas a colored image may hold the attention for two seconds or more. (A product has one-twentieth of a second to halt the customer’s attention on a shelf or display.)

Source:Jill Morton, Colorcom

This means that by using color on a book cover we are getting 6 times as much attention from potential readers than if we used a monotone cover.  Color must dominate the cover some how. Even if we have the finest black and white photograph ever taken on our cover without some strong color somewhere on the cover, such as a part of the typography, then our monotone cover, when sat among other covers featuring lots of color, is not going to be noticed.

In fact, as we all know but often forget- color is an amazingly powerful tool that when used correctly can manipulate mood and emotion in much the same way that music does.

Now back to the cover for “Trolling Lures” by Steve Vernon

I had a pretty strong idea of what I wanted to do with the text and it was much simpler than what we did with the flash virus typography. And I had a nice set of interesting imagery ideas to play with from Steve so I dug out as much reference as I could (and these days, for this, the internet is a real boon), laid out my “golden ratio” and I began sketching.

With each element I wanted to convey certain things that Steve had mentioned. The Mountie was to be menacing  and almost but not quite supernatural looking, The coyote was to be a kind of spirit animal magical and mysterious, The truck and the road  needed to look real, but menacing and possibly supernatural. The landscape was to be wild and rough, like the Grand Canyon or some such place. Armed with that information eventually I came up with this:

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and with the golden sections :

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As you can see I made extensive use of the golden sections.

At this point I sent it off to Steve hoping he was going to like it. Fortunately he did. Steve and I then got into discussing the finer details. The truck needed to look VERY beaten up, the Mountie needed to look tougher – like he could chew up a nuclear bazooka and spit out .45 caliber shells.

I always work to 150% of the final printed page size (even if the cover is for an e-book only because at a later date it could be used for print if required). The reduction of final art can only enhance and it allows me to be more relaxed when working (Not that my perfectionist streak allows that much).

Usually I paint the covers in Manga Studio 4EX and then I mess with color balance and other qualities in Photoshop but I had just got my copy of Manga Studio 5 and had decided to give it a shot and I have to say it is a marvelous tool. Perfect for digital painting. Much of the stuff I usually have to leave to Photoshop I was able to deal with in Manga Studio 5 and the brush engine is way superior to the one in Photoshop. It’s very natural to use and feel almost like actual painting in the real world but with the added bonus of “undo”. The only thing I really need Photoshop for now is the Typography.

Finally I presented Steve with the finished artwork:

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Do you like what you see?

Authors – if you are looking for a cover of your own from Keith Draws contact him through his Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/KeithDrawsCoverArt

And – if you would like a copy of TROLLING LURES – pick it up at Kobo.


OR – check out Steve Vernon’s entire Northern Chills series of spine-chilling novellas.


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