As we venture into National Novel Writing Month, we thought we’d get some insight on one very important element of books: the cover. Today, we talk to cover artist J. Caleb about what he does and some things you need to know about the process. He is even running a special on simple, high-resolution eBook cover designs for the month of November. More on that at the end!
J. Caleb is from South Carolina and has been doing graphic design since 2007 with his focus turning to book covers over the last three years. You can find his website at www.jcalebdesign.com. His general interests includes anything involving his twins, family time, video games, hiking and camping and the occasional Sunday lounging about the house. He is also the creator of the Some Nerd Girl logo!
How did you get into book cover designs in particular?
I’ve always enjoyed reading so it came natural in a way. I remember being in Barnes and Noble one night while in college and seeing a Raymond Swanland book cover and thinking, “Man I’d love to do that.” Then it clicked. I reached out to him actually and he encouraged me to follow my dream. I may never have the talent as Swanland but I love making book covers.
What’s your favorite thing about designing book covers?
It would have to be the act of creating a cover that tells the story contained inside without giving it away. I want potential readers to see the covers I create and instantly want to know whats inside.
What can authors do to make the experience the best possible?
Be honest. I want to know what the author envisions.
Also be honest during the proof process. My biggest fear is to have an author “accept” what I’ve done. I don’t want that. I want an author’s cover to be the best it can be. I’m in it with them till we have a great cover!
Also the more information the better. Synopsis’ (no, believe it or not I don’t always get them), snippets, music that would fit the theme of the book, and movies that are along the same lines just to name a few avenues of information I like to have. I may not be inspired by half of the references provided but you never know what may happen!
What are some common mistakes or misconceptions you’ve seen with writers when it comes to requests or expectations?
It really varies but one common misconception comes with eBook cover requests I receive: “make a large title so that it can be read easy as a thumbnail”. To me, this is a misconception that often hinders book covers more than it helps. What matters most is a visual image that attracts the eye. An author’s cover will rarely, if ever, be seen without the title and author’s name right beside it in html text. So they never have to worry about someone not knowing what the title is or who its by. Its all about making a striking image that makes the viewer use that mouse click! Sometimes a large title works well but that rule often needs to be broken.
Do you have a favorite project? If so, what made it so great?
Any project where I get to learn a new concept usually ends up in my favorite bracket. There are a couple.
One of yours actually: Colony One
The idea was a simple one. Create the hull of a ship and place the title on it somewhere. Did I say it was simple? Problem was I had never created the hull of ship before and there wasn’t any stock photography available to work off of that I could find. After a couple searches and some experimentation I created this swatch:
Then I flipped it, tiled it, reversed it and so on and created the ship hull. With some dynamic lighting and cool color palette I ended up with this:
The ship hull is a simple repeated pattern but when put together and lighted correctly you end up with a really cool effect. The end result of the book cover quickly became one of my favorites!
Fate of a Shinobi is another. In this cover I had to have a lot going on. A shinobi ninja facing off against a samurai on horse back with a burning town in the background. Stock photos were out of the question so I went out to my backyard and started taking photos.
Heres me in all my ninja glory. I took about fifty photos and after some sketching decided this was the one for me.
Rough sketch approved by my client, TJ Mason.
Refined rough sketch, approved by Mason.
Adjust some colors, flesh out the background. Add in some details.
Bring the text back in with some flavor and boom. We are ready to rock.
Can you talk a little about your creative process?
It really depends on the book. First and foremost I visit the all powerful Google and search imagery related to the title or cover in general to get the juices flowing. If an author has requested a certain style of cover, say propaganda for example, then I’ll search propaganda posters just to see what catches my eye and what might inspire me. Here is a sample poster I found on the internet for a book called Induction.
The general theme was propaganda with a mad scientist on the front. I found a couple other posters but had a general sense of where I wanted to go after some brainstorming. All said and done here is the final product.
On the other hand some covers require me to do a good deal of digital painting like Fate of a Shinobi. I’ll hit the backyard and start snapping photo references of me in different poses or scenes.
Then its off to Photoshop with my wacom tablet!
Do you have any major goals for yourself when it comes to your graphic arts profession?
To walk into a bookstore and see my cover spined on a shelf. Its all I ask.
What advice would you give to authors when they are researching cover art services?
Know what you want but be open to changes and tweaks from your designer. We often times can work off your idea and make it shine if you let us.
Know your competition. If every YA Romance is using a photos of couples kissing and the color blue in their covers. You probably shouldn’t. Adjust your ideas from there and look for a designer who can meet those needs.
Even in this day and age it can be hard to find an individual designer, so be patient in your search. Reddit, Kboards, DeviantArt are just a few sites to find people. I’m sure you guys probably know of many other sites where you could find potential cover designers. Also if you see an author’s cover you like, don’t be afraid to ask who they used.
One other thing to note, not all designers are illustrators and not all illustrators are designers. Let me explain: I know some phenomenal illustrators who can draw and paint with the best of them. I know some Photoshop masters who can put Abraham Lincoln’s head on a lion’s body and make you think it was always like that. But neither of them could handle the typography aspect of a book cover. Likewise I know some designers who can work with type so well it’ll make you cry. But they couldn’t draw themselves out of a box. Then there are people out there who cover both aspects: the imagery and the type. Know who your hiring, look at their body of work and see their strengths and potential weaknesses.
What challenges do you face that us authors wouldn’t really know about?
Nothing out of the ordinary really. Time management, keeping my prices competitive, getting my name out there and dealing with twin daughters!
What are some lessons you’ve learned from all the covers you’ve made / the experience of working with clients?
I never know what I’m going to get or what kind of cover is just around the corner and I love it. I’ve also learned to take my time. I’m from the “gotta-have-it-now” generation so I’m used to moving quickly. But sometimes its best to sit on a cover a for a day and see it with fresh eyes. Often times it leads to a better looking cover.
J. Caleb has been kind enough to offer a special for simple eBook cover designs for the month of November. Click here to get the full details and contact instructions, but here are the highlights:
- For $30, you will receive:
- A high-resolution, customized eBook cover
- A 3D rendering of your cover
The special is good from November 1st – 30th. You’ll find no offer like it, and I can personally guarantee you the quality will be top-notch! While these covers will be ‘simple’ and not include any original art or illustration, here are some examples of the kind of end result you can expect:
Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen and science fiction novel Colony One. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.