Ask Bethany House: How Do You Decide on a Book Cover?

Today on the blog I’ll be answering this reader question (okay, it’s not actually phrased as a question, but you get the idea): “I would love to learn more details about how book covers are created from beginning to end, including the author’s role in helping with it.”

This was one of the most frequently-asked questions in our Ask Bethany House survey (behind questions about publication which I answered here and here). To a lot of us, myself included, the work that designers do on book covers is a lot like magic.

UntiltheDawn_mck.indd

Before our designers begin the covers, they get all the necessary background from the person who knows the story best. The author sends in information about their characters, setting, and key moments in the book, including pictures that show what their hero and heroine look like. Obviously we can’t call in those celebrities for a photoshoot, but sometimes the models we choose look surprisingly like the more famous counterparts the author chose.

The editor of the book, who is familiar with the story and has read it if it’s already been completed, is a part of all of the meetings to give feedback on whether the cover fits the story and its tone.
Paul, our art director, runs the meetings where we discuss cover options. Other representatives from marketing (including me!) and editorial are there as well. In the first meeting, the designer typically presents some mock-ups, or rough ideas to get a direction for where the cover should go. This happens before a photoshoot. (Not all books use a photoshoot. It really depends on the direction we want to go with the cover.)

Once we pick a direction we like, the real design work happens, and at a second meeting, often a month of so later, we see several options of different poses, layouts, and backgrounds that we critique. Sometimes there’s one cover that stands out to everyone. Sometimes it’s more of a “that model with that type box but without the little swirly things, and make the author’s name stand out more” type of discussion.

Often, we’ll meet again to discuss tweaks to the final cover or see different options for the title type. At that point, the cover is sent to the author for approval—they occasionally notice something out-of-place, like a need for a change in hair or eye color that we didn’t catch. By that point, the cover is complete and ready to present to the world!

There’s a lot more going on for the actual designing part, and I might do a Q&A with one of our designers later this year to talk about how they run photoshoots, choose images, add effects, and so on, but that’s the basic process for deciding on final covers for our books.

Just for fun—and because we get to see this part of the “magic” all the time—I thought I’d show you some of the covers for Until the Dawn, by Elizabeth Camden and talk you through our process for choosing the one we did. The final cover is pictured above at the beginning of the post—it comes out in December, and I just finished reading it. It’s wonderful!

Here are some of the other options Jenny, the designer for this one, presented to our team. (Keep in mind that these weren’t final images…Jenny would have worked on them more if we had chosen one of them as our favorite.)

UntiltheDawn_rd1.inddThis one, with the garden and gate imagery, was a bit too close to another historical we’ve published.

UntiltheDawn_rd1.indd

Everyone liked the look of this one, but there was concern that you couldn’t really tell that it was historical instead of a contemporary romance.

UntiltheDawn_ideas-fleshed.inddThe design for this one was a bit overwhelming (though we liked the title font and used it on the final cover).

UntiltheDawn_ideas-fleshed.indd
The editor pointed out that in this one, the woman in the picture doesn’t match Sophie, since she’s not a wealthy noblewoman, but a cook and a volunteer for the Weather Bureau (though the colors of that sunrise in the top are so lovely!).

UntiltheDawn_ideas-fleshed.indd

We loved the idea of including the beautiful Dierenpark mansion on the cover, since it plays such a key role in the mystery of the story, but we felt that showing Sophie as well would be a better choice. Some liked the coloration on this cover, others thought it was too much.

I chose this title in particular because there were lots of unique designs that we liked…but we felt like this one best fit what we wanted to do with the book.  It was slightly different from other books by Elizabeth Camden, everyone liked the rosy glow (which also fits the heroine’s outlook on life), and there was a hint of the beauty of the estate that forms the setting of the story, described in lovely detail throughout the book. There’s even a slight glow of dawn behind the character and, I think, a sense of the mystery that is found in the book (and kept me guessing until the last page).

As far as how long all of this takes, our designers each work on several titles a season. Right now, they’re working on covers for Summer 2016!

Which of these alternate designs for Until the Dawn is your favorite?

30 thoughts on “Ask Bethany House: How Do You Decide on a Book Cover?

  1. I loved the cover with the gate! It was eye-catching and so different than the usual book cover. I could instantly identify it as historical (but maybe that’s because I’m familiar with Elizabeth Camden and knew this was a historical story before seeing it). Of course, the one that was chosen is also beautiful. 🙂 I’m such a huge fan of Elizabeth Camden, I cannot wait to read this story!!

    Question: Do the designers ever get outside opinions? As in, would they ever present the cover options to a beta group of readers?

    • Yes, both are lovely! And I particularly enjoyed this story with the mystery elements, although I think Against the Tide will always be my favorite from Elizabeth.

      I know they’ve surveyed a group of readers a few times. The reason it doesn’t happen more often for fiction books is because most times, the other options aren’t nearly this different or this polished. Often, we’ll pick one set direction early on, and then we’re just deciding which pose/facial expression we like best or things like cover font, and there’s often a pretty clear consensus. Also, the deadlines for these covers are often really tight, which makes it hard to involve more people in the process. Thanks for asking, Gabe!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  2. I definitely love the cover that was chosen, but my second choice was the one which focused on the mansion. There is a certain mystique associated with historic residences.

  3. As a reader I can tell you honestly the very first thing is the cover. Yes, I look for my favorite authors, but the cover for me is the draw. I love a cover that is mysterious. For instance I don’t always want to see the face on the cover which is why I like your second cover the best. I do want the cover to match the story. I thing Bethany does an excellent job on their covers and I appreciate the hard work that goes into developing them. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Katrina! It’s always interesting to me to see the divide between “face” and “no face” people when it comes to covers–both sides have good reasons for their opinions. And I’ll pass along your compliments to our designers! They work really hard and do a great job!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  4. I love the one chose but my first thought was the cover with the gate, I like gardens and would love one in mine. I am a fan of Elizabeth Camden and like you, I think Against the Tide was one of her best. look forward to reading them all because she does great research and we learn while we enjoy the story…

    • Thanks, Pauline! The gate doesn’t play a huge role in the story, but the garden is described several times and seems like just the place I’d want to visit. Glad you enjoy Elizabeth’s books!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  5. I do like the one chosen—however, I love the one with the close up of the gate. When I look at that, together with the title, it reminds me that freedom from worry, fear, etc, often comes with the dawn when the gate is opened after a night of prayer. Thanks for asking! 🙂

  6. Definitely my favorite is the one of the close up of the gate, just beautiful, and Elizabeth Camden readers would likely not question whether or not it was historical fiction, but for new readers I understand the reasonings behind it. I wasn’t a fan of any of the others, apart from the one chosen, so we’ll done!! Book covers are vital in selling books. As a bookseller, and as a book reader & reviewer, a great cover is the big factor (after recommendations) on whether someone buys it.

    • Thanks so much! And you’re right–the cover and the synopsis on the back cover are two key points of contact with the reader that will make them pick up a book or pass.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  7. I hope you have a reason to use the close-up gate idea for a future cover. It’s striking–definitely eye-catching! I’d check out the book purely for its simplicity and beauty.

    • We have re-used cover ideas in the past, Rachael! A design that doesn’t really fit well with one book might be perfect for another. And I hope this one could be used in the future!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  8. As a blogger/booktuber/reviewer covers are pretty important to whether or not I may pick up a certain book. They’re the first thing that catches your eye. I actually have to say I like the gate cover more than any of the others

    • Thanks, Alyssa! It’s true…as a reader, I try to let the first few pages of a book speak for themselves, but it’s hard not to be drawn to a book with a killer cover!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  9. I do like the final version, but I admit my book-lover’s heart went a-pitter-pat when I saw the one with the close-up of the gate in front and the view of the protagonist’s back inside as she walks away. It was lovely! And it really looks historical to me–hair, dress, old-fashioned (but totally awesome!) gate, font choices, and knowledge of author’s other releases.

    I’m actually reading “Beyond All Dreams ” by Elizabeth Camden right now! I love the cover; were you in on that cover design as well?

  10. Am I allowed to like one of the alternates better than the actual cover? I LOVE the one which you said was a bit overwhelming. It reminds me of a framed portrait or even a cameo setting. Several of these are very eye-catching! I do like the finished one, too.

    • You are totally allowed to like an alternate better than the final, Courtney! There are often alternates that I was especially drawn to for various reasons. And I think the cameo look was what Jenny was going for there!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  11. Reblogged this on Scribbles and Somedays and commented:
    Bethany House’s Amy Green talks book cover designs and that process in this BH blog post. I found it especially interesting since the author whose work Amy uses as her example wrote the novel I’m currently reading, too! (Elizabeth Camden is a new favorite author of mine after reading “Beyond All Dreams” this week.)

  12. I think you did a great job picking a cover. My second choice would be the one you thought might not look like a historical novel.

    I’m always disappointed when a cover doesn’t jive with the story. If the heroine or hero have the wrong color hair or if they wear an outfit that doesn’t match the heroine’s personality.

    Thanks for sharing the process!

    • Thanks, Jackie! I tend to notice things like that too. Sometimes the book isn’t written yet when the cover is designed, so I can cut some slack where personality is concerned (it might have changed since the author gave the designers the synopsis). But hair/eye color seems like something that could be easy to match.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

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