Questions about cover design are by far the most popular ones we received to our Ask Bethany House survey. And with good reason: art can sometimes seem a little bit like magic, and not many of us get a glimpse into the process of creating the lovely images that grace our favorite books.
Here’s the question I’ll be answering today: “What does the Bethany House team consider when deciding on a final cover?”
First of all, here’s a list of who’s on the team. The author starts the process by providing character and setting descriptions, covers with looks they love, and ideas for scenes to portray. Our art director and designers work with Bethany House editors and marketers to get the right look. And we always get feedback from the sales team as well, since they’re the ones who know the buyers who will be putting books in stores.
At the beginning stages, a designer will show the editors and marketers several sketches or rough stock photography mock-ups to give us an idea of what the scene on the cover might look like. Obviously, we’re not commenting on the details at that point, but we will indicate a direction by making bigger-picture design choices like whether a character should be pictured close up or as a small figure in the background, what sort of scene would be most interesting, or whether to include options that split the design in half with a title bar.
After the photoshoot (which I’ll cover in more detail in a future Ask BHP post), the designer will take different images and arrange them into designs like the ones the team agreed on, creating a draft version of several cover options. The examples below are alternate covers for A Light on the Hill. They haven’t been polished and tweaked, and occasionally the design team might ask for a major change like “move the model from 1 into the scene of 2,” but we’re starting to get to a clearer idea of the cover.
In this case, while all of these design concepts are striking, the team didn’t care for the harsh color scheme of the first. The third option was some people’s first choice and others’ second, but eventually the argument was made that it would be harder to continue that look for the whole series while still remaining distinct. (There was also one team member who pointed out that the sun being right there on the city made the title really literal.)
We all loved the striking image of the protagonist facing us, and the prominent title. Here is what the final cover looked like once the designer made some tweaks (including moving the series name and using a different image from the photoshoot):
Here are just a few of the things we consider when giving suggestions to the designer:
- Do the colors of the cover match the tone of the story? (Is it too dark for a lighthearted story or too cheery for a suspense novel?)
- How can we hint at the setting or historical time period in the background, clothing, or fonts? Is there anything about any of those elements that seems mismatched?
- Is the background too distracting or cluttered?
- What’s the balance between type that’s interesting but also legible? (This especially matters because the book will be showing up in a thumbnail online.)
- What sort of reader will be attracted to this design?
- If there’s a model, does he or she convey the essence of the character as described by the author?
- Is this cover too similar to one on an already-published book that readers of the genre would be familiar with? Is it too drastically different from everything else like it?
- Would you want to pick this book up just by looking at the cover?
There are individual questions for each cover too, of course. For A Light on the Hill in particular, we talked about the best way to show that the protagonist is ashamed of the brand on her face, and how we could establish that the novel was biblical since it doesn’t have the name of a key Old Testament figure in the title to give readers that cue.
So there’s a little glimpse into the process we use to determine what cover makes it on the final book. I love bragging about our designers…they do excellent work! If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more cover alternates, Jocelyn Green wrote about the making of her latest release, A Refuge Assured, on her blog. Be sure to check it out!
So, readers, what’s an element of book cover design that you love to see? Are you able to complete the phrase, “I’ll be drawn to a book almost instantly if its cover…”?