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.


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.


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).

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!).


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?

Judging a Book By Its Cover: Fall 2014 Releases

One of the most common questions I see during our Book Banter events is, “How much say does the author have about what the cover looks like?” or “How are covers designed?” Because of this, every season, I’ll post our upcoming book covers, along with a “sneak peak” inside Bethany House’s cover design process.

This Season’s Topic: Photoshoots

Here’s a little bit of “insider” background on how we get the images for our book covers. Most of our books are created by doing a photoshoot with models who fit descriptions given to the designers by the authors. They try to find people who look like the characters both physically and who display the kind of personality the author wants to get across as well. Each book has a file in our creative director’s office filled with a synopsis of the book, photos of the time period or setting, and ideas for what the cover might look like.

Some of the backgrounds are the actual location of the photoshoot: for example, the lovely garden in A Beauty So Rare was really the Como Park Conservatory in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Others are landscapes from other sources that our talented designers blend seamlessly into the scene. (I’m sure our designers would love to take a field trip to Alaska for Dani Pettrey’s current series, but apparently that’s just not in the budget.)


Props can sometimes also play a part, and for the most part, we rent them for a one-time use. I feel a personal connection to the cover for Keepers of the Covenant because I found the weapons used for it sitting around at work one day. (We didn’t end up using the version of the cover with the spear, but it’s still extremely cool to find ancient weaponry in your office coat closet.)

Weapons1 Continue reading

Judging A Book By Its Cover: Summer 2014 Releases

One of the most common questions I see during our Book Banter events is, “How much say does the author have about what the cover looks like?” or “How are covers designed?”

Because of this, every season, I’ll post our upcoming book covers, along with a “sneak peak” inside Bethany House’s cover design process.

This Season’s Topic: Q&A With Our Creative Director!

Paul Higdon, our creative director, and an all-around great guy, answered a few of my questions about the covers for THE DREW FARTHERING MYSTERIES, by Julianna Deering.

Q: What are the challenges of creating an illustrated cover compared to a more traditional cover?

Rules of MurderA: Creating an illustrated cover can be much more challenging than a photographic and/or traditional cover because the latter is usually driven by photography that is already established, or can be more easily manipulated to suit a cover design. That’s not always the case, but pure illustrative covers require more leg work from the get-go because you’re creating imagery from a blank canvas, and that usually means more heavily involved steps. Finding an illustrator who is a good fit is also an unique challenge, and you have to be able to communicate in visual terms with them.
Q: About how much time does it take to design a cover like this?

Death by the BookA: Each cover varies in time and is unique to its story, setting, and list of characters. Death by the Book was a follow-up title to the first book, Rules of Murder. So there was some advantage when designing Death by the Book because we were able to pick up and continue a lot of the styles established on Rules of Murder.

Rules of Murder roughly took 50 hours, give or take, for art direction and design—composition, layout , typography. That included research, team discussions, Illustrator reviews, art direction, thumbnail sketches, type development, character development, image and inspiration research, and revisions/finessing to nail down an approved, final look.

Once the series was established the following titles average around 15-20 hours, give or take, of art direction and design. The actual artwork by John occurs separately from this process and each cover takes approximately 30 hours, using his computer illustration skills.

Q: Which of the three covers in the series do you like best, and why?

Murder at the MikadoA: This is tough. I honestly like all three covers for different reasons. Rules of Murder will always be a favorite, because it established the series look and feel. We were proud of the final results. Jeff, the designer, is also a huge car fan, so to be able to include a vintage car from the early part of last century was fun for him. Murder at the Mikado is also a stand out in my mind because of the layering, and slightly more abstract perspectives. It was also a fun challenge to depict the setting with a night scene. Because of the overall dramatic perspective I would have say that Murder at the Mikado is my favorite, so far.

And, without further ado, I present to you Bethany House’s summer 2014 books! Click on the picture of the book cover to learn more about the story. Continue reading