Can You Judge a Book by its Cover? Guest Post from Elizabeth Camden

It’s an old question: Can you judge a book by its cover?

My answer: Yes! Especially if it is a book by Bethany House.

A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader will see and it should make a lasting impression within the space of a few seconds. A great cover will help the reader instantly recognize the genre, tone, and setting of a book. For example, if you look at the covers below, you can probably tell which novels are in a genre you are interested in:

An Elegant Façade is falls directly into the regency romance category and is likely to appeal to Jane Austen fans. A Dangerous Legacy is still a historical, but the tone is a little more turbulent and promises a stormy romance. A Love Like Ours is clearly a contemporary, with a vibe that blends both humorous and a down-home western feel. Return to Me communicates a traditional biblical fiction novel with an epic feel to it.

Once upon a time cover designers could pour a lot of detail into the cover image, but with the rise of online shopping, it is essential a book cover look good both on a bookstore shelf and a thumbnail image on a smart phone. The physical copy of a Bethany House novel is 8 ½ inches tall. If a potential reader is looking at the same book on an iPhone, the cover will only be ¾” tall. That presents a huge challenge for the designer. It means the titles need to be shorter, details are streamlined, and backgrounds can’t be too busy.

With all those limitations, it is amazing that designers can still produce such diversity that communicates a genre and vibe so quickly.

Although authors rarely have much say in our covers, the team of professionals in a publishing company are experts in picking out color palettes, symbolism, and design elements to convey these messages in the space of only a few seconds. The cover is making a promise to the reader about what sort of experience they can expect once they open the page, which is why Bethany House puts so much attention on designing that image. People really do judge a book by its cover!

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! (Here she is becoming part of her latest cover.)

What about you? What is your favorite book cover in recent memory?

Behind the Scenes: Cover Costumes

Today, we get a special glimpse into a part of cover design that you might not have known existed…the costumes!

Most of the time at Bethany House, we rent costumes for use on our covers, but it just so happens that we also know a talented seamstress who takes on an occasional project. She is Beth Schoenherr, mother of Julie Klassen’s editor, Raela Schoenherr, and she created both costumes on the cover of the upcoming novel The Ladies of Ivy Cottage.

Aren’t they beautiful? (They’re even more detailed up close.)

She also agreed to answer a few questions on the blog today about the work involved in the process of making an author’s vision come to life.

What were the general steps you had to go through to sew one of those lovely Regency dresses for the cover, just to give us an idea of the process?

I started the sewing process for the Regency outfits by taking the model’s measurements and making a muslin version of the more fitted parts of the dress to ensure it would be a perfect fit before cutting into the actual dress fabrics. Then cut, sew, and—my favorite part—embellish!

How did you choose the colors and patterns for the dresses?

Julie, her editor, and the cover designer discussed and chose the color options for Rachel’s outfit based on what colors were appropriate for a woman in half mourning to wear at that time in history, as well as what a woman of her station would have worn at the time. Mercy’s outfit color and pattern were also chosen by Julie and her editor and cover designer as a good contrast next to the lavender outfit, as well as something that would be typical for Mercy to wear. For embellishment on Mercy’s outfit, I used antique trim for the collar, sleeves, and back.

I brought samples of fabric choices within the chosen color palettes to show the cover designer and editor to decide what would look best in the final cover design. They chose the lavender, pin-tucked taffeta because its texture would add some dimension to the coat that would show up well in photos. I found several sewing pattern options we could work from, and based on some costume inspiration photos from Julie, we decided on the pattern for the long coat.

You can find the pattern used here if you ever want to make your own Regency gown!

Since the approved cover direction meant the women would be seen from the back, we wanted to be sure the backs of both outfits (hats included) would also have some attractive elements.

Is there a particular era of fashion that you find the most fun?

Oh dear! I truly can’t pick a favorite era of fashion. I love seeing all the different shapes and styles throughout history. There’s always some beautiful or interesting or crazy element in every era of fashion.

For more from Beth, check out Tamera Alexander’s interview with her about the beautiful Southern belle dress she created for A Beauty So Rare.

I hope you had fun learning about one of many behind-the-scenes elements of your favorite covers! And now, a question for you, readers: if you were dressing up for a costume party, which literary character would you choose to portray?

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.

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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.

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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).

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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!).

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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.)

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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