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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cover Art Development for the Indie Author

by: Heather Day Gilbert

Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Seventeen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling. Heather is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and she's committed to bringing relevant and helpful information to indie authors.

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert--Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Her Viking novel, God's Daughter, is an Amazon bestseller. You can find it on Amazon and Her upcoming mystery, Miranda Warning, releases June 20, 2014.

Highlights of my Cover Art Process for MIRANDA WARNING

by: Heather Day Gilbert

Today, I want to take you "behind the scenes" tour of how cover art develops for the indie author. I'm using visuals from my upcoming mystery, Miranda Warning, releasing in just a few days (June 20th). 

Before I start, I'd just like to say that if you don't love the final cover as much as the other ones, please don't tell me. I know most of you wouldn't THINK of doing that. But when authors open up and share about how they choose their cover art (a very subjective thing), they have put hours into it and really don't want to hear "Oh, I liked that ________ picture/font/whatever MUCH better than the one you finally went with!"

Most indies can't afford to hire models and rent costumes that fit their book specifications. Therefore, we have to spend hours trolling through stock photo sites such as istock or shutterstock for just the right look. We might not know WHAT look we're going for until we see it.

In my case, I started with several pictures that embodied different elements of my storyline. I pinned these pics to a secret Pinterest board for my brother-slash-cover designer, Jon Day (who, as an aside, is also one of the most patient guys in the world, and the designer of my God's Daughter cover art, as well). Here are a few initial pics I pinned and thoughts on why we didn't use them. I'll link to each of their sites if you click them:

My initial direction with the cover was to go for a retro, Nancy Drew feel. However, there was only one stock image of this chick and I knew this was going to be a series. Also, it's hard NOT to make this girl look bodiless...

Since the title character, Miranda, is in a wheelchair in an assisted living home, I thought this pic could be made to look ominous. However, we veered away from objects on the covers of this series, since I'm personally drawn to people's faces on the covers. I figured my reader demographic would think much as I do.

Also toyed with adding these poisonous plants to the bottom of the cover. However...some things just give too much of the book away. That's all I'll say on that...

SO...I loved this pic, YEA--ADORED it. bro and I both agreed it was waaaaay too reminiscent of the TWILIGHT cover pic:

So...we continued looking. And then I found this:

And I knew we were heading the right direction. PART of a woman's face would make it possible for us to change models on future covers. However, we couldn't seem to get this part of the face to work with the rest. At this point, we'd kind of decided to incorporate a face at the top, title in the middle, and mountains at the bottom (since this entire series is set in the mountains and it's a key element in all of them--thus, A Murder in the Mountains series title). The setup was a bit like this:

Somewhere around this time, I got cold feet. This is the juncture your cover artist probably wants to pull his/her hair out and you yourself feel like a small raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The thing is, most MYSTERY covers in the ABA world have an object or words...people on the cover--not so much. So I thought maybe we should retrench and go for a more recognizable mystery "look." Something more like this:

Those were some tough days for the author and her intrepid cover designer brother. And THEN! One night, while trolling endlessly through pictures of women and flowers, I found THIS!

Just like that, we both agreed we had a winner. Jon knows what will show up in a thumbnail on Amazon, and this girl would show up. However, my main character, Tess, has blue eyes, and a red rose is a sign of love. I wanted a symbol of death. So we changed Tess' eyes to blue and the rose to white, as you'll see in the finished cover.

NOW we moved on to the problem of font. After finding a mountain image to use at the bottom, we needed to find the perfect font to capture the mood of the book. Here are a few early tries:

Here, we had too much going on: foxglove around the words, curliques, and the font just didn't strike me right.

We both really liked this "Motor Oil" retro font, but with Tess' bob, it might indicate the book was set in the twenties, which it's not. So we continued moving along (note how the mountains are changing!).

I finally found this Optimus Princeps font (which I affectionately refer to as "Optimus Prime" font). THIS, we agreed, was THE BOMB. As you can see we tried some funky color combos on the words, trying to land on something that would show up in thumbnail images of the book.


Possibly three months after we started all our cover art machinations, my brother and I decided on the final cover art. I couldn't be happier with it and when I saw it in softcover, I was blown away. 


(For a higher-resolution pic of this cover, please check it out on my website here:

Me with my first proof of Miranda Warning! We decided to go with this matte cover versus the glossy. We've since lightened the background behind Tess' head.

And that, my friends, is just a bit of our brainstorming/cover art process. This doesn't really begin to cover what went into it. I know each indie author has a different process, be it going with a pre-made cover, making your own cover, or hiring someone to do it for you.

(Jon, I promise I am going to pay you back someday for all this...I OWE YOU!)


Miranda Warning (A Murder in the Mountains, Book #1):

Child of the Appalachian mountains, Tess Spencer has experienced more than her share of heartache. The Glock-wielding, knife-carrying housewife knows how to survive whatever life throws at her. 

But when an anonymous warning note shows up in her best friend Miranda’s mailbox—a note written in a dead woman’s handwriting—Tess quickly discovers that ghosts are alive and well in Buckneck, West Virginia. Hot on a cold trail, she must use limited clues and her keen insight into human nature to unmask the killer...or the next victim might be Tess herself.

Tinged with the supernatural and overshadowed by the mountains' lush, protective presence, this twisting psychological mystery is the first in A Murder in the Mountains series. You can find it here on Goodreads. 

You can also read a four-chapter sample of Miranda Warning here on Scribd. Enjoy!

****Share your cover art thoughts here! Have you ever contributed to a cover art process? What are aspects you think you'd enjoy/dislike? And I'd love it if you put Miranda Warning on your To-Read list if it looks like something you'd enjoy!****


  1. Thanks for sharing that Heather. Right now I'm a bit overwhelmed with these additional steps past the writing itself. And we're supposed to do all these at a mind-boggling pace of 3 to 6 books per year. I suppose, once I've got my editor(s) and artist selected, it's not so overwhelming.

    1. Thank you, Ron, and don't worry--just take it step by step and you'll get there. I know there are many pre-made covers that are just ASTONISHINGLY good these days, so you have lots of options! I agree, though...I got 2 books out in a year and that was a lot (for my poor brother!) and for me.

  2. I love what you chose, Heather! And it reminds me of my cover development. My publisher (traditional) has allowed my Hubs to paint my cover. There were many, many days over the weeks where he'd call me to his studio to see if he was getting what I wanted. My town is fictional, so it existed only in my mind What I "saw" was more of a feeling than actual buildings. I had a map, but not the buildings. He worked and worked until he got it. I'll be revealing it soon. :) But I LOVE how you worked on this.

    1. Thank you, Ane! I know...we have this idea and then we get to translate it into the pictures we can afford/make work. I can't wait to see your cover art!!!

  3. I love behind the scenes for covers. Thanks Heather and Ane! :)

    1. Thank you, Nancy Who Has An Epic Cover Herself. :) You know what I'm talking about...getting just that right look/mood to capture your book. Can't wait to read Chasing the Lion!!!

  4. Cover design is one of the absolute pleasures, can-be-frustrating, and thrilling procedures of producing a book. I had two very good experiences with mine, the second one more difficult than the first but after talking to the young designer, her asked the just-right questions to set his mind on the right course, producing a great cover with a slight recurring theme to the first cover (which he did not design). I loved the process.

    Congrats to you and your patient brother. Well done.

    1. Nicole, that's a great idea, answering questions on which way you're going with the storyline/mood. I like the idea of a unifying theme for series covers, for sure--even if it's just a unifying setup/font. The cool thing with indie covers is that they can be changed/updated at any time. But I do like to try to find something I want to STAY as my cover, as much as possible. I know your covers are lovely, too, and I'm sure they capture just the right mood for your books.

  5. Great step by step and thanks for taking us through your decision and design process. I LOVE what you chose.

    1. Thank you, Cherie! It was a lot of hours, mostly for my brother. But it's such a collaborative effort and it's very special to me when we finally land on those winning pictures and fonts!

  6. Very interesting! I love the final cover! :)

    1. Thanks so much, Sherri! I love reading about cover art stories and I hoped this would help indie authors as they go into the process!

  7. Heather, it's incredible how involved a process it is and as you know I love how you & Jon emphasise your lead character's eyes.

    Thanks for sharing this detail.

    1. Thank you, Ian, and I had never realized that until you mentioned it! Yes, I like to make sure that eye color matches up and is...eye-catching! ;)

  8. That was cool, Heather! I never get enough of these behind-the-scenes blog posts.

    1. Thanks, Sally! Glad to share and I agree. I love seeing how cover art morphs.


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