Guest Post: Cover Design by CK Volnek

Anyone who knows me, or who has come across this blog before, understands how happy I am with the cover of Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud. I’ve even entered it in its first contest on Facebook. You can find the contest here, and vote by liking and commenting. I hope to enter more contests soon.

After I signed my contract with Muse It Up Publishing, I started browsing their catalog. The first books to catch my attention did so with their covers. My editor was Katie Carroll, so I would have read Elixir Bound anyway, just to get an idea of who I was about to work with… you can learn a lot about someone by reading their writing. But I also read Beware of the White, The Acadian Secret, and Julius Caesar Brown and the Green Gas Mystery. All of these books have one thing in common, CK Volnek designed the cover. So needless to say, I hoped I too would get Ms. Volnek as my cover artist. And I did.

She is here to talk about the importance of cover design and some of the behind the scenes work that takes place with the author, and I will share the early versions of Unveiling as we worked to get the beautiful final product. And you can see her other amazing covers on her website here.

Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

We, as a society are judgmental. For instance, if you go into a fancy restaurant you might expect to see photos of elegant steaks, seafood or desserts, presented on fine china and sprinkled with spices.

But what if, instead, you were shown images of slop, spilled onto chipped or broken plates. You probably wouldn’t eat there. A restaurant would never advertise such unpleasant photos. They have an image to build, a reputation to keep. And so, with fine images to portray their menus, they are promising a delectable dining experience.

It’s not really so different for books. At best, an author has but a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention and make them want to know more about your title. An author must create a cover worthy of the words written on the pages.

A book cover is also a promise. Just as with the images on a menu, an author is pledging the reader his time will not be wasted within the book’s pages. Nothing is worse than getting a book you did not want or enjoy after being misled by its cover.

So, what makes a great book cover? Ultimately, the best book cover is the one that makes the reader buy the book!

Think of the cover as a billboard. It is trying to catch the attention of drivers as they speed by. Most billboards have 6 words or less. The driver has to ‘get it’, at speeds up to 75 mph, before passing the sign. A book cover should do the same thing. At first glance, the readers should know:

  1. The genre of the book.
  2. The general subject matter or focus
  3. And some idea of the tone or mood of the book. Is it a thriller? Sci-Fi? YA or Middle Grade? An instructional manual or non-fictional biography?

Before I begin designing a cover, I need to know two important things…the emphasis of the book, and the audience. (I wouldn’t create a cover for a dark murder mystery in shades of pink with lots of frilly lace, nor would I put a couple kissing on a book intended for third graders.) I must know enough of the mood of the book and who it is intended for to be able to sell it with a cover design. I too, am an author, so these are the first elements I focus on.

Here are a few rules I concentrate on as I design a cover.

  1. Make everything count—If I am going to introduce a graphic element, I need to make sure it helps the cover communicate with the reader.
  2. Use the background—I really try to avoid white backgrounds, which will disappear on retailer’s white screens. Using a color, a texture, or a background illustration instead helps draw the eye.
  3. Make the title large—I reduce a cover design on the computer screen to the size of a thumbnail on Amazon and see if I can read it or make out what it’s about? If not, I need to simplify.
  4. Use a font that’s easy to read—See above. There’s no sense using a font that’s unreadable when it’s radically reduced. I particularly watch out for script typefaces, the kind that look lacy and elegant at full size. They often disappear when small. I also try to stay aware of ‘leading.’ This is the space between the letters and the lines.
  5. Find images that clarify—I try not to find images that are not too literal. I look for something that expresses the mood, historical period, or overall tone of the book.
  6. Stay with a few colors—I have found that using fewer colors makes a more effective cover. Using more of the colors of the rainbow can be effective though if you are aiming for a juvenile feel to the book. But if the story is dark and full of passion or mystery, keep to a simpler color palette.
  7. Look at lots of great book covers—I may not be able to mimic all the techniques in one cover, but I’ve found by looking at great book covers provides a tremendous source of inspiration and fresh ideas.

I also am proud to maintain a close relationship with the authors I design for. I need their input. They know the story better than anyone else. So I rely on their input to make sure I design their cover to sell their book.

I first have my authors fill out a Cover Art form, clarifying the genre, mood and style of the story. I ask them what they like on book covers and to offer a few of their favorite covers so I can get a feel for what they like. Most times they select covers that are similar in mood and style of their story so this helps me craft a cover they will be happy with. This CA form also clarifies the elements of the book they deem most important, whether it be characters, a place, or a particular thing such as a necklace or instrument.

This is the first mock-up. I didn't intend for her to scrap the whole thing, but I wanted some darker elements added, plus my main characters never ride horses.

This is the first mock-up. I didn’t intend for her to scrap the whole thing, but I wanted some darker elements added, plus my main characters never ride horses.

After I have designed my cover I send a mock-up to the author. Do I get it right on the first mock-up? Sometimes. But many times, we will go back and tweak the images to compliment and complete the characters or other important features of the story. But as long as I have a complete and thorough CA form, the tweaks are usually rather minimal. When we finalize our visual, I then complete the cover and supply the author with three sizes of jpegs to use for all their promotional needs, whether it be a cover to use on blogs, or one to create bookmarks and posters with.

From this cover I just wanted a few changes. I thought the character looked too old, so I asked if his face could be obscured by a shadow, I wanted the dragon over the castle smaller so you could barely tell it's a dragon--this has a significance at the end of the book. And finally I wanted the star over the castle exaggerated so the reader would know it's a star not a moon.

From this cover I just wanted a few changes. I thought the character looked too old, so I asked if his face could be obscured by a shadow, I wanted the dragon over the castle smaller so you could barely tell it’s a dragon–this has a significance at the end of the book. And finally I wanted the star over the castle exaggerated so the reader would know it’s a star not a moon.

Here's the final cover with all the changes in place.

Here’s the final cover with all the changes in place.

To wrap up here, I want to ask you, the reader, do YOU judge a book by its cover? I bet you will find that unless you are smitten with a blurb before ever seeing the cover, you DO put a high precedence on the images of that book cover. We never get a chance to make a second ‘first impression’ so it’s important to get it right the first time.

Thank you for joining me today!

C.K. Volnek.

15 responses to “Guest Post: Cover Design by CK Volnek

  1. The cover of a book is one of the first things that attracts me and makes me want to look inside. This one looks intriguing and gets my attention. The illustrator is so important to a book. Congratulations on another winner, CK. (I voted on Face Book. Good luck.)


  2. A book’s cover is generally what motivates me to pick it up and find out more about it, especially if the author is unknown to me. Being a writer possessed of very little drawing ability, I appreciate how much various illustrators have contributed to my work, and really value those who establish clear communication between author and illustrator.


    • Thanks Renee. I’ve definitely tried new authors based on the book cover. I hope some people will take a chance on my book just because they like the cover. Of course, then I hope they recommend it to their friends because the like the book.


  3. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but we sure do, don’t we? Charlie is a great artist and I enjoyed figuring out the cover of Coda to Murder WITH her. I enjoyed viewing your process in how your book cover developed, Eric. Great post!


  4. The title of this post caught my eye right away. Charlie just designed a superb cover for me a few days ago, and it was so interesting to learn the cognitive process behind her creative work.

    I find ebook covers particularly significant in terms of remembering a book. I read a lot, and for some reason, I have a stronger recall for those books I actually hold and leaf through in my hands. A distinct ebook cover though, seems to categorize the book better in my brain.

    Thanks Eric and Charlie for this informative post!


  5. Pingback: A New Adventure! | Eric Price

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