Friday, September 7, 2012

The Great Cover Hunt Continued

So far, most of my discussion of covers has involved copyright and my attempts to avoid violation thereof. But what about creating the cover itself? If you’re a self- or indie-published author, cover creation probably doesn’t rank high on your list of marketable skills. I have a career in editing and typesetting, coupled with a jill-of-all-trades’ need to perform occasional feats of design, but I still wouldn’t consider myself rich in the kind of experience needed to create a professional-quality book cover. Yet here I am, with three under my belt, two more planned, and another four sketched out. I certainly don’t claim expertise, but in the interests of sparking discussion, I thought I would share some of the story behind the covers I created for my two novels—one already in print, the other due to release for sale as soon as I approve the print proofs (expect an update when I see what that cover looks like once attached to an actual book).

With The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel, I had a design in my head from the beginning. It took me a while to get it right, but even in its earliest formulation (the one now roaming the Web as a pirated graphic), the red velvet and the 18th-century sword figured prominently. Adding, then doubling (to represent either the dual nature of Ian/Percy or the heroine’s equality with the hero—take your pick), the scarlet pimpernel; finding the right sword and velvet; then making sure I wasn’t stealing anyone’s image—all these details took time. But the basic idea was already in place.

Not so with The Golden Lynx. The story contains three lynxes, for starters: a spirit animal who takes the form of an actual lynx, a gold necklace in the form of Scythian jewelry given to the heroine at a crucial moment by her older brother, and the heroine herself, who takes refuge from her troubles by becoming a female Scarlet Pimpernel whom the locals dub the Golden Lynx. I was so excited the day I discovered that Eurasian lynxes really are golden brown. And when I found the perfect circle (a Scythian panther) to represent the gold necklace.

My early versions of the cover featured all three: lynx front and center, girl shadowy in the background, jewelry next to her. Unfortunately, in my early period of ignorance, I failed to consider the copyright status of my first set of images. The lynx turned out to be the work of a Czech photographer. The girl came from a video published on Youtube by the Republic of Tatarstan. Public domain? No way to tell—I swear I looked, but there was no information even about the person who uploaded the video. The jewelry belongs to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which does allow people to download its images, although not for commercial use. And the Hermitage site does not include that particular image, which now no longer shows up in Google Images at all.

So in the best case, I would have had to find alternatives. A bigger problem, though, was the design itself. As my invaluable critique group pointed out, the actual lynx took over the cover. In the end, the story is about a girl, not a wildcat. The cover did not make this clear.

I shifted the elements around to emphasize the heroine and relegate her spirit guide to the background, then began trawling Shutterstock for images of girls around my heroine’s age. This one had the right attitude, although nothing about her screams “16th-century Turkic princess.”

This one at least sports a costume plausible for my heroine masquerading as the Golden Lynx. But the girl’s demeanor, if culturally correct, seems rather demure for a tomboy defying every social convention because she’s mad at her new husband. 

Finally, I wised up and ran a search on Shutterstock for “Tatar bride.” Bingo. Rather surprisingly, even if we exclude the pictures of raw beef and sauce for fish, Shutterstock carries a remarkable number of photographs of actual Tatars.

With the addition of an Ottoman dagger, also from Shutterstock, and a beautiful Eurasian lynx courtesy of Bernard Landgraf (reused under a Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike 3.0 Unported license), I came up with the cover below. Perhaps a bit spare, but everything I tried adding made the result look cluttered. So in the end I left it as is. The black background will carry over nicely into the other books in this series, becoming a unifying theme. And the elements catch the eye even when reduced to thumbnail size, not an unimportant consideration in this day and age.

And please note, that although the manipulated lynx can be reused under the same terms (attribution/share-alike) as the original, the other images in this post were purchased from Shutterstock, so using them without buying your own license violates that company’s copyright.

For up-to-date publication information on The Golden Lynx, see

For the story of the back cover, see my previous post, “The Art of the Blurb.”

Photographs: Teen Girl on White Background © Vita Khorzhevska/Shutterstock; Middle Eastern Beauty © Galina Barskaya/Shutterstock; Tatar bride © Ilia Chungurov/Shutterstock; Ottoman dagger © Özgür Güvenç/Shutterstock.

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