Friday, July 11, 2014

Digital Paint

It’s an odd thing to discover in midlife, but one thing my association with Five Directions Press has taught me is that I love to design book covers (books, too). Finding the right images and fonts, setting up the right combination of colors, catching the essence of a book in a few compelling images, defining elements that will tie a series together, even finding the exact placement on a page—all these tasks are deeply satisfying.

Book covers are important in selling books, even in a digital world. I know that. But for me, creating them is pure fun. It doesn’t matter that I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. I can see when things should be aligned and when they shouldn’t. I appreciate art; I just can’t reproduce what my eyes see with a pencil, pen, or stylus. For that, I need Photoshop and InDesign. The effort involved puts nitpicking to shame: 3/72 of an inch left or right, up or down, can make all the difference. Yet I find it relaxing. Fade here, add an effect there, and the ordinary becomes beautiful.

I’ve heard people say that historical fiction demands paintings, not photographs, on its covers. I have nothing against paintings, of course, but I don’t really “get” the value of restricting a designer in this way. For starters, a photograph can be filtered or manipulated to resemble a painting with, say, Photoshop or AutoPaint. And a new writer with few funds may manage quite well with a $10 purchase from one of the stock photo services—or even Creative Commons or public domain art—so long as the images chosen are historically appropriate and well suited to the story. New designers often forget that the type is just as important as the image behind it: titles and authors’ names need to stand out even at thumbnail size, which can’t happen if the cover image overwhelms the words.

So this was my week for covers—not entirely, since the reason why I spent my late afternoons fooling around with images and point sizes was because I had already devoted so many hours to checking for commas that should have been semicolons and double spaces on a page that my brain could no longer process grammar and spelling. While helping my pal Courtney J. Hall finalize her covers for the soon-to-be released Some Rise by Sin and its as-yet-in-the planning stages sequel By Virtue Fall, I discovered an amazing picture of the Kola Peninsula on ThinkStock—perfect for the back cover of The Swan Princess, which had been giving me fits for its pedestrian inability to match the new covers for The Golden Lynx and The Winged Horse. And that gave me ideas for The Vermilion Bird and The Shattered Drum, which complete the Legends of the Five Directions series.

I won’t show you those. It will be eighteen months, at least, before I start work on Vermilion Bird—probably three years for Shattered Drum—and who knows what good ideas I may have had about the covers by then? But I will show you Some Rise by Sin, which should be released by the fall, and the full cover for The Swan Princess. Because even if you don’t need the inspiration, I do!

Please note that all these images come from Shutterstock, iStock, or ThinkStock and thus should not be reproduced unless you have purchased the rights to do so. The Five Directions Press logo was designed and is owned by Colleen Kelley.

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