So what's it like when you're doing your own cover? When it's solely your own responsibility there's a whole new set of worries and concerns - not to mention the job set squarely on your shoulders. Today's guest is Liz Coley, author of PRETTY GIRL-13, and her newest release, TOR MADDOX: UNLEASHED. And don't forget to enter the Goodreads giveaway for an advance copy!
When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action?
Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.
Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?
I knew I wanted my front cover to include my heroine Tor and her dog Cocoa, but aside from that, this cover has gone through three versions of images and title! I hope third time’s the charm!
How far in advance from your pub date did you start working on the cover?
Eight years? I created the first draft of the novel now known as Unleashed during my very first Nanowrimo back in November 2007. I had a motivational habit of designing my imaginary covers and using them as a desktop screensaver while I was writing, so the first version of the cover with the original title Best Friends dates back to 2008. That was a close up of a girl nuzzling her dog with the genetic code for canine flu as a pale blue background. Hours of perusing “girl & dog” stock photos failed to produce a pair who matched my descriptions, so I knew this place-saver cover was just for fun. In 2009, I reworked my website and updated the cover to a pair of sexy legs in high heels and a cute terrier, a different breed from mixed-race Cocoa. Finally, when I got serious in 2014 about self-publishing what had grown into a short prequel and a series of three books, I knew I needed a new look and a unifying theme. Book 1 was now titled Tor Maddox: Unleashed. The three elements of the image were going to be legs (not sexy), a red leash, and a dog.
Did you do this entirely on your own, or did you call in favors from friends?
I have a friend with some graphic design experience who offered to be a sounding—that is, looking—board while I was working with alternate images for the whole series and for two unrelated 99¢ short stories I’m planning to publish to help with promotion (Practically Invisible & Sticks and Stones. My two teenaged nieces and my daughter cast honest, skeptical, and helpful eyes on some early cover mockups. I’ve become handy enough with Photoshop over the years to do my own image manipulation and layout.
Was it expensive to do the cover yourself, or was it more of a time commitment?
My only direct costs were the licenses for the photo images, so something like $75 for the whole shebang. Mostly it was the time commitment of searching huge databases of images, downloading samples, mocking up several possibilities, making and purchasing selections, manipulating images, and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking layout.
Was there any one thing about the process that made you particularly batty?
Looking at images until my eyes were crossed! I literally walked around in a blur for days. As the years passed, the real life girl I had based Tor’s appearance on grew up and went to college and stopped looking like a teenager. So having made the decision not to go searching for a new perfect live model and spend a fortune on photo shoots, I had to find stock photos that suited the different stories and were conceivably the same girl—age, coloring, face, body. In one case, I had to change blue eyes to brown using translucent brown ellipses over her irises (Photoshop contact lenses!). Also, finding my adopted mixed breed Cocoa proved to be impossible. He’s described as having the sweet temper and coloring of a lab, the size and stature of a beagle, and the spirit and mustache of a terrier. I ended up merging two different dog photos together to create my own digital mutt.
What surprised you most about the process?
Pink. If you’d told me back when I was making edgy backgrounds like DNA sequences and Confederate flags that I’d end up coloring my books pink, I’d have choked. But when it came down to branding my kick-ss mystery thriller girl to appeal to the 14-year-old (the sweet spot in my target demographic) and to soften the weaponry and trench-coated spy-girl images, pink seemed to do the trick.
Any advice to authors who want to make their own covers?
If you are going to print, don’t forget the back. It’s actually very time consuming to write back cover copy, let it sit for a while and revisit it. If you want to include any reviews or reader blurbs, plan way ahead to get them and figure where they’ll fit into the layout.
Also, there’s the “shout line” or one line teaser, which can take literally days/weeks/years to write. Even more than an elevator pitch, it forces you to find the sharpest point of your hook without giving too much away. I ended up with two per cover—one for the specific story: “Man’s best friend has become public enemy number one” and one to brand the whole series: “A heroine for our times.” That suggests that the stories are contemporary, not fantasy or futuristic dystopian, and that the reader is entering the danger/adventure/thriller zone.