Monday, May 2, 2011

A Cover from a Professional Illustrator

Being a newcomer to this self-publishing thing, I thought I would expose the contacts I had with Les Petersen as we discussed covers from idea to finished art. I hope to let other newcomer authors know that illustrators - or one at least: Les - are not difficult to work with, and are able to interpret and visualize scant comments far better than I. And perhaps other authors, as well. The exchange I have documented below led to the first draft of my cover; read it and believe that you too can work successfully with an illustrator.

I have personal experience with Les, and I recommend him unreservedly. The special deal he describes is available as I write this post, but contact Les to see if it he can still honor it. Even his regular prices don't seem that bad, though. I must admit that the cynic in me says self-publishing has been a boon for illustrators!

Below, the text of my messages to Les are in this background, and his responses are in this text. I've done some editing for clarity and extraneous content.
The story:
My novel Mercenaries; A Love Story, will be epublished. The plan is for it to go live on the Kindle store June 1. I thought my plain cover idea - text on a white background - wasn't nearly spiffy enough and I sought advice. I looked over blogs: Joe Konrath, Ed Cote, Derek Canyon among others.

Armed with their advice, I sent emails to a couple of illustrators. Les Petersen (who did the Twelve Worlds Cover) responded that he was putting together  a promo for the Twelve Worlds authors. The other guy apparently has enough business; he didn't respond.

I sent the first contact was through Les' web site "contact me" form:

Contact Message:

Following the very nice cover you did for Twelve Worlds, I thought I'd ask for ideas for a set of two books, adventure genre, epublished only. Being a complete newcomer to this, what can I tell you that would help you decide if you wanted to help, how much you might charge, what time frame would be needed? And anything else I've forgotten and shouldn't have!

thanks, tony

Les responded (quickly):

I was just about to write to your group with a 'special offer'. Here is the
draft of what I was going to put up. (this might change slightly but it'll
be close)

Special deal for eBook covers.

Professional illustrations for covers for "paper bricks" cost from $2000 up
to 'the sky's the limit'. I offer a greatly reduced fee for first time
self-publishing authors - who usually have a very loose idea of what the
real costs are and need the break - eBooks are similar to self publishing,
the fee is usually $US500.

Because I need to upgrade hardware and software I'm offering a special deal
to the first 10 people who'd like a cover illustrated and do it at $250 an
Genre: I can do any genre.
Ideas for image: which should be as clear as you can make it (eg. a bear
wearing a tutu fighting a green space cadet) or a section of the manuscript
you'd like to see illustrated. I will accept drawings and reference images
as guides, or you can suggest similar cover designs.
I will need a complete description of the appearance and costume of
characters you'd like on the cover - if any.

Covers take about a week of work, and I'll work down the list, so first in
first served.

Rules of engagement:
- I will work to the best of my ability and produce as detailed and
appropriate an image as I can within time constraints.
- I will give you a sketch of my idea for the design as a guide to what I am
doing before beginning the final product. Be aware, the image WILL change
between sketch and final image because that's the nature of illustration -
the sketch is a guide to the final image rather than a rigid map of it.
- Though I will work on the image at a higher resolution (normally twice or
three times the dimensions) I will give you 600pixels wide by 800 pixels
deep illustration at a suitable resolution of less than 127kbs (which is
required by most epublishers). The higher resolution illustration will be
available for an additional $100.
- You will not be unreasonable about the image I provide and not demand too
many changes to get it to what you consider "perfect". I retain the right to
say no to changes if I consider them to be detrimental to the work or my
- An author may ask for any number of covers, but must list the covers in
order of preference. I will do the first on the list as a priority work,
then MAY, if necessary, move to the next author on the list so that I get
all the artists' covers to them within a reasonable time. I will then return
to the works on the list.
- Because this is a special deal, this is not a work for hire agreement. I
retain copyright of the image, but you have sole use rights. In other words,
you can use it for what you want, but I get to use it as self-advertising
and for things like books on my art etc. I do sell cover images as posters
but I limit that to about 50 copies, and I also put some up on my website as
a low res image. If I have need of the image for any other reason, I will
contact you and discuss options.
- I will be open to ideas for cover design but I can say no to any request
that might be detrimental to my reputation. If necessary, I will refund
- The fee for service must be paid ahead of start of work via paypal.

I sent the following:

Les, thanks for the feedback.

I'm still up in the air for what I want, but you've hit my price point
for two covers :)

I am looking for advice; here's what I know.
The complete story is in four main sections, packaged as two books, Part
One and Part Two in Book One, and the last two in Book Two.
I would like a strong identity between the two covers - perhaps the only
thing that changes is Book 1 becomes Book 2, for example.
Given the diversity of settings, I've been thinking of no image at all,
just the name, etc. While that should be easy to do, do you have any
opinion, or any experience to say whether or not that would work from my
POV? I don't have any good idea how the thumbnails would look.

The title is Mercenaries: A Love Story.

I categorize it as Adventure. To give you a brief idea of the story:
Beckie, her brother Mike, and their friend Melissa, are teens who get
involved assisting Ian Jamse and his group of mercenaries in halting a
child abuse ring that operates in Europe, the US and Far East. Book One
is 13+ in my mind; Book Two is probably M for mature.

The setting is contemporary in terms of time. Physically, the locales
are, for Part One: Hawaii, for Part Two: London and Rome. In Book Two,
Part Three is mostly in New Mexico and Arizona, and Part Four is in the
Bahamas and Thailand.

It feels to me like trying to capture the sense of these in a single
image wouldn't work well, though using Beckie and Jamse together might
allow the strong identity I would like while playing up the 'love story'

If you have any thoughts, please shoot them back. And if you are willing
to take on the two covers at US$250 (I assume) each, I'll pay as soon as
you tell me how. I'd accept the terms you listed.
Now you get a chance to tell me what else I've forgotten to tell you!

Les responded (again quickly):

Thanks for the explanations, these all make sense.

I'm quite used to dealing with series of books since most fantasies are trilogies. We usually use a very similar layout and then change one major element. We can do this with the two books.

Can you describe your characters, please. What they look like, what they wear, what they might be armed with (if anything) etc. And what the mercenaries might be dressed like. I'll look at a setting for them that's European in flavour (Paris and Thailand are usually quite identifiable)

I'll draw up a sketch and send it to you and with that sketch might come a few other questions which'll pin down the final images.

And I sent him the following:
The thoughts I had on the cover contents and the questions you asked:
Beckie, the heroine: age: 17+, height: 5'0" (153 cm), weight: 99 pounds (45 Kg), slight build, Caucasian,  hair: chestnut brown, eyes: grey
Ian Jamse, mercenary leader: age: 30,  height: 6'0" (183 cm), weight: 178 pounds (81 Kg), wiry build, Caucasian, hair: dark blond, eyes: blue. No beard or mustache.
Trillian  (Jamse's ocelot) - a relatively smaller  example: 26" (66 cm) length with 12" (31 cm) tail, reddish brown coat with typical black spots, 18 pounds (8 Kg).
How about:

Book One:
Beckie next to Jamse not touching, Trillian between them rubbing against Jamse's leg. Beckie in typical late teen jeans and plain oxford shirt or blouse, bright color. Jamse in slacks and shirt that imply a professional demeanor while on the casual side, subdued colors.

Book Two: same pair except closer together with Trillian outside, still rubbing Jamse's leg. Both in pseudo military gear. Not holding hands or linking arms, just arms touching, I think. Maybe hips, also, depending on how comfortable that stance would look.
Plain solid color backgrounds.
please let me know what you think.

Within a day, I received the first version of the Book One cover.  We've dealt with minor modifications (lightness and darkness of features, Beckie's height, Trillian's size) since then, and the final version took Les less than two weeks from initial contact - well within my schedule!
Final (the sixth version)

Selected earlier ones are in sequence below, from the first on.

With this example, go ahead and talk to an illustrator about your story's cover. It's a doable proposition, and a professional cover will lead readers in to the professionally written world you've created.

1 comment:

  1. I use Jeroen ten Berge. He's fast and really good, did all my covers (check them out in the signature link!)

    My WIP/release for this month is "Coward". Link to the relevant post here!

    YA: Cheat, Liar
    Adult: Shackled