3 S.R. Johannes: Cutting Through the Mist-ery of Cover Design (Alicia Kat Dillman, author of Daemons in the Mist)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cutting Through the Mist-ery of Cover Design (Alicia Kat Dillman, author of Daemons in the Mist)

Author and illustrator Alicia Kat Dillman as part of her blog tour for Daemons in the Mist is here today to talk about cover designs, yay! Here is a little bit about the indie author and her first book!

Indie author & illustrator Alicia Kat Dillman is a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. Kat illustrates and designs book covers & computer game art by day and writes teen fiction by night. The owner of two very crazy studio cats and nine overfull bookcases, Kat can usually be found performing, watching anime or hanging out in twitter chats when not playing in the imaginary worlds within her head. 

Seventeen year old Patrick Connolly has been hopelessly infatuated with Nualla for years but he is all but invisible to her. Until, that is, he rescues her from a confrontation with her ex. Little does Patrick know he’s just set off a dangerous chain reaction that will thrust him into a world of life altering secrets and things that shouldn’t exist, because the fog and mist of San Francisco is concealing more than just buildings.

Here she is...


There are bad covers out there; we have all seen them. The ones with the glaring, eye-searing colors, painful design, and horrid photoshopping that should be a crime against humanity. I could go on for days about the horrors I have seen lurking in the dark corners of bookshops, but I’m sure you’d all rather I talk about what makes a good cover.

I’m going to use the cover I designed for my debut novel Daemons in the Mist as an example.

Daemons in the Mist is very atmospheric, almost like the environment is a real breathing creature itself, and my characters embody their environments. I wanted to convey this on the cover so I chose one main character and one location in the city that reflected a part of the city and the character at the same time.

I wanted Nualla, one of Daemons in the Mist’s main characters, to look like she was standing across the street from you, her hair caught up in the gust of wind from a passing car. Placing her firmly in our world but at the same time pulling you into something hidden; something extraordinary. She is as much inviting you, the reader, into her world as she invites Patrick into her life in the story. And I wanted a bridge, in this case the Bay Bridge. Why did I chose the Bay Bridge instead of the Golden Gate Bridge for the cover of Daemons in the Mist? Because really the Golden Gate Bridge is for tourists, most of the locals, the commuters and students, use the Bay Bridge to come into the city. The story is about people who live in the city each day and most of the books are set there so I wanted the readers to get a taste of the city the way I see it. But why a bridge in the first place? In the story Patrick makes a journey from the human world into the world of daemons, much like a bridge carries us into a new place. Parts of the bridge are obscured by fog conveying to the viewer that not everything is what it seems.

With these illustrative elements in place, it’s time to take a look at the text. I read somewhere that a book cover should never have more than three fonts or font colors. Publisher logos and fonts are, of course, excluded from this. Think of your fonts as a kind of branding for your book. You want them to stand out and mesh well together. For Daemons in the Mist I chose hard sharp-edged fonts to contrast with the curving and soft edges of Nualla and the bridge lights.

But book cover design isn’t simply stacking the right elements on a page, it goes deeper than that. It’s not simply pretty on accident, it’sdesigned to be pleasing and striking. Nualla’s face was placed on the upper third/third square, an artistic design element employed to make the image instantly more dynamic. The deep rich black of her hair contrasts dramatically with the pale soft completion of her face, and is left simple and detail free to make her eyes stand out. Nualla’s hair sweeps the eye downward leading us right into the title. The visual elements of the cover are right-heavy so the title was place over to the left to balance out the design. The text has a slight glow to it to appear as if it is being viewed through a foggy night. It is all these elements working together that create good design.

Look at some of your favorite covers and analyze why you like them, why they caught your eye. Why they said, “buy me, I’m awesome!”

Okay, so now you know what to do and you have a fab cover design ready, but how does it look shrunk down to under two inches? Though we would love everyone to bask in the glory that is our high resolution cover the first time they see it, the truth is they will most likely see it as an inch tall, slightly blurry graphic in a sea of other potential reads. So how do you design for this? Make sure you have large eye-catching elements mixed in with your small secondary reads and fonts that are clear and easy to read even at a small size.  If you look at the Daemons in the Mistcover right now on a search of Amazon, Nualla is striking even at such a small size and you can even read the title and author name; well, you can on my screen anyways. As you design your cover, keep checking a small, on-screen version of it. There are a variety of ways to do this depending on your program and system of choice.

If all the analysis that goes into one of my covers makes your head hurt, don’t worry. I’m a trained professional, it’s my job to do this. As a writer, you don’t have to be able to pull off a stellar cover design, you just need to know enough to know who to hire to create one for you.


Thank you for stopping by Alicia!


Mary said...

Kat is such an incredibly talented artist--I love that book cover! With the gorgeous indigo-purpleish color and the blowing hair and everything--fabulous. I'm very visually oriented so when there's a good cover, I'm much more apt to pick up the book and take a peek inside.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Great post, Alicia. I love getting deeper insight into your cover making process. Just gorg!

LM Preston said...

Cover design is an art. And has the ability to draw a reader in and give them references to stories. Thanks for sharing your tips with us.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good covers really are so important! Love the insights you've provided - very helpful! And I love your cover :)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

The book cover's amazing. I know about awful covers. Once on an order someone made me a terrible cover. When I realized how poor it was compared to the samples they showed, I cancelled it.

Anonymous said...

It is SO TRUE thinking about the thumbnail size images, I do truly love your work Kat! :)

Alicia Kat Vancil said...

Shelli- Thank you again for being such an awesome host. And thanks all you awesome peeps for stopping by her fab blog.