Well, not your graphic designer. I can only say how I talk to my graphic designer, but I think new authors might benefit from pulling back the curtain on the process. Everybody’s a little nervous the first time they outsource a book cover, but this guy makes it easy and I recommend him. As you’ll see below, I’m going to come across as a bit of a pain in the ass in this post.
Indie author and graphic designer extraordinaire Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design creates my covers. I can’t create a good cover to save my life, but I can recognize a good one. There are certain things that are pretty easy up front: cookbooks need phat, fat, sexy food (and a thin celebrity chef on the cover); green books don’t sell unless they’re about golf or lawn care; ugly isn’t different in a good way, it’s merely ugly and won’t sell. I worked as a sales rep for several publishing companies and got so I can recognize a bad dog. That said, I have no idea how Kit does his magic to create covers (magic herbs and tattooed Scottish elves are involved), but my covers look like they could have been produced in a traditional publishing house because Kit is the go-to guy.
I rarely come to Kit with an idea for the cover image. Instead I tell him about the book or send him some chapters or the whole thing (depending what stage I’m at with the book.) I trust Kit immensely because, when I’m in revisions, I really don’t want anyone to see it before I’m done and a red bow is tied around the manuscript.
What follows are excerpts from our emails (used with Kit’s permission, of course) to give you the gist of how the Bigger Than Jesus cover came to be, what I was looking for and how we arrived where we did. There were actually at least a dozen or so emails back and forth over a month because Kit supplied new art for my podcast and whipped up a cover for the non-fiction book I have in the works. Kit will use the new covers to update the banner for my author site, too. He’s a multi-talented fellow. That and we keep each other up to date on how we’re doing. Find allies, folks. Friends and coffee are critical.
My initial email about the Bigger Than Jesus cover:
I finished Bigger Than Jesus. I have some work to do yet on the manuscript. Uncharacteristically, I’m coming to you with an idea that I think will work for the cover and it’s kind of a John Locke cover (or a James Bond book cover from the ’80s.)
The story: Bigger Than Jesus revolves around Jesus Diaz, a Cuban hit man who wants out of the mob. There’s gunplay and a lot of duplicity and twists. Every chapter has a twist or an aha moment. At the heart of the story is a key to storage locker #408 with millions of dollars in it which could fuel Jesus’s escape and that of and his girlfriend, Lily Vasquez. Jesus doesn’t just love Lily. He worships her. <Spoilers deleted.> It’s kind of a Coen brothers movie in that whatever Jesus does… at every turn he’s thwarted.
She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested this idea for a cover: We need a gorgeous Latina for Lily. In one hand she holds a key (to a padlock) labeled 408. In the other hand, a SIG Sauer 225 (Jesus’s handgun) or a Beretta if you prefer. And around this gorgeous woman’s neck? A big gold cross hanging by a thick gold chain. Think Madonna/High Catholic ornate for this. Title: Bigger Than Jesus. Author tag: Robert Chazz Chute in my usual cherry red. I’ll just need an ebook cover to start but I’ll be needing a full front/spine/back cover for the paperback as well soonish.
I sent you a link to an article about making the author’s name bigger. As this is a thriller and I’m trying to build a brand for a series, I’d like to try that. I can always switch it up later, but let’s try big author name up top to make it look more brandy, less indie, more swagger. What do you think of that idea?
Ideas get bandied about. Kit does other work for me. Then:
…as discussed, I’m attaching a few drafts of Bigger Than Jesus (covers) for you to have a look at…Sorry there are so many drafts, but it should at least give you a little variety. Of course, as well, at this stage they’re all pretty rough. As ever, if none of them are suitable, I’m more than happy to go back to the drawing board.
Note: Any of the covers Kit sent me, and there were six in total, would have been pretty great to great, but Kit is patient and doesn’t mind fine tuning. Sorry I can’t show you the other covers to see what I’m talking about and to compare, but the draft covers are proprietary until they’re paid for. My break down gives you a hint, though:
Kit! My man!
Whee! This is exciting! Bigger Than Jesus II.png has a nice Pulp Fiction feel. Bigger Than Jesus III.png is closer to what I was picturing to begin with and the model is awesome. I wish we had the model from Bigger Than Jesus III.png in the pose from Bigger Than Jesus IV.png. Bigger Than Jesus I (blur).png has a movie poster vibe, though I like the colours in the next, more cartoonish variation. But, the winner is…I think we should go with a variation on the last one, Bigger Than Jesus IV.png.
So here are my thoughts for the variation on Bigger Than Jesus IV.png:
1. Put my name at the top and bump up the size. Please put the title where the author tag is, not at the bottom.
2. Love the key. Can we make the key shiny gold?
3. Love the model. Can we make the cross she’s wearing gold and or bigger so it pops out? Hard to make it out as is. Too bad she’s not wearing red. Do you think we could make the gun gold as well so it pops? (Either that or lighten the background a little so we see the gun better? I’m worried the awesomeness of the cover will be lost at thumbnail size.) I’m playing off the Jesus-thing obviously, but I also don’t want anyone to actually think it’s a religious book. I want them to be intrigued with the juxtaposition of the gun and the word Jesus. As is, I think potential readers might skip over it if the “Jesus” pops out quite as much as it does.
4. Also, with the girl in the centre, can we make her any bigger? I think Bigger Than Jesus III.png will at least be the alternative cover for the future just as it is.
5. I think the gold accents of the key, the gun and the cross will really make it pop.
Kit sent me the revised draft that was close, but I was still worried:
We’re getting there. This looks pretty good, but I’m concerned it’s too dark. Especially at thumbnail size, I don’t think the image will show up well enough. Can we go with a lighter background and make the cross and key even brighter gold so they pop like the gun, please? I don’t mind if the shine is so bright it’s unrealistic (i.e. think Man with the Golden Gun movie poster.) The shinier the better. And a question: When I find someone to give me a cover blurb for this, do we just scale down the title a little bit so we can fit it in somewhere?
Thanks, man. (Hey, she looks better in the red dress!)
And finally, by Thor I’m hard to please, but Kit is patient:
Better, but I’m thinking the answer for this cover is more contrast. Up for an experiment? What if we make the background white and the text black or maybe cherry red? Can the cross be a shinier gold, or bigger, or both? The cross is still getting lost. I think it will pop more this way.
Success! Though we went for a white background in the end, Kit added a black frame which was not present in earlier drafts. White backgrounds tend to look lost in the retail catalogue if they don’t have a defined edge. Amazon takes .tiffs and jpegs, so Kit sent me a cleaned up version where he edited the fine points on the image I’ll never know about. That’s for the tattooed Scottish elves and Kit to know about.
This was the most protracted back and forth we’ve had over one cover, mostly because I’m picky and kept asking, “What if we made the key and cross so shiny the reader actually gouged out their own eyes to stop the searing pain in their retinas?” By contrast, the art for my book on writing (TBA) came together very quickly. Kit sent me four or five variations of the cover for that book and I pretty much just picked one and that was it, right out of the gate.) If you’re thinking you need a graphic artist for your book, I can’t sing loud enough about the powers of The Kit.
Oh, and here’s the cover. I love it.
Here’s the final draft of the Bigger Than Jesus cover.
Filed under: publishing, Bigger than Jesus, Book cover, Coen brothers, crime novel, graphic designer, John Locke, publishing, Pulp Fiction, Robert Chazz Chute, self-publishing, thriller