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The Making of a Romance Cover

March 3, 2018

 

It's no secret that I make my own covers. Why? Because I can't stop talking about it, probably! If I'm being completely honest, I think I sometimes enjoy making the cover as much or more than writing the book. There's just something so satisfying and therapeutic about it. 

 

So I wanted to do a quick sort of "behind the cover" post for one of my favorite and most successful covers. Knocked Up by the Dom (pictures included, yaay!)

 

I always start my covers by getting the model into the shot. Pardon the obnoxious "watermark" spam on this screenshot, but I ran into some copyright troubles with the model in this cover (Travis) so I'm going better safe than sorry with the original image, even though it's a crop of the top. 

 

I have to select the model and remove them from the original background in about 95% of the covers I do. Once I've selected the model, it looks like this. 

 

You can see the little marching ants around him if you look closely. Sometimes this step is super quick and easy, but if the background doesn't have enough contrast with the model, I often have to go in and select parts very painstakingly by hand (like his hair on the right side). Otherwise, photoshop has a tool that does it *almost* automatically, leaving me to just touch up areas it doesn't grab correctly. 

 

The reason I select the model out is so I can cut the background away and put my own in. For whatever reason, it generally never looks like a cover to me with the original background. Even if I'm using the original background, it's good to go to the trouble of selecting the model either way, because it means I can modify *just* them without touching the background, or modify the color of the background without touching the model. 

 

I combined two steps in this picture, but the next step is to put a background behind the cut out model. 

 

The background usually doesn't just look good "out of the box". For example, this background was a paper texture that was originally a gold color. To make it look how I wanted, I used a layer adjustment called "hue shift" to change the color. I also messed with the brightness a little to make it darker. 

 

I usually start with this as kind of a blank slate for a new cover. The next, and most difficult part is the "title block". No matter how good you make the background and model look, you can see how a lackluster title block isn't going to do the trick. 

 Yuck. That's not going to work, clearly. This lazy example text block also shows how sometimes the model can present unique problems. One issue here is that black text is going to show up great on his shirt but be hard to read over the shadows on his arms. I'm going to have the same problem with white text being hard to read on his shirt. 

 

For romance covers, there are two really common and popular choices for a title block. One is to just find a pretty cursive (script if you want to give it the fancy technical name) font and let that do the work. This technique tends to work best with very short and compact titles, which Knocked Up by the Dom is not. Let me show you why this wouldn't work great here. 

Almost as yuck as the last one. White or black font here wouldn't really work because of his shirt, so picking a color is one of the few choices if I went this route. 

 

Another more popular style is to combine script fonts with a more standard font, like this. 

 

 Yikes. I hope, if nothing else, these little samples are showing how difficult it can be to find something that looks professional and good for some covers. I think if you've never tried to make one, the title block is probably the easiest thing to overlook, but whether you know what you're looking for or not consciously, it's so easy to spot one that doesn't look right. 

 

So none of my original mockups were *this* bad, but I'm kind of doing quick and dirty examples to show some of the styles I'd cycle through trying or consider. 

 

My main design challenge with this cover was his shirt. I didn't want to cover up all of his abs with the title block, so I felt like I needed to have the title over his shirt, but I was also having a really tough time finding a way to not have a multi-colored title block like the one above that looked like a mess. 

 

So I eventually thought to make a sort of "title strip". It started out as just a dark textured rectangle like this. 

 I decided to make the box semi-transparent so it didn't feel quite as intrusive on the cover, but it helped normalize the values behind it, letting the letters pop out nicely. It still wasn't quite right though, which made me think to add the colored borders like this. 

Adding this little box was one of those eureka moments for me as a cover designer. Thinking of something like this (and managing to execute the creation of it) is the hardest part of cover design. Once I had this element in the cover, it was much easier to make drafts that were looking how I wanted. Before I did that though, I decided the model looked a little bit flat to me, and I needed to add some shine to him to help him pop. 

 

 I think I ended up clearing some of that texture away from his abs, but you can see I added a little darkness at the bottom to help my author name stand out more and I also brightened him up while adding a few hand-drawn highlights on the already bright areas to bring them out. 

 

Then I started experimenting with how to use the strip of space I'd created. This was *almost* my final draft, but I decided to try something different with about 6 hours to go before publishing. 

 

You may notice I also decided to darken the outer edges of the background. Once I saw the title block taking shape, I felt like the fully teal background was a little too overwhelming and distracting, so I toned it down to help the title pop more.

 

The main question at this point was which part of the title I wanted to be the focus. Did I want to essentially market "Dom" or "knocked up". This is the type of question that has the potential to drive an author crazy. There's really no way to ever know the right answer. Readers are definitely going to respond more positively to one, and all you can do is make your best guess. If it's 50/50 in your mind, the best thing you can do is go with what looks nicest from a composition standpoint.

 

I eventually decided the Knocked Up part of my title was what I really wanted to market. I also liked the design aspect where knocked up was in the strip and it almost felt like a label, where dom in the strip didn't give me that same vibe. The final cover ended up being this. 

 

That about does it for this post! If the behind-the-cover idea was interesting for you, let me know. I still keep a lot of my drafts from when I'm designing covers, and I could do a ton of these for past covers if there's any interest. 

 

Thanks for reading! 

 

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