Have you ever wondered why certain book covers entice you to pick them up and others, well, don’t? I’d like to go in-depth on the cover I designed for Wake the Wicked. You might be surprised by what you read.
It’s no secret cover art has the power to reel a potential reader in to take a closer look. What most people don’t understand however, is the importance of a well designed cover and the time-and-effort it takes to create this work of art. It’s no cut-and-paste job that Joe Shmoe from down the street should attempt.
Although most people may not be able to identify the intricacies of a well crafted cover, a Joe Shmoe cover can be as easy to spot as a full moon—and can ruin a book, regardless of the interior. This power can be intimidating.
I’m one of the few writers who have a solid background in graphic design. I won’t lie, the task of designing the cover for Wake the Wicked has left my sleep schedule looking like a block of moldy Swiss cheese, but it was worth it!
I knew from the beginning I wanted the cover to be powerful and eerie, and it must coincide with the stories I had written. What I didn’t want, was a cover that looked like all the other horror book covers. You know, the black and red one with a close-up of an eye, or an upside-down picture with splatter-text. I cringe at the thought.
While I finished writing the rough draft of my manuscript, I started conceptualizing the cover art. It was at this phase I felt designing the cover would be most beneficial to creating something that would reflect the stories within.
I wrote down a list of every word and phrase my brain spit at me. Some were relevant, some were nonsense, but all became guides.
Once I’d come up with a dozen or so solid concepts, I began doodling in my sketch pad. And after completing a hundred or so, I narrowed them down to three powerful ideas. They were all failures. I’m picky.
I started looking at other covers in my genre for inspiration—bad idea.
After a while, an image creeped into my mind and began laying maggot eggs. The image was a close-up of a sinister eye.
I gathered a model for a photo shoot.
The photograph came out just as I had imagined. I finished the cover art a couple days later and began flashing it around asking, “What do you think? Would you pick up this book?”
I thought I’d created a real gem.
I was wrong.
My sister said it was reminiscent of something she’d seen before. It was then I realized I had been looking at other book covers for inspiration for way too long—I’d designed the cliché eye cover without even realizing it!
I threw it in the trash and started over.
I had designed a few covers during the following weeks and stopped once one sung to me. I had fallen in love with it. It wasn’t cliché. It was nothing like anything else out there in the crowded world of books.
I began asking for opinions. It was a crowd-pleaser right away.
But something wasn’t right again.
It was eye-catching, powerful, and bold, but it wasn’t eerie. It wouldn’t have even made a kitten’s tail puff up. And boy, that was a disappointment.
In the end, the cover was just not right for the intended audience. I had to trash it.
At this point, I could’ve sworn I heard Joe Shmoe yelling from down the street, “Hand it off to me!”
But I would never!
Meanwhile, my editor, Michael Garrett, was still evaluating my manuscript, so after I ranted to my sister about my cover frustrations, I mustered up enough confidence to start over.
I gathered my model and scheduled another photo shoot. This time, I wanted to transform him into one of the characters from a story within Wake the Wicked called, Ripped to Ribbons. After applying special effects makeup and prosthetics, I arranged black lights around the room and turned off the incandescents.
The purple glow gave off an eerie, mystical feeling that captured the vision I had for the cover and enhanced the haunting photograph in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
During the design phase, I played around with a countless number of fonts and arrangements. For the title, I chose a vertical alignment inspired by Japanese characters. This alignment and position also brings visual harmony to the height of the book.
The long ghostly shadows behind the text enhances the overall haunting imagery. I reversed the last D in WICKED to display a sense of misery. Did you notice how it looks like a frown? And when you look at the cover as a whole, it appears as an extension of his nose. Does it remind you of a snout? You might also be curious about the downward teeth-like spikes extending from the D. These are not a coincidences, however. You’ll understand once you’ve read the story.
I wrote the subtitle Thirteen Twisted Tales by hand. It harbors a personal feel that a purchased font cannot convey. I positioned the subtitle between the character’s lips. This was no coincidental either. I wanted the viewer to feel a sense of mystery and ask themselves why is it positioned there. But sorry, I won’t tell you why. You’ll have to read the story.
After the cover was assembled, I knew it was the one.The gem. It was eerie, colorful, eye-catching, enigmatic, powerful—and appropriate for Wake the Wicked’s audience!
Throughout the whole process, I’d sketched out hundreds of roughs, made thousands of revisions, and lost a good amount of sleep—but it was all worth it. The final cover exceeded my expectations, crossed boundaries in the book cover industry, and gratified the most formidable critic I know—myself.
I hope this cover casts a spell on you the way I’d intended it to. If it does, prepare yourself for Wake the Wicked!
Wake the Wicked will be available 12/21/12 (day of the apocalypse / Mayan birth of a new era).
Join the mailing list to stay up-to-date.
More on Wake the Wicked.