Friday, February 21, 2020

A Behind the Scenes Look at Book Covers with Erica Lucke Dean
Today's post is inspired by some sub-tweeting I was following on Twitter. A romance author posted in a vague way about the book cover of an upcoming release from a prominent, traditional romance publisher. This author expressed her dismay about the quality of the new book's cover, saying it looked as though it had been put together in a rush with little thought or consideration and lots of bad photo-shopping.

Those are the kinds of complaints I hear about self-published and indie books all the time (although they're not as true as they used to be), but when a traditional publisher stumbles on cover development, it somehow seems especially egregious and disappointing.

Fortunately, I've been blessed to work with several publishers who do recognize the value of a good cover. One of those publishers is Red Adept Publishing, with whom I've release a trilogy and a stand-alone romance. Today I'm welcoming my friend and fellow author, Erica Lucke Dean, to discuss the book cover design process. Erica primarily writes romance, both for Adults and Young Adults. She is also on Red Adept Publishing's book cover team, and she's an experienced graphic designer of her own, designing ads and book trailers for authors of many genres. (Check out some of her author services here:

Karissa: Welcome Erica!

Erica: Is this mic on? *tap tap* Are we live?

Karissa: We are live, so get ready for me to pelt you with a bunch of questions. So... I've talked with you on and off for a long time about the importance of covers. You're often the person I run to when I see a bad cover in the wild so that you can commiserate with me about all the things that went wrong with it.  What are your thoughts about the importance of a good cover?

Erica: Well, think about it. As much as we’d like to say they don’t, people really do judge a book by the cover. If you see someone walking around in ratty jeans and dirty shoes, you make a snap judgment about them whether you mean to or not. Books are the same thing. If you see a crappy cover, you’re going to assume the same level of attention was given to the contents on the inside.

If the author or publisher doesn’t spend a solid effort on the outside of the book, how can you be sure they’ve spent any effort on the inside?

Karissa: I agree. I think we've come to each other a few times saying, "'Don't judge a book by it's cover' is a lie." 

Erica: The cover is the first thing someone sees when discovering a new book. It has to grab them in order for them to flip it over and read the back.

Karissa: Exactly right. And then writing a blurb to keep them interested long enough to open the book and start reading is another challenge. But we'll save that for another day.

So, I don't know how it works in the big publishing houses, but you and I both have some experience with how it works at a smaller house like Red Adept. We've both been through the process of giving input on covers but you especially get a little more "behind the scenes" than I do as part of Red Adept's cover team. How does it all start?

Erica: It starts with a simple form the author fills out giving us some background on the book—plot, characters, genre—things like that. And what mood or tone the author believes their book should convey. They also add links to a few covers they feel match the genre and tone so the designer has a rough idea where to start.

Karissa: That's also similar to the process I went through not only with Red Adept but with Deranged Doctor Design when I commissioned them to re-do the covers of my Stormbourne Chronicles books. So, what happens next, after the form is submitted?

Erica: The form goes to the designer who comes up with a concept. Sometimes we brainstorm together, sometimes he has something great in mind. And once we have a draft that goes to a focus group for feedback.

Karissa: Tell me more about the focus group. For my Stormbourne Chronicles, I couldn't see what went on behind the scenes at the designer's office, so my focus group was you and Mary Fan. It was important to get feedback from other people who weren't as attached to my books as I was.

Erica: The focus group at Red Adept Publishing is made up of industry professionals... bloggers, editors, etc. People who read a lot. They’re asked to guess the genre based on the cover draft and give feedback on tone, etc. if they hate it, it’s back to the drawing board.

Karissa: And once the focus group approves, it goes back to the author for their feedback, right? This is a part of the process with which I'm a little more familiar. And let me tell you... waiting for that first glimpse of the cover is like being a little kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus. The anticipation is intense!

Erica: Once we’re on the right track, we send to the author for their feedback. Sometimes we’ll need a few more tweaks, sometimes we’re good to go.

Karissa: What happens if the author is, let's say, "disappointed"?

Erica: The thing to remember is sometimes the author isn’t the best judge as to what will sell their book. They have an idea in mind, but sometimes that romanticized idea doesn’t match what sells in that genre.

I have had an instance—and keep in mind, this was before the focus group—where the cover really didn’t work, and the author was right to be disappointed. In this case, it was my cover. LOL.

When the first book in my Flames of Time series was in the cover queue, I had an idea for a cover that simply didn’t match the vision the cover team had at the time. And the cover they came up with was beautiful, but I didn’t believe it matched the genre. In the end, I was right, and we came up with a new cover. Enter the focus group and their feedback proved me right. The new cover is stunning, AND perfect for the genre.

"Old Cover"

"New Cover"
It wasn’t at the same time as the old cover was conceptualized. And I wasn’t on the cover team back
then... not that it would have mattered because as the author, I would have been considered biased.

Karissa: It must feel good to have a publisher who listens to their authors about these things. I know it's one of the reasons I love Red Adept so much. So, once the author gives their approval, that's basically it--off to formatting and other behind the scenes work that the publisher takes care of, unless the author is the publisher, of course.

Can you tell me a little more about the design team Red Adept uses? 

Erica: Glendon at Streetlight Graphics is a genius. He really is. He takes the idea and turns it into a dream cover. Just look at some of Red Adept’s fabulous covers.

Erica: When we get the covers right, and they're really good, we say they're worthy of the front table at Barnes and Noble. Quality book, quality cover.

Karissa: I totally agree, and think it's especially important to have a quality cover to stand out among the competition. And there's so much competition!

This would be a good time to mention that Streetlight Graphics is also the designer that helped fellow ATB Blogger, Mary Fan create her Starswept Trilogy covers. She has just this week revealed the cover for her final book Seize the Stars, coming August 2020. Aren't her covers gorgeous? Mary is an expert herself in book covers and she did a lot of work bringing these covers to life. Find out more about her cover shoot process, here:

Thanks for joining me today, Erica, and sharing your thoughts on the importance of a professional book cover and for giving us a little glimpse "behind the scenes" at the process of developing a cover.

More about today's guest:

After walking away from her career as a business banker to pursue writing full-time, Erica moved from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a small tourist town in the North Georgia Mountains where she lives in a 90-year-old haunted farmhouse with her workaholic husband, her 180lb lap dog, and at least one ghost.

When she’s not busy writing or tending to her collection of crazy chickens, diabolical ducks, and a quintet of piglets, hell bent on having her for dinner, she’s either reading bad fan fiction or singing karaoke in the local pub. Much like the characters in her books, Erica is a magnet for disaster, and has been known to trip on air while walking across flat surfaces.

How she’s managed to survive this long is one of life’s great mysteries.

Erica is represented by Kelly Peterson of Rees Literary Agency in New York.

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