Cover Art for the LORDS OF LANCASHIRE Anthology

Once I get the third Lords of Lancashire novella (Thomas’s story) completed and published, I’ll be putting together a print edition of all three novellas as well as a digital “box set”. Of course, the collection needed its own cover art, and I decided to go in a bit of a different direction for the anthology than I have for the individual novellas. As always, Kim Killion and her talented artists at Hot Damn Designs did an amazing job. Here’s what they came up with based on my specifications:

I really love it, and if you think I’m going for a bit of a Fifty Shades of Grey vibe here, you wouldn’t be far off, although I hope it doesn’t come off as a “copycat” either. What do you think?

Hot Off the Presses: Hot New Cover Art!

So, I have two cover reveals to do today. The first is a cover you’ve seen before but in a slightly reworked form. Carrie over at Seductive Musings took the cover I created with my limited GIMP skills (er, maybe I ought to say “complete lack of GIMP skills”) for Wrong Side of the Grave and made a few modifications to it that really make it look more like it belongs with the cover of Incarnate. I think she did a lovely job and, as she’s starting up a cover art business, I’m happy to recommend her work.

Without further ado, here’s the new version next to its sister cover:

Next up, I have another gorgeous design from Kim over at Hot Damn Designs for an as-yet unwritten novella. (Hey, I find cover art motivating. What can I say?) As I was finishing up The Lesson Plan, it dawned on me that I had two characters who really needed happily-ever-after’s of their own. It also occurred to me that if I had two more related novellas, I’d be able to package them in print. I get the occasional request from readers who don’t read digital books for my work, but it doesn’t make sense to print a 25,000 word novella as a standalone. But three novellas…yeah, that starts to pencil out.

I’ve already got titles for both sequels and the cover art and cover copy for the second, which I hereby reveal (ETA with a few tweaks from yesterday’s version):

Hot Under the Collar

Despite the old saw about third sons being destined for the church, no one ever expected the rakish, irresponsible Walter Langston to take up the collar, least of all himself. After an accident renders him unfit for military service, however, he has few other options. When he’s given the post of vicar of a parish in a sleepy, coastal village, he’s convinced he’ll molder in obscurity. Instead, his arrival brings a sudden resurgence in church attendance…or at least, the attendance of female parishioners. As word of the eligible young vicar spreads, every well-heeled family for miles with a marriageable daughter fills his pews, aiming to catch his eye. Unfortunately for these hopeful members of his flock, Walter’s eye has already been caught—by the one woman who doesn’t come to church on Sundays.

Artemisia Finch left a lucrative career as a celebrated member of London’s demimondaine to care for her ailing father. Returning home hasn’t been easy, though, as her past isn’t even a poorly kept secret in the village. When the new vicar arrives on her doorstep, Artemisia is determined to send him on his merry, pious way. But Walter Langston is nothing like any man of the cloth she’s ever known—he’s funny, irreverent, handsome, and tempting as sin. Falling in love with a vicar would be a very bad idea for a former courtesan. Why does this one have to be so hot under the collar?

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

After I wrapped up the cover art design for Wrong Side of the Grave, Stephanie Draven mentioned on Twitter that my experiences were making her wonder if packaging shouldn’t come before writing the book. Or, put more bluntly, whether I was foolish to be spending time and money on cover art for books I haven’t written yet and could, in theory, fail to finish. (ETA: I don’t think Stephanie actually meant that at all. I’m totally joking!) Since I’ve wondered the same thing (especially since I have a hard drive absolutely cluttered with unfinished manuscripts), I thought I’d talk a little more about the thought processes that drove me to commission the cover for Incarnate and fritter away three days on the cover of the prequel.

The primary reason I commissioned the cover art for Incarnate, as I’ve mentioned before, is that the artist, Nathalia Suellen, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Knowing Nathalia as I do now, I’m sure she would have done the artwork for me at the same price she quoted me six months from now, but at the time, I was more than a little worried that if I waited, I wouldn’t be able to afford her.

But I’ll admit that there was a little more to it than that. Specifically, it’s precisely because I have all those unfinished manuscripts littering my hard drive that I decided to get the cover art done now. You see, I need motivation. And there are few things more motivating when it comes to finishing a book than a) having spent money upfront on it and b) a gorgeous cover. And because what Nathalia did for Incarnate is honestly so much more perfect and wonderful than I ever dreamed, I’m truly motivated to finish writing the book (even if I am a little intimidated by the prospect of having to write a story that lives up to the cover).

Okay, so what about Wrong Side of the Grave? After all, the idea of doing a free short story as a prequel to Incarnate only occurred to me last week! And I’ve already got cover art? What am I, crazy?

Well, I am crazy, but that’s a separate issue :).

Here’s the reason I did the cover now instead of waiting until the story was written: I found an image on iStockPhoto that was practically perfect.

But why was a looking in the first place? Honestly, mainly for inspiration. I didn’t have a clear plot in mind for the prequel, just some pretty vague ideas about exploring my heroine’s backstory in a little more detail, and pictures can often spark ideas. And then I found this near-perfect image of a woman standing next to a gravestone. The model even looked startingly like the model on the cover of Incarnate. It was kind of like kismet. The image itself wasn’t cheap, but it was something I knew I could work with even with my very rudimentary graphic design skills.1 Knowing that sometimes artists take images off iStockPhoto, I didn’t want to wait until the story was written (or even started) to buy it, and of course, once I bought it, I had to go ahead and do the design, just to see if I could do something that looked reasonably professional on my own.

So, do I think it’s a good idea, in general, to do the “packaging” for a book before actually writing it?

Well, first of all, this obviously isn’t even an option if you’re not self-publishing the book, unless you want to spend the time and money on creating cover art solely for your own use. It’s a rare publisher that lets the author provide the cover art. But if you find having an image to be motivating or helpful, then by all means, go for it.

But if you are self-publishing, I do think having the cover art (as well as the cover copy) earlier rather than later is good thing. Maybe not THIS early–I’m obviously listing books on my website that won’t be out for a minimum of six months, which is very far in advance–but it’s certainly not a bad thing to begin letting your readers know about upcoming releases earlier rather than later, and I think cover art gives readers something visual to help them imagine the story. (Just as, indeed, that visual can give the author inspiration for the writing process.)

In the past, I used to say that the way I wrote a book was “Title, Hook, Book.” That is, I usually come up with the title first, which then suggests a story for which I write the cover copy. I’m pretty religious about writing cover copy before I write the book. I’ve found in the past that if I don’t do this, I often discover a fatal flaw in the story idea that prevents me from continuing it. (If I can’t write a blurb for a story, it almost inevitably means I have insufficient conflict.) Only after I have the title and the hook figured out do I actually write the book. (By the way, I have even more titles/hooks for unfinished books on my hard drive than I have unfinished manuscripts. I may start selling them one of these days…)

But now, I’m thinking maybe my process is going to becoming “Title, Hook, Cover, Book”. I’ll have to see how it works when it comes to writing these two books, but if it goes well, I may actually decided that packaging should come before writing. At least for me.
1Actually, calling them “skills” is too kind. Here’s how I actually put together the cover. I use a free graphics program called GIMP. I understand how to use about 5% of its capabilities. I don’t really understand how to make all the layers separate, so everything I paste into the image becomes part of the main layer, which means if I need to change anything, I have to start over. I know this is not efficient, but it hasn’t bothered me enough that I’ve bothered to learn. I am absolutely clueless to how to insert text directly into the image in GIMP, so I use Word’s Word Art feature to create blocks of text as images and paste them in. (Lucky for me, they come over with transparent backgrounds.) This is how I did my Romance Trading Cards, too. It’s a totally lame process, but it works.

The Evolution of a Cover

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably already seen at least one version of the cover for my forthcoming Edwardian-set urban fantasy (you can read the first scene of the book here). I’ve been positively giddy about the art for this book ever since Nathalia Suellen agreed to do the work for a price that was within my price range.

Nathalia’s work came to my attention a few months ago when Harper Collins “cribbed” the art she had previously sold to LK Rigel for a book titled Spiderwork to use on an Alex Flinn book; they’ve since changed the cover, but the story can be read at Dear Author. As I was perusing Nathalia’s portfolio, I didn’t really expect to find anything that would be appropriate for my books because she specializes in artwork of a fairly “fantastical” variety and most of my stories are pretty solidly grounded in the real world. But then I came across this image:

Immediately, I thought of INCARNATE, an urban fantasy set in 1902 London that I’d written about 15,000 words of. This picture immediately made me think of the book’s heroine, Elodie. I loved her jaunty pose and the eerie city in the fog. The dress and top hat seemed perfect for the period as well as for the character. I loved it so much, I actually mocked up a cover based on it, just because I had to SEE it with my name and book title on it.

I contacted Nathalia almost immediately and was crushed to discover that the artwork in question had been done on commission and was not available for sale. My heart broke, because I was sure that was the end of it. But then Nathalia offered to do the cover from scratch for me, and I jumped at the offer. Even though the book was well short of complete (and still is), I couldn’t let the chance slip by, especially since I’m convinced Nathalia is so talented, her work is going to be out of my price range before much longer. (When the major publishers get a gander at the cover she’s done for me, I think they’re going to be beating down her door!)

The basic parameters of the cover were set by the original piece I’d been interested in. The female model would have a black dress and a top hat. The color palette would be primarily black and sepia. I turned the project over to Nathalia and waited with great impatience to see what she would come up with.

The first draft came in mid-October:

I was floored, but there were a few minor problems. First and foremost was the fact that the heroine of INCARNATE has dark hair and the cover model here is blonde. I also thought it would be nice to have something in the background that gave a sense of setting, so I suggested a recognizably London city-scape would be good. Finally, Beverley Kendall felt that the model’s face is perhaps a trifle too pale, and when I thought about it, I agreed. I sent Nathalia my list of changes and waited.

When the next version came and I opened the file, my heart literally skipped a beat.

I was stunned. Just floored. If the first version was wonderful, this was beyond my wildest dreams. It perfectly captured the mood I wanted for the book. There were just a few MINOR issues, mainly that I wanted my name to be bigger and I realized that in addition to the tagline, I needed something on the cover to indicate the book is the first in a series. I figured this would just be a matter of changing type sizes and moving some stuff around, and that the next version would look almost identical to this one.

Um, wrong. Because Nathalia upped her game AGAIN:

Can I say WOW? Just holy ZOMG WOW!

Now, of course, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to make sure the book I’m writing lives up to this amazing cover. As I mentioned up-thread, I’ve written the first 15,000 words (about 20% of the story), but I still have to complete The Lesson Plan, which is already more than a month behind schedule due to my new second career as my children’s chauffer. I’d love to be able to say I know exactly when the book will drop, but the truth is, I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver, so I’m going to guess it’ll be no later than fall of 2012, with my fingers crossed for summer.

Wish me luck!

It’s a Boy…and a Girl…and a Boy (Cover Art Swoon)

I’ve been on pins and needles for what seems like months now to see the cover art for GRACE UNDER FIRE, my upcoming Harlequin Spice Brief (April 1). Today, it came at last and, oh my, was it ever worth the wait.

I love everything about this cover. I love the guys in their cravats and waistcoats and coats. I love the heroine’s dress, both the color of it and the way it’s falling away from her torso. And I positively adore the expression on her face; it actually makes me a little weak in the knees.

Harlequin has always impressed me with the quality of the covers they do for their Spice Briefs, and particularly the historical ones. They just look right. I knew whatever they did for my story, it would be gorgeous, but I have to admit that they far exceeded my expectations.

So, my thanks to Harlequin for a beautiful, beautiful cover. Now I think I’ll go upstairs and take a shower. Because this is HOT!