Finding my cover artist was relatively a straightforward process that took a lot of time. I’m married to an artist who had an award-winning career as an art director. You’d think I would have found the process easy. Not so much. Not that my artist of choice, Elizabeth Leggett, made it difficult. She made it easy for me.
I’ve never been a visual person. I love the sight of a dewy rose, the smile on a toddler’s face, the sleek lines of a sexy sports car. But, sounds make a bigger impact on me—babbling brooks, wind shushing through pine trees, and voices—from emotion to word choice to timber and volume and pace. I’m an emotion magnet—the ‘feel’ of a place, an event, or a person speaks to me. Heck, I write. Words are important. But discussing a book cover—words failed me.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
When you choose a cover artist you should think about two or three skills that you’d want to see in their work. Perhaps you want great images of stars in space, or a cartoon-style character, or realistic animals. Do you want photo-realism or something more impressionistic? It’s all up to you.
The artist should have an understanding of your book’s genre, be able to work within your timeframe, and be affordable. Affordable is a relative term and one you’ll have to decide for yourself. When you’re weighing your options remember to include the marketability of the image. It should be an invitation to fans of your genre. The cover should compel them to open the book.
HOW I LOOKED FOR MY ARTIST
I had decided that since I am an unknown, I’m self-publishing, and I’m married to an artist—*grin*—I needed a strong, professional cover. I’ve been involved in the Science Fiction community for a number of years and felt I’d get the best options from the professional artists in that community. I asked my artist friend, Jan S. Gephardt, for recommendations.
I knew I wanted the protagonist on the cover and a certain tone. So hello Google image search. A search for “science fiction artists” brought up thousands of images by hundreds of artists. I scanned bazillions of near-photographic images of characters that conveyed an emotional tone. Overwhelmed much? Yikes. I narrowed my focus to the artists my friend had recommended. There were a couple of those I liked. They were big names in the field and I was afraid they wouldn’t have the time or be affordable. So, I kept searching. And I found an image she called Wisdom’s Wing. It struck the right chord.
And we were off.
Sort of. . .
HOW I FOUND MY COVER ARTIST
I suspected that many artists were already booked for the timeframe I needed. To speed the process up and to give myself a range of choices, I sent emails to four different artists simultaneously. In my email, I identified myself as a debut author who would be self-publishing my book. I included an early version of my back of the book blurb. Questions I asked were: if the artist was interested, when he/she would be available to do the work, how long the process would take, and how much it would cost.
I received answers from all four artists. All agreed to work with me. Two of them had timelines that would not work for me. Three of them were more costly than I could afford.
Elizabeth Leggett responded that she was intrigued with the story and would like to do my cover. From the first time I’d seen her work I felt she was the best artist for the job. And the fact that she was the only one to mention the story? I was out-of-this-universe excited.
We negotiated the contract insofar as what I wanted, what she charged, deadline dates, etc.
Her first ’sketches’ blew me away.
I loved all three thumbnails. I had a visceral reaction to love the first one. It captured my character at the beginning of her journey but didn’t make me think of a cover for a thriller novel. The second one was very close. The white character in the foreground confused me (an explanation from Elizabeth cleared that up). Finally, the third one was a surprise. I hadn’t thought of putting the antagonist on the cover. The idea intrigued me.
HOW I DECIDED
How did I decide? I studied best selling book covers in my genre. Focused on the emotional feel I wanted the cover to have. And I tried to separate my gut-level emotional response from the “what I think will sell.”
We discussed her ideas and came up with a blend. I am extraordinarily pleased with the result.
MORE ABOUT THE ARTIST
Elizabeth Leggett is a Hugo award-winning illustrator. Her cover for Retrograde by Peter Cadon is up for the 2018 Chesley award. The Chesley the Association for Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists’s award. Her illustrations focus on soulful, human moments-in-time that combine ambiguous interpretation and curiosity with realism.
She won the 2015 and 2017 Hugos for Best Fan Artist. Her 2018 Chesley nomination is the cover for Retrograde by Peter Cawdon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). They will announce the Chesley winner on August 20th at Worldcon Science Fiction in San Jose, California. You bet I’m cheering Elizabeth on!
You can see more of Elizabeth’s beautiful work at Portico Arts.