Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Word Witch Wednesday - the mad science of book covers (part 4)

It takes a lot of science and a bit of madness to create great book covers. You can catch up to where we are with part 1, part 2, and part 3. And where are we? Oh yes, image shopping.

We have our backgrounds. Now onto the unsmiling protagonist, because it's against the law to smile on urban fantasy covers.

I spent several hours looking at images of models for the heroines of my Totem series. I'm going to guess over twenty hours, maybe closer to thirty. Crazy, I know, but that's the perfectionist in me.

Did I find images of women that I thought looked exactly as the characters do in my head? No. And that's okay. Readers are going to imagine the characters differently too.

Note: some books have the protagonist with her back to the audience or her head chopped off at the top of the cover. The reason for this is not to give readers a preconceived notion of what the character looks like. If this is your strategy, go for it. (It'll make image shopping much easier!) I know people who prefer that. For me, I like to see faces.

My requirements when shopping for images of models:
- it must be a full body picture or three-fourths. (You can chop it down later if need be.)
- the model must be standing against a plain background or one you can easily extract her from. (My Photoshop skills are average. When I'm cutting a model from her image to place on the cover's background, I want as little interference from other objects in the picture as possible.)
- it must be in color with good lighting. (You can do all the special effects later.)

My requirement specifically for my Totem heroines:
- they must be clothed. And the clothes must be appropriate for that character.
- they must be pale blonde and have little to no makeup. (Very difficult to find. Tip: type "natural" in the image search bar to find models with no makeup.)
- they must be strong without looking mean. Without smiling, of course.

Easy, right? Yeah, I know. It's like trying to find lost pirate treasure.

Totem #1 - Ametta Dorn
Ametta is the youngest sister and the one who gives me the most grief when I'm writing her. She's young, hip, artistic, and opinionated. She loves women's fashion and has impeccable taste while I do not.

Her general physical characteristics: short in height, short blonde hair, tasteful makeup, modern fashion, about twenty-five years old. (Tip: it's fairly easy to change a model's eye color in Photoshop.)
Her main personality characteristics: determination, confidence, a little sass.

What do you think? Can you see Ametta as a famous interior designer?

Totem #2 - Kinley Dorn
Kinley is my favorite. Yes, she's a geek! But an image of her was the most difficult to find. I could not find any picture of a blonde with glasses that suited me. And I really wanted glasses on her. Sure, she only needs them for reading, but how often do we see women with glasses on urban fantasy covers? I can't name one. I had to give it up, though, and focus on other aspects of her.

Her general physical characteristics: tall, willowy, long pale blonde hair, no makeup, mid to late twenties.
Her main personality characteristics: compassion, strength, a bit of timidity.

If I could photoshop glasses on Kinley and make it look good, I totally would. (I'm also covering her midriff to make her wearing a tank top.)

Totem #3 - Saskia Dorn
Saskia is the eldest sister and she kicks butt. She's what you might imagine a stereotypical urban fantasy heroine to be but with a twist.

Her general physical characteristics: tall, lean muscles, long pale blonde hair, no makeup, early thirties.
Her main personality characteristics: ferocity, grit, willfulness.

I wish she was wearing black, but the expression is perfect.

Next time: the rest of the cover elements!


  1. Extracting an image from a photo isn't something everyone can do well, either. Unfortunately.
    You picked some good models. I like the natural look.

  2. Those are good choices.

    One day those stock photo places will catch on and have model photos on a green screen!

  3. You can change her tank to black. There's a photoshop trick... I'd have to ask my graphic artists hubby for the secret, but I know it exists.

  4. That would be awesome if you could get glasses on Kinley.

  5. I think you picked great models for your characters. :)

  6. Love the cover models!

    I'm so over the headless women on book covers. It's particularly prevalent in historical fiction, I've noticed. You see the period clothing, maybe her hands and neck . . . But no head. While for a book on Anne Boleyn it might be kind of funny, on the whole it now feels overdone.

  7. How scary is it that I don't think searching for images for 30 hours is that long? Heh. Looks like you picked some great cover models for your series!

  8. Arg! Another time sink. I don't need any more time sinks. You're good at picking out models, Christine. Would you consider doing the same thing for other authors for a fee?

  9. I think if I were choosing a model for my own covers, I'd prefer to not show the face because sometimes I don't describe my characters in detail. I would probably get very bogged down in finding the right person.

  10. Images on the cover can be difficult. My book of course being one where you see the back of the protagonist:) Of course the publisher made the decision not me:)

  11. Hi human, Christine,

    Those are all interesting cover choices. Thought you'd might like to know I used to be a model. Now, I'm life-sized.

    Pawsitive wishes,


  12. Hi Christine - gosh .. that's a long time! I couldn't look at slim blondes for that long!!!!! But I admire your tenacity .. and those three seem to match - as the others have suggested ... I understand photoshopping things seems to work quite easily - but don't ask me!! Cheers Hilary

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  14. You are so talented!! I'm not even going to try to make a cover. I lack the skills and the gift of vision.

  15. I don't think I have the tech savvy to extract an image from its background! I like the images you chose, and agree about wanting full faces. I hate the "Oh look, my head is missing" trend, particularly if it's also a headless, hairless bare chest. One of the reasons I love illustrated covers is because they don't provide an exact likeness of the characters, and readers can use their imagination. The first artist I worked with didn't make my characters look exactly the way I always mentally saw them (e.g., my leading lady's hair is a lot curlier in my mind), but we shouldn't expect covers to depict our characters exactly as we see them. Chances are, not all readers will see them the way we do either.

  16. You definitely picked good models! I really hadn't thought about the no-smiling thing, but that certainly works for urban fantasies. You could probably photo shop the tank top to make it black. I agree, that would be better.

    Have a great weekend!

  17. Those models work really well. They look natural. I hate the cheesy covers that have half-naked supermodels... yeah, I never imagine a main character like that.

    This is such a fascinating process for someone like me, since I don't use people. Looking forward to the next one.

  18. Do you use a special site to find your cover model photos? I think you said you have a cover designer do they direct you somewhere to pick it out?

  19. Thank you to everyone for commenting. I've been away visiting family, but I'll slowly be catching up.

    Stephanie, I found these images on BigStock. I had a cover designer for Of Blood and Sorrow, but that was for one book. I'm doing the Totem series myself because it's nine books. I can't afford a cover artist for that many books!

    Ken, I might consider it, if I had time! Time is something I'm sorely lacking these days.

  20. Great part Christine. Really loving these lessons and I'm being a very attentive student. Thank you very much!!

  21. I'm willing to pay for my cover. I spend so many hours on other things, that on the books I self-publish, I like to let the pro designer take over. I admire you for all your hard work on this, and you've chosen well.

  22. This is so interesting. The facial expressions are so important for setting the tone and personality. Very interesting.

  23. I admit it. This is fascinating. Probably because I'm to awful with it. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette


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