Behind The Cover Art
Writers labor over a manuscript for weeks, months, and sometimes, years. Once it’s accepted by a publisher, their “baby” goes through several processes before it finally hits the shelves. One of the most stressful of these steps is choosing a book cover. First, you have to decide which artist will be able to bring your vision to life. Do you want it drawn or Photoshopped? Do you have a preference for colors? Should there be nudity, or should we take a more subtle approach? What type of background did you envision? What do your main characters look like? Did you wish to convey passionate love or not? The questions are endless, and most writers provide more information than necessary. It takes a skilled artist to sift through the jumble of words and pull out the key elements of the story to create the perfect cover to showcase our work.
Join me in acknowledging the men and women who provide their expertise to make our cover art the best it can be. Other than the initial round of applause when a book releases, they don’t get enough kudos, and I'm hoping to change that. Each month I’m going to showcase a new cover artist to give them the online time they deserve. It’ll also serve as an opportunity for you, the reader, writer, publisher, and aspiring artist, to pick their brain. Feel free to comment and ask questions. At the end of each month, one winner will be drawn from the list of visitors to win a $25.00 gift certificate from Dreamspinner Press.
It's my pleasure to present Lex Valentine as my next featured cover artist.
Can you tell us something about Lex Valentine that I wouldn’t find in an official bio?
I can’t draw at all. My father was a wonderful artist with pen and ink and he did the most delicate, beautiful watercolor paintings…but the only thing I can draw that looks reasonably correct is a bunch of balloons.
How did you get started in the business?
I’ve been making myself web graphics like banners and buttons since the 90’s. I don’t really remember how I got started doing that, but when I started writing online, I started making graphics for that website and for the little freebie ebooks from it. When I sold my first book to Jupiter Gardens Press (Pink Petal Books) I ended up making the cover for it. I don’t remember if Mary asked me if I could or if I offered, but that was the official start of my cover art career.
Do you feel that a degree in graphic arts is essential to this sort of work?
No. If that were the case I wouldn’t be doing it since my degree is in Biological Anthropology!
Most artists, be they writers, singers, or painters are at a loss to explain where their ideas come from. They either flow or they don’t, and when the well dries up, it’s terrifying. How do you cope with a blank canvas when you’re on a dead line?
The only time I’ve ever had writer’s block was after my parents died. With cover art, that never happens because what the authors tell me about their book is what inspires the cover. The better they are at describing their characters and the tone and setting of their book the better I can conjure up a cover.
Are you influenced by trends? Fifty Shades of Grey started a rash of covers that all looked similar. How do you say no when an author wants something trendy and you want something unique?
I try to give authors what they want even if it’s not that pleasing to me. I want them to be happy with their cover. I know what it’s like to be an author and have a cover I don’t like. So it’s not really about my art, it’s about what the author wants.
Is there wiggle room if the writer doesn’t like the first draft? Do you get offended if an author asks for a change?
Whether it’s for a publisher or for a self-publish endeavor, I always give authors some room for change. I have to limit that obviously otherwise with some authors I would be changing their cover 50 times which is cost prohibitive. I don’t get offended with most small changes. What does bother me is when an author asks for ABC, I give them ABC and then they change what they want and ask for XYZ.
Do you have an alter ego? If so, what other hats do you wear?
I do have alter egos. I am a published author and my EDJ is in IT and Accounting. I used to have a tax preparer’s license too but I’ve let that lapse. As Winterheart Design I do cover art, graphics, book trailers and websites.
Which side of you is more dominant?
These days, the creative side of me is more dominant, the side that writes and does cover art.
Have you ever received any requests as a cover artist that you’ve found particularly challenging?
All the time! But honestly, interpreting each cover art form is a challenge. Some authors say too much. Others not enough. And then there are those who insist on certain elements, a particular look…that can all be challenging. The most challenging thing is when authors have visualized their character as a specific person, usually a celebrity of some sort. It’s really hard to find a stock image model who will live up to that author’s vision of their character when they’re so vested in the celebrity as the face of the character.
Are you committed to a specific publisher or do your free lance?
I work primarily for MLR Press and its imprints (Passion in Print, Featherweight), Jupiter Gardens Press, and MuseItUp Publishing as well as freelance.
Do you have a “wish list” for writers, i.e. how can we make your job easier?
Not really. I mostly just wish authors understood that there are limitations to everything we do with regard to cover art. We don’t read minds nor can we see the visions in authors’ heads. If they don’t describe the character or the setting in a way that we can “see” it, they aren’t going to get what they’re visualizing. Also, the scenes they want depicted are subject to the images we can find to create them. Sometimes we’re really limited especially with anything historical, sci fi or fantasy. And knowing that, they need to be somewhat flexible. The more inflexible they are regarding their cover, the less they are going to like the end result.
Are there any special awards that you’d like to share?
I’ve been nominated for EPIC’s Ariana Award in cover art numerous times but I actually won in 2011. It was an amazing feeling to open the box and pull out the award!
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully, living in the back of beyond in the mountains with my DH and my cats, no EDJ, just doing Winterheart Design stuff and writing.
How does one get in touch with you?
Anyone interested in cover art, graphics or websites can fill out the contact form on Winterheart Design’s website.
Winterheart Design – http://winterheart.com
Lex Valentine – http://lexvalentine.com
Facebook – http://facebook.com/cemeterywinter
Twitter – http://twitter.com/lexvalentine