Strings on a Shadow Puppet: The Art of a Book Cover

This was one of the bits of concept art I came up with the my book, back when it had a different working title and I was going to use a pseudonym.  As you see over the next few days, the value of a real artist is beyond the technical skill, but in vision.  The art that follows shows why you use a professional artist.

This was one of the bits of concept art I came up with the my book, back when it had a different working title and I was going to use a pseudonym. As you see over the next few days, the value of a real artist is beyond the technical skill, but in vision. The art that follows shows why you use a professional artist.

I have long said that, initially, the cover art for a novel is more important to a novel’s success than the writing itself.[1]  We may all say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but if we are honest, we do that every time we pick up a book by an author we don’t already know.  And ancient axioms aside, that is fair enough.  After all, what else does one have to go on?  The resources invested in a cover not only illustrate elements of the book, but also how much effort a publisher (or author) is willing to invest in the book.[2]

To that end, it is crucial for publishers of new authors, to put a huge amount of effort into creating and/or selecting a cover.  In the case where authors self publish, this is even more the case despite the fact that their resources are far more limited.  Unless, of course, one’s resources include something more valuable than money: access to the vision and talent of others. In this case, one of the many advantages to having been an academic is getting to know experts in their field.[3] 

This piece  "Maiden Voyage" this work shows an intepretation of both the ship of the book, The HMS Hunter, and the mandellan eyes.

This pieceby Alex DeFranzo (alexdefranzo@me.com) entitled “Maiden Voyage” this work shows an intepretation of both the ship of the book, The HMS Hunter, and the mandellan eyes.

One of the most talented, educated and insightful such people in my life is Vladimir Shpitalnik (http://www.shpitalnik.com/) who not only produces wonderful art of his own, but is a Lecturer at both Southern Connecticut State University and Paier College of Art.Together, we hatched a plan, one that would not only serve me, but just as importantly, provide professional experience and exposure to some of his best and brightest students: we held a contest.  The judge was me, and prize was a small[4] stipend and as much exposure as I could provide.  The goal?  To create a cover that would not only showcase the student’s skills and artistic ability, but also serve as a good marketing tool for this book.

To Vladimir’s mind, the exposure to having to deal with a client’s vision of a project was worth a huge amount of effort and credit in the class.  To my mind, I was delighted to get access to true talent and provide an educational venue in the process.

The scale of this piece by Daniel Cogan (203 768-9051; cogan9051@aim.com or dcogan9051@gmail.com) is only hinted at in this digital image.  The true colors are vibrant and strong.

The scale of this piece by Daniel Cogan (cogan9051@aim.com or dcogan9051@gmail.com) is only hinted at in this digital image. The true colors are vibrant and strong.

So it was that the contest was created.  The art you see on this page was created by the four students shortlisted for the project.  Each was provided with some of my ideas along with some sample chapters of the book to give them something to work on.  For the next month and a half, they communicated back and forth with me, and in the end, produced some beautiful and visionary art.  That left me with difficult decisions that had to balance their art with my vision, not to mention the direct marketing needs of my project.  The results were phenomenal and in the end, my choice was based on my own gut feelings, tented with some test marketing.

So, for the next few days, I will be showing the art work produced, give the contact details of each artist, and end with a full rendition of the final cover.

This piece by Katharine DeCusati (Shauni) (shauni101@gmail.com kdecusati.blogspot.com) not only shows a close vision of what I imagined the ship (HMS Hunter) as looking like, but has a marvelous use of the colors and lunar eclipse of the gas giant in the background that reflects a mandellan eye.

This piece by Katharine DeCusati (Shauni)
(shauni101@gmail.com
kdecusati.blogspot.com) not only shows a close vision of what I imagined the ship (HMS Hunter) as looking like, but has a marvelous use of the colors and lunar eclipse of the gas giant in the background that reflects a mandellan eye.

As a comparison, you note at the top of this article the concept art I created as an example of what I had in mind.  Note, it has the working title of the book (thank God I dumped that), and the pen name I briefly toyed in using (that God I dumped that too).  Also note how lame it appears next to the art of the professionals who were short listed.  When one uses an artist, one not only gets access to their skill, but to their vision… which in this case at least, truly improved on my original ideas.  

Over the next few weeks, I will reveal how the rounds played out,[5] and eventually show the winner of the contest, shown complete with the final cover.  Note, each round shows additional work put into the art being produced, and so while I am delighted (truly, truly delighted) with my final choice, the art of the others does show earlier stages across the board.

[1] Regular readers of this blog will know that I had originally planned on releasing my novel, Strings on a Shadow Puppet this week, but recent events made me decide to hold off that release for a

This piece by Kevin Klakouski (facebook.com/kevguyillustration ), was created by actually making a working shadow puppet in the style of Wayang theatre.  The creepy nature of this captures some of the nature of the tale.

This piece by Kevin Klakouski (facebook.com/kevguyillustration ), was created by actually making a working shadow puppet in the style of Wayang theatre. The creepy nature of this captures some of the nature of the tale.

while out of respect to the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting.  As a result, I have decided to release the book to correlate with my 150th post, which should be in a few weeks time (this is post 143, so you have an idea).

[2] Or, to be more fair, capable of investing, but still, it shows dedication.

[3] Though admittedly, this particular contact did not come from my own endeavors, but still…

[4] Very small/

[5] Yes, the winner was already chosen and the cover was made long before this article was posted.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Chronicle, Classic Sci Fi, Conspiracy, Conspiracy Novel, Cyberpunk, Cycle, Espionage, Far Future, Future History, Identity, Military Science Fiction, Mystery, New Space Opera, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Original Fiction, Part of A Series but can be Read without reading previous volumes, Political Drama, Post Colonial, Post Modern, Ripping Yarn, Saga, Science Fiction, Series, Space Exploration, Space Opera, Spy Thriller, Stand Alone Novel, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Thoughtful Espionage Tale, Thriller, Title, Titles, Uncategorized, World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Strings on a Shadow Puppet: The Art of a Book Cover

  1. Charlee says:

    What a cool process for cover art. I agree that cover art is hugely important–especially in SciFi/Fantasy which has a long tradition of spectacular art.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Thanks! Of course it only works under certain circumstances. It is only fair to hold a contest like this if the artists are getting something out of it (like college credit) and have license to use it as they will afterwards. Except of course the winner, though s/he gets artistic copyright so they can display the piece.

      I’d also like to note that all of the artists were great to work with, very open to critique and suggestions. I would happily recommend any of them to work with.

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