Recently, Permuted Press unveiled the final cover art for my novel Blood Red, and I’m extremely happy with it. It’s very close to the initial concept that I provided to the artist early in the process. Yep, I’m lucky to have a publisher that lets its authors have some input into the cover art and design — something that not many authors can boast. But it took some time and effort to get to this point. To effectively communicate ideas to the artist, and to let that artist (as well as the talented Permuted Press production team) do their own high-quality work in interpreting my subject matter for the sake of art, I had early opportunities to share my initial thoughts and concepts, and much later in the process I was also allowed to help shape the final product.
Not long after the book was accepted, I was given the opportunity to send a note to the artist assigned to the book, who I learned would be Roy Migabon. Before shooting him some ideas, I headed over to the cover gallery at Roy’s website, and I came away affected by one image in particular: The Long Game by Gray McCoy. I loved the moody blackness, the silhouette, the dark figure, the sketchy, papery background. It’s an excellent cover. And it brought to mind an image from my past that was also — I felt — an extremely effective piece of media marketing. That’s right, I was thinking of the striking and horrifying poster art for John Carpenter’s The Thing.
That’s when things really started revving up in my mind. If you’ve read Blood Red, you know that two major elements are 1) a red light coming from within the head of affected bodies, and 2) a certain kind of, well, possession of these bodies. (I don’t want to give too much away.) For those reasons, the Thing poster struck me as a very interesting starting point. I thought Roy might find inspiration in his own Long Game image as well as the Thing art, so I wrote up a note to that effect, complete with the images you see here, describing my ideas.
“Picture a woman’s body in dark silhouette,” I wrote. “I’m imagining the suggestion of nudity. (Sex sells! But the suggestion of nudity also makes sense in the text, as you’ll see.) This woman is reacting to something. She’s obviously upset. Shocked. Something is happening inside her that is beyond her control. Her body is backlit, she’s rigid, tense, and red light is glowing (even blasting) from her face. I imagine the title overlaying her lower body.”
These were all abstract but essential elements from Blood Red itself, and I knew the imagery would feed nicely into the design of the sequel, too, so I was looking forward to the designs of future books, too. I was all excited as I sent that message. Then I sat back and waited.
I finally I heard from my contact at Permuted, and attached to his email message was a very rough sketch. (That’s it to the left.) I have to admit, my first reaction was negative. But I knew this image would only be something to work from. A starting point. It was obviously a V1 stab at the concept. So I took some time to comment on what I saw. I looked at my initial notes again, and I thought perhaps Roy was taking my ideas a bit too literally. I wanted him to feel free to play around with those ideas, particularly the pose of the woman. In this sketch, she looked as if she might be dancing with jazz hands, and I wanted more of a feeling of terror. I wanted the artist to play around with the colors more, and perhaps go with a more muted look all around. So I sent my notes, encouraging Roy to see what he could come up with.
After a week of feeling a little dispirited, I got a message containing several new files: Amazed, I saw that Roy’s first conceptual try had been transformed from a C grade to an A-. These new images were FAR closer to my original concept, and they also seemed to much more confidently and artistically communicate the feel of Blood Red. The woman’s pose suggested terror, and the blood-red background put the right tone under the whole piece. The visual effect at the head communicated the possession of the Thing poster, customizing it for the particular events of the book. I even loved the style of the title fonts. I communicated these thoughts to Permuted, and the production team then took the art under their wing to put on the finishing touches.
Control freak that I am, I also communicated the synopsis and the quotes I wanted to see on the back cover. As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, the cover and its blurbs are two of a book’s most essential marketing pieces, and I had very strong opinions about what I wanted to see on there. I knew I would be using these items as my premier tools in hand-selling Blood Red. They had to be just so!
Not too much later, I received the final cover art, which you can see at the top of this page. Needless to say, I feel very satisfied with the end result. This cover is the product of what turned out to be a solid partnership between me, my publisher, and the artist/designer. I feel as if I’ve gone through an ideal brainstorming session, the likes of which most authors don’t have the opportunity to take part in. In the vast majority of cases, the author is at the mercy of the publisher when it comes to what his or her book looks like. So I count myself very fortunate to be able to have a say. I won’t take that for granted.
So, let me know what you think of the art, and I’d also love to hear your thoughts about the importance of the cover in the sale of any book.