Evolution...of a Cover: Inside a Designer's Mind

Have you ever stopped to think why the cover of that new novel caught your eye? I can pick out those that catch my eye, but I have a lot harder time explaining why. If you've ever wondered the thought process that goes through a cover designer's mind, here is a glimpse.

Because of a tight budget—okay, you got me, a zero budget—I forced myself to create my own covers. I've always gravitated toward graphic design stuff, enjoying scrapbooking, photography, and font types. So I thought, “How hard could it be?”

Yes, you have my permission to laugh your head off as I pull a blanket over my blushing face. I can't believe I actually thought it was easy to create beautiful cover designs that attract attention, are easy to read, and still look professional and elegant.

At first, I asked my friends and family which cover ideas they liked best. I got a range of answers, as very few of them were actually my target audience. Even readers who actually read contemporary Christian Romance novels have differing opinions. So I tweaked and tweaked and redesigned covers for both of the first two books several times.

If you've ever wondered how hard it is to design a cover, here is the progression of cover ideas for #2, Love Does Not Envy or Boast.

Yellow with “heart-hands” picture.

yellow trio.png

After the failure of my first book's first cover (it was thought to be a nonfiction), I wanted a picture that was definitely showing love. 

But I didn't want a couple or a model on the cover. As a reader, I prefer not to see the faces of the characters on the cover, because it provides an image already for my imagination, and I lose the opportunity to imagine each character from the description of the author. And when the models look nothing like I imagine, I'm disappointed. So as an author, I wanted to allow my readers to use their imaginations for my characters.

However, this picture, though definitely categorized under the “Love” section of royalty-free photos, didn't really show any relationship between Morgan and Jason. And the first feedback I received from other authors was that it still didn't look romantic. 

So I went tried to stick with this picture but make it softer and more romantic by changing the color palette.

Additional pink elements (and one blue attempt).

additional pink elements + blue.png

I decided that lighter pinks added more of the light romance feel I was going for.  I played around with fonts and filters, realizing that most of my earlier attempts had fonts that looked too much like nonfiction still. So I decided to stick with the same main font I had used on the first book in the series (Love is Not Arrogant or Rude). Using the free online program of Canva made this easy.

I really liked the last one here, with the vignette style, darker around the corners. I liked the incorporation of the brown as a neutral, accenting the sunset but still with the light pink font for romance. This was the one I shared on social media and thought would be my final version for several months.

Then I compared it to #1 and realized that it was too dark. It almost gave the idea of a romantic suspense. Since the story is not a suspense, I went back to the drawing board, finally discarding this picture and looking for something lighter and more relational.

Couple holding hands photo.

couple holding hands trio.png

I really connected with this photo, and it showed the relationship I wanted Morgan and Jason to have, without giving away any faces. The size and orientation of the photo (landscape, longer than it was tall) were hard for me to work with at first. I tried to put the title and author name on solid backgrounds. This idea was cute, but it still felt a little nonfiction-ish. 

So I cropped the photo to show just the arms and be a portrait orientation so that it was taller than it was wide, allowing me to use it as the full background.

Many more tweaks.

Then it was just a matter of tweaking the fonts, the colors, the contrasts, the filters, and the sizes. Here are a few of the iterations. (I've got many more, but I'll spare your precious time and summarize instead.)

#2 many more tweaks.png

Final version.

- dark brown Love Does Not Envy or Boast cover.jpg

This final version had a pink filter, brown text and border, and all the text to the left (lightest side) for contrast. I wanted it to look like part of the same series as #1, and I'm pretty happy with the results. I may redesign #1 yet again in the future, but for now, I have the series brand set. And I love it. 

love is series 1-3 covers.png

Do you like the final version of #2, Love Does Not Envy or Boast, best? If not, which version is your favorite?