Evolution of a Cover – Home To Roost


A couple of weeks back, James J. Cudney did a review of Cleaving Souls, my second novel. There were quite a few comments praising the cover art, which was lovely to see since I’d created the artwork myself.

A few weeks before that, my cover art for both Cleaving Souls and my debut novel, Home To Roost, won 1st place in a cover-art contest for their respective genres (thriller and horror).

Between those two things, I thought: Hey, maybe I should do a little post about cover art creation.

And so here it is.

Now, first thing’s first: If you are self publishing, the recommendation you will find 100% of the time is to NOT do your own cover art. I think that is good advice. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes. Do I care? No.

I didn’t follow that advice for a number of reasons.

  1. I’m a control freak? Could be this.
  2. I genuinely like the idea of producing the artwork on my own.
  3. I know a little bit about how to do that, and am not afraid of messing up.
  4. I have the time to make it look decent.
  5. I don’t have money to spend on professional help at this juncture.

I used a program called “Inkscape.” It’s completely free, and is used for creating Vector Art images. You can get it here, if you want to try it out. Vector Art is a bit different from the stuff you might have worked with in Microsoft Paint. Pro Tip: Unless you are trying to be ironic, do not make any cover art in Microsoft Paint.

I took a design course in college. It was taught by a graduate student, who was fired three-quarters of the way into the semester. Never found out why, but it hasn’t made me feel incredibly confident in the things I learned there.

Regardless, I try and apply the simple principles I learned in that class, as well as things I’ve observed by looking at other book covers. I fiddled around in Inkscape until I’d learned the ropes–or at least some of them. There are plenty of semi-helpful tutorials that can guide you through the things you can’t figure out alone.

I started with a few sketches. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include those here, as they’ve disappeared. They were hideous anyways, and not incredibly interesting, so I think we’ll manage to get along without them.

Once I had some ideas, I got to work in Inkscape. Mind you that my ideas had to be tempered by my abilities. Therefore, a more simple design was essential.

For those who haven’t read Home To Roost, it’s based on a the true story of a chicken my family owned about a decade back. Yes, a whole novel based on a chicken. It’s rather serious, too. Deals with a number of different issues, and has an ending that’s darker than people often expect. Those were all things I wanted captured in the cover art.

Without much further adieu, below are the different drafts of the cover art for Home To Roost, with a bit of commentary in the captions. They are listed in order of their creation, so as to give you an idea of how it evolved.

Title 1: I was hoping to show some of the duality of the characters–ergo the black rooster and white hen, inverted against one another on a horizontal plane, with their silhouette’s in an oval that I hoped would be reminiscent of an egg. The egg is cracked, alluding to some of the drama that occurs in the story.
Cover 2: I decided to scrap the hen and put the rooster in an obvious egg. The crack was changed as well, with the hopes of making it look like both a crack and a lightning bolt, as there are several storm scenes within the book. Which, if you’ve never seen a Midwest lightning storm, they’re pretty amazing.
Cover 3: Versions 1 & 2 had a border which I decided to ditch here. Part of the reason for that was that Amazon Print-on-Demand services are not perfectly exact. A thin border could look bad if it isn’t exactly on–one side would be noticeably thinner. I’ve also set the egg/rooster upon a hill. There were a few other renditions of this same design, mostly just fiddling with the hill’s slope.
Cover 4: Placing the rooster/egg upon a hill made me consider the idea of a sunset. Initially, I wanted to maintain the cracked egg while adding in the setting-sun look. To do that, I darkened the “sky” in the picture more.
Cover 5: As you can see, I decided to ditch the egg, realizing that having a chicken is probably chickeny enough. I went further with the sunset idea, adding in a very big and very yellow sun. The yellowness was intentional: I was still holding onto the egg idea dearly, and the yellow sun was an allusion to an egg’s yolk. The sun is further important as the chickens in the story are actually sun worshippers–like Aztecs, but without the human sacrifice! You may also notice the quote at the top from a “Jane Doe.” I decided (after reading some different opinions) that the quote on the book cover is something many readers expect. I therefore adjusted the book cover to allow room for one.
Cover 6: I reined in the title on this version, because before it was much too close to the right edge of the cover. I also added in the taller grasses. The added grasses where a better reflection of the story, created a bit more complexity and depth on the cover, and made a nice cradle for the sun.
Cover 7: By Cover 6, I was quite pleased with the picture. It wasn’t quite there yet, but I could feel that it was close. For the next rendition, we dropped the idea of a quote on top, and instead just threw up some text to give people an idea that this really was a serious novel. (Also, I had no big name “Jane Doe” reviewer’s statement to use.) The other thing was adding the dipping red hue to the sun itself, turning it orange towards the bottom. The flat yellow, it was decided, looked too fake.
Cover 8 – Final Cover: And here’s the final cover. All we did was adjust the text at the top to give it a more balanced look. I was quite pleased with the final product.

So there you have it. The one part of this process I haven’t yet mentioned is my wife. I saved her for last, because she’s the most important. Not every idea she has is golden, just as not every idea I have is any good. But we can bounce ideas between us, shoot down one another’s bad ones, and let the best ones rise to the top.

What do you think? Anybody prefer one of the earlier cover images?

Stay great.

Tough Decisions

There’s a principle of economics called “Sunk Costs.” The way I understand it is this: even if you put a bunch of time into something, if the end product isn’t going to be worthwhile, then ditch it. This can be painful because of all the time you’ve already invested, which will now essentially go to waste.

Unfortunately, knowing about sunk costs and the math behind it doesn’t make it any less painful.

Earlier this year, I was working on a space opera. I had mixed feelings about it. Writing was going slow in places, but I persevered. I finished it, and then… chucked the whole thing. 120,000 words. But it wasn’t good enough, I won’t publish something that isn’t good enough.

The flaws were too deep for mere editing to get them out, but I plan on coming back and rewriting the story someday. Just not today.

Well, I’m having to scrap something else right now. I’m 30,000 words into a novel, and I realized that I’m telling it the wrong way. I need to change the point of view, get deep into one of my character’s heads, get rid of a bunch of the cast, and then change the tone of the story. Once again, too radical for edits to fix. Just start from the bottom.

It’s painful, but I believe it to be the right call. Time will tell.