Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)
PLEASE NOTE: This post assumes you have a general knowledge (or wish to gain said knowledge) of how Adobe Photoshop functions and makes no attempt to walk you through that process. There are numerous online tutorials (both written/blog versions as well as video examples) that can easily instruct on the basics of Photoshop.
Okay, this one I have to start out by saying I owe a certain photographer out there a book cover tutorial. He already knows the final product. I’ve shown him that much. But what I’ve struggled with is how to document my creative choices AND not permit anyone to steal his photography artwork in the process (he was kind enough to loan me one for the tutorial I proposed to him). So, here’s the lowdown on that little scenario:
I can’t sort out how to make the image non-downloadable. The issue is I know code to make it do that but the upkeep would be a nightmare because the tech keeps changing and thus at some point it would break and his image would be out there for free! I can’t risk that. So Paul, I did come up with a method of protecting your work BUT I also have never attempted to do what I am going to do so bear with me while I work out the kinks. It’s going to be my first screen cap narrated video! All these years involved in tech and filmmaking and I’ve never done one – I find that truly shocking. But there’s no way to lift a clean copy of the image from that and I won’t worry that tech has progressed enough to crack and allow stealing of Paul’s original image. In the interim – I do hope if you are ever in need of a licensed photo for your book cover, seek out Paul Henry Serres Photography … he’s an amazing artist/photographer and such a lovely man to interact with!
Basically I go from this:
So the video broadcast of using one of Paul’s images for a faux book cover as a tutorial will be coming soon.
Onward to this post in the meantime!
So for Angels of Mercy – Phoenix in the Fire, I needed to come up with the print edition. If you recall, I struggled even to come up with the front cover to begin with. I knew I was going to break from the football theme that had been consistent with the Angels proper series (Phoenix is a companion book and not part of the main series works). If you haven’t seen the evolution of that ebook cover you can find it here.
So the print editions always make me a bit queasy from a design aspect. I mean, I goof around enough with the front cover to get something that looks right. Now to spread that across a full print cover – uh, in a word – YIKES!
But tackle it I must.
So the first stab at it had me thinking since this book was not a proper Angels series book, more of a companion novel, that I could finally depart from the football theme I had going in the Angels proper part of their world. Also, since this book was narrated by Elliot I thought I should sort of mirror what I did for the Angels V1 book – use some artwork that I would create for Elliot and put it on the back cover.
So, with that in mind I toyed around and around until I came up with this little ditty:
While the idea of using another piece of Elliot’s artwork as a way of tying it back to the first book he narrated, the violence he had to claw his way back from didn’t come across in this version. Even with the fire and blood splatters, it just wasn’t where I needed to go with it. People liked it well enough, even I did, to a point. But it seemed I was settling in drafting it. I could do better to represent the story plot line.
So I let it percolate a bit, stewing in its own unsettled sauce, as it were. Then I became inspired – why not go with Elliot being shown as rising (sort of the next step from the front cover of the book – only this time more fully formed and capable – it is what happens in the work) from his adversity? So I decided to start combing the stock photos out there, searching for a teen-ish looking boy that I could put up for Elliot (who also had to fit the way I’d always envisioned him). My budget for this cover wasn’t substantial, so I had to stick to stock photo sites I already had subscriptions to … which can be limiting at times. This time though, it paid off.
Here is the original image I started with (I purchased the license for the actual work – just showing the comp for the purposes of this post).
Two things were against me in starting with this – 1) the background setting and 2) the lighting. Both of which could be addressed but it was a consideration going in.
I also needed angel’s wings … to keep with the phoenix/angel motif I had from the front cover.
And believe it or not, there is actually a background in the final product – though, what I did to the whole piece did sort of obscure most of it. Ah well, the price of art, I suppose.
With my pieces in hand I began to work. The first thing I started off was the composition of elements to see if what I wanted to do would work. After I hastily placed items I twitter messaged my go to for all things Angels and asked him what he thought. He gave me the thumbs up on my little mock up:
It was a start. But I needed to start mucking around a bit to get it closer to both the theme of rising from your own ashes to something greater AND keep to the color spectrum of the original ebook cover.
First up – I needed some action! Photoshop actions, to be precise.
Of course, this begs the obvious that you have to have Photoshop to begin with to attempt to do what I show here in this post. So for those that don’t – might I suggest that if you are a self-pubber wanting to save a bit of cash over time (won’t be an immediate savings) that you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud (TODAY) and start to dive in and sort it. It’s not all that hard to do. Yes, it will take you away from writing, but if you want to be in control of your creative destiny by self-publishing, then this too, is part of your craft/business. If you can gain these skills and add them to your talent coffers, just think of the money you’ll save on designs for swag, promotional banners/ads/bookmarks and the like? Design once, distribute multiple times (be sure to understand your licensing of the graphics before you do … a very important point I can’t stress enough). You don’t have to have a big time eye for art … look at what attracts you and mimic it for a bit (not using it for commercial purposes, but more to hone your creative eye for placement, typography, and marketing). Learn from those that seem to work and gain your interest – start to cultivate a discerning eye on why it works for you. Then go and make the attempt yourself. Use comp images for that – the intent is not to publish but to perfect your design capabilities. With the subscription price of Creative Cloud at various levels, there is a path to get Photoshop on your desktop fairly easily.
So, enough of my – hone your craft – speech, back to the book cover:
With my photoshop actions tucked into my design arsenal I began to work on the individual parts to bring the whole book cover together.
First up I had to address the male model and the background I didn’t need. Easy enough – using the quick select and magic wand tools I quickly selected him and cut and pasted to a new layer in a new doc (or you can place him in a new doc on a new layer – your choice). After putting him on his own layer I went back to the background layer and filled it with a solid color. To properly begin to compile you need to isolate all of your separate images to solo pieces that you can begin to manipulate into your composite artwork. One word about cutting the model out of a background – sometimes precision is required so that every stray (unwanted) pixel needs to be cleaned up before you can proceed to compositing your final image. In my case I knew I was going to throw a helluva lot of graphical elements and adjustments to it do precision on cropping him out of the original background wasn’t so essential. The actions I’d be applying would more than likely obliterate any odd pixel hanging out there that I didn’t have to be so precise this time around.
In this revision, I also had to find a way to use the Mercy High Avenging Angels football logo that I wanted to tie this book with the main series (the team logo appears there). Since I discarded the previous artwork from my first draft I decided to repurpose it as a piece of clothing. The male model luckily had a very neutral hoodie on that had absolutely no graphic or artwork of any kind – BINGO! I’m in.
So how do you do that?
DISPLACEMENT MAPS (learn all you can about them – brilliant little nugget that will allow you to modify standard fair stock art into something a bit more unique)!
For a decent tutorial on them I would start here (though googling “Photoshop Tutorial Displacement Maps” brings up a ton of tutorials out there to guide you along. Long story – short, I got the logo placed on my guy and it bent and folded along the warps of the hoodie with no problem. I was quite pleased with the results. To compare look at the image above this section and then scroll back down to note the addition of the football team logo on the hoodie with the lower image.
This was the end result (obviously sans the “SAMPLE” stamp across it):
The wings and desolate background with the cloudy sunset were fine as they were – the only thing I needed to address was to separate the two wings into two separate images that I could manipulate on the final composite image.
Next up – The wings … I wanted them to have a specific shape (other than the form they came in).
The default layout of the wings from my first attempt (two images above) have them outstretched – the way I bought them. But I wanted them to be more in “flight” mode. Thus I needed to distort each wing to give them that sort of look. To do this you have each wing on it’s own layer and then select the wing and choose EDIT –> Transform –> Distort. Then you pull the handles surrounding the selected image to manipulate the wing into what you want it to do. You can alternatively use Skew and Perspective or Warp should Distort not completely satisfy.
Remember with Photoshop you can always roll back to a previous action via the History panel so feel free to experiment. Don’t like the adjustment you just made … simply click the history level one level (or as many as you like) to roll back to a good starting point and go at it another way.
Once the wings were in the position I wanted them in (see below) I duplicated the layers and placed them in the composite image for further manipulation:
I realized I wanted to make them a bit translucent as your eye traveled from the frame bone structure along the top of the wings to the lower extremities.
So I now compiled the separate elements so I could use the first Photoshop action by Seven Styles (footnote: they’re extremely powerful actions that will save you oodles of time, look great, are easily modifiable, and the best part – they’re super inexpensive!). In this case, I started off using the STORM action from Seven Styles. An example of how it works can be found in the following video tutorial (don’tcha just love his Aussie accent?):
After applying that action it turned out like this …
As you can see with the video each of these actions can be altered and modified to suit your needs. With the above action the color scheme started to skew toward matching the front cover. Next up I needed to add the fire and brimstone look to it so I could match the front cover’s fiery theme – the big difference? I wanted the back cover to be more hopeful. The front cover has Elliot soaring out of the fiery hellish hole his boyfriend’s teammates put him in. It’s ragged and meant to be representational of his slog to get out of that hell.
So with the Fire action (see the video below if you want to know more), I finally started to see things come closer to what I wanted – a more hopeful vision but still with the grit and determination to find his way back to the love of his life.
After running that action my photo now looked like this:
I played around with the various layers and adjustment layers to set the right tone I was looking for, getting it as close to the color and tone of the front cover, and then added the blurb to match the author byline on the cover. And, voila! The work is complete.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have concerning this by emailing me at email@example.com or by leaving them in the comments below.
Until next time …
Angels of Mercy – The Print Edition Cover Reveal
I’ve waffled enough on this. To release it or not. Look for a lit agent or not. Traditional pub or not. I went back and forth so many times I started to see myself coming. I’ve tugged on my beta readers like you can’t imagine – trying to think through every permutation I could come up with to getting it out there. The print edition is a whopping 540 pages! I just came to the conclusion that no traditional publisher was going to touch the work because I am so new, so untested in the market place.
And ultimately, I knew I wouldn’t compromise too much on the work as it is. I’ve edited the hell out of it, shaving close to 60K words from the original version and it is still a large book. But others have previewed it and said they can’t think of a single thing to cut/edit. Everything in it is relevant to Elliot’s voice and the story he has to tell.
And it is Elliot’s voice in this book that I must honor! <— (You’ve no idea how much I need to defend that last line.)
Elliot and Marco’s story is a deeply personal one. It was one of the fastest works I’ve written (just over several months). Yet the torture I put myself through on whether or not to release it was mind-numbingly overwhelming at times. I knew it was edited and is a very clean manuscript.
But it has so many things that several people who’ve been self-pubbing told me were no-no’s: it ends on a cliff-hanger. It isn’t a M/M romance genre read. It doesn’t fit the mold even though it is one of the strongest stories about two men loving one another with all the trials, tribulations and utter euphoria of first (and in their case) lasting love that I believe is out there.
Will it ever find a readership (the one I know it deserves)? Who knows? I know that my debating it has got to stop because that is what will ultimately kill it before it has a chance to fly. Elliot must see the light for himself now. My boys must fly.
On the wings of Angels …
So without any more waffling – I give you the print cover release as it stands right now with CreateSpace (Amazon). I hope to release it late this month or early in April. Fingers crossed. The work might cost a small fortune in printed form. So yeah, there’s that to consider. I just don’t want to compromise what my boys have to say. It is what it is.
Covering Old Ground –
More Cover Artwork for HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega.
So here I am again- more discussion on the arc of creating a look/feel for a book I’ve been putting together. It started out simple enough (almost bland in it’s simplicity):
Actually this is a later iteration as I can’t find my original which was just the slash cut with out any bloody references and minus the lycanthropic tagline.
It was slightly emotive of what I wanted but almost too simplistic in approach. Originally I was thinking of going horror novel ala Ikea – ya know, very Scandinavian in design – sparse and minimalistic, yet evocative.
Because the gash/slash was in a swooping motion I used a very swishy font. I tend to favor them. Mostly because I admire calligraphers. And as I said before – I am a BIG FONT WHORE.
So yeah, it was serviceable. Passable. Minimally getting me there.
I mean, I didn’t kid myself and say – wow, that’ll get them to buy it!
Cause, I knew it ultimately wouldn’t. I wasn’t foolin’ myself none, ya know?
So I posted it anyway and then my author pal, Jayne Lockwood commented that she thought the HOMO title should be bolder cause it was sort of lost in the vast sparseness of the work. I thought about it. I did. I swear I did.
Then did nothing about it. Told her that was what I was after.
But it festered. Made me rethink what I was doing.
I didn’t want to do the whole muscle dude thing on so many of the M/M romance stuff. Cause that’s just so… meh. So 1990 in my book. It’ll be cheesy in a few years and NOT retro-chic cheesy either. Just plain cheese – but not the good kind you can put on sandwiches and stuff.
So I needed to retool it. I knew that.
Then I hit a major creative speed bump. It happened last night. I took a breather from writing the ending to the story (it was a NaNoWriMo winner story so I knew I wanted to get it done). And I took a small (fitful) nap. I woke up and had a pseudo-meltdown. I don’t know if it was the wrong side of the bed, or in general I was letting my shit get to me but I wrote a rather long rant to my betas, friends and family (do they have a cell phone program for that?) and babbled endlessly on whether I needed to write at all. Whether I was good enough.
It was a fucktard moment. I ain’t proud of it. I mean, I even bcc’d my mom on it. How embarrassing is that? Your own mother knows you’re a fucktard. Brilliant – NOT!
So when I finally crawled out of my pity-party and began to sort out my shit and got back in the writing saddle I decided I’d take an artistic turn for a few and re-examine the HOMO book cover.
The hubby was busy with the initial edits and comments, so I was left to my own devices in retooling the cover for it once it was done.
I hit up istockphoto (my usual goto) and found a few werewolf-y looking things. But the costs are getting up there to use this service. I like the quality of work but the credit fees to just buy some shit is getting up there now. There had to be others out there that were cheaper. So I found CanStockPhoto.com.
I combed through their stuff on wolves and forests and such and found a couple of things I sort of liked. I always wanted ominous eyes if I was going to do a picture. I also knew the cover had to be dark. So I started to try and combine those two terms to source something for the new reworked cover.
I found these two pieces to start with:
And even though I railed against using a half naked man on the cover but I sorta liked this guy when I happened upon him – he had that whole Tanner Tallman (from my book) thing going on. And he had wolfy fangs so yeah, he was worth a saw buck to buy him. (Oh yeah, did I forget to mention? BOTH images cost me less than $9!) It was a no-brainer.
So here he is – (even if I didn’t use him this time around) – it’s a novella series so yeah, I could still put him to use down the road. Especially if I focus on Tanner somewhere down the line.
Anyway, so I went about taking the wolfy eyes and the darkened road and began to repurpose my original cover art.
First to go was the swishy font for the logo – rebranded it entirely into a sans-serif font rather than a display font (if you’re into typography like me you know what that means, if not, eh, don’t fret too much about it). This was invariably a big factor on my changing the background from a faux leather texture to solid black. It would allow the red blood and title to punch a bit more on the cover. Great, but it still seemed sparse without something else.
Then it was time to sort out which of the two picts I was gonna use. Since Tanner wasn’t the focus in this first book I decided it was better to go with an establishing and moody thought. So wolf eyes and road it is:
I think it is far superior to my original IKEA take on it. What do you all think?
I am hoping to release it to the masses in early January. It’ll be my first publicly released work for sale but my third novel that I’ve completed. The other two are still in edit mode before distribution. This one was for fun. While I love the work and am happy to dedicate it to my first fan (who loves all things werewolves) it is nowhere near the serious work I am doing in Angels. This is meant to be a spooky romp of a read. Something to get the imagination as well as the loins inflamed, ya know?
So yeah, that’s it for this time around. Who knows I may end up with a separate series of how I design book covers and why? Who knew? I should probably youtube this shit to expand my market share?
Eh, who has the time? I want to write dammit!
Designing My Angels of Mercy
Sidebar: S.O. to author pal, Kris Ripper who liked the first one I did of these, that I’d thought I shoot her another. Hope you all enjoy it too!
So let’s talk book covers, shall we? I mean, I did it before. So it’s not like it’s the first time, right?
I’ve been busy. Did the NaNoWriMo event for the first time and I was really enjoying it (even if it was a bit of a slog to write on a deadline schedule – but it was good for me).
Been putting small tweaks on Angels of Mercy Volume One: Elliot and fleshing out Volume Two: Marco. Volume One is sorta waiting in the wings because it’s ends on a cliff hanger and several authors said that as a newbie writer I shouldn’t do a cliff hanger – soooooo, since my stories are what they are, I decided to forestall the first book and just get book 2 prepped and ready to go so they can be released in tandem. Book 2 ends on a cliff hanger as well, but I figure I’ll have them decently hooked by then (fingers crossed).
So here’s the small twist in this – Marco’s always been the meat of the entire series as far as I am concerned. Elliot and the third boy (who is our guide in Volume 3) are merely bookends to Marco’s tome. The story has always been Marco’s to tell. I just wanted you to get to know the love of his life first. Elliot in many ways is an extension of myself. That’s why it is a character study.
I’ve had betas read the pre-released work and I get universal high marks on grammar and structure (my author pals have universally praised me on the manuscript being so clean) – and that’s the hubby too. He’s been my sole editor. He’s never done it professionally (still hasn’t cause he’s on the personal payroll – wink, wink), but he comes from a LONG line of educators that specialized in English. So I am solid there. He also used to play football for Clemson back in the day so that’s where all the football motif is coming from (well, that, and I did have a fling in my Senior year with an actual HS quarterback). But as I said, the response from everyone I’ve given it to thus far have really been impressed. I am humbled and grateful more than I can say about this.
Angels has been both an easy work to write and incredibly difficult to write. It is a very personal work. It is a love letter to my husband as much as it is to gay men I’ve been blessed to know and have in my life. Truly blessed.
So why the second entry on the book covers? Because I’ve finally nailed book one AND I’ve completed the work on book two in the process! Yippee!!
And here’s the big reveal on the second book cover in the series (cue drum roll in your head, please):
And as with Book One’s design I’ll let you see how I did it…
First things first – as with all things Foodie, there is a recipe and of course the ingredients. I am a content designer (of sorts – previous life as a graphic designer for a theater company in San Diego (amongst other things)).
Software used – Adobe Creative Cloud Suite (primarily Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014)
Graphic elements – images from iStock Photo (photos and vector art)
Fonts Used – Scriptina (for “Angels” in the logo) and Copperplate Light for the subtitle and my author byline, and Jackport College NCV font for the football jersey number 7.
The original artwork in its raw form:
Illustrator Vector Line Art
The Footballer (Hi-res Photo JPG)
The fonts and logo work were borrowed from my Book One cover and adapted/modified to suit “Marco” in the title. Recycle whenever possible – it builds brand consistency and also cuts down on the design time and lets you get back to what we all REALLY want to do – WRITE, dammit!
So I’ll start with one element of this new book cover that kicked my ass on book one – the fucking footballer jersey has NO NUMBER! Couldn’t do a simple overlay – that would be too f’d up – it wouldn’t be right. So I hit the net and sorted through Photoshop tutorial after tutorial using crap assed terms to find what I was looking for – only because I couldn’t remember what I needed to really look for until I found it again – DISPLACEMENT MAPS. They are golden in my book now. And they proved a helluva lot easier to do than I thought they’d be – Win-Win in my book!
You can check out the tutorial that solved it for me right here.
So first things first – I knew my footballer needed his requisite wings so I had to separate the background (the troublesome gradient blue/black background) from the (footballer) foreground. Sometimes the graphics come with masked backgrounds so this is rather simple. NOT this time around. Sheesh! So I had to painstakingly (though I did save a small bit of time) using the magnetic lasso tool in photoshop to cut away at the background from around my mysterious “Marco” footballer.
Then slip a solid black background on a separate layer so I could manipulate at will what I wanted to do. Here’s the final with the broken down layers along the right side of the screenshot (click to enlarge):
As you can see by the layers in the picture I post above, the background was solid black. The footballer sits just behind the jersey number layer and my author cred. The wings and the logo taking up the layers in between.
So I imported the jpeg I created from the Illustrator file and cropped the blue side of the wings (the ‘water’ wings) and duplicated the layers in photoshop once the first blue wing was imported and then sized them by freehand so while they are an exact dupe, they aren’t sized exactly the same – only a hint a being symmetrical. It was enough for my purposes. I didn’t want an exact dupe this time around.
I also angled them so they would be more upright (alluding to the same sort of position from my Art Deco wings from the first cover – see above). Added an adjustment layer above the two wing layers and boosted the hue and saturation to embellish and bring out the blueness of them.
Next up – Slipping my footballer back in front of the newly created wings.
So now we get to the hard part – or what I perceived to be the hard part – the Displacement Map – to add the jersey number. The file I created for the displacement map I ended up using the black channel of the photo (when you get to that step) as it had the most contrast to build the map (I think in the tutorial link she used the red channel – use what looks best and has the highest contrast to work from – it’ll apply the best results).
I typed the number for the jersey (using the Jackport College NCV font) to create Marco’s football number – 7. And I applied a white to black gradient to the number so it would fade out along the bottom of the cover like his shirt does in the picture.
I used the tutorial just as it is described above in the link I provided BUT I changed the displacement map settings from the default 10 to 5. This was the result:
Then I added the duped layers from my original Volume One: Elliot book cover (see above) and inserted the duped layers for the book title and sub-title (swapping out ONE for TWO and Elliot for Marco) so it would be inline with the finished cover I was after. Then did the same for my Author cred.
But having succeeded in this I immediately was emboldened by my success with the displacement map that I went back to book one and FINALLY put the long missing Jersey number back on it!
To paraphrase Darth Vader – “The Circle is (sorta) complete…”
I do still have to come up with Volume 3 (insert mystery character here – no spoilers this time).
Until next time… Happy Writing and Designing!
Shout Out to my musical muse – JAY BRANNAN! I constantly play his music while I do anything Angels related. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet. He might argue that he hasn’t steered me at all. I love the shit outta his work anyway.
BUY HIS SHIT NOW PEOPLE! I need this guy to keep working!
The [D]Evolution of Cover Art
Trying to find your place in the process whilst keeping a tight reign on your wallet when all you want to do is get the bloody thing done!
So I have a book completed. Yeah, there are still tweaks being done to tidy it up a bit more. I think it’s in a good place. It’s not a formulaic romance story. It’s a very deceptive work. I created it with that in mind. It probably means it won’t find much of an audience, but you know what? I don’t really care. Here’s the skinny on the whole Angels of Mercy project for me:
I was writing another series that was going to be my big ol’ Gay LOTR (and if you have to ask what the fuck LOTR is, then you need to come out from under that rock you’ve been occupying and take a look around for Pete’s sake). It’s that Fae Wars thing I got placed elsewhere on the website. But that fucker is huge. Epically huge. LOTR with a bunch of man on man action huge. But there’s a war so there’s destruction and mayhem abounding there as well.
Here’s the dealio with that – because it’s so big (I tend to think Cecil B. DeMille epic) I had to put off writing because I got caught up in the quagmire I’d been back building in that particular universe. I am still contemplating that story. A good friend (and beta reader) gave me some advice to simply write the back story as one big epic tome all by it’s lonesome and then spring into the one that involves Earth so it would, in effect, be like my Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings. One off leading to a series sort of thing. That’s handy. And I can definitely see the advantage to doing just that.
Anyway, so what does that have to do with the cover art of Angels of Mercy?
Well, I ended up setting aside the whole Fae Wars epic to ponder those things I’ve just mentioned, and was listening to Jay Brannan’s Rob Me Blind while bringing lunch back to the girls at home. It hit me. Two boys trapped out on the Bixby Bridge near Big Sur, CA. Police cars on either side closing off the bridge to through traffic. My boys clinging to each other as a third man’s body falls perilously to his impending death in the fog laden morning.
So yeah, that image stuck with me as I was listening to Rob Me Blind. By the time I got home one exit down the freeway later, I had the story mapped out. It came to me that quick. I knew three things with absolute certainty:
- The boys (Elliot and Marco – I didn’t have last names for them yet) would come together at the very first chapter. I was more concerned with the ‘what happens next’ and not so much about the whole “will they/won’t they” that permeates so much of the M/M genre. So yeah, boys fall in love first chapter – BANG!
- The jock in the story NEVER wavers in his love and devotion to the boy he wants. I am soooo tired about the ‘straight’ appearing jock being the questioning one. My own Marco (my hubby) played football for Clemson back in the day and even played for Massillon (the birth place of modern football). And he has NEVER WAVERED once about what he feels for me. So yeah, Marco is deeply rooted there in my own life experience. If the hubby can be that strong – so can Marco.
- The story would be deceptive in nature. I wanted to tell a story that from the outset was more introspective, more reflective rather than the standard romance fair. I also knew it was going to spiral into a murder mystery/thriller of sorts (I am a BIG HITCHCOCK fan).
So I knew those three things by the time I got home seven minutes later. The book was already shaping up by the time I picked up the food from the car, the walk from the garage up the flight of steps to the main part of the house. Marco and Elliot were established. Their world already taking root and like a Morning Glory vine, they spread like wildfire. After lunch I told the hubby all about my new boys. They’ve been a part of us since (that was about 8 or 9 months ago).
I went through several boys as my inspirational source. Each of them though had to have a common thread or element that made them either Marco or Elliot.
Here’s the other thing – While my story does NOT involve the supernatural in any way, I wanted a strong Angel theme to thread its way in and around my boys and their world. So four more things got added to my list:
- The school was going to be big, an ex-Catholic parochial school that had been deconsecrated, but would retain its strong ties to its past by creating the high school mascot to be an Angel – and not just any, but an Avenging Angel. This was an important element as it established for me a thread to tug upon time and again with each of my boys.
- The main characters of the story would all have Angelic names assigned to them and those names had to some how embody the emotive core of who they were as a character. For Elliot his first name (that he doesn’t use) is Cassiel (the angel of tears and regrets). Elliot is a quiet, and sad boy by the time we meet up with him. He’s out to the community but keeps a very low profile because he knows how small towns react to big news like a gay kid in town (say nothing that same gay kid has been around since birth – but when it’s all out in the open, it’s a tough thing to deal with). For Marco, Elliot’s boyfriend (the jock), his middle name is Rafael (the arch-angel) and all things in this trilogy point to him. Marco is the pinnacle and meat of the story. I always saw it that way. The last character (which I won’t go into here as it is a spoiler) has a middle name of Azreal (the real avenging angel in the story). It is he who metes out judgement in the trilogy. And he comes out of nowhere when he does.
- The last reference to Angels and the town of Mercy is that the other Angels (the football team) play a part in this tale as well.
- The sex will be blatant. No punches pulled. I can’t tell you how many times I read about sex between two men, written by women that completely miss the mark or “don’t go there” because they don’t want to really know what men think and feel when they are having sex. Which totally blows my mind on one level, but on another completely makes sense because women are always trying to influence men to think another way (their way). But they really don’t bother at all to understand it from a male perspective. So my boys are who they are when it comes to their sexuality. It is rooted in real life. It is how we are when we are together as a sexual couple (to varying degrees, I’ll grant you, but there nonetheless).
So there is a common thread regarding the metaphor of Angels in the story. But it isn’t a supernatural story. It’s metaphorical – in name and essence only.
So the first book is in the can and the second is about a third to half way written. Got beta-readers pouring through book 2 already and giving me valuable feedback. They’re loyal to the cause already so there is an audience out there. Don’t know who they are because the story sort of defies categorization.
But how do I create an eye catching piece of artwork that embodies all of that?
Part of me wanted to keep it simple. Not too involved – involved denotes a dated look. Just look at the covers from just a couple of years ago on some of these books and they already look dated. Mostly because they employed all kinds of Photoshop trickery that was all the rage at the time but no one is doing now. Honestly, the simplistic covers sort of really do it for me. While I think that the 50 Shades book was a right piece of erotic garbage, the look and appeal of the cover work was bold and definitive in my mind. It sent a strong message and played upon the whole ‘shades of grey’ theme from the title.
So here is how I came up with the whole cover concept:
- I wanted angels or an angelic influence to be a part of the cover as it is a theme of the book (not the judeo-christian core but a theme of the story nonetheless).
- I wanted it to be strong in it’s masculine appeal and statement (though I didn’t want some hussy to grace the cover because well, they’re gay – duh)
- I wanted the football theme to come forward as well.
I got completely derailed on my first attempt but as you’ll see below – I think it came together quite nicely.
It all started late last night when I finally decided I’d let my book languish for far too long out there in the beta-reader ether. It’s time to get it out there. So to do that it needed a cover.
Here’s what I had going for quite some time – it was a placeholder:
The actual title artwork really hasn’t changed. I liked it from the get-go (as it were). I wanted the dramatic angel theme even back then. It was a place holder. Nothing more really. But I did have comments from the beta readers that they liked the look of it. They liked the dark tones and the brilliant blue white element. One person even said that if she saw it in a book store, the cover alone would have made her pick it up and investigate it further.
So yeah, even then I knew it had to be dramatic. And it was certainly duo-chromatic (mono would indicate one color but, even so, I got what someone said to me about that).
So last night I’d reached a tipping point. I couldn’t go further with book one until it had a graphic representation that I could call my own for it. That meant licensing. That meant (since I wasn’t a photographer) that I’d be relying on what was out there from other content artists and pay for the rights to use the material.
First stop was a google search (ha! It was actually a DuckDuck search but you get the idea) for LGBT book cover artists. I found a website that seemed, at first blush, to fill the bill quite nicely.
They even have a section dedicated to the LGBT market. Bingo! I was in like Flynn.
I just had to choose one to start with and play around with their little online designer:
Once I selected a cover – and paid for it, it would be mine to use for e-books and printed copies up to 250,000 in combined sales. At what I was planning was $4.99 a pop, that would be over a million dollars in sales. Yeah, I could agree to those numbers. They could come and ask for an extended license at that point. I could probably afford it.
So I picked a cover and started to play with it.
The nice part about all of this? Once I bought the cover, it was removed from the site (never to be seen/offered again). It was mine and mine alone to use as I needed to for the book. No one else would have it. It wasn’t free (prices start at $69 a cover and go up steadily from there).
So I found one that spoke to the angelic element – it looked like this:
I could’ve used their tool to come up with the logo, the author byline and any tag line I wanted but to be honest – I have a far more extensive font listing on my computer anyway (like over 10k fonts installed). I am a font whore, plain and simple.
So I bought it without any writing on it whatsoever. I was cool with it.
Now here’s the rub (as they say): It wasn’t everything I wanted in one pic. I loved the deco wing element – cause that was bang on with how I saw the logo emblazoned on their helmets at the school. So yeah, I was good with that part. The one element I wasn’t so pro on was the guy on it. Not that I didn’t like him – I did. He appears to be a ginger so yeah – got a Smokin’ Hot Ginger Stud section in the galleries so yeah, he works definitely on that level. I don’t know why I suddenly have this proclivity for gingers but it sorta sprang up on me all of a sudden – and one of my new characters in Angels of Mercy Volume 2: Marco has a new buddy of his that will prove to be pivotal to how Marco gets Elliot back on his feet after book one (spoiler – sorry). And Angus (Marco’s new ginger stud buddy) is a full on stud material – no bones about it but with a heart of gold that’s been stomped on repeatedly.
From that perspective, the guy (on the cover art I just bought) would work – just not on this book. Angus Carr (the ginger buddy for Marco) isn’t on the scene in book one at all. He doesn’t arrive front and center until book two. This whole buying on a whim was a knee jerk reaction to the studly ginger angel on the cover art I purchased. ‘Cause Angus has fast become my favorite character to write about. I get giddy like a school girl whenever he is in a scene. I think if I continue with this world of my boys at Mercy, then Angus’ story will be the next one to tell. I love him that much. But, just not now. This was Elliot’s book, not Marco’s, and certainly not Angus’.
But I’d paid for the artwork so I had to use it somehow. Also, the color scheme was all wrong – while warm, bold and powerful, it was the wrong tone to take. The school colors are Blue and Silver (with white). So the golden hues of this picture just wouldn’t work. There was no tie-in other than his being an angel.
So the color had to be swapped:
Now I liked the logo work from the first book image I created (remember the placeholder?).
So that got incorporated into it but I stayed with the whole duo-tone idea. For some reason I thought it would work, hence:
The feedback was rather instantaneous – a BIG OL’ “MEH…”
Cue face-palm moment on my end. Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking it through.
So I scrambled again when I got up at 7am this morning after reading the email responses from the beta reader/buddy crowd. I began to look through iStock Photo for a footballer (after I remembered to exclude soccer players from that search criteria) and found some fairly decent picts along with a decent price. The best part? Their license was greater than the one I got from selfpubbookcovers.com site. I could walk right up to the 499,999 sale mark before extended licensing came into play. Another cool thing! So yeah, I sorted out which pictures said the most to me. Finally settling on this one:
The hubby approved – all the other guys I had targeted as potentials were all holding the ball incorrectly and it rankled my ball playing hubby. Being a former Clemson player, I tended to listen to him on this one. This was the only one where the model sorta had an idea of how to hold the ball. It was the closest we came to the truth. It’s rather stark without any helmet logo (it’s just so damned WHITE), but I knew I could do something about that.
So now my thinking was to marry the previous version with this newer image I had going.
First off, strike the black background so my angel wings would be present in the background – if just a bit more muted than before.
Another thing sort of stuck in my craw a bit: he doesn’t have a jersey number. I might still take care of that – though that is a time consuming process, especially with the folds of the jersey in the picture and having to get it to match up. It would take some work to place a number there and get it right. I still might put in the effort but I’m cool with it without the number as well. I also liked the finger pointing toward the camera because Marco does make a definitive choice to be with Elliot from chapter one and that decision (while two years in the making for Marco) didn’t come easy nor were they ever aware of what a chain of events their coming together would cause in their small hamlet of a town.
But I digress. So back to my cover:
I had to marry the two images – but first I had to take the green tones out of the previous duo-tone image I had going before. This after my author buddy mentioned that “monochrome” covers tended NOT to sell – they get lost in the shuffle (which I supposed he was excluding black as a color in that arrangement, but having been a graphic artist in the DTP days of the 80’s/90’s, I knew better – it was duo-tone). Needless to say, since the blue in the jersey is quite strong I had to unplug the more teal elements from my previous angel incarnation.
So he went silver-blue:
So now the wings were set. I just needed to punch it up a bit and then put my footballer in it. I knew it was going to be one helluva visual break between my footballer (standing in for Marco in my story) and the angel wings in the background – but I was good with it. Those angel wings were symbolic for all of the angelic metaphors within their world (the football team, their namesakes, etc). So I was good with the break in texture. I think it fits. So now in PhotoShop, I had this:
The white was still too prominent but I wanted to see it with the title and my byline (I got all schoolgirl again and couldn’t wait it out) – I also toned down the bluish tint to the wings and made them more silver in appearance since those are the school colors. And I liked that the wings have a dream like quality to them. So now I had this:
But the white of the helmet was a bit too much – I needed to rough him up a bit – and beside that, the book goes dark in the end. Matthew Shepard dark – but with a twist. That action is what sets up Marco’s book (volume 2) which is told from his perspective.
My author buddy said to think long and hard (well not like that – head out of the gutter now, but you get my meaning) about how I was going to present my byline. I should be consistent with it. I happen to like Copperplate as a font. It can be both serif or sans serif because the actual serifs (the tiny ends on each letter that help to distinguish it from one letter to the next – those little flanges on a T or an A or even a W) are rather small and innocuous. So Copperplate Light it was. It went with the “of Mercy” in the title anyway. And thus, the title work was born and stands strong even now.
I was almost there.
All that white on the helmet and gloves was a bit too distracting. Say nothing that it I was missing an element that spoke of the darkness in my novel. So I needed to punch up the color a notch – something to get it noticed. As my author buddy said, you want it to gain attention when it’s on a grid of 100 other titles on Amazon’s site – that’s the goal. He’s right in that regard, even if sales are not the ultimate end game for me in this endeavor.
Angels came to me in a whirlwind. But it was more of an experiment in my mind that just germinated and took off like hell wouldn’t have it. But I needed to fold in that darker element that will carry the story forward.
Blood, that’s what was needed.
Not a lot, but enough that it’d leave pause for thought – “ooh, blood, that’s not normally on romance novels…” – that sort of thing. A M/M romance with blood on the cover would go against the grain. Mixed signals. Yeah, it’s what the story was calling for. Because the entire work is a series of mixed signals. It’s intended that way. From the first page you are in my protag’s head so you get to hear his random thoughts (even mid-stream in a conversation with someone), and he addresses you, the reader, from time to time. He knows you’re there with him. He talks directly to you. That’s intentional too. And gayboys are always bouncing around. We constantly have to keep rethinking our game. That game being just surviving in a world where you’re constantly reminded that you are not the same as the rest of the world. Your relationships are challenged, you have to keep coming out every single day of your life because everyone will try to assume you are one of them – part of the hetero-normative club. God, in sooooo many ways, I can’t tell you how happy I am not to be in that particular club. For me, being gay means I got lucky.
So yeah, blood was definitely called for here. The story gets quite bloody and quite deadly. But all is not lost – though by the end of the book you might well and truly think so. It’s one helluva ride. And you are having to put up with all of Elliot’s idiosyncrasies and mental ramblings. He is constantly stepping from one foot to another just to stay on top of things. When Marco enters his world it is turned upside down and things have never been so right. But it takes him off his game. Marco soothes and comforts, but he also stirs things in his wake – things he doesn’t want to admit, things that are conspiring to make them both pay for the love they feel for one another. And make no mistake, my boys feel it deeply, like a fever in their blood.
Yeah, it needed blood.
Thankfully, I have the entire Adobe suite on hand and have spent a fair amount of time taking special effects courses at the college so I know how to manipulate these kinds of things. So off to After Effects I went with a bevy of blood splattering movies and clips I’d amassed over the years. There had to be some blood I could use somewhere. There was.
Here’s the end result:
My Marco now has it smeared on the helmet (both top and the face guard) as well as on the glove carrying the ball. It’s subtle but strong statement that all is not well within the small confines of Mercy, California.
But our boys do get their Ever After Happily, I swear. But that’s a discussion for another time.
So, what do you think of the process and the evolution of it all – or did I just devolve the whole damned thing?