Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)

Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)


The final result – a print book cover I can really be proud of …


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:




To 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.

Cover artwork for Angels of Mercy - Volume One: Elliot

The cover artwork for Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot


So, with that in mind I toyed around and around until I came up with this little ditty:

Angels of Mercy Phoenix in the Fire book cover - first draft

The first round of the Phoenix print edition. This one featured a pop-culture art piece on how Elliot feels about the football team.


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).

Comp version of the original model pic I chose for the novel's cover.

Comp version of the original model pic I chose for the novel’s cover.


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.

Enter SevenStyles and Graphic River. They’re my best kept secret with what I do (but I guess that’s out of the box now, isn’t it?).

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.


Using the "distort" tool in Photoshop to manipulate the wing shape/position.

Using the “distort” tool in Photoshop to manipulate the wing shape/position. Note the handles surrounding the image – that’s what you click and drag around to reshape the layer object.


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 or by leaving them in the comments below.

Until next time …


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I’m a Scrivener, and this is how I do it…

I’m a Scrivener, and this is how I do it…


Okay, this one is for all of my fellow authors out there. And fair warning – this is a generalistic overview of this remarkable application. I’ll dig deeper if others seem interested in the offering.

No judgements on anything that you all are doing but just putting out there what my journey has been and the things I’ve discovered. Maybe, just maybe, there is another author out there struggling with Word or some other writing app not knowing that this little gem might be the answer to their problems like it was for me.

I should emphasize that I’ve bought nearly all of the other writing programs (including Microsoft Office, so yeah, Word was in the mix as well – personally Word is about the crappiest program to write documents in long form (such as a novel)), but i understand its ubiquity within the authoring world so yeah, I get why some authors stick to it. I did for a while too. But then it just became unwieldy (I have to use it at work so yeah, I am a power user but word is just bloatware – I wanted more from my writing program).

So my search began: Dramatica, Storyist, Write, etc., I paid and tried them all. None of them had the one-stop shop that I wanted in a writing program, until I found Scrivener. And at roughly $45 (US) it was a STEAL of a program!

If you’re not happy with your current writing environment, might I suggest you take a look at this little screencast and see if it doesn’t appeal to how you’d like to work while creating your next masterpiece.

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I know the video is a bit long but the things this baby can do are astounding. The greatest part – it is TOTALLY one stop shop for authors (no matter whatever your genre or type of writings you do).

DISCLAIMER: In no way am I getting anything by way of a kickback from Literature and Latte (the publishers of Scrivener) for doing this. This is all my own doing. My way of putting out there what I do, and how I do it.


Of Note: while all the screenshots I show are from my Mac, the Windows implementation is virtually identical and the files can be used interchangeably between the two platform versions.



PART I – The Project


Selecting a NEW PROJECT from within Scrivener

Selecting a NEW PROJECT from within Scrivener

As you can see the application is pre-configured with templates to assist you with whatever type of writing you do in your personal/professional life. For the purposes of my own journey, I will be focusing this blog entry on the fictional template.  Bear in mind that this is how I am using Scrivener. The application has many options that can accommodate just about any workflow. This is just how I am using it.

So from the Project Template window select Fiction and then Novel.

The new project template.

The new project template.

When you first open a new project you get the picture I show above. This is the new project window and your authoring environment. There are places for index cards to keep ideas flowing, and targeted word counts (if you’re into that sort of thing) to be set. All in all, the interface takes a bit to get used to where everything is. But I will tell you that, in the long run, it is well worth the effort.

The sidebar along the left side has become my “home” base. Everything I do, I do from there. It contains the MANUSCRIPT as well as the RESEARCH binder (in fact the whole sidebar is called the Binder – think of it as your author library, of sorts).

The one BIG takeaway from the sidebar is that anything in the Manuscript area can ONLY be included in the final compilation of your manuscript (be it in any format that Scrivener can compile – which is fairly extensive).

For the purposes of my novel I was able to compile my .mobi Kindle file and the epub standard used by Nook and other readers (including iBooks) as well as a printed manuscript (if required) straight from the application itself. How I set up the structure only made the creation of my final product that much easier. A little foresight goes a long way with this application.

To keep things tidy I moved everything BUT the manuscript files (the sample chapter folder and the subsequent text file that makes up a scene within a chapter). Everything else I dragged down into the Research binder. This way I was sure that the only thing that would compile was just the manuscript.


The Binder in Scrivener

The Binder in Scrivener


The structure of the manuscript can be what you want it to be but for me I wanted just the title page, my dedication, quotes (if any), preface, and anything else you want to include beside standard TOC which the application will build based upon your chapter/scene structure in the Manuscript Binder.


A cleaner Manuscript area by moving the associated template files from the manuscript to the research binder.

A cleaner Manuscript area by moving the associated template files from the manuscript to the research binder.


Okay, I guess I should pause a bit on this and explain the two terms I’ve been using over and over here. There are two main sections:

Manuscript:  The body of your work, the novel itself. (Area to be compiled into a final published product)


Research: Where you will keep your research. (ONLY research – cannot be part of the compiled project)

I realize that seems like it should be obvious but when you look at the interface for the first time it might be a bit confusing on how to read that sidebar.

Here’s what I consider to be one of the most powerful elements of Scrivener that puts it far and above the competition: The Research binder. This binder is a drag-n-drop binder that can hold just about anything you throw at it. Find something on the web? Drag it’s contents to the binder, or copy the link (whichever you wish). It can even hold audio and movie files if you wish (though that will grow the file size exponentially). But the beauty of this Research binder is that it becomes your repository as you write. You can organize it any way you want. It’s your personal research lab to support all of the things you’ve collected about your world. It’s like your story has its own personal Pinterest.

So back to the story construction in Scrivener. The proverbial and mythic cork board:

The Corkboard about your story. This is accessed by either selecting it from the menu bar OR you can click the manuscript at the binder level and it will bring up the board as you see in this picture.

The Corkboard about your story. This is accessed by either selecting it from the menu bar OR you can click the manuscript at the binder level and it will bring up the board as you see in this picture.

The nice part about the cork board is that you can see your storyboard in the traditional story building fashion that many authors and screenwriters employ when building your story structure. A birds-eye view of the whole thing.


Here’s how I applied all of this to my own novel:

I set up my chapters by creating folders for each – in the beginning they were just Chapter One, Chapter Two (etc) as I just was looking for structure. Later on when I had names for them I just retitled the folders with the name of the chapter and Scrivener created the HTML links in the kindle or epub file for me concatenating the chapter number (1, 2, 3, etc) with my chapter title (e.g.: Chapter One – For the Love of the Q)  with the latter part of that title being the folder title in my Scrivener file. Handy, huh?

If your chapters have scenes or sequences that make up the entire chapter than you just create a text doc for each. The way I handled it was to name the subsequent chapter documents with the chapter and scene number (Scene 01-02 was Chapter 1, Scene 2 and so forth). Like the example I show below:

How I structured my book within Scrivener. Folders contain the chapter titles and the subsequent documents are identified by chapter and scene. This allowed me to know what chapter was what because the chapter folders didn't contain the actual chapter numbers. There's a reason for that - Scrivener puts in the chapter number for you when you compile.

How I structured my book within Scrivener. Folders contain the chapter titles and the subsequent documents are identified by chapter and scene. This allowed me to know what chapter was what because the chapter folders didn’t contain the actual chapter numbers. There’s a reason for that – Scrivener puts in the chapter number for you when you compile.

How does all this play out when you are ready to compile? Like this…


The compiled epub/nook edition of my novel. The chapter numbers are inserted for me by Scrivener. The titles are the names of the folders within the Scrivener project file.

The compiled epub/nook edition of my novel. The chapter numbers are inserted for me by Scrivener. The titles are the names of the folders within the Scrivener project file.


So now you do what you want to do – write. Right-clicking on the chapter folder or the previous scene document and adding as necessary to flesh out your great novel.


Sidebar: In a future post (not to far off from now, I promise) I’ll reveal one of the wonderful things about Scrivener – Snapshots! They are a writers dream! Look for it…


While your writing you can always check on the project status and can set target marks while you write to keep you on track.

The Project Status dialog box. Helping you stay on track with targets and projected printing and ebook formats word/page counts.

The Project Status dialog box. Helping you stay on track with targets and projected printing and ebook formats word/page counts.

So we’ll jump ahead several months or so (if you’re like me it takes a few months to get things going to where you’re ready to publish (even if its just to beta readers as a preview or pre-flight test of your ebook offering).



Part Two: The Compiling

Once you’ve got it to where it needs to be then it’s time for compiling it into a final product (either as an e-book offering or a printed manuscript). Here are the offerings when it comes to compiling in Scrivener.

The compilation dialog (epub options being shown here)

The compilation dialog (epub options being shown here)

This is where the magic truly is within Scrivener. This dialog allows you to customize and publish to various epub and printed formats. The example I am showing above is for my current forthcoming novel “Angels of Mercy.” But the options are pretty far reaching:

Publishing options to compile your great masterpiece and put it out there into the world.

Publishing options to compile your great masterpiece and put it out there into the world.

One caveat to this whole epub thing: you will need to get the kindle gen (generator) installation file from Amazon and install them onto your PC/Mac to enable the Kindle publishing/compiling option. But once you’ve done that, then you’re all set with regards to publishing the Kindle edition of your novel. Cover art work? Covered with Scrivener. Build of the chapters and how you handle it is entirely under your control. What you include, how you include it, all managed by the compilation dialog.

The best part though was that all of this was at a remarkable price of $45 (US). That’s the part that I still can’t get over for me. Having poured through them all and trying my best to work with other vendors offerings (at a much steeper price for the software) I was really taken with how much power this program wields for the author’s buck.

Is it right for everyone? I can’t answer that. Some writers are just too entrenched. But if you’re not entirely happy with your writing solution, I say give this little writing gem a gander. What I’ve written here is merely the tip of the iceberg (as they say) on what this program can do. In the coming weeks I’ll try to lift the lid on various aspects of how Scrivener works (where my exposure and usage of it has taken me thus far). I am still trying to discover new ways to use it and I’m finding at each turn the application as risen to the challenge and then some.

I hope you find this write up helpful and as always, I am free to any comments or questions regarding the app.

Again it is available from the folks at Literature and Latte in the UK.

$45 US (Mac version)

$40 US (Windows version (v 8.1 ready))

Word has it they’re working on a linux version but I don’t know where they are in the process of releasing that version to the masses. Demo versions are available for downloads to try before you buy.

Lastly, their tech support is very responsive as I’ve never had to wait more than a day to get some traction on whatever I was dealing with. In addition, they have a very active and prolific forum/support board that is also of use. When you couple all of that with the video’s posted online you get quite a lot for your $40-45 (US).

Leave any areas you’d like me to post about in the comments if you’re so inclined.

Until next time… PEACE!

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