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Cover Up

If an author has an agent and a publisher, he or she may have little to do with designing the cover.

As a self-published author (a.k.a indie author or self-pubber), everything comes down to me. This becomes a problem with the artistic aspects. I can doodle, I can’t draw. So I put a team together and this is how they looked after me.

My first stop was Ian Wilson. Ian is an artist, who focuses these days on brand and marketing design. I’ve known him forever. What he did first was to take my brief and turn it into a sketch.

The brief :

Front page

  • Amber on the right, facing left at an angle. She’s auburn haired and athletic. She’s dressed in tight jeans and T, possibly with a jacket (brown glossy, not distressed). She carrying a gun, a Heckler & Koch Mk 23. It’s big (common Urban Fantasy theme).
  • In the middle ground, Denver skyline at night. Background is the Rockies with a little snow on them. Moon in the sky. Urban Fantasy moons are large.
  • Wolf eyes at the bottom of the page – photo or artwork (again, common Urban Fantasy theme).
  • Title at the top, my name at the bottom.

Back page

  • Dark – possibly a continuation of the Rockies.
  • Blurb, ISBN. These will obscure most of the image.
  • Gang motif (twinned rattlesnakes) or wolf’s head motif. Possibly blank carnival masks.


  • Marque symbol. Name. Title.

And what came back was this :

Sleight of Hand Cover

Sleight of Hand Cover Draft

I loved this image as soon as I saw it. Ian ‘lost’ a lot of the fiddly motifs I was looking for, and concentrated on getting a high impact, uncluttered foreground.

The wolf eyes didn’t make it, and it needed something more to signal Urban Fantasy. So we decided we needed a wolf :

OK, this was me. I just clipped an image from the web and scribbled a body behind Amber. The inclusion of the wolf was a minor stumbling block for me because Amber doesn’t actually see a werewolf close up like this in the first book. The need for the cover to shout Urban Fantasy overrode that reservation.

It was time to take it to the cover artist. Most businesses who do book covers work down to a price and that dictates that everything comes from stock photography. I wasn’t happy with that, and chose instead to go with Claire Curtis. As well as being a cover artist, Claire is a good photographer in her own right—have a look at her website (details at end).

The image then broke down into main elements :

  • A model with the right look and clothes
  • A gun
  • Stock images – wolf, Denver skyline, Rockies, forest

(We were unable to contract a wolf to stand behind Amber and snarl.)

Getting someone who looks the part was difficult. Amber is part native North American, part Celtic. She’s athletic, not model skinny.

I was lucky. My daughter is an actor and she found another actor, Maria Askew, on the website Casting Call Pro, who had the look as well as modelling experience. And she was available as long as we got the session in before she went off to Edinburgh to do a show for the Fringe. Maria joined the team and we met up at Claire’s studio.

In the same way I find it difficult to visualize the whole cover design, I found it difficult to see the cover from the photo session!

A big problem was the gun. While writing the book, I researched what pistols Amber would be familiar with, considering her background in the special forces. I came up with a Heckler and Koch Mk 23 which had the benefit of actually being designed for the special forces and it was a monster to boot. Great. Unfortunately, I could not get hold of the actual thing, nor could I get hold of a model of it. We used a model of a similar gun, and the rest is digital wizardry. I know many people would have just gone with any large gun, but having made an issue of it in the story, I didn’t want readers complaining it wasn’t the right gun on the cover!

Now, in amongst the hundreds of photos, we had ‘Amber’.

Claire went to work, and what came out was this :

This got the ass-kicking look and the wolf snarl right on. It would have been ideal to have the wolf curled  round Amber, but there wasn’t a stock photograph that did that.

The last job was for Ian to take the image and drop the text and symbols onto it.

And that’s what will appear on the printed book when it goes on sale in September.

The team:

Ian Wilson : www.WeAreMash.com – branding, marketing

Maria Askew : www.MariaAskew.co.uk – actor, model

Claire Curtis : www.ClaireCurtis.co.uk – cover art