Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 57 - Book Cover Art Begins in Earnest Now

Cover image template
Well, this has been an exciting week for my book. Things are underway with relative speed now, which means I won’t have to write more rat poetry today. In fact, there’s so much to write about, I am going to just cover one thing with this post so as not to make it 9,000 words: Book Cover Art.

So Cris Ortega is now officially working on my project, meaning we’re not just agreed to get it done, we’re corresponding on the particulars and she is doing research to get her mind around the places and times involved with my story.

Just so you all have the INSIDE, inside scoop, I’ll copy/paste in some of the actual correspondence. First, here’s my opening description for her as to what I’m looking for:

… Here are the two things driving my cover design as I envision it right now:

1. Sex sells, so I want the character of Orli prominently in the front, and I want that amazing Cris Ortega sumptuousness you do, so that when ads for my book pop up on Facebook and when people walk by it on a shelf or table, they see how “hot” she is and pick up the book. (My audience is largely male, but done right, this can work like a romance novel cover would on both males and females). Sexy but not slutty.

2. It needs to convey the two very different worlds the characters are coming from. She is from Earth: Space ship, Laser,Technology, etc. He (Altin) is medieval. He’s more: wood and cloth and old, dusty leather-bound books.

Characters: Orli Pewter – space ship officer
Female, age 21
Hair: blond, short cut, you can be creative with the style
Eyes: blue
Skin: white and very pale (she’s been on a space ship for ten years)
Build: athletic and very fit. She’s a runner, so very lean. Great arms, abs etc.
Attire: Tight garments, black or dark ‘space pants’, with a really cool gun belt and a SUPER cool laser pistol strapped to her thigh. I’m thinking a “military issue sports bra” (lol) would show off abs and cleavage well in the scene I have in mind (will expand in a moment). Cool high boots with cool buckles or whatever (assuming the image shows that much of her, which it might not because I really want to have the view close enough so her beauty is obvious from a distance viewing the book on a shelf). Feel free to do her nails and add earrings/jewelry if it’s in keeping with a Spartan, military life aboard a space ship.

Altin Meade – Medieval sorcerer
[Male, age 22]
Hair: dark brown, fairly short, untidy, “tousled” (he’s distracted by his studies and doesn’t comb it much).
Eyes: green
Skin: He’s been outside. Not weathered or deeply tanned, but not milky white pale either.
Build: very normal. NOT muscular, but he’s not a scrawny guy either.
Attire: He wears gray sorcerer’s robes (but you can make them whatever color you think works best, brown, dark blue, forest green if you need them to be… just not red). Some fancy threadwork in the long, wide sleeves and/or collar would be cool. He does not have the hood up (and the robes don’t need a hood).
Okay, that’s what I sent her. I also wrote a 2 paragraph synopsis of the story and offered to send her the two-page version, but I’m not going to include that in this entry—mainly because you won’t want the surprises ruined. In fact, it’s really hard not to give stuff away. I was working on the book description yesterday, and its’ really hard to pimp a book without revealing what happens. However, I’m still working on it, and am going to ask for input on it from you in a few days, so, enough about that.

So, that was the core part of my email reply to her request for information, and then I included three scene ideas. You may remember the sketch I put up in one of the first blogs (or at least I think I did), the one that was briefly on my website before I wrecked it (I put it on the right just in case, and I think I will try to get back up on the new, functioning website today now that the theme works... if I get time). Anyway, that scene is the first scene of three I described in my email. The second I described was similar but for just the front cover as opposed to a wrap-around full image that covers front and back with one giant picture. Rather than include all three descriptions, I’ll just include the third actual description, so you get an idea of the conversations going on. Here was my third suggestion:

3. If that’s too dark or not enough background to be cool, my third idea is this:

He [Altin] and she [Orli] are in a lower room of the tower, the one with some bookshelves in it. It’s his bedroom. Stone walls, leather-bound books on old wooden shelves, old wooden bed frame, straw mattress with a few straws poking out (lots of cool textures). He could stand behind her and hand her the [edited out to not spoil the surprise]. I think the medieval stone and books and cloth if you needed would contrast with the silvery [edit] and with her laser, belt (and boots if we show that much of her). Again, [this image could be] composed sort of like your Ex Machina.
Also, it should be noted that it is VERY hot in the tower (the dragon had a fireblast tantrum earlier), so if it is advantageous to make use of the sheen on her skin with the golden torchlight for purposes of sultry sexuality, please do. The scene is described that way, and with that kind of lighting, muscle tone can be pulled off really beautifully.

So that’s the sort of things I’m sending to Cris to guide the project. I chose scenes that work to convey the sense of the story and give readers a good idea of what to expect.

She replied and asked for a bit more info. Here’s a bit from her response:

Hello John,

Thanks for all the info. I would need some more things to know before I can begin working. First, the synopsis would be great, so I can know a bit more about the story and characters. Also, I need to know the sizes for the cover art, and it would be great if you can send me some graphic reference -photos, art...- about clothes, guns, spaceships... you know, since you seem to have on mind exactly what you want, it will help a lot to see some samples of similar things to work with, apart from my own references =).

If you have gone to her website, you will see she hasn’t done a whole lot of science fiction illustrations yet. In fact when I first approached her with this project, she seemed to be very enthusiastic about the science fiction part of it, which was cool. From my observations, her focus has been in the vampire and fantasy realm, although she does have one science fiction piece, which she wrote, "My first attempt at sci-fi," beneath it on her website. I'll put it below, and just say that if this is a first attempt, then most people who do tons of them are working whole carreers to catch up to where she starts off. (It's called The Outer Frontier... and I want to live there.)

Copyright Cris Ortega (You can buy prints of this btw)

So, besides the fact that she is obviously awesome at what she does, the main thing about working on someone else’s artistic idea, if we put ourselves in her shoes for moment, is that what is in your client’s head sometimes doesn’t translate well across the “ether” into your own head. I know this from personal experience as a copy writer. I get requests all the time for web content and advertising materials where I am given descriptions of the desired outcome and, though I think I have a clear picture of what they are asking for, when I’m done, they’re like, “Oh, uh…, well, that’s nice, but, umm, well, that’s not at all what I had in mind.” [cough]Jim[cough]. That’s the nature of commissioned/contract work, so the most important thing I can do as a writer is ask as many questions and get as much up front information as I possibly can. Which is why, I’m sure, Cris asked me for samples of the kind of images I am seeing in my head rather than just letting me describe the scene in words. Frankly, just proves how totally pro she is.

So from that point, I had to go hunt around. If I could draw exactly what I want from my head, I wouldn’t need to hire an amazing artist like Cris Ortega, so it took some time to go through lots and lots of websites and search through stuff. There are an astonishing number of spaceship images and laser images from the corny to the goofy out there. And what constitutes a “hot chick” literally runs the spectrum of humanity. So, I had to spend some time finding things that had the emotional “feel” of what I am looking for. I took screen shots of things that seemed to have the right temporal and technological locus for the ships and guns, and that had the right edge of sexuality for the character of Orli, and, last and far easiest, the essential look of a wizard as he might appear in my story. So, that said, here’s what I sent for the lasers:

The red circles indicate the ones that are "closer" to the right feel.

As you can see, there’s a particular look to these guns, long, and feminist literary theorists would probably say phallic. Definitely high technology, but of a sort that seems within reach of modern man were he to keep going as he is. My characters and their technology are not the Star Wars or Star Trek variety. There are no Romulan cloaking devices aboard the ships. Here’s an example of what would not fit for the look of a laser in my novel’s world.

Notice how totally different these all are from the one’s I sent Cris. They don't "feel" like the world I have written. The spaceship thing is the same kind of idea as the lasers, not too slick and perfect, not too "alien." Here’s what I sent to her:

Notice they’re all blocky and crude. There’s no “Warp 10” in my story. It’s based on real physics and quantum mechanics (even if I never talk about it in the book… although some of it comes out near the end of book two, and into the third one of the trilogy).

So, lastly, here’s what I sent to give Cris a sense of how I’m seeing the attire of the characters. Altin (the sorcerer) is pretty easy, the classic fantasy wizard. Orli on the other hand, is hot and has to appear so. And, since my target audience is largely male, and the females that like this sort of thing will like it for the romance, there is benefit to making her front and center. The “sex sells” thing with which I started the conversation with Cris. Here’s what I sent:

That took a lot of crawling around to cobble together. The character is described as wearing form fitting uniforms and boots, but there is room to interpret how that looks, especially since she is athletic and has the option of layers too. So, I’m looking forward to seeing how Cris takes it from there.

Well, I think that’s enough for now. I have a huge stack of manuscript pages covered with red ink to get too. I’m hoping to have that done by the 24th of May. We’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’ll talk about that strategy in one of my next posts. Stay tuned. Oh, and don’t forget to send this to any friends you have that might be interested in following my journey. Things are heating up.

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