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  • Frances Oakes

Hats Off to Cover Designers

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

Today’s blog is in honor of the cover designers of the world who are some of the most important people brought into a writer’s life. Some would say the most important in attracting readers to the writer’s book. In one survey, fifty-two percent of those questioned picked a book by its cover first. As you can imagine, if the book gets left on the bookshelf, it doesn’t matter how good the author writes. Your choice of cover designer is one of the most significant decisions you’ll ever make as a writer. The other, finding a cover designer with the creativity, talent, and skills to produce a cover that results in attention and sales. That being said, I am so happy that I was able to find, Crystal Heidel, Founder of Byzantium Sky Press, to design my cover for The Mischief Maker. She recently took first place in the Delaware Press Association Professional Communications Contest in Book Design for her design for the novel Wanderlust: A Wartime Search for Hope and Home by Kathleen Martens. She also took second and third place in the same category, for Before the Sky: A Reason for Hope by Barbara Ryder Levinson, and for Rising Women Rising Tides: Stories of Women, Water, and Wisdom, also by Kathleen Martens.

At lunch with Crystal Heidel last week, she kindly accepted my request to respond to a few questions about her craft. Here are her responses.

FO: What are the most important considerations you make when designing a cover for a client?

CH: Most importantly, I would say that the content and genre of the book are deciding factors in how the cover will ultimately look. I usually ask for about three to four chapters and a full synopsis of the book from the authors I work with. Knowing what genre they consider themselves to write in also helps me in choosing font, tone, and color, though I do ask for the author’s input as well. Knowing what the book is about, how it progresses, and ends will also help me with any elements in the book that might be significant. For example, one cover I did had a butterfly theme throughout the entire book. The character was always seeing them or mentioning them. So that really struck me as important. The cover ended up with a room of butterflies, within a room of butterflies, within another room of butterflies. It was sort of the equivalent to a Matryoshka doll or nesting doll. That book was These Fragile Wings by B.A. Evans.

FO: When designing the cover for The Mischief Maker, what challenges did you face and how important is the input from your clients, like me?

CH: The Mischief Maker was a challenging one for me as it was a cozy mystery, but not the type of cozy mystery that gets an illustrated character or background like Fiona Grace or Lee Strauss have with their cozy mysteries. The Mischief Maker was a bit more thriller with a wee bit of suspense. So getting the right image was difficult — we went through many iterations and adjusted the text color after the galley copies were printed. But I think the image really helped make the text pop. As you and I discussed, you wanted to have pink text and you wanted it to be readable at a smaller size for those shopping on Kindle or on Amazon. And those are things that are important to me too. The last thing I want is for authors to come back to me and say that their font or book title was unreadable at a small size. And I think we nailed the feel of the book — a cozy with a thrilling edge that still hints at that cozy vibe with the ladybug design on the lock. The image of the barn door with the lock gives the tone of a thriller and really lends to the mystery part of the book, too.

FO: Are there any red flags a writer should look out for when deciding if a cover designer is right for them?

CH: The only red flag that pops into my mind is not being able to see the designer’s work. When you’re shopping for a designer, first and foremost you should be able to view their work. Their website should have examples of their work. If you can’t find any covers they’ve designed, that’s a red flag. Choosing a cover designer can be difficult for some authors. Another deciding factor is cost, for obvious reasons. I met with a writer friend the same day we had lunch and he told me it was refreshing for a business to have their prices on their website. That shocked me. I look for transparency in all things. At a restaurant, I wouldn’t buy dinner if I didn’t know how much it cost, right? But it’s wise to shop around and talk to different designers, ask them if they read the genre you’re writing or at least have designed it before and/or have a good understanding of the genre.

I’ve designed covers for nearly all genres: mystery, romance, historical fiction, poetry, thriller, memoir, and nonfiction/self-help. The only genre I haven’t designed book covers for is science fiction and I’m dying to work on a scifi cover! However, I have a science fiction book in the works and I’m hoping to finish the first book in that trilogy within the next couple of years. I’ve already begun to design the planets for that first book, along with the cover!

FO: Was it harder or easier for you to design your cover, for your thriller, Still Life in Blood, than for other clients?

CH: Definitely harder for me! When I first started writing Still Life in Blood I was positive it would be a murder mystery similar to a Lisa Gardner or Catherine Coulter or Tess Gerritsen novel. And so I designed the cover that way before I even finished the book — more mainstream/contemporary. But I was wrong in the type of book I was writing. It took a completely different route. And that first book cover was definitely not going to work. I began taking classes with the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild shortly after I finished my first draft and I learned so much. My writing was night and day when I was done that first class with Maribeth, the director of the RBWG. I was able to pinpoint my style of writing; I call it upmarket mystery/suspense. It’s a mystery, yes, and it’s suspenseful, but also has a “literary” feel in the writing style. It doesn’t read like a Gardner or Coulter. A lot of people who read it who know me, say they recognize me in the main character, Francesca. She’s an artist who has dreams of murders that are happening in Rehoboth Beach. And I guess some people do confuse me with Francesca since I’m also an artist and graphic designer and usually dress like her — though I don’t have dreams of murders! I designed the cover using a detailed section of one of my own paintings. I recently redesigned the cover and I’m updating the interior with minor edits (the plot will not change). The new version will be coming out in September. It will have an updated feel with more interest than just a blood-red painting on the cover.

FO: You have a new book coming out in the near future, Still Life in Ice. Have you created your cover design yet and could you give my readers an idea about what’s to come design-wise and a hint at the storyline?

CH: Yes, of course. Still Life in Ice is the next installment of the Delaware State Police Homicide Unit Mystery series. It will have a similar appearance to the newly updated cover for Still Life In Blood but will have more blue tones. It’s actually another detail of the same painting I used for the first book. But while Still Life in Blood took place during one of the hottest months of the year, Still Life in Ice will take place during a few of our coldest months, as the name hints. The book starts in late October when women begin to go missing. No one can find them. They’re just . . . gone. Johnny Stillwater, Jack’s partner from Still Life in Blood, is assisting the Major Crimes Unit in the missing women cases, as Homicide doesn’t investigate missing persons. But when the first body is found, encased in ice, in the Sussex County woods, Johnny and the rest of the Unit are called in to take over. There are a few new characters in Still Life in Ice and that was fun to create their backstories!

I want to thank Crystal for her kindness and time in answering my questions. In case you were wondering, I think Crystal Heidel is the best cover designer around and most especially, the best cover designer for me. Thanks for reading my blog. Until next time, Frances Oakes🐞

Crystal Heidel's Cover Designs (Just a few 😊)

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