Home > Books, Writing > My First Book (Covers)

My First Book (Covers)

A friend of mine told me that this post had to be epic. No reason was given. I am accustomed to following arbitrary directives from my friends, however, so I began speculating how I might bring such epicness to bear. The speculation ended rather quickly with the realization that all of the hard work had already been done for me by the mighty Chris McGrath:

Epic post achieved.

I confess to complete and utter ignorance in the realm of cover art. Never having been particularly proficient at visual art, I didn’t study it much (only taking one class in high school). The massive, dynamic world of cover artists went subconsciously heeded at best except for the occasional gripe at an inconsistency. When I finished my first draft of The Dead of Winter, I slapped a picture of a moon over a snowy forest on the front page when I sent it out to friends for beta reading. I spent literally minutes combing through Google images for a perfect decent picture of wintry doom to accompany my manuscript. Little did I know that the perfect cover could only be had by signing on with a wrathful publisher and letting them bring in a AAA-caliber artist to breathe spirit and soul into the characters.

I say “spirit and soul” rather than “life” because Chris McGrath did more than fashion physical forms for characters that (in my mind) were visually nebulous. When the Robot Overlords asked for physical descriptions, I was able to trot them out in short order, but I didn’t envision them in my head. I never had, really. When I write, my characters are words and thoughts and actions and reactions. They interact, they murder, they weep, and they laugh. They do all this in my virtual headspace, mostly divorced from the physical forms they take therein. They are spirits, flitting briefly into the physical plane before returning to the great ether.

Which I keep in a can under the table.

In creating these covers, Chris McGrath captured those ethereal essences in a way I could never have imagined. When I first saw the proofs, my sense of wonder and excitement was augmented by something else, something almost eerie. For the first time since I brought them into the world, I was actually seeing Cora and Benjamin Oglesby. The ferocious determination sparking in Cora’s eyes, the way Ben cradles the book in his arm, the overpowering threat of coldness and death surrounding them…it was all perfect. I don’t know if Chris read the manuscript prior to completing the work or not (he says it varies from job to job). If he didn’t, I recommend the skeptics of the world start testing him for psychic powers. I can’t fathom how he so precisely captured my characters based solely on third-party description.

Then again, he’s just that good. Both proofs arrived in March, at which point only a handful of people–a subset excluding the Robot Overlords themselves–had read She Returns From War. In January, Marc asked for scenes from the book that might make for a good cover. I sent him a few possibilities (at least one of which I hadn’t written yet), frustrated by my own inability to adequately describe them. Chris somehow transformed those lackluster outlines into a singularly haunting image that captures the essence of the story in a way I myself hadn’t yet realized. If having my characters stare back at me from The Dead of Winter’s cover was eerie, seeing the art for a book I had only just finished drafting was downright unsettling.

Granted, some people probably wouldn’t find it all that strange.

So here’s to you, Chris McGrath. Thank you for capturing the essence of Cora Oglesby with such grace, precision, and beauty. You probably hear such sentiments a lot in your line of work; I hope the repetition fully reinforces the belief that you do damn fine work. If ever our paths should cross, dinner’s on me.

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Categories: Books, Writing
  1. Anne Lyle
    June 20, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Awesome covers, Lee! So good to see more tough sexy women with their clothes on! Angry Robot seem to be really into this look at the moment – one of the draft images for my second book was the exact same pose as “She Returns from War”, but the lettering obscured the pistol so we went with the arm raised version.

    Will have to look out for these – I have a soft spot for Westerns, being a child of the Bonanza/Virginian/Alias Smith & Jones era, though I don’t think I’ve ever read a Western novel…

    • June 20, 2012 at 9:19 PM

      I remember specifically requesting that Cora not be portrayed as a femme fatale when I sent my character descriptions in to Lee and Marc. A needless worry in hindsight, but I didn’t want to risk a misunderstanding. And yes, here’s to appropriately-dressed heroines!

  2. Ben
    June 20, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Those are some incredible covers!
    I know that I would feel better if my novels had some interior art to help with the storytelling (as I’ve got some specific images in my head that are hard to describe with words), but maybe sometime down the road I might get my wish.
    Heck, if my novels had covers like yours do, they’d be selling like hotcakes!
    Here’s to your success!

    • June 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM

      Thanks! You might look into commissioning covers for your books independently. A lot of great cover artists are freelancers, and–old axioms notwithstanding–a great-looking cover can go a long way toward pulling in potential readers

  3. June 20, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Great covers, Lee. You must be super chuffed. I’m really looking forward to picking these books up.

    • June 20, 2012 at 10:31 PM

      Aye, so I am. We can revel in combined chuffery over our amazing covers. And no, I have no idea if I’m using the slang correctly; I just love the word “chuffed.”

      • June 20, 2012 at 10:33 PM

        ‘Chuffed’ is good, but I’m going to shelf in in favour of “revelling in chuffery” from now on 🙂

  1. June 21, 2012 at 4:01 AM

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