Hi and welcome to the Library of Erana, please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Gary Val Tenuta. The middle name, Val, is short for Valentine. I was named after my Uncle who shortened his name from Valentine to Val when he entered high school to avoid being teased by his classmates. Probably a good move. The last name, Tenuta, is Italian. Translated into English, it has a general meaning of “land or property ownership”. You’ll often see it on Italian wine labels, referring to the vineyard where the grapes were grown. For example, Tenuta Valdipiatta, or Tenuta Di Castiglioni. My grandfather came to the U.S. from the little Province of Cosenza in the South of Italy. Me? I’m located a considerable distance from Italy in a cozy condo near Seattle where I’m held as a captive slave to a big long-haired black cat named Bear.
1) You are a cover designer, what made you decide to get into this line of work? When I finished writing my first novel (The Ezekiel Code) back in 2007 I decided to put my 30+ years of experience as a graphic artist to work and design my own cover. I enjoyed the process so much I thought, hey, I should be doing this for other authors. Thanks to the internet, I was able to put that idea into practice and I’ve been at it ever since.
2) Can you tell us about some of the covers you’ve designed and authors you’ve worked with? (name of books, authors you’ve worked with etc.) Oh, man. There have been so many, it’s hard to narrow it down. One that comes to mind is Hank Quence, the author of several works of humorous fantasy with such titles as “Tales From Gundarland”, “Zaftan Entrepreneurs”, “Zaftan Miscreants”, Moxie’s Problem” and a few others, all for which I’ve had the pleasure of creating the covers. I’m grinning as I think about this because of how the process always starts out with Hank. He’ll send me a little sketch of what he has in mind. The “sketch” (and I use the term loosely!) typically contains something resembling a stick figure and some random squiggles. Fortunately, he also tells me what those squiggles are supposed to be. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a clue. LOL I know if he happens to read this interview he’ll just chuckle and nod his head in agreement. The cool thing is that when I send him my interpretation of his squiggles as finished art, he almost always replies with comments like “You nailed it… again!”
I seem to get that response quite often from authors who come to me for their covers. Here’s a sampling:
- “Thanks for a BRILLIANT job! I love your choice of printing machine illustration, the money in the jeans device, the typography, the overall colour scheme, and the total design concept. In a nutshell, it’s utterly superb. You really are a graphics genius!” – Joey Moncrief (Author of The Money Press)
- “This is just outstanding. The whole layout is beautiful. My wife is just gushing over it. If I never sell a copy of the book, I’ll buy the book myself so I can have the cover art to enjoy.” – David Echeandia (Author of The Avatar of Calderia) •
- “Excellent Gary, you’ve rocked my world again. I love it. You are a genius!!” – Jason Blacker (Author of The Lady Marmalade Mystery Series, Dust On His Soul, Money Ain’t Nothin’, Black Dog Bleeding, First Feature, Head Rush, Livid Blue •
- “Hi Gary, thanks for the design. Really pleased with both. You have done a brilliant job.” – Dave Williams (Author of Tubes) •
- “Invasion From Fred is up on the Amazon site. Everybody’s raving about the cover. So now I’m turning my attention back to Dog & Pony. I am putting this whole thing in your expert hands.” – Richard Herr (author of Invasion From Fred)
- “OMG, you are just so much AWESOMENESS!!! Thanks for all of these and especially for the 3D image with the jaguar, I love it!!!!!!!! I’m going to be happily and very proudly sharing it all over the interwebs this week!” – Rai Aren (Award-winning author of Secret Of The Sands, Destiny Of The Sands, Lost City Of Gold) •
- “Great job! Thanks for making the suggested modifications.” – Richard Wesson (Author of Miss October Was A Friend Of Mine) •
- “Gary, you’ve done it! The cover is now just as I wanted it to be. Excellent! I wanted the cover to be as good as the one you did for Pilgrim’s Banner, and you succeeded.” – Tony Walker (Author of Pilgrim’s Banner and Pilgrim’s Trator) •
- “Wow. You hit it out of the ballpark on the first swing… again!” – Hank Quense (Author of Tales From Gundarland, Falstaff’s Big Advenure, Zaftan Entreprenuers, Zaftan Miscreants, Fool’s Gold, Tunnel Vision, Wotan’s Dilemma, Marketing Plans For Self-Published Authors) •
- “Thanks Gary. Its awesome!” – M. R. Mathias (Author of Crimzon & Clover, The Wardstone Trilogy, The Dragoneers Saga, and many other titles) •
- “You’re the best and made the book jump off the shelf!!” – Scott Adlai Stevenson (Author of Scoundrels In Paradise) •
- “The cover looks great and my cousin (the author) loved it!” – Anthony Policastro, Publisher and CEO, Outer Banks Publishing Group •
- “I love your covers, especially mine, Night Corridor. also Skye Dancer, Cold Case, Money Ain’t Nothin’… But all your covers suit the particular book or story perfectly. You do excellent work, Gary.” – Joan Hall Hovey (Award-winning author of Night Corridor, Chill Waters, Nowhere To Hide, Listen To The Shadows, The Abduction Of Mary Rose •
- “Holy moly – that is absolutely SPECTACULAR!!!! You always Blow. My. Mind. I love, love, love it!!!!!!!!!! (to infinity & beyond!!!!!) The layout, the dramatic effect, the overall stunning impression for an ancient Egyptian mystery is just perfection!!” – Rai Aren (Award-winning author of Secret Of The Sands, Destiny Of The Sands, Lost City Of Gold) •
3) Can you tell us what is involved? (I have no clue so you can be as elaborate as you like!), Software used – where you source your images, how long a cover takes etc. The process always seems to be a little different with each project. But, in a nutshell, it usually goes something like this:
The author sends me a brief synopsis of the story and tells me what (if anything) he/she has in mind for the cover and whether or not they’re totally married to that idea. If they don’t have any specific idea in mind, I’ll usually work up a couple of mockups for them to consider. More often than not, one of the two mockups is accepted, although sometimes the author will request some minor changes. At that point I go to work on what will emerge as the final art.
I work almost exclusively in Photoshop. Sometimes, if an original illustration is needed, I’ll do the line art by hand. Then I’ll scan it and import it into Photoshop for coloring, shading, and any other special effects. The one thing I don’t attempt to illustrate is human characters. It’s not that I’m bad at it. In fact I’m pretty good at it. But I have this thing about character illustrations on book covers. My feeling is that “pretty good” isn’t good enough. I just cringe when I see “pretty good” character illustrations on book covers. Maybe it’s just me, but when it comes to character illustrations on a book cover, if it isn’t an extremely well rendered work of “photo realism”, it just strikes me as looking as if someone did their best but didn’t quite get there. It’s all about perception. It’s the old “don’t judge a book by the cover” but most of us do, anyway. People tend to perceive the overall quality of the cover as an indication of the overall quality of the writing. The cover is usually a potential reader’s initial introduction to the book. The judgement starts there. It’s that all-important “First Impression”. First impressions can have a significant impact on the potential reader’s decision to pick the book up (or click on the link) or pass it by and go on to whatever is next. Lately, if an author insists on having story characters illustrated, I’ve been referring them to Howard David Johnson (http://www.howarddavidjohnson.com/book-covers.htm). He’s very good and his pricing starts at $500.
I usually source my images from Dreamstime.com or iStock.com. Of course stock images are rarely (if ever) adequate for any given cover project without being changed in some way or another. Often the backgrounds need to be eliminated and replace with something more appropriate to the story in the book. The skill is in how well the image manipulation is rendered. It can’t appear as if the image was simply a cut-and-paste job. The end result is that the entire composition is fresh and original. Accomplishing that feat can be a heck of a challenge sometimes because I’m such a perfectionist in that regard. I’ll often spend hours on little details that probably no one will ever notice. But it’s worth the time and effort I’ve put into it because not only do I want the author to be pleased but I also want it to be something I’d be pleased with if it was the cover of my own book.
The length of clock-time it takes to complete a cover from the initial mockup to the final art varies. It might be as little as four to six hours or as much as 8 to 12 hours. I think the average is around 10 hours. That might be stretched across several days. If everything is going smoothly (which usually means few to no major changes requested by the author) then it’s likely that the final art will be delivered to the author well within five to seven days.
4) Where does your inspiration come from? Do you read the book first, then come up with a design, or can you produce something from an author’s description? That’s an interesting question. I don’t have time to read the books. It isn’t necessary anyway. I always ask the author for a detailed synopsis. That’s plenty for me to get the gist of the story and to give me what I tend to think of as the overall “feel” and “flavor” at the heart of the story. A variety of adjectives will come to mind when reading the synopsis, such as dark, light, angry, grungy, humorous, mysterious, action–packed, horrific, other–worldly, cozy, creepy, sexy, and so on. Also, to a large degree, the particular genre of the book will have some influence on the overall look and feel of the cover art.
5) What are your thoughts on ‘generic’ covers – such as a sword or throne and skulls for fantasy, or interchangeable torsos for romance? That’s an interesting question, also. In some respects it’s important to stick with what readers have become accustomed to seeing in terms of cover art for books of a specific genre. The swords, thrones and skulls motif have been used in fantasy cover art for so long that it’s become what readers expect to see. It’s a matter of identification with the familiar. When a fantasy fan sees the swords, thrones and skulls on a book cover, they know immediately what kind of book it is. I recently designed such a cover for David Echeandia’s novel, “The Avatar of Calderia” http://amzn.com/B00H2UYXCC. In that respect, those images are the bait that may well compel a potential buyer (especially a fan of the genre) to pick the book up and give it a closer look. The same can be said about the “interchangeable torsos” for romance novels. After a while, those romance covers all begin to look alike. But fans of romance novels seem to like those covers. That style of cover design has proven itself to be successful at capturing the attention of romance fans. So I guess it’s an example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
6) When you buy a book do you look at the cover first? What else attracts you? What turns you off? Being a cover designer, I’m always checking out book covers even when I’m not particularly interested in buying a book. But, yes, I have to say it’s the cover of a book that first attracts my attention. Then the title. But, honestly, I’d have to say the time between noticing the cover and looking at the title can’t be much more than a split second. It’s almost a simultaneous experience, especially if the title is well integrated into the overall cover design.
What turns me off? As I mentioned earlier, I cringe at covers with character illustrations that aren’t freakin’ great pieces of art. But, like I said, maybe that’s just me.
7) What advice would you give to anyone starting out in this line of work or who might want to design a cover? Don’t do it! I don’t need the competition! But if you insist on getting into the business, I’d suggest going to a bookstore and studying the covers on all the various genres of books. Pay attention to details such as font styles and sizes for both the title and the author’s name. Notice how the titles are integrated into the overall design. Learn the terms associated with cover design. Do you know what “bleed” means? Do you know the difference between RGB and CMYK? Realize that cover art specifications are not always exactly the same from one publisher/printer to the next. Make sure you know the final trim size of the book before you start composing the cover art. There’s really a lot to learn. A Google search for tips on book cover design will bring up lots of valuable information.
8) What are your thoughts on sites like Fiverr where people can buy covers cheaply? Do you think they encourage substandard or very generic images?Honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to them. I’m too busy designing book covers.
9) Do you have a genre you prefer? I tend to like anything in the realm of dark and mysterious. I’m a fan of paranormal, occult, supernatural. But I also like a good crime thriller.
10) Please tell us about your favourite image and the favourite cover you have worked on? Seems like whatever my most recent cover is, that’s my favourite until the next one comes along. Really, I can’t pick just one. I put so much time and creative effort into each one, and each one has it’s own unique qualities. They’re all my favourites.
11) Can you give us a silly fact about yourself? How about this. I was so determined to avoid turning my art talent into a “job” and thereby risk taking the enjoyment out of it that I spent six years in college, earned a degree in social-psychology with the goal of teaching that subject on the college level and, due to a series of unforeseen turns and twists, I ended up as a professional graphic artist anyway. And guess what? I’m enjoying the heck out of it!
Blog/website links etc.
My book cover site: http://www.BookCoversAndVideos.webs.com
My writing site: http://www.GaryValTenuta.blogspot.com