Welcome to Melissa Stevens
You are a cover designer, what made you decide to get into this line of work? I’ve always loved drawing, from the time I was small. But roughly five years ago, I had the opportunity to try my hand at a cover for a fellow writer. There was no turning back once I started!
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.) I have worked with Cathrina Constantine, Chris McMullen, Julie Harper, Nazarea Andrews, C. T. Nicholson, and several others. Some covers have not been released yet, so I have to stay quiet, but favorite covers would have to be Tallas, by Constantine, The Horde Without End by Andrews, The Empire Series by AN Latro, and the Self-Publishing Series by Chris McMullen. Really, I love all my covers.
Can you tell us what is involved? (I have no clue so you can be as elaborate as you like!) Well, I begin by sending the author a list of questions surrounding the cover. I like to know as much about the book as possible. I also request a description of the characters, even if they are not on the cover. If the genre is a little murky to me, I ask that as well. I have found reading the blurbs give me enough info for a cover, but I would always rather have too much than too little. The back blurbs also give me a sense of the author’s style, which helps. Then it comes down to if the author has a clear cut idea of what he/she wants. If so, we fine tune the idea (if need be). If the author doesn’t have any ideas, I take a few days to come up with some. Usually, my first gut idea is the one. Not always…
I try very hard to keep the author engaged with the design as much as possible. So throughout the process, I send updates to the author to hear their feedback. It also makes for a more personal cover, which I think is ultimately the important part of the process.
Once the cover is completed to the author’s liking, I send the final JPEG and/or PDF file for uploading!
Software used – where you source your images, how long a cover takes etc? I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for my covers. Usually, I tend to use Depositphotos for my photo-manipulations if they are needed. A cover can take anywhere from 24 hours to 8 weeks, depending on the level of detail needed and how fast communication is.
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? I always ask for as much description as possible. I want the cover to convey a story as well, and one that is intriguing and holds to the book. Rarely do I read the book first, unless I am completely stumped. I just don’t have the time to read them all.
What are your thoughts on ‘generic’ covers – such as a sword or throne and skulls for fantasy, or interchangeable torsos for romance? You have to have generic ideas for covers. A potential reader already has idea in their head when they go searching for a book. The job of a cover artist is to add to that generic-ness and change it enough that the one looking at it still has an idea of the genre, but the image pulls them further into wanting to read the blurb, pick up the book.
For instance, would you find a murdered corpse on the cover of a romance? No. Because you already have an idea of what should be there. My job is to push your idea of what should be on the cover just to the edge of being uncomfortable. Because it will intrigue you into picking up that title.
It’s a lot easier to create a generic cover, and the world is full of them. And, oft times, the author would like the standard naked torso. Which is fine. Use it. But at the same time, make the background or text interesting. Make it stand out.
When you buy a book do you look at the cover first? What else attracts you? What turns you off? I unashamedly always look at the cover first. If it is pixelated, or colored with crayons and markers, I move on. The cover has to be graphically decent in order for me to read the back. If there are grammar mistakes on the cover, I pass. If the blurb is written well, I will keep reading. But the cover is the first thing that draws me in.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out in this line of work or who might want to design a cover? Research. Research EVERYTHING. Youtube has some fantastic tutorials. Go to Deviantart.com and make yourself an account, then look at art. Go to Amazon and scroll through the books. Notice what draws you, and what turns you away. Then start drawing. Start creating. A lot of folks create premades for practice and to build their portfolio. Oh, yes, by the way, make a website. And if you can’t make one to look professional enough, hire someone. Never do anything halfway. Because that is how you will be described, and remembered. And in this line of work, word of mouth is everything.
What are your thoughts on sites like Fiverr where people can buy covers cheaply? Do you think they encourage substandard or very generic images? I’ve glanced through Fiverr only a couple of times. They have some wonderful artists on there that are selling themselves short. If you can draw a cover in five minutes and it come out looking like it took months and professionals would want to purchase it, by all means, go ahead. It takes me longer, and I have to pay for subscriptions and photos, and quite frankly, I think my work exceeds the five dollar range. I’m not being snotty, and it took me years to believe in myself that much. But. Now, I do.
Do you have a genre you prefer? I love horror. I don’t do a lot of it, but you can be much more abstract and shocking in it and get away with it.
Please tell us about your favourite image and the favourite cover you have worked on? I still fall back to the Tallas cover I designed. It just has a striking front, and lots of details that you don’t notice at first. Image, I would have to say the tree house I made for Julie Harper’s Printing Practice Handwriting Workbook for Boys.
Can you give us a silly fact about yourself? When someone asks me to create a cover and I receive their blurb, I get a sense of color for the book. Weird, I know. But 9 out of 10 covers I create have that first color that I ‘saw’.
Also, I have to sleep with the closet door closed, always… hey, I have a very good imagination.
Blog/website links etc.