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Monday, October 22, 2012

Word and Image, Finding a Cover Artist

You can relax now. After several weeks of pissing and moaning and looking at hundreds (okay, dozens) of websites and covers in bookstores and the local library, I've found my cover artist, Todd Hebertson. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I'd just asked the good folks at in the first place. When I emailed them looking for the AWOL Dustin Ashe, they told me others were also looking for him and he'd apparently disappeared. Again. I couldn't wait for him to show up and asked for suggestions. Indira suggested two possibles, one of whom was Todd Hebertson.

So I looked at his website and his work was professional, but the images not quite what I was looking for. More weeks, more banal covers, more pissing and moaning. Finally I decided to check Todd out. There's a lot to be said for professional. He emailed me back within the day. He didn't ask for clips or the ms of the book, just a synopsis and technical specs. Not a good sign, I thought. How can he come up with images that fit the book if he's not read even parts of it?

He didn't. The first proof came in a day or two. I loved the layering, the layout and the font and he'd somewhere found a photo of the Krause Music Store in Ravenswood (where the book opens) taken before the huge tree grew up that blocks photos now. But the cover looked like a romance novel: Seraphy had a page boy, wore a suburban car coat, looked like she was on her way to teach kindergarden, and the cover was in shades of orange. Arghh. Try again, I said.

If I'd been thinking, I'd have realized Todd couldn't read my mind and it was not his fault I didn't manage to tell him what sort of image I had in mind (I was used to Dustin, who reads the clips and presto! a brilliant, perfect image appears. If he ever gets to it). I thought about exactly  what image I wanted. Make the figure smaller, I said, and in silhouette, and get rid of the orange. Blue or green or gray are okay.  I sent a slew of photos of Louis Sullivan's work I'd taken in Ravenswood to give him the idea. And a page of the coded WWII journal that leads Seraphy to the killer (I had fun writing that using a toothpick and instant coffee on watercolor paper).

The second proof was better, but now it was a nasty greeny-yellow I hated and Seraphy was still too big, wearing leggings and her shoulders slumped--not a housewife, but a sad sorority girl. Okay, I said, kill the shrieky green, think Williamsburg blues and greens, make the figure smaller. Look at photos of Adam Lambert and Lisbet Salander (The Swedish version,w/Rapace, not the American one) and make her edgy, not ordinary. Todd was now answering emails in one word. I figured he was about ready to see me off to Devil's Island.

A couple days later I got the third proof. Wow. Perfect colors, Nice dark, mysterious Seraphy silhouette, great architecture in the background, nice overlay of the journal page. I loved it! I was so excited I spent the last two days finishing proofing my manuscript so I can send it off to for formatting tomorrow, along w/ the new cover.

All this has me thinking about word and image. If the artist hasn't read the book (and that would take far more time than usually feasible), how do we tell another person, who has totally different life experiences and visual referents, what we want our cover (illustration, whatever) to look like? What words will mean the same thing to him as they do to us? Todd is of a different generation from me and lives in Utah, while I am in central Illinois, so different cultures. Somehow we did it and he created a cover that expresses the love of architecture and mystery I wanted, and better, the multilayered story. Good on you, Todd Hebertson!


  1. Hi Eileen,

    Beautiful cover! I love the greens and blues. I know what you mean about communication. My cover artist Matt Hinrichs (an award winner I highly recommend, by the way)and I went through several drafts as well.

    Moonlight Dancer features a Korean ghost, but Matt first dressed the figure in Chinese dancing garb. I sent him some photos of Korean gowns, but then he put Japanese shoes on her. That one really made me laugh. The Japanese and Koreans share a troubled history, and Koreans especially ridicule the Japanese two-toed sock in shoe. They call them pig feet, an insult directed at the Japanese themselves.

    I guess I would say that multiple drafts are probably standard. Matt did ask for a synopsis, a small excerpt, and my ideas. Luckily, we're writers, so communication is out game.

    1. Deb, I have both Korean and Japanese friends and your comment cracked me up. A troubled history? Understatement!
      This is a great day for me, just sent the ms off to for formatting, along with the cover. This is when it really begins to feel real to me. Up to now, it's just a story I told myself. Now it's out there, like a kid leaving home. Cool. Will take two weeks off, then start the next one via NaNo. Love NaNo, keeps me motivated through that first awful draft.

  2. Hi, Eileen:

    Believe it or not, I stumbled across your blog post on my Flipbook app. Thanks for the shout-out, and I'm delighted that Indy was able to help you find Todd. He's a good artist and gives great value; we're really pleased that we took a shot when we first saw him wandering around on the KDP forums. ;-) I see that "Along the Ravenswood" came in today, and we're thrilled, as always, to have you as one of our valued clients.