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Should you judge a book by its cover?

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

A cover might not make us buy a book, but it can certainly put us off!

It may well be that the spine of the book is actually more important, since that is what we are more likely to see on a bookshelf, and that needs to have high impact. But with so many books sold online, the cover is ever more important.

So here's how the cover of the #Fantasy novel #Firstborn came about:

The initial sketch: I drew up a quick sketch of how I envisioned the cover might look. Obviously I used as inspiration a scene from the book, with the central castle of the Karrek on the peak above the town of Lublow. I'm not famed for my art, so I also labelled key areas so that the artist would have some idea of what I was trying to draw:

The artist came back with a sketch very similar to mine - probably the safest bet!

It was clear that this was only a background image though.

We needed something central to go with the book title to help draw the eye. I proposed using the main sword from the book, together with a saxon/viking style circlet, and this produced a couple of iterations:

The crown had become somewhat ornate, but it was clearly close enough to move to the colour version:

This captured the content of the original sketch, but it lacked two things:

Firstly, the genre of the book is fantasy, but the themes it plays on are dark: curses, prophecies, superstition and betrayal. The cover portrayed the fairy tale feel of a Disney cartoon, rather than the grim (or should I say Grimm) origins of traditional storytelling that Firstborn is much closer to.

The cover also lacked drama - it needed movement and contrast. Artistic licence is needed for covers (neither the sword nor the circlet match those described in Firstborn) but the scene being depicted actually takes place at sundown. This felt like an obvious way to improve the cover.

This change definitely brought much more interesting contrast into the cover. The combination of the rain and torches also bring in more drama and movement. Probably the water and the ships could also make the artwork more dynamic, and these were areas to focus on.

However stylistically this still felt like Young Adult rather than Heroic Fantasy and so the style was a more urgent change. With some back and forth, we moved to this:

By now we were very close to the final imagery for the book. With the changes to the weather, especially around the ships, and a more 'painted' style we were now capturing the essence of Firstborn.

With some work on the sword, crown and some scale issues in the background, this rapidly developed. We could now add the title and author:

Let me know in the comments if you find articles on the development of Firstborn interesting, want more on the lore, or to hear about other works.

Get Firstborn here.

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