Sunday, February 10, 2013

Exclusive: Behind The Scenes of a Digitally Illustrated Book Cover


Today I’m going to take you behind the scenes of the digitally illustrated cover for Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts, my new steampunk romance from Lyrical Press. Get ready for an inside peek at the process of creating a digitally illustrated cover and never-before-scene images!

I contracted Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts, a Western steampunk romance, with Lyrical Press in March 2012. Once I learned there’d be lots of lead time prior to the release date, I began thinking about how to offer readers an entertaining and visually stimulating cover that places them right in the middle of the action.

My story has strong action-adventure elements and ideally the cover would reflect that (and serve double duty as a tag for readers). Plus, I was smitten with the cover of Angelia Sparrow’s SKY RAT. I knew the style would be a great fit for Iron Guns.

Therefore, I came up with a plan and pitched the idea to my publisher. Lyrical accepted the proposal and the cover development process began.

The awesomesauce artist who executed the cover is Christine Griffin. It was such a pleasure to work with her and I gained fascinating insights into the process of digitally illustrated covers. The experience of seeing the artist bring the subgenre, setting, and characters come to life was amazing.

The cover for Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts had to answer, and answer well, the following question: “What kind of image would create a visually appealing experience for customers visiting the Lyrical press Web site?"

Much work went into the cover. There were many details to consider, such as color scheme, composition, fonts, and genre choices (i.e., creating a successful blend of romance, steampunk, and Western elements).

Creating a digitally illustrated cover involves a number of stages. The most interesting part for me was seeing the progression of images, from thumbnails onward. Now I’m going to share them with you in an exclusive first look!

Step 1. Picking a composition

After I gave the artist a few ideas about the major elements to include (i.e., a couple, guns, clothing), she created a few thumbnail sketches for me to choose from:

I went with composition #2 because it places readers up close and personal with the characters. The hero and heroine are right in the middle of the action. I also liked how the guns framed the characters.

Step 2. The color rough

The artist had great ideas for the color scheme, which was part of the reason I wanted to work with her in the first place. So once the composition had been decided, she created what’s known as a “color rough.” And boy, rough is exactly the way to describe a digitally illustrated cover at the mid-way point!

Notice the absence of details in both the characters and background. Looks kind of cartoony, doesn’t it? That’s because if an artist included all of the final details and the customer wanted something changed, the artist would have to do all of the work over again. So a color rough is designed to provide just that—a rough idea of how the final cover might look. Saves time, money, and lots of headaches!

Step 3. Color Rough 2 (and a few others)

At this stage, the artist began filling in specific details, such as in the background.

As you can see, this version has more substance, shading, etc. and is beginning to look more like a painting than an animation cell. We decided to go with a different font and also include some gear details around the title to more clearly tag the steampunk aspect.

I was invited to note any needed changes, but they were pretty minor at this point. For example, I asked the artist to change the shading on the heroine’s hair at the temple because it looked silvery, like she was channeling Reed Richards!

Step 4. The final cover

Yay, the most exciting part! Here’s the final cover for Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts:

If you’ll take a close look at the heroine’s dress and gun, you’ll notice more detail than in the previous versions. The smoke coming from her gun has much more definition. There are trees and a mountain range in the background. The image as a whole opened up once the artist reduced the size of my name. Small changes like that can make a big difference.

Creating a digitally illustrated cover is a highly collaborative process. It’s important to be flexible, patient, and think in terms of doing what’s best for the cover. To give you an example, originally the hero had a lighter-colored hat. Since he’s against a blue background, it made better sense for his hat to be dark. So, I changed the hat detail in the story in order to match the cover.

All in all, seeing the cover unfold for Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts was a fascinating process. Thanks for coming behind the scenes with me!

For more information about the work of Christine Griffin, check out her site as well as her gallery of book covers.

Giveaway time!

Leave a comment for this post and you’ll be entered for a chance to win one of the following books:

A print ARC of Theresa Meyers' The Chosen (Legend Chronicles #3)

Winner’s choice: 1 digital book from Cindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles: Steam & Sorcery, Photographs & Phantoms, Kilts & Kraken, OR Moonlight & Mechanicals (PDF, ePub, or .mobi)

And there’s more! Everyone who leaves a comment at any of the stops on The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour will be entered for a chance to win the Grand Prize:

$100 e-gift card (winner’s choice Amazon or B&N)

75$ e-gift certificate to Clockwork Couture

1 digital copy of IRON GUNS, BLAZING HEARTS (winner’s choice PDF, ePub, or .mobi)

Please include your email address. The deadline to enter all of the giveaways will be midnight PST on February 14. On Friday, February 15, check back here to see if you’ve won the ebook prize.

The grand prize winner will be announced on February 15 at The Galaxy Express.

About the author

Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit

Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts
(February 2013; Lyrical Press)

The West just got a whole lot wilder.

A woman on a mission… Scientific achievement isn’t enough for Violet Whitcomb. Life working alongside her renowned scientist father is filled with intellectual challenges, but what she truly craves is love and adventure. She’s resigned to a fate of academic pursuits–until a fateful trip across the American frontier changes everything. A rogue inventor known as the Iron Scorpion kidnaps Violet’s father and she alone is left to plan his rescue.

A man with a secret… Logan McCoy knows firsthand going up against the Iron Scorpion is suicide, but he can’t let Violet waltz into the villain’s lair alone. She may be a stranger, but she’s also the most compelling woman he’s ever known.

A perilous quest… Their attraction is undeniable, but their alliance turns contentious when Violet insists on including a third partner on their mission: her father’s latest invention and the world’s most advanced automaton, Arthur. The reason for Logan’s resistance isn’t clear until Violet comes face-to-face with the Iron Scorpion’s diabolical devices, and by then, it’s far too late.