I recently joined a fun site called 99 Designs, where the customer posts a design job to be done, and then designers can submit options. It's like a contest--dangerous for this competitive girl, LOL, but thus far it's been fun. There are all sorts of categories, but I've been focusing, of course, on book covers.
One of the first contests I entered was for a middle grade fantasy called Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed. In the story, a modern girl of about 11 years old stumbles through a portal into another world--a world where the trees are sentient and glow with an inner life. I at first decided to forgo this one--I had absolutely no history of designing fantasy covers for kids...but it kept niggling. And while I hadn't designed one before, I certainly see plenty of middle grade books these days! So I know what appeals to the readership. And then...then I found this image that was just begging to be used.
First I tried it with a random girl from Shutterstock. I took this girl in the yellow shirt and tweaked her a bit.
It ended up looking okay, and I submitted it, but she wasn't quite right and didn't fit perfectly. Already I had a plan, though. A plan that was confirmed when the author commented on the submission asking for a girl wearing long pants instead of shorts. My plan just had to wait another hour or two...for Xoe to wake up. ;-)
See, ever since my niece posed for a book cover for us back in 2011, Xoe has been asking the same question: "When do I get to be on a book cover you design, Mommy?" But I could only reply with, "When someone has a character who looks like you, sweetie." I just didn't know when that could be, since WhiteFire doesn't do kids' books.
But I knew the time had come. The title character in Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed, this middle grade book, is an 11-year-old girl. Kinda tomboyish, brown hair. Now, Xoe isn't 11, but another of my nieces will be in a week, and she and Xoe, standing side by side and from behind, look enough alike that I knew she could pass.
So after I'd given Xoe time to wake up, I went stealthily into her room, picked out a simple outfit of a fitted T and dark jeans, tossed them into the bathroom, and said, "Hey, sweetie, put those clothes on and then model for me. I need you for a book cover!"
I don't think I've ever seen her get dressed so fast. ;-)
Now, given the position I wanted her in, I put her in our living room, against an outcropping of white wall that she could put her hand on much like a tree trunk. I took a variety in similar positions--and Rowyn took a few too. Honestly, I would have used his if he had managed to get a full-length one--that kid's got some talent with a camera!
I decided to go with this one.
Of course, this was a photograph, and she was going onto an illustrated background, so I had some work to do.
But Photoshop had my back. I applied an Oil Painting filter, and then a surface blur, and suddenly my little girl looked illustrated too. =) Of course, then I still had some color changing. I darkened her hair to look browner.
Now--the title. I'd downloaded a great fantasy font a while ago and was just waiting for the chance to use it. It's called Jupiter Ascending (after the movie, though I had no idea it was a movie at the time, LOL). I used that, added a nice drop-shadow, and then arched it to match the bend of the tree.
As someone with a lot of kids' books in the house, I knew how I wanted to format this title. The Del Ryder part would be larger than the rest, so that in subsequent books we could leave it as-is and just change the part following and the... I also wanted that "and the" to be in a different font that was cursive but still easy to read for those not learning cursive anymore (let's not get me started on that...). I chose the public domain Lobster for that part, and voila. The title.
Leaving room, of course, for the author's name...
I wanted a fun divider between title and name, something I could use on the spine and back too. I'd already downloaded a gazillion styles of flourishes, so I went hunting and came up with one I thought would totally work for this:
The author really liked this, so Xoe and I were quite stoked. =) Of course, this was a full-cover design. On the spine he wanted a tree as a kind of series badge, and I carried over the other elements as well. I loved that the circle of the tree gave me a perfect place to write back-cover copy!
The author, Matt, quite liked this but asked if we could see the shirt in different colors. Which was very easy to do...
He decided on blue...which gave us the final!
But of course, this being a contest, that wasn't the end of the process here. Xoe kept asking me how we were doing, very excited when we were named a finalist. Then over-the-moon when Matt sent a message letting us know he'd made his final choice and was going with this design. =) I only later went to his website and realized he's a pastor as well as an author--pretty funny that the first win I had on a site with all sorts of projects ended up being a Christian author, just like I'm accustomed to working with.
We ordered a paperback the day it became available on Amazon, and Xoe's reading it now--a very happy cover model indeed. ;-)