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Building a Book Cover: Between Silk and Sand by Marissa Doyle

When planning for the 2018 release of her novel Between Silk and Sand, Marissa Doyle knew she wanted certain things on the cover. Moreover, she knew when she wanted to have the cover available. She wanted a long lead time so that she could get the preview edition in the hands of potential reviewers with plenty of margin to spare. She approached me about doing the cover design basically a year ahead of publication. This happens to be what I consider to be the right way to do things. I do it with my own books. It is a scheduling mode that isn’t always in play when I am called upon to work on a cover. I appreciate when it happens. Having a deadline with some cushion in it was the benefit of this particular job.

Between Silk and Sand is an adventure romance novel. The story is placed in a setting not unlike northern Africa. It didn’t require any straining of the brain to imagine that a dunes-and-sky vista would be an ideal backdrop for the cover. And indeed, that became the goal right away, a decision neither Marissa nor I ever had cause to second-guess.

What surprised me is that when looking for suitable images to adapt to our purposes — Depositphotos being the go-to source for all of the ones you see here — no images of the actual Sahara seemed quite right to me. Instead, this was the first one I liked well enough to have Marissa download it.

The thing is, this is not a photograph of the Sahara, but of the Namib Desert of southern coastal Africa. That fact didn’t bother me. The novel’s setting is fictional, so if something “looked right,” that’s all that mattered. What I liked about it was the way the horizon cut across in the mid-latitudes of the frame, with plenty of sky above and plenty of sand below, upon which I could overlay additional elements. I knew that to suit the dimensions of a book cover, namely half again as tall as wide, I’d need more sky above and less sand below. I also knew I’d want to shift away from the light aqua tone of the sky in favor of a blue that had more dramatic impact. No matter. I knew those aspects would be easy enough to adjust.

In the end, I did not use any portion of this image. I only show it to you here to give you access to my process. In my mind’s eye, I had settled upon the center third of the image and from that point on, knew I wanted to build upon the proportions and positioning of dunes and sky. One could make the argument the download cost was money wasted. I’m not in that camp. I only understood I didn’t want the pic after I tried to use it and became unsatisfied with how things were going. I’ve learned to be willing to change course when I see that my chosen path is not taking me toward my goal.

The tipping point was that I saw insufficient drama in the lay of the dunes and in the texture of the sand. Further searching brought me to this:

Much more drama. Interesting cloud formations above the horizon. Compelling detail in the shape of the dunes and particularly in their shadows. Loved the wind grooves in the sand of the foreground. Really there was just one aspect that didn’t appeal to me, and that’s the dark mountain range behind the most distant ridge of dunes. I knew I’d need to get rid of that. It took work, but there was no getting around it if I wanted the other things. And I did want the other things.

Before I could finalize the background, I needed to switch gears and consider focal-point positioning. From the git-go, I knew the cover would have not one but two focal points — one above the title, the other down below in the area between the title and the byline. I especially wanted the lower one to have some kinetic energy; the book is after all an adventure with plenty of action. The answer came quickly. The male protagonist does some fast travel. That lent itself to the motif of a rider and mount, which had the advantage that I didn’t necessarily have to include a lot of detail. Even a silhouette, and even rendered at small size, would work just fine. So I went looking for images that showed a man in silhouette riding through a desert.

You may have noticed already that this is not a rider in a desert. It’s a rider on a beach. I believe my search terms may have been “rider” and “sand” and that’s what turned up among the first few dozen results. No biggie. This one spoke to my muse. I liked it. I went with it. Again there was quite a bit of work involved. The part of this that I ended up using mainly consisted of the rider and horse along with the bright gleaming stretch that runs from one edge to the other. In the original, this is ocean lit by the sunset. In my final rendering, it is brightness on desert sand.

What remained now was the other focal-point element. Marissa had already decided upon this aspect before I ever became involved with the project. She wanted a woman’s face superimposed on the sky. Moreoever, she had already found an image at Depositphotos that she liked.

When she first told me she had a particular image in mind, I was worried. Often I’ll be given a photo with a bunch of background that has to be laboriously erased. But this image was perfect except that I would need to shift the overall hue to a blue that would blend with the sky, and that was not that hard.

Eventually, I had completed this version of the cover, which was used for the ebook:

Compare this to the print-edition version shown at the top of this essay. With the ebook, I could count on the assistance of bright computer screens to ensure that viewers would see and appreciate the deep copper tone and gradient of the title. But it was a different story with the print version. I knew I couldn’t be certain how much contrast gain would occur whenever a print copy was generated by whoever happened to be operating the print-on-demand machine on any given day. So in the spirit of caution, I changed the title to a much lighter tone.

(The California dunes photo is copyright Paul D. Lemke. The Namib Desert photo is copyright Fabio Lamanna. The photo of the horse and rider on the beach is copyright David Morrison. The photograph of the lovely woman is copyright Oleg Gekman. Used by agreement via Depositphotos. Further use requires the permission of the rights holders.)



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