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Building a Book Cover: The Wizard’s Nemesis by Dave Smeds

Until now, whenever I have blogged about creating a book cover, the subject has been work  I did for one or another of my author colleagues. The experience can be quite different when I do a cover for one of my own books. When I’m my own client, as it were, I’m willing to put in a degree of labor I would refuse to engage in for anyone else, even if they paid me triple.

Case in point, the cover of The Wizard’s Nemesis, the third book of my The War of the Dragons trilogy.

This was a book I worked on over a period of nearly thirty-five years (and that does not include additional years spent creating the first two volumes of the series). So it is fair to say I had a lot of time of time to envision what sort of cover I might want. In the most fanciful of my imaginings, the artwork consisted of a glorious painting, faithful to the text, rendered by one of the top artists in the field. But given (ahem) real-life budget considerations, I knew it would fall to me to do the cover myself. I set my expectations accordingly. I’m not the sort of artist who can craft a professional-level painting from scratch. It is true I have skills. In fact, in my younger days I literally made my living as an illustrator. But I have limits. To come up with a worthy book cover, I require source images that I can manipulate.

As it happens, I began the actual process of creating the cover of The Wizard’s Nemesis spontaneously. I was working on a cover for another Book View Café author that caused me to search through various photos of waves and ocean depths. Eventually I found views that spoke to me and led to multiple concept mock-ups I ran past my colleague. But along the way I also happened to see this:

The first portion of The Wizard’s Nemesis consists of an extended flashback about a voyage in search of a pair of dragons. (The segment is a revised version of my very first published story, the novelette “Dragon Touched” from 1980’s Dragons of Light.) Having a cover that featured a sailing ship would, I knew, be entirely appropriate to the novel. And I liked this view of this particular ship to a degree that I simply was not willing to not see it on the cover of my book.

The problem was, the setting is a fantasy world lacking in such things as cannons, and the original photo possessed loads of cannon ports, along with other accouterments and features that could only be manufactured by means of modern industrial processes.

Look at the finished cover at the top of this blog entry. No cannon ports, etc. How did I eliminate them? By spending hour after hour after hour painting over, and in some cases copying-and-pasting over, all the parts I didn’t want. I would never have performed that much hard work for someone else. Many times I asked whether I should do that much even for myself. The only logical explanation is insanity.

But I did it.

And yet a pic of a ship at sea, no matter how pretty, wasn’t enough. I needed a dramatic ingredient. Preferably, a dragon. Finding a source image, though, was harder than it needed to be. While I found many, many dragon images, they weren’t what I was looking for. But this one had potential:

The flaw was the same one as with the ship. The original contained aspects I absolutely didn’t want. Chief among them was the bimbo in the chainmail bikini, but far more challenging was the lighting. The dragon’s face is vivid, but parts of the body were dulled out by the glow of sunlight through the clouds.

The solution was the same ordeal. I had to do a lot of work. At the end of that, I had a bimbo-free dragon figure, and the features of said dragon were no longer muted by brightness.

Having those two major components covered much of the frame of the cover, and with the decision to make the background a brooding, grey sky, I was most of the way there. Still, the ocean needed to be more evocative. A better green. A more interesting array of pitched waves and strands of seaweed. I found the basis for that in this image, which was one of the others I’d found during the search for what was needed for my colleague’s cover, except with her book, I had been looking for a submarine, and for mine, it was the ocean part I needed.

I was by no means done. I had to find better sources of splashing water, a ship’s helm, and the human figures you may or may not have noticed there urgently abandoning ship. With every one of those tiny but to my mind essential embellishments, I was forced to spend hours getting the bits to be what I need them to be. But by then, I was not to be stopped, unless it was by the guys from the asylum dropping by with a straitjacket in my size. I won’t take the time to show you the original versions of those small pieces. That would be work, and for once, I going to take it easy on myself.

(The photo of the ship is copyright Lurii. The photo illustration of the dragon and bimbo is copyright Vitaliy Sokol. The photo illustration of the breaching submarine is copyright Oliver Denker. Used by agreement with Depositphotos. Further use requires the permission of the rights holders.)





1 thought on “Building a Book Cover: The Wizard’s Nemesis by Dave Smeds”

  1. How exciting to read the conclusion at last! (Review coming soon.) I love the way this cover came together, and I’m glad the men in the white coats didn’t come for you.

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