My husband is currently in the living room, DJing for a 30-person birthday party over Zoom. He is a man of many talents. He designs, climbs, dances, plays, produces...and he makes love—well.
But the one skill of his that I've been most grateful for these days is his ability to illustrate. You see, he does my book cover art, and for nothing more than kisses and quesadillas!
That's a big deal. A professionally-designed book cover can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. And while my husband has never designed a book cover before, we sought the opinion of a professional cover artist who works at Scholastic, and she gave the Crushing on You cover her enthusiastic stamp of approval. So...not too shabby, hubby!
But while I'm thrilled at the quality of his output and his incredibly fair price, he's as much a sensitive creative as I am, and there are times when it can be difficult for us to work together. I often bounce ideas off of him about my characters and their motivations, and he gives me his honest feedback, which I thoughtfully consider and take in stride. But when I've given him feedback on the covers, his tense facial expressions and terse responses have made me feel as if he resented me, or the work, or my words. I was grateful for his help, but I also felt like he was being overly sensitive, like I couldn't give him my honest opinion and simply had to accept whatever end-product he gave me.
I began to think that I should have just hired a professional after all, or learned how to make my own covers...because I'd rather spend my own time or money than put my husband through an unpleasant experience.
Just a few mornings ago, my husband told me that he was done with the cover. I studied it quietly, noted a few issues, then respectfully told him my opinion. But when his lips thinned and he stiffly sat down to work on it again, I grew tense. Anxious. Why was he so annoyed? He'd offered to make my cover. The changes were minor. Did he not take any pride in his work? Did he think I'd settle for "good enough?"
I'd stayed up very late the night before, looking into ISBN numbers and self-publishing best practices and all sorts of stressful details, because I'm trying to take my career seriously. And there my husband was, giving me an unpolished cover and saying, "No one will notice" in response to the various issues that I'd found. Dismissing my concerns. Not taking me seriously.
I crawled back into bed, teary-eyed, and told myself to just accept the last version of the cover, regardless of the issues that I saw. He was probably right. It didn't matter. How many people were going to see the book cover anyway? My "career" was likely going nowhere. Why would a few flaws on the book cover matter? Why waste more of his time?
But that was silly and unproductive.
All successful relationships, romantic or otherwise, are based on good communication. And we've lasted eight years together because that's what we do—we communicate well.
After a few minutes of wallowing, I leapt out of bed and told him exactly how I felt. And after we hugged it out, he did the same.
For him, the process is long and tedious. Using Adobe Photoshop and a $50 drawing tablet, he painstakingly sketches each character by hand, then futzes around with vectorizing and rasterizing and all kinds of complex Photoshop witchcraft (all the while dropping f-bombs) until a beautiful cover materializes on the screen. Each brushstroke that he commits to the illustration requires at least ten to twenty attempts before he's satisfied. The entire process from conception to final cover takes around 25 hours of work, which he spends on top of his full-time tech job. (And volunteering to design dashboards to help with the city of Boston's COVID response. Plus, playing the game Cities: Skylines for PS4.)
Her eyes are too small, her skin is too light, her boobs are lopsided...fixing each of these details translated into minutes or hours of irritation and disappointment for him. His frustrations were not with me, but with himself—that I correctly pointed out flaws that he hadn't been able to fix, despite hundreds of attempts to do so. He doesn't know color theory. He doesn't have a perfect grasp of the human anatomy (especially of boobs!). His setup is not optimized for this type of work, and he isn't 100% fluent in Photoshop. In short, he is not a professional cover designer.
All of this manifested in body language and tone that put me on edge and filled me with guilt. But no, he wasn't mad at me, or trivializing my feedback or my career. He was simply annoyed that he couldn't do better.
After we talked it through, he sat down and did the best that he could to address the biggest issues, until we were both satisfied. The final cover is not totally perfect, but I'm proud of it anyway, and I hope he is, too. (He says, "Yeah, sure." 👍🏻)
Despite the title of this post, he is not an easy or breezy cover designer (although, I do think he's beautiful). But working with others to create something worthwhile isn't supposed to be easy or breezy—it's tough. I'm just lucky to have someone who is willing to struggle and learn right alongside me. 💖
Details about the process
One of the best things about self-publishing is that you have full control over your cover. Some authors have specifically chosen to self-publish for this reason. However, it also means that the onus is on you to understand and make a cover that both suits your vision and will help your book to sell well. So how did I work with my husband to do this?
For book one, I gave him the physical descriptions of the two main characters, Ian and Anna. I also told him that at least one of them had to be climbing, but that was it.
He looked at photos of climbers to try to get some sense of body position, examined illustrated romance covers to understand trends, and shopped around for more dynamic fonts. He mocked something up (left), then pulled me in for a brainstorming session wherein we rotated through colors, background features, fonts, etc., until the final cover (right) was born.
The process for book two was a little bit different. We'd learned from book one that having a concept in mind, then quickly mocking it up using cut and pasted images, was a faster approach. (Agile—make a minimum viable product, then iterate quickly!) I sketched out three possible covers by hand, all of them featuring Lina reading a book, Asher playing an instrument, and a van parked in a mountainous setting.
The things he didn't like about my concepts:
Lina was reading and therefore not paying attention to Asher.
The van, which is big and monotone, took up a lot of space.
The background was too busy.
I was adamant about the van, though, so he attempted to find one that would be a little less boring. Eventually, unable to find a good position for Lina and unhappy with the color scheme, he grumbled at me until we ditched the van and instead focused on the mountains in the background. The evolution of the cover is below.
I don't mind the bottom left cover (the one with the gray van). I think that would have been fine! But I do like where we ended up. Here's the initial concept compared to the final result:
Let me know what you think below!
BY THE WAY...Falling for You is available for pre-order now! For a limited time, you can purchase it for only $2.99. After the release date (6/1), the price will go up to $4.99.
(Go go go! 🏃🏻♀️)