Cover Art Development for the Indie Author

by: Heather Day Gilbert

Heather Day
enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Seventeen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective,
as well as ten years spent homeschooling. Heather is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and she’s committed to bringing relevant and helpful information to indie authors.
You can
find Heather at her website, Heather
Day Gilbert–Author
, and at her Facebook
Author Page
, as well as Twitter,
Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads.
Her Viking novel, God’s Daughter, is an Amazon bestseller. You can find it on Amazon and
Her upcoming mystery, Miranda Warning, releases June 20,

Highlights of my Cover Art Process for MIRANDA WARNING

by: Heather Day Gilbert

Today, I want to take you “behind the scenes” tour of how cover art develops for the indie author. I’m using visuals from my upcoming
mystery, Miranda Warning, releasing in just a few days (June 20th). 
Before I start, I’d just like to say that if you don’t love the final cover as much as the other ones, please don’t tell me. I know most of you wouldn’t THINK of doing that. But when authors open up and share about how they choose their cover art (a very subjective thing), they have put hours into it and really don’t want to hear “Oh, I liked that ________ picture/font/whatever MUCH better than the one you finally went with!”
Most indies can’t afford to hire models and rent costumes that
fit their book specifications. Therefore, we have to spend hours trolling through stock photo sites such as istock or shutterstock for
just the right look. We might not know WHAT look we’re going for until we see
In my case, I started with several pictures that embodied
different elements of my storyline. I pinned these pics to a secret Pinterest
board for my brother-slash-cover designer, Jon
(who, as an aside, is also one of the most patient guys in the world, and the designer of my God’s Daughter cover art, as well). Here are a few
initial pics I pinned and thoughts on why we didn’t use them. I’ll link to each of their sites if you click them:

My initial direction with the cover was to go for a retro, Nancy Drew feel. However, there was only one stock image of this chick and I knew this was going to be a series. Also, it’s hard NOT to make this girl look bodiless…

Since the title character, Miranda, is in a wheelchair in an assisted living home, I thought this pic could be made to look ominous. However, we veered away from objects on the covers of this series, since I’m personally drawn to people’s faces on the covers. I figured my reader demographic would think much as I do.

Also toyed with adding these poisonous plants to the bottom of the cover. However…some things just give too much of the book away. That’s all I’ll say on that…

SO…I loved this pic, YEA–ADORED it. However…my bro and I both agreed it was waaaaay too reminiscent of the TWILIGHT cover pic:

So…we continued looking. And then I found this:
And I knew we were heading the right direction. PART of a woman’s face would make it possible for us to change models on future covers. However, we couldn’t seem to get this part of the face to work with the rest. At this point, we’d kind of decided to incorporate a face at the top, title in the middle, and mountains at the bottom (since this entire series is set in the mountains and it’s a key element in all of them–thus, A Murder in the Mountains series title). The setup was a bit like this:
Somewhere around this time, I got cold feet. This is the juncture your cover artist probably wants to pull his/her hair out and you yourself feel like a small raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The thing is, most MYSTERY covers in the ABA world have an object or words…people on the cover–not so much. So I thought maybe we should retrench and go for a more recognizable mystery “look.” Something more like this:
Those were some tough days for the author and her intrepid cover designer brother. And THEN! One night, while trolling endlessly through pictures of women and flowers, I found THIS!
Just like that, we both agreed we had a winner. Jon knows what will show up in a thumbnail on Amazon, and this girl would show up. However, my main character, Tess, has blue eyes, and a red rose is a sign of love. I wanted a symbol of death. So we changed Tess’ eyes to blue and the rose to white, as you’ll see in the finished cover.
NOW we moved on to the problem of font. After finding a mountain image to use at the bottom, we needed to find the perfect font to capture the mood of the book. Here are a few early tries:
Here, we had too much going on: foxglove around the words, curliques, and the font just didn’t strike me right.

We both really liked this “Motor Oil” retro font, but with Tess’ bob, it might indicate the book was set in the twenties, which it’s not. So we continued moving along (note how the mountains are changing!).
I finally found this Optimus Princeps font (which I affectionately refer to as “Optimus Prime” font). THIS, we agreed, was THE BOMB. As you can see we tried some funky color combos on the words, trying to land on something that would show up in thumbnail images of the book.

Possibly three months after we started all our cover art machinations, my brother and I decided on the final cover art. I couldn’t be happier with it and when I saw it in softcover, I was blown away. 
(For a higher-resolution pic of this cover, please check it out on my website here:

Me with my first proof of Miranda Warning! We decided to go with this matte cover versus the glossy. We’ve since lightened the background behind Tess’ head.
And that, my friends, is just a bit of our brainstorming/cover art process. This doesn’t really begin to cover what went into it. I know each indie author has a different process, be it going with a pre-made cover, making your own cover, or hiring someone to do it for you.
(Jon, I promise I am going to pay you back someday for all this…I OWE YOU!)

Miranda Warning (A Murder in the Mountains, Book #1):

Child of the Appalachian mountains, Tess Spencer has experienced more than her share of heartache. The Glock-wielding, knife-carrying housewife knows how to survive whatever life throws at her. 
But when an anonymous warning note shows up in her best friend Miranda’s mailbox—a note written in a dead woman’s handwriting—Tess quickly discovers that ghosts are alive and well in Buckneck, West Virginia. Hot on a cold trail, she must use limited clues and her keen insight into human nature to unmask the killer…or the next victim might be Tess herself.
Tinged with the supernatural and overshadowed by the mountains’ lush, protective presence, this twisting psychological mystery is the first in A Murder in the Mountains series. You can find it here on Goodreads. 

You can also read a four-chapter sample of Miranda Warning here on Scribd. Enjoy!

****Share your cover art thoughts here! Have you ever contributed to a cover art process? What are aspects you think you’d enjoy/dislike? And I’d love it if you put Miranda Warning on your To-Read list if it looks like something you’d enjoy!****