Greetings! I’m Alexis Alvarez, and today I want to talk about the art and psychology of romance book cover design. In my first Under The Covers article, I discussed the major tenets of book cover design: Know your audience, grab attention, sell the genre, use an eye-catching image and a catchy title, and look professional. Today I’m going to take you on a journey to look inside the mind of a successful book publisher and cover designer, Korey Mae Johnson, who achieves all of these fundamental necessities in her cover designs.
Korey and her husband James own Stormy Night Publications, a company that provides the world with many delicious spanking, BDSM and erotic romances from top-rated current authors. In addition to managing the company and writing her own best-sellers, Korey is a graphic artist and creates most of the covers seen on Stormy Night books. She opened up to me about her design process and what it takes to create a blockbuster cover that will grab a reader’s attention in the critical first 3 seconds on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Here are some questions from my interview with Korey.
Alexis: What are the key things you need to know about a book to create a cover for it?
Korey: I always need to know the important details about the main characters that the author specifically points out in the book (hair colors, if the girl has violet eyes, if the guy has a huge facial scar, etc.). I need to know the tone of the book (highly sexual, light-hearted, suspenseful, etc.). The time period and the sub-genre (BDSM, western, medical play, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.) are also important. I really try to make sure the author is excited about their cover, and if they’re not, then I go back to the drawing board ’till they are!
Alexis: I decided to deconstruct one of Korey’s book covers to illustrate how well she designs. In the first graphic, I show one of Korey’s latest book covers and describe my first reactions upon seeing it; in the second graphic, I discuss whether my first impressions were correct after reading the blurb and the book. Yes, I had to purchase and read several exciting erotica and BDSM novels in order to complete this article! It’s hard work, but somebody has to do it. You know I’ll always take one for the team. 🙂 As you can see, my preconceived notions were correct – Korey definitely got into my head with her cover and let me know exactly what to expect from the book.
Alexis: How long does it take to make a typical cover?
Korey: It’s taken me as little as fifteen minutes (although that is very rare) and as long as twenty hours (that is also very rare). It really depends on if I know what I want to put on the cover right away and if I already have all of the stock images I need for it right at my fingertips. Searching for the right stock can take quite a few hours. If an initial concept doesn’t work or doesn’t quite fit the author’s vision, then it can take a while before I’m able to put my finger on what they have in mind.
Alexis: Would you recommend that indie authors hire a pro to do their covers?
Korey: I would definitely recommend that indie authors always hire a professional cover artist. There are quite a few tricks to getting the most out of Photoshop, but even aside from that, a cover artist is more than just a Photoshop expert. A good cover artist should know what sort of stock images will work best for a given sort of cover as well as what sort of cover will do the most to help with sales of a book in a given genre. That sort of knowledge will usually pay off in sales in the long run.
Alexis: What are some common mistakes that you see a lot in book covers?
Korey: I think it is important to keep in mind that a cover doesn’t need to portray an exact scene from an author’s book and it doesn’t need to show every single aspect of the book. When a cover tries to show too much, it often ends up looking worse. A cover should be an advertisement for the book, not a summary of the book.
Alexis: I like how Korey gets just the right amount of information into the cover without overdoing it. It’s uncanny how well she does it! Here’s another deconstruction example. I wrote my initial assessment before I read the two books. Once again, Korey Mae captured the essence of each book in the cover.
Alexis: How much editing goes into a typical cover?
Korey: Once you’ve been working with Photoshop for a few hundred hours, everything to do with the editing process flies by. Once I have an idea about what I want the final cover to look like, I can go mostly on autopilot as I make the mechanics happen. The hardest part is always image extraction (i.e. cutting an image apart or taking a model out of an image and superimposing them on a different background). It’s not hard, it just takes time and patience, especially if there isn’t a great deal of contrast between the model and the background.
By the time I’m to the editing stage, I already know what I want as the end result. I’ve decided what I’m going to do based on the stock I found to work with, so that’s why the editing is what I’d call the “easy part.” The only time editing becomes a longer process is when I’m given a particular stock image the author has requested. In that case I commonly have to flip, turn, darken, lighten, and really pull out the bag of tricks to make it into an aesthetically pleasing cover. The good news, however, is that the overall time for the project often remains approximately the same, since in that case I don’t have to spend as long looking for stock images.
Alexis: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors when it comes to cover design?
Korey: Shop around! Everyone knows what sort of covers they like—everyone’s walked across a bookshop to pick up a book just because they liked the cover. Save that cover. Save all the covers you do that with. Your general preferences will start to become apparent, and the cover artist should be able to detect what you like to see on covers, whether it’s certain poses, colors, fonts, etc., and should be able to give you what you want quicker and easier.
Alexis: Do you do covers just for Stormy Night books, or do you also freelance for others?
Korey: I co-own Stormy Night Publications with my husband, so I only do spanking or BDSM covers with SNP now. However, if someone wanted me to do something outside the spanking/BDSM genre, I’d be happy to freelance. That being said, most people who are familiar with my covers are writers in the spanking/BDSM genre, so that doesn’t happen often.
What appeals to you as a reader?
Korey: Personally, I’m a creature of curiosity when I have my buyer’s hat on. For example, I picked up Cinder because the cover was quick, clear, and made me think, “Huh? I need to know what’s going on here.” This can also happen with images that seem to pop from a background (i.e. light on dark or dark on light). When it comes to mainstream especially, I have to feel the need to investigate further.
When it comes to erotica and erotic romance, however, I usually buy a book because it was made very clear in the cover what it was (i.e. an age play cover with a girl wearing bows or a capture BDSM story where the cover shows a woman’s nervous or startled expression or a man’s dominant glower). I think every genre has its own audience and therefore has its own strategy for cover art. One type of design doesn’t work for every book.
Alexis: I asked Korey if I could see an example of a cover in progress, but she commented (and this made me laugh out loud): “There are three things you don’t want to witness being made: sausages, laws, and book covers.” The funny thing is that I actually have seen sausages being made (my dad & brother make a pretty darn good Hungarian sausage) and she’s right: It ain’t pretty. Her book covers definitely are pretty, though!
Korey, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions and spend time on my blog. I appreciate it!
Readers, please check out the links below to find all of the books shown in this article, along with all of the other Stormy Night Publications books.
Stay tuned for my next article about cover design, where I interview more authors and graphic designers to get their insight into cover art and psychology.Thanks, and happy reading!
Links for Stormy Night Publications