DEADLY BINDINGS: Kales and Barratt


The Art Of The Mystery Cover

Book covers are something that, in my opinion, taken for granted and really used and abused. Why on earth would I say such a thing? Don’t we love our covers? We as readers rely heavily on them, yes. Browsing shelves full of books can be overwhelming when looking for the next great thing to read. If the book’s cover isn’t great I don’t even give the book a second glance unless I know that the author if really good. Then what? We read the book and the cover isn’t given a second thought.

Do you ever look inside the cover to see who designed it? You my fine feathered friend are going to learn about these unsung and in your face but often not spoken of heroes of the book world; the cover artists.

In my new series, Deadly Bindings, I will be introducing you to these amazing artists and gabbing with the authors you know and love about working with the individuals who put a face to their books.

Jenny Kales-Author-A Callie’s Kitchen MysterySecrets & Pies-Web

Booth Talks Books: How was Renee hired to be your cover artist?

Jenny Kales: I did a lot of research.  As an indie author, I had control over who my artist would be, but I also had to make sure the person was a great fit. Renee was without a doubt the most responsive and professional. I felt that her covers were varied and beautiful and would fit my book series really well.

BTB: Do you have a favorite cover produced by her?

JK: I can’t choose — I love all the covers that she created for me — the latest one is stunning. I love the house and the pies (especially the dripping pie).

BTB: From the author’s point of view, tell me the process of getting a cover made.

JK:I provide a detailed synopsis of my book. I also am asked to provide themes, setting, time of year, anything that will make an impact on the cover. For each book, I fill out a very detailed questionnaire and I think that really helps both of us know what the cover should look like. For example, I want my covers to convey “cozy mystery” but I also want them to be beautiful and inviting. I feel like Renee really achieves that. Initially I was asked if the book was part of a series, and as you can see, Renee created that wonderful blue and white awning to represent Callie’s Kitchen.

Vintage silverware

BTB: Do the covers ever influence the writing or vice versa?

JK: Once I have a title I start thinking about the cover. The book comes first and then the cover. That said, I think that each cover in my series tells a “story” of its own and that is really exciting to see.

BTB: How important do you think a cover is to a reader to is browsing books but may not know your work?  Talk to that a bit.

JK: It’s extremely important. Readers get a first impression of a book when they see a cover. I feel my specific voice is definitely conveyed by these covers. I’ve heard from readers several times that my cover was what initially attracted them to the books, which is a great compliment to Renee. Covers are a part of the whole package. A professional-looking and engaging cover gives readers a good feeling about your book and makes them more likely to take a chance on it. With a mystery, I want the cover to give readers an idea of the story without giving everything away. I think Renee has been excellent at creating that!

Renee Barratt-Artist-The Cover Counts

BTB: How long have you been producing covers for books?

RB: I’ve been a professional graphic designer for a couple of decades (shhhhhh… don’t tell my kids. They still think I’m in my 20s!)  But I started doing book covers almost exclusively in 2010. I still do other things like graphics, brochures, marketing tools, pretty regularly, but the majority is book covers. I love it that way. Book covers are so much fun.

BTB: How long does it take to put a cover together.

RB: That really depends on the book! Some of them are a few hours. Others take days.

I’ve done some covers that have dozens of images worked in together and take multiple dozens of hours.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00073]

Once I’ve sent the initial design to the author there is sometimes a brainstorm period where we work together to figure out if there are changes they want to make and whether those will actually make it better. there is a lot of give and take in that stage of the process.

BTB: Can you describe the process of putting a cover together from the author or company getting in touch with you to the finished product?

RB: Once someone contacts me to create a book cover for them, I send them a detailed questionnaire that I’ve developed over the years that gives me a really good feel for the story line, the symbolism and the characters. I can generally work directly with that information, but occasionally I’ll want some additional clarification from the author on a few things. Then I set off on a journey through the internet, researching their genre, investigating the current best sellers, making sure I’m aware of what is selling the best, and just generally looking for inspiration related to the themes in the story. Getting to a final product generally takes a week or two from the time I begin the creative process on my end. The faster the author and I can respond to emails to each other, the faster things generally get done. 🙂

BTB: Talk about your working relationship with Jenny Kales and how you began producing covers for her.

RB: Jenny has been a gem to work with. She is always up beat and easy going, and takes a lot of well-deserved pride in her work. She has a clear idea of the visual symbolism for her stories and communicates it so fluently that the designs just seem to flow so easily. We have fun conversations, and she’s got great ideas. She contacted me when she was ready to publish her first book, and it’s been a great experience working with her as she completed each new installment in her series. I love the concepts she’s developed throughout the series, and I think the designs show that!


BTB: Do you get to read the story before you make a cover?  How does this influence the final product?

RB:In a perfect world, I would read every single one before I start designing. But there is only one of me and no matter how many books I read that are set in magical worlds, I haven’t figure out how to make an hour last any longer. 😉 The questionnaire I’ve developed is pretty detailed and usually gives me plenty of information about the story to create a great design. It’s important to me to have all of that in written form. The written questionnaire, the emails back and forth everything I can get from them in writing, all give me a feel for the author’s aesthetic. The way they use the written word to describe their stories is actually a great tool. I will sometimes be asked, or ask to read a chapter, or a scene that the author feels should be an anchor for the design and I’m happy to do so.

BTB: What is your favorite part of cover design?

RB: I love playing with images and type. A well-crafted title design is often what truly sets a design apart. And typography is one of the hardest things to master. Books and I have had a love affair since before I could walk. I love to read. I love working with authors. And I love that I get to spend my days melding two of my biggest passions together, art and books.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00074]

BTB: Do you have other artistic outlets?  Do you do art for other products or on other mediums?

RB: Performance art is my other thing. I have a degree in theatre and love to sing. I haven’t done anything “organized” with that for a long time, but I used to own a local community theatre company with some very talented, very good friends.

BTB: What do you think is the most important piece of advice for authors when they’re planning for their next book cover?
RB:Plan ahead. Start looking for your designer right now… before you’re even anywhere near being done. Find the artist, or artists whose art you are drawn to, and who you think would do the best job creating a kick-ass cover for your book. Contact them. Find out what their lead-time generally is and how much they charge. Start planning to fit that in your timetable and your budget. Most really good designers are booked out months in advance. If you wait for the last minute, you’re going to end up with the artist who is available, rather than the one who is best for your book. If you start now, you’ll know when you’ll need to get on their schedule, and if necessary. You’ll have more time to save up for the artist you really want. It kills me to have to say no to an author, because they thought they were going to publish in 2 weeks, but my next opening is in 4 months.

Thanks to Jenny Kales and Renee Barratt for their amazing information and insight. Please feel free to leave a question or a message for either or both of these creative women.

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