A Beginner’s Journey to the Perfect Book Cover
I know some of you out there wish you could have a book published. The best way to advertise that book is to secure a perfect book cover.
There’s an unbelievable pull the literary world has on some people. Those of us who are affected spent as much time in the library as on the playground growing up.
When I nearly finished writing the first Elle Burton book, Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals, I sought out a publisher willing to work with me.
The effort required countless hours of editing to fine-tune the book to the quality I wanted. Even then, the publisher’s editors missed things. I thought I could reach near-perfection by using a publishing house. That wasn’t the case.
The publishing house told me I needed to market the books to mothers and grandmothers because “kids don’t buy books.”
Okay, I understood their instruction. I knew what I wanted to do for a great cover.
(Tip: You can find the Scavenger Hunt at the Bottom of the Post)
The Perfect Book Cover
When it came to the book cover for “Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals,” I believed I had the perfect picture of our granddaughter. I knew the publisher needed to do some Adobe Photoshop enhancements, but the image had already captured my heart and became my constant inspiration for developing the character of Elle.
The final book cover is probably the 3rd update we did. In the end, the entire process took only a couple of days. I requested that they turn the butterfly on Elle’s fingers to a more upright position, to better represent a Fiorin standing on her hand.
They said something about blurring the butterfly for the book cover; I remember that conversation quite clearly. But today is the first time I’ve put the two pictures side-by-side. It’s clear the “Fiorin” didn’t get tipped upright as I requested.
When it came to the translation of the book into an audio book, I wanted a different cover. The book cover used in the Audible store struck me as the one sales page I was convinced kids would look at with their parents. It was important to me that the audiobook cover resembled other middle-grade books.
My Introduction to the Art of Mili Fay
I found an incredible book called Animals In My Hair, by Author Mili Fay just before Christmas. It was a book my granddaughter loved, and I was delighted to get a copy signed by the author. Mili Fay was the illustrator of her book in addition to being the author. I was totally impressed with the book cover and the illustrations within.
Turning my book into an audio book was probably the most fun I’ve had during my author journey.
The producer at Audible had me laughing and crying as I listened to her read the story, chapter-by-chapter as she brought the characters alive. She even gave Eunie Mae the Irish accent of my grandmother, without discussing the specifics with me.
The real thrill was watching Elle and Eunie Mae as Mili Fay transformed them from descriptions in the book into an engaging book cover. She used the picture of our granddaughter and numerous conversations with me to capture the details.
Today, I’m interviewing Mili Fay. I want to help you learn more about the process of developing a book cover for Middle-grade students.
Mili Fay, I love your art. When did you know you had this talent and wanted to turn it into a profession?
I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not drawing. Many hours were spent making up stories in my head and drawing pictures.
In the beginning, I sketched mostly Disney princesses, but there were a few characters based on my family and me.
I knew I had talent because friends kept asking me to draw, and the adults told me that I was talented.
However, before my family moved to Canada I never considered art as a profession. As a child, my parents told me I could not make a living as an artist. Art was always going to be a hobby.
Then, when I was 12 years old, my best friend explained to me that animation was a job. (For some reason my brain never computed that drawing Disney characters was a job before then.) I decided to become an animator.
Where did you go to get your formal training? How did you choose your training? Can you share a bit about your experience?
The best place to study animation in Canada was Sheridan College. I considered applying to Cal Arts. But, for them to review my portfolio cost $1000 in U.S. currency! My family does not have that kind of money.
As a child, I had a few private lessons in art. My high school was science, math, and English oriented. Our art education was not adequate (I did not even know I could choose not to center my subjects on a page!).
So, even though I had talent, I did not make the cut for Sheridan College’s Classical Animation when I applied after high school.
At this point, my artistic career might have come to an end if it were not for my sister. Being rejected, I started to believe that I was not good enough.
I faced rejection as an artist, but I became accepted into the toughest program for Mathematics at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College.
My parents always wanted me to reject art as a career. They supported me as much as they could, though. (I’m the only artist ever in my family.) My parents wanted me to go to the UofT, but my sister insisted I try the Art Fundamentals program offered me at Sheridan.
Art Fundamentals was the best! In a year I learned basics in all visual art disciplines (figure drawing, painting, 2D design, 3D design, etc.). I went from a C+ student at my first review to win the Silver Medal (first place standing) in my year and the automatic entrance into Classical Animation.
Though I knew about animation, I felt I needed more art education after graduating. So I took Art Instruction Schools’ correspondence course. I highly recommend this school. AIS is very informative, instructors are kind, and even after graduation, the program helps artists get ahead through contests and promotion.
Currently, I’ve enrolled in the self-guided Schoolism Art Classes. These classes teach in the form of videos by some of the best industry professionals in the world.
I’m never quite satisfied with my work. No matter how many prizes I win or what accolades I receive, I always feel I can do better. I doubt I will ever stop training.
I sometimes I imagine myself as an elderly woman, placing the last brushstroke on a painting. The picture in my head shows me smiling because I know that I have finally achieved perfection. It is at this very moment that my life comes to an end because there is nothing left for me to learn.
I remember sending you the picture of Elle before you began working on book 1. In addition to the picture, I keep files on each character that includes every word of description I wrote about them. Part of the reason I keep copious notes is a result of the short-term memory issues I continue to struggle with after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) many years ago. If I remember correctly, you also requested a copy of the book to read to get a “feeling for the story.”
How did you begin the process of creating the cover for the audio adaptation?
Peggy, I have a terrible memory, and I do not even have TBI. I also keep notes on all of my characters. For Warriors of Virtue, I have an entire folder labeled Encyclopaedia that contains descriptions of my characters with quotes from the series, but also magic spells, sports, famous people my character’s mention… Even with this aid, I sometimes forget a small detail of their uniform as I illustrate.
How did I begin my process?
Author & Illustrator
As both an author and artist, I believe that when it comes to book illustrations, the author is in charge. My job as an illustrator is to bring the writer’s vision to life. I do that in a way that best expresses the story and draws the audience to choose the book from all the others on the shelf.
Often, I do not have the time to read the books, but I wanted to read Elle’s story. Reading the book first is the best because I get a feel for the characters. Instead of just being told who they are, I begin to know them as individuals. It’s like seeing someone on TV vs. meeting them in person and spending time with them for a few days. Reading the book also helps me to choose what moment to illustrate. (Sometimes the author knows what moment it should be, but often they let me choose.) I also consider the title of the book. When it comes to cover art, I need to explain with a single illustration what the book is about, and to invite the reader to want to know more.
The Beginning of the Book Cover for the First Book in the Series
For “Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals”, it was important to show the reader what a reflective portal is all about.
I also knew I wanted that moment when Elle first meets a Fiorin for the book cover because that is the catalyst of the story–the moment that changes her life forever.
Once I picked the moment, I contacted you, Peggy, to give me as much visual detail about that moment as you could. As mentioned, it is your vision that needs representation in the illustration, not mine.
Though the little details may not be as important on a book cover illustration, as a reader I always appreciated the book covers that were accurate.
Once I had as much information as I could, I began to sketch.
As part of the process, it became quickly apparent that I’d been a bit weak in the description of the Fiorin, Eunie Mae. I had launched the book, so I couldn’t go back and add just any description.
In the end, you asked me if she resembled anyone I knew. The answer to that was quite simple. She was a younger version of my grandmother, after whom she secured her name. How did you begin the process of creating Eunie Mae?
I love Eunie Mae, but I pictured her as a very young fairy because she bungles along. I was surprised that she was middle-aged. 😊 Then I thought of Rose and The Golden Girls.
Like a police sketch artist working on a wanted poster, I had you offer as much about her physical description as possible. Her size, weight, coloring, and age. Then I went to Google and searched 50 + women’s haircuts until I found a face that was a YES.
When it came to clothes, I looked at what my mom was wearing.
I have to laugh because I remember we talked about the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that grow on Lake Menomin in Menomonie. In book 1, Elle takes a stick and clears the algae from the top of the water so she can see her reflection. Is that why you decided to make the primary color of the cover green and how did you pick the colors from that point?
We did more than talk about it; you shared pictures.
Then I Googled some more.
Elle has auburn hair, and her outfit is in the book. Green works well because it provides contrast. I also associate green with nature and growing, and that moment was both for Elle.
Green is a peaceful color that contrasts with the action moment shown in the illustration. I cannot remember if I decided on Eunie Mae’s color or if you told me about it.
Adding the Color Yellow
If it was my choice, I probably choose yellow because it is a happy color and Eunie Mae is a cheerful, happy, positive Fiorin.
Was there a particular guideline you used to pick the font for the title to go on the book cover?
From the beginning, I envisioned a style of drawing based on Art Nouveau. It creates an inviting graphic representation that allows for spots of detail and realism. However, it also allows me to keep a cartoony style appropriate for the book’s main audience group (9-12). I looked for a font that suited that style. It needed to be happy and magical, and also fit with the curves and curlicues of Art
How many different versions did you do and what types of software were used in the creation before you reached the final product?
(Laughs.) I cannot even remember how many versions there were! I did a fair bit of sketching. I remember even working on the male Fiorincharacters, though they did not make it on the book cover until the second book.
Creating Eunie Mae for the Book Cover
Once I decided on the scene, I had an image in my head and then I had to make sure it worked well on “paper.”
Here is one of the first book cover sketches. You can see I pictured Eunie Mae as a young girl, a teenager:
You can see more drawings here: http://artofmilica.deviantart.com/gallery/58529450/Elle-Burton-and-the-Reflective-Portals-Sketches
The Technical Side of the Book Cover
At the time I got Corel’s Painter X3 program to test, so I used it for most of the sketches, but then I found it labored too much (the cursor would turn into a circle, the brush stroke would move in slow motion, etc.). For the final cover, I worked in Photoshop CS5 on the Wacom’s Cintiq Companion.
Do you have any recommendations for other authors who want to produce a children’s book? My granddaughter (Age 8 when I gave her your book) loved Animals In My Hair. I loved your book, too. How many illustrations were in that book and how long did it take you from beginning to end?
Thank you, Peggy. I’m always happy to hear that the book I created makes someone happy since that is my ultimate goal.
Now for recommendations:
If you’ve decided to produce a children’s book, be prepared not to get rich on your finished work, especially if it is your first. The competition for children’s books is staggering.
However, if this is something you just HAVE to do then I highly recommend you research as much as you can.
You will need an author’s platform, fans, funds and a willingness to work non-stop. Go to schools and libraries to speak about your book. Purchase tables at appropriate fairs to sell your book. Introduce it to people everywhere you go. Create a mailing list of fans and future customers.
Join LinkedIn and Facebook Groups where you can talk to other authors and where you can get advice so you are not going at it alone.
I’m delighted to have found D’vorah Lansky’s Marketing Challenge group. That’s where you and I met.
Sandra’s www.buildbookbuzz.com contains more useful information than I can digest.
My sister found Suzanne Anderson’s “Self-Publishing in Canada” book which taught me what I needed to have to publish a book professionally in Canada.
For Those Planning to Self-Publish
When you are self-publishing, your book needs to be of the same quality as trade publications, if not better.
If you are not a professional in a particular task, hire professionals to help you out. For example, if you are not an artist, do not illustrate or layout the book yourself.
Many authors recommend Fiver, but to date, I have not seen any high-quality artwork produced for $5. You do get what you pay for most of the time.
Never forget that you are competing not only with other self-publishers but with all the trade publishers who have been in the business for decades.
Animals In My Hair
Animals In My Hair has 45 illustrations, inked on Borden & Riley’s Rag Drawing #627 paper and colored traditionally with watercolors. I first got the idea in 2008, and I published the book in 2013, so it took five years (Of course, I was not working on it every day).
Some illustrations took months to figure out. Even though they are simple, one of the most complex pictures took about a week of painting. I knew what I wanted it to look like, and kept going until I was satisfied.
Making Money As An Author
Animals In My Hair is a case in point of why a great book may not make an author money.
Thus far I have not received a single negative review; everyone told me that Animals In My Hair is a beautiful book.
It was selected out of 700+ titles for presentation at Toronto’s International Book Fair; making it to the Frequently Borrowed list in the Toronto Public Library.
All that and I have still not covered the cost of making the book in the first place.
For this reason, I have decided to release my future books as digital editions only, then once I have fans, I plan to create a Kickstarter campaign if they wish for a printed copy.
This time around, we became proactive, and you developed the book cover for book 2 of my “Lessons from Fiori” series before its publication. What I didn’t know was that my producer would have some setbacks which would delay the release of the audio version. Hopefully, that will be coming soon. I loved the cover you did, showing the Zorin.
Are you willing to share some of the illustrations from beginning to completion on that one?
I hope so, too. I also hope you keep on writing this series. We want to know what happens next.
For your second book, I decided to show the dark side of the story. I designed for the print book and later adjusted the copy for the square format of the audio version.
To the left is the very rough layout version of the cover. This version was then cleaned up to show characters, but it is still a rough drawing.
Using the pen and brush tools in Photoshop, I created clean lines before coloring and adding effects to the final version:
I do remember at one point Zorin’s eyes were glowing green, but I felt that was way too many colors in a picture. I chose this dramatic color scheme based on a scene from the Elementary (TV Show).
What is unique about your process?
I do not know if my process is unique. What I think is unique about me as an illustrator is that I do not work in a single style. I like to get the feel of the story and characters before I decide how the illustrations should look and what tools to use. A picture book needs to look different than a YA fantasy cover. I need this kind of variety as an artist. Otherwise, I’m bored.
What also makes me unique as an illustrator is that I am also an author and a publisher, so I understand all the steps involved in creating a book.
Which do you enjoy most, writing a book or illustrating a book?
Illustrating for sure. I love writing, but I hate editing; whereas I love creating illustrations. It’s a joy for me to repaint my work when necessary.
Please share something with my readers that most people don’t know about you.
In high school, they tested us to see which side of the brain we use most, creative or logical. My results indicated I am perfectly balanced, which is unusual.
Most people don’t know that I love math and sciences. There’s a possibility I might have chosen to study microbiology if I could have avoided cutting open a guinea pig. In the end, I barely survived cutting into a fish with my science group.
When they told me I needed to explore the insides of a pickled guinea pig the following year, I felt that was too cruel. I did not want a pig to die so that I could poke around its insides. It’s then that I quit biology.
My parents made me a deal that they would support me as an artist only if I kept an A+ average; not completing a major assignment would have destroyed my grades.
Do you ever have periods where you don’t want to be creative for awhile or is it something that is with you every minute of the day?
After I had graduated from Sheridan College, I did not want to draw for six months! I remember feeling terrified because I chose drawing as a career. Before then I would sketch any spare moment I had… I guess after everything that happened in my third year I felt spent.
Now, I wish I could spend my life drawing rather than having to perform so many mundane grown-up tasks every day.
As far as being creative, the only time I remember not chewing on stories in my head is when they put me to sleep for my wisdom teeth surgery. My brain is constantly in motion, even when I’m sleeping. (I understand that completely, Mili. Before the brain injury, I constantly wrote stories in my head. My dreams were in vivid color and great detail. After the accident, I lost my dreams.)
Sometimes, I wish an anesthesiologist would put me under for an hour so my poor brain could restart. It feels like an abused, overworked computer.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about Mili Fay or her creative process?
You can read all about my business Mili Fay Art and me at http://www.artofmili.ca.
If you have questions not answered here, don’t hesitate to contact me through social media. Please note that I keep my personal Facebook only open to my family, friends, and people I feel I’ve truly met. If all you have is Facebook, you can still reach me through the Pages.
I wish to thank you, Peggy, for choosing me as an artist for your wonderful book series, and for inviting me to this interview.
Another fact about me is I like to give gifts, so here are a few for your readers:
- If your readers are authors looking for illustrators, I have written several articles on the subject that can help them choose a perfect illustrator for their budget, beginning with the Illustration Process: How Much Should I Pay/Charge For Illustration? (http://mili-fay-art-publishing.blogspot.ca/2015/01/illustration-process-how-much-should-i.html)
- If your readers like YA fantasy, I’m working on Warriors of Virtue, a series about a reluctant princess who learns to become a Queen as she fights to protect the Land of Ardan from dragon-people. This series is for readers who like adventure, fantasy, humor, but not gore. If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sailor Moon, I believe you will enjoy this story. Spots are limited, but I’m looking for readers willing to write a short, honest review in exchange for free books. If you are interested to find out more, join the Review Crew
- Since three is my favorite number and I love challenges… I thought it might be fun to have an Online Scavenger Hunt with a prize at the end. This challenge is not for the faint of heart. But if you win, I will draw you (or a person of your choice) as a character in Elle Burton Style. This is what you need to do:
Online Scavenger Hunt
Step 1. Choose a challenge name.
Step 2. Comment on this post and say you accept the challenge. Sign it with your chosen name.
Step 3. Find all of Mili Fay Art’s Social Media accounts and blogs and write “I LOVE Fantasy!” as a comment on the top post signing them with your challenge name (so I can tell who’s who). If you are unable to leave a comment for some reason, explain why in step 4.
Record the URLs in the list below:
Example Facebook Page 1: https://www.facebook.com/MiliFayArt/
Facebook Page 2:
Enter the Contest:
Step 4. Return to this post and list Mili Fay Art URLs you discovered in step 3 in another comment. Sign with your challenge name. If you are the first person to complete the scavenger challenge, you win!
Note: This Contest Expires a Week from Today, on September 17.
I want to thank Mili Fay for joining us on http://peggyshope4u today.
She is truly one of my favorite people, and I love following her processes on social media and learning more about what she’s working on. If you want to keep in touch with Mili Fay, you can find her at these locations: