The Making of a Book Cover

Guest Blogger: Monica Lee

In celebration of the release of Erin MacPherson’s The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby, we’re doing something totally different! Monica Lee is the illustrator who created the images for the cover and the interior of the book, and I  thought it would be fun to hear about the process. Here’s Monica…

As a professional illustrator, I’ve created images for about 11 book covers so far. Book covers are my favorite type of assignment and when I get that call from a publisher I do a happy dance! I enjoy the process of creating art for a book cover because…wait for it…I totally judge a book by its cover! I know, I know. What can I say? I’m a visual person and it’s my livelihood.

Once I finish my happy dance, the art director and I get down to business. For those of you who don’t know this, most authors don’t have much say in their covers. Don’t hate me—but it works best this way. The art directors are great to work with, understand an artist’s value and time constraints, and give very concise revisions. It’s good to let professionals do their jobs, right?
Occasionally I’ve read entire manuscripts before beginning, but generally I don’t have the opportunity—bummer. What I do get is a good synopsis and often an in-depth character description (for fiction).
I usually send over quite a few roughs. People like choices and the more good choices you give them, the easier the rest of the process will be. So the sketch phase takes me the longest. Another reason I send quite a few sketches over is because descriptive words like “hip” or “current” mean something different to people. I think I did six or seven sketches for The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby. I decided to give each girl her own name because it helped me communicate better with the publisher via email… i.e. “We like Vanessa and Sophie the best…” Much easier than just marking them 1, 2, 3!

If I am really sold on a “pose” or one cover look, I will repeat it in the selection process with a few variances to try to really sell that look to the client (secret Monica trick!) This entire process can take about two months more or less—hopefully not “less” because we don’t want to be rushed. We all want the book to be lovely and sell well!

This book cover, along with the 20 interior illustrations, was a nice fit for me. I have a house full of boys and am such a girly girl. The editors at Guideposts were a dream work with because they got so excited when they saw the sketches that I had drawn. Hey, I work in a bit of a vacuum over here and a bit of love now and then works wonders!

I currently license my art, designing art for fabrics, tabletop and giftware, but book cover work will always have a soft spot in my heart. Please visit my blog at http://monicaleestudios.com/blog/,

Visit Erin MacPherson on the web at

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

36 Comments

  1. Rebekah on March 11, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    >Oh I must add, that we were asked what we thought of the cover, and I think that if Melanie and I had hated it, I'm sure the publisher would have discussed it. But, we both love it! AND, my skills do not lie in the visual arts. I know what I like, but I don't know how to get it out on "paper."



  2. Rebekah on March 11, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    >I recently wrote a book, and had no say at all over the cover. This was strange for me. I wanted to have some input, but since I had no choice, I released this process and hoped that the intent of the book would be clear to the graphic designer….and it was! I love the cover. My co-editor and I got a glimpse of the book cover a month before its was released to the public…and to public opinion. I love it! I could never have come up with the vibe that our graphic designer captured, and from the cover it appears that he took the time to read the book. The book is called Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, and I think it is very ironic that a man and not a mom came up with the perfect cover fit for our book. But, Rachelle, I'd love your opinion. If you'd like to take a peak at the cover and give an initial reaction….please do.

    http://www.barclaypress.com/bookstore/product.php?productid=3401



  3. John Stipa on March 11, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    >Great article Monica, great insight. What advice can you give to authors that self publish?



  4. Monica Lee on March 10, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    >Hi Kathryn…I could not agree more. I want to read the books! I have had publishers that just won't give them up…are too busy whatever. Sometimes the manuscript is not done. It's weird. I am so bothered when I read a book that does not match the cover.



  5. Kathryn Packer Roberts on March 10, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    >I love these covers. Very cute.

    That only thing that worries me in this process is that the cover artist may not ever read the book. She said SOMETIMES she does. But you also said that authors get to put some input into the idea at first? The thing that I'm concerned about are those book covers that end up not making sense according to the story. For example that book, LIAR by Justine Larbalestier that originally had a white girl on the cover when in fact the MC was black.

    Do Publishers pay attention to details like that or are they more concerned in having a cover that attracts attention?



  6. KO: The Insect Collector on March 10, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    >Erin rocks, and that cover is just adorable!!! Thanks for sharing the process, Monica- very cool.



  7. Beth on March 10, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    >Love to see your creative process. Thanks for sharing it. : ) Beth



  8. Loree Huebner on March 10, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    >Awesome artwork, Monica. Nice job. Really stands out. Interesting process. Thanks for sharing.



  9. Dara on March 10, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    >I LOVE that cover–it's so me right now (I eat two scoops of chocolate ice cream nearly every night due to the pregnancy cravings).

    I need to find this book…even though I'm nearing the end of my second trimester, this looks like a fun read!



  10. Tamika: on March 10, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    >Aw, pickles and ice cream bring back pleasant memories! Love this cover art Monica!

    Since I have zero artistic ability I'm happy to hand my book over to the professionals. Thank God for giving us all our own unique gift!

    Thanks for taking us behind the scenes- great stuff.



  11. CraftyMama on March 10, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    >I always wondered how covers were designed! This one looks great!



  12. Casey on March 10, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    >And what a GREAT cover!

    That was a fascinating post! I really didn't know what went into making a cover (I know I just loooove the ones we have here in the CBA. :). So thank you for giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse! It was great. 🙂



  13. Laura on March 10, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    >Monica,
    Super cute cover! Thanks for sharing the process. We actually recently interviewed one of the cover designers at Cedar Fort on our blog and she also gave some fun insights into how she designs covers. I love seeing behind the scenes and watching something go from an idea to final product. Keep up the awesome work.

    Laura J.



  14. Timothy Fish on March 10, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    >Good job. The cover seems very appropriate for the book.



  15. Marion on March 10, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    >What a fun blog, Monica. Can I buy your fabric?!



  16. Monica Lee on March 10, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    >Omigosh, Could a girl be any happier this morning? A hot cuppa joe and a bunch of compliments! Erin's book is charming and well written and I think she has a long career in writing. An interesting side note…as she writes MORE books will a publisher help create a "brand" look for her by keeping the same artist for the next covers? It would certainly lead to more happy dances from me?!



  17. Amy on March 10, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    >What an interesting post! I'm very into book cover art, although mostly science fiction and fantasy. But I love Monica's style, and I love that she gave each of her creations different names — makes it such a personal process.



  18. Marla Taviano on March 10, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    >You did a FABULOUS job, Monica!! I love Erin AND her book, and the cover is GREAT!!

    Erin and I have been talking about marketing our books together (mine is called Expecting: Praying for Your Child's Development–Body and Soul). My cover is a photograph, but there are 40 illustrations inside (drawings of a baby in the womb each week of pregnancy), and they're wonderful. Someone else did them! I can't draw a lick, and I'm so thankful for those who can.



  19. Sharon A. Lavy on March 10, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    >Since you design fabric, let me make a suggestion for you to make to fabric makers.

    Writers need writer fabric. We like to make totes that threaten to put someone in our next book, etc.



  20. Christine on March 10, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    >This is great! I wondered how the process worked. Thanks for sharing. The cover is great!



  21. Rachelle on March 10, 2011 at 7:52 AM

    >Tara Lindsay Hall and Ted Cross: Most publishers are very good about consulting with the author on the cover. They get extensive ideas from the author prior to ever putting the designer to work. Most do not give the author veto power, but they do take the author's input. Whether or not they'll actually agree to some kind of author control over cover in the contract is another story. With new authors they won't, with established authors they usually will.

    As far as authors with special artistic, graphic design, or photography skills – many publishers will take this into consideration. No promises, but some will use the author's artwork if they truly feel it fits the book.

    It's sometimes a problem when someone is an amateur artist or designer but they think their work is good enough. It may not be, and it can be hard on the author's ego.



  22. Joy Nicholas on March 10, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    >Really interesting to read about the process! And I love the cover! Very cool!



  23. Wendy Paine Miller on March 10, 2011 at 6:55 AM

    >I’m a visual person, too and I loved the cover! Great job, Monica. You have a gift with drawing I only pretend to have.

    Erin’s book is fantastic. It reminded me of how much I loved being pregnant. Now I’m just having book babies, so The Christian Mama’s Guide made me a wee nostalgic (in a good way).

    Cool to see the results of teamwork poured into a project.
    ~ Wendy



  24. Erin MacPherson on March 10, 2011 at 5:44 AM

    >This is so cool… and I agree with EVERYONE's opinion that Monica did a fabulous, fabulous job. Thanks for the great post, Monica.



  25. Manon Eileen on March 10, 2011 at 4:39 AM

    >I love that you shared all the images, from the rough drafts to the final product. Great job, love the bright colors!

    Thank you for sharing your insights!



  26. Charmaine Clancy on March 10, 2011 at 4:28 AM

    >It's amazing how they get the final product to really pop.



  27. Rosemary Gemmell on March 10, 2011 at 4:05 AM

    >Great to hear the illustrator's part in bringing the finished book to the reader. Brilliant cover, Monica! A good cover on a book always draws me in.



  28. Ted Cross on March 10, 2011 at 3:15 AM

    >Each time I blog about covers I get a majority of commenters who agree that they do judge a book by its cover. I certainly do. While I understand that for most authors it is best to just let the publishers deal with the cover art, I do think there are some authors who are exceptions and have a truly great idea of what their covers should be. I wish publishers would be more open to those types and allow them more input.



  29. Carol J. Garvin on March 10, 2011 at 2:12 AM

    >The cover is delicious, and so appropriate. It's neat to have the artist's story about its creation. I saw a two-minute video on the Orbit website a year ago on the making of a cover. It was fascinating to watch, but there was nothing about the thought process that went into it. Thanks for sharing this.



  30. Judy Croome on March 10, 2011 at 1:36 AM

    >How interesting to get insight into another side of the publishing process. A finished book is no doubt a melting pot of numerous talents. That ice-cream on the book-cover looks yum!
    Judy (South Africa)



  31. Aimee L Salter on March 10, 2011 at 1:17 AM

    >It's so great that you posted about this. Erin was nice enough to guest blog for me and the comments she got were almost all about how great her cover was!

    I liked one particular commentor who called it "Awesomesauce". I may or may not have co-opted the term…



  32. Tana Adams on March 10, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    >Fascinating process! I love Erin's cover. The pickle on top of the ice cream? Brilliant.



  33. Tara Lindsay Hall on March 10, 2011 at 12:49 AM

    >Rachelle this sparks me to ask. Have you ever had an author, or heard of anyone, that even got a say in the cover design of their book? I know that Lisa McMann took the cover photo for her book Gone. What if the author has extensive graphic design and photography experience (like yours truly)? Is there any room in publishing contracts to build in at least an author veto or final approval for a design?

    ~Tara



  34. Ann Nichols on March 10, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    >Excuse me… I mean Monica!! 🙂 I'm sure Erin did a great job on writing the book!
    Ann



  35. Ann Nichols on March 10, 2011 at 12:41 AM

    >What a great posting! My daughter was just asked to design a book cover so I will pass this on over to her! Perfect timing!
    Erin did a lovely job on this one!
    Blessings!
    Ann



  36. Keli Gwyn on March 10, 2011 at 12:10 AM

    >You did an awesome job on Erin's cover, Monica. I love it!



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