Fantasy Art, Book Cover Design, and the Indie Author

In past posts, I’ve spoken on the subject of what many people don’t appreciate about good book cover design. This subject has been a learning curve for me as an indie publisher, despite a publishing career handling the coding end of digital production page-editing.

As a business and marketing practice, as well as its artistic value in relationship with the written text of the literary artifact, the study of graphic book cover design, and the process of producing these artifacts, has been heavily on my mind these last eighteen months.

The Study of Book Cover Design

My own studies are guided by the artistic marketing philosophies of Chipp Kidd, Penguin Random House Book Cover Designer, while seeking to reproduce the qualities of the action-adventure Fantasy book covers that have influenced me during my career as a reader, writer and indie-published Fantasy Author.

Come with me as I reminisce on the history of the Matter of Manred cover design process, from Hedge King in Winter to The Romance of Eowain and my forthcoming The Wedding of Eithne.

Hedge King in Winter

With this title, as my debut offering as an independent author, I went out of my way to micro-manage the hell out of the cover design. My artists at Grafit Studios, under the direction of Victor Titov, did an outstanding job of executing on the vision I had for the grand opening of the Matter of Manred Saga. And because working with freelance and corporate print production designers is something that I have experience with, it’s a task I felt comfortable (and grateful) entrusting to Glen Edelstein of Hudson Valley Book Design.

A Merchant’s Tale

Here, I wanted something that spoke to the power of the landscape and countryside of the Kingdom of Droma, the setting of the story, which features prominently as a character throughout the tale. And the economic realities of independent publishing came home to roost. Business decisions had to guide marketing and cover design strategy. I crowd-sourced the cover design via 99Designs, and found a wonderful, yet affordable cover design artist from the independent international artists market. But skimping on the final book design, including the print interior, wasn’t something I wanted to sacrifice. Once again, Glen Edelstein of Hudson Valley Book Design came through for me, despite the change in artist, by holding together the Saga branding through the text design, despite the change of artist between the first and second book in the Saga.

The Romance of Eowain

Due to scheduling problems, my artists for Hedge King in Winter and A Merchant’s Tale weren’t available on the timeline I needed. So back to 99Designs I went for the cover art that would become The Romance of Eowain. Although I had not intended it, my covers were becoming a feature-place for an international array of indie fantasy artists.

For this cover, I wanted to evoke some of the mystery and clarity advice that Chip Kidd advocates, while also both paying tribute to classic romance genre covers and making it clear this is a Fantasy adventure title, and not a typical romance, despite the title.

The Romance of Eowain, by Michael E. Dellert

The Wedding of Eithne

Thinking I had ironed out the production bugs that plagued me with The Romance of Eowain, I went into the design and production process for The Wedding of Eithne with a false sense of security. I had a commitment from both my long-time book designer as well as my artist for Eowain, and I trusted in their abilities.

But I got behind schedule due to events in my personal life, and I didn’t give myself enough time to prepare a proper design brief to the artist, with a detailed expectation of the desired end state. Instead, I sent ahead a chaotic collection of “inspirational images” and a disjointed text description of a variety of elements to consider for the cover artwork.

This was a mistake. My artist’s first preview idea was too static for my taste. I wanted a design that went back and recouped the dynamic elements from the Hedge King in Winter project, but also evoked the fantastical setting of The Romance of Eowain. The first preview seemed to me like the family portrait of the victorious ancestor that might hang proudly in the ancestral home several generations, except with too much leg and Eithne’s wedding garter showing.

While it’s an excellent piece of work, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. And thus began the painful process of working through a language barrier to guide the artwork in a direction I only vaguely understood myself.

Be Specific

It was this lack of specificity in my own vision that made the cover design more difficult and complex than I gave it credit for, and we had miscommunications and misunderstandings back and forth.

I had said, “I want mountains, and a hill with sacred stones on top, and giant spiders and evil sisters, and maybe a dead beast lying in the shadows, with the heroine in a dynamic, active combat pose.”

So that’s what I got. It still wasn’t really what I was looking for. For one thing, the cloak color was off. There is a moment in the story when the heroine is dressed in a wedding cloak the color of blue spruce, and I did the research to make sure the cover-art reflected this choice. Because the cover is intended for both print as well as digital reproduction and distribution, I provided the base color code for the cloak in terms of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Cyan, the four base colors in the print color palette: CMYK # 90, 41, 60, 24. But the cover is also intended for digital, so it was also important to be sure I had the right Red, Green, Blue color balance for online display: RGB # 2, 101, 96.

But more than that, the setting didn’t evoke the milieu that I’ve worked so hard to create in the Matter of Manred Saga, and the characters were not doing justice to my female readership. So back to the drawing board we went.

The Iterative Process

The iterative process was the key element in book cover design for The Wedding of Eithne, and the part that many indie authors stumble over. There is, on the one hand, to be “a nice guy,” and to be “easy to work with.” And on the other hand, there is the very real: “This art is going to represent my book to the world and drive sales. I want it to be right.”

So it’s important to go through a number of different drafts, particularly if the initial vision was vague. Specificity up-front can go a long way to reduce the number of drafts, but when (as in this case), the concept has not been specifically drawn for the artist, it’s incumbent on the indie publisher to really take on the role of art director and provide both encouragement and direction through the process in a constructive and efficient fashion.

Through these iterations, a clearer vision emerges, as a shared process of discovery between art director and artist. The artist says in pictures, “This is what I think you just said,” and the art director says, “Yes, but…”.

The Final Product:
The Wedding of Eithne Cover Reveal!

After all that said, it’s time to come to the point:

The final production design for the cover art of

The Wedding of Eithne: Fourth Tale in the Matter of Manred, by Michael E. Dellert.

And here it is with the final text and cover copy.

The artwork was done by renowned Serbian artist Saša Ristović Ritza, and the final title design was done by Glen Edestein of Hudson Valley Book Design. Thanks to both for another amazing cover in my Matter of Manred Saga!

Want to learn more about the story behind the Matter of Manred Saga covers and Fantasy Book Cover Design?

Fantasy Art, Book Cover Design, and the Indie Author

A few blog posts can only do so much for the discussion. That’s why I’ve reached out to several amazing fantasy artists and authors to join me in discussing their own experiences. Whether you’re an indie author/publisher in the market for a book cover design of your own, or just a fan of fantasy book cover art who’d love to get a behind-the-scene glimpse into the process behind their favorite book covers, this Fantasy Art, Book Cover Design, and the Indie Author Facebook event is for you!

Everyone is guilty of judging books by their cover. On any given day, you can find folks at the bookstores doing exactly that, over and over and over again.

But have you ever wondered what actually goes into the process of designing a Fantasy Fiction book cover?

Well now’s your chance to find out!

Join me 24 February from 10am-5pm EST as I discuss and take questions on matters of Book Design as an independent author and artist.

The Adventures in Indie Publishing Newsletter is proud to present:

Location: Facebook (

Time: 10am-5pm EST

Date: Friday, February 24, 2017

Whether you’re an indie writer, preparing to dip your toe in the self-publishing pool for the first time, or just a fan of fantasy artwork, this Facebook event is for you!

Join Michael E. Dellert, author of the Adventures in Indie Publishing Blog and the fantasy tales of the Matter of Manred Saga, as well as a slate of internationally renowned independent fantasy, paranormal, and horror authors and artists as they deconstruct their book cover designs!

  • Get a behind-the-scenes peek into the cover design process!
  • Learn what software the professionals use!
  • Hear their stories about the good, bad, and ugly of cover design!
  • Ask questions and get answers from those who know!
  • See some amazing fantasy artwork!
  • Share your own favorites!

Authors and artists on the panel include:

  • Julie Nicholls, author of the Blood Trilogy and indie cover-artist
  • Scott Borgman, author of the Tal’Avern Chronicles and The Exiled Trilogy
  • Christie Stratos, author of The Dark Victoriana Collection
  • Karina Kantas, author of eight works of fiction, including Illusional Reality
  • Sharon Lipman, author of Bound to Blackwood, and indie cover-artist
  • Markie Madden, author of The Undead Unit Series
  • Eric Lahti, author of The Henchmen Trilogy, The Saxton Series, and The Clock Man and Other Stories
  • Ian D Moore, author of Salby Damned and Salby Evolution
  • Tom Fallwell, author of The Rangers of Laerean Trilogy
  • Andy Peloquin, author of The Last Bucelarii Series, and Child of the Night Guild (Book 1 of the Queen of Thieves Series)
  • Rose Montague, author of the Three J’Amigos Series and the Norma Jean’s School of Witchery Series

So come on out, meet the authors and artists, ask your questions, and get an eyeful of some of the best fantasy artwork being done today!

The Fantasy Art, Book Cover Design, and the Indie Author Facebook event, 24 March, 10am-5pm EST

The Fantasy Art, Book Cover Design, and the Indie Author Facebook event, 24 March, 10am-5pm EST






















Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

Posted in Announcements, Author Event, Cover design, Fiction, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing, The Wedding of Eithne

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The Author
Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
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