Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Book by Its Cover

If you've heard those rumors I started a couple of weeks ago, I'm here to tell you they are indeed true.

A new Meralda and Mug short will be out soon. Soon as in 'as soon as I can get it formatted, converted, uploaded, and out there.' It's written, so all it needs is the conversion into e-reader ready formats.

This one is a novella, which means it's about 11,000 words long. So it's not a full-blown novel. No, this is just a short piece as a sort of thank-you to the fans. Something to read and enjoy while I work on the next novel, which will be considerably longer than 11K.

Even novellas need covers, though. And since I've decided to just put this short piece out there myself, I'm acting as my own cover artist.

Now, given that I have the artistic skills of a mollusk, making a book cover represents quite a challenge. Let's face it -- you put a book out there with a lousy cover, and you might as well emblazon the words THIS BOOK BLOWS right below it, in flashing red letters.

I won't buy a book with an ugly or amateurish cover. Call me shallow, go ahead, but I figure if they can't make a good first impression with the art the words inside are even worse.

I suppose there have been a few times when I bought a book despite seeing what I thought was a lousy cover.  Thud, by the brilliant and infallible Terry Pratchett, leaps to mind. Here's the cover:

I hate that book cover. Love the book. But for reasons I can't even express, the cover absolutely makes my skin crawl, and that's no easy feat.

So, when I set out to design the cover for the new Meralda and Mug novella (still trying to decide if I'm going to reveal the title yet), I knew a couple of things I didn't want to do.

1) No depictions of clubs bearing the title of the work about to strike armed heads.
2) My name should probably not take up a fifth of the cover. Terry Pratchett can and should take up that much space. Frank Tuttle should not. Such is the way of the world..

With those points out of the way, I had to ask myself what elements I did want to include on the cover. Here's what I came up with:

1) Meralda. She's the heroine, so she needs to be the primary figure on the cover. 
2) Mug should probably be there two. Wait, did I really just write Mug as an enchanted houseplant with mobile, gripping vines and twenty-nine eyes of various colors? I did, didn't I? And now I'm supposed to draw that?
3) An airship. The story centers around the unlikely rescue of a stricken airship, so putting a dirigible-like craft up in the sky is a must.
4) The title, the author byline (that's me!), all that jazz.

So, armed with this list and the finest in modern drawing implements, I laid out my supplies, put some Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon, naturally) on the turntable, and unleashed my Muse Artistic.

Minutes crept by. Hours. Then days. Victuals were brought to my garret, and hurled down in contempt, such was my fevered determination to bring forth Art.

I drew. I imagined. I erased, I crumpled, I despaired, I started anew. In a corner of the room, a passing wind blew the pages of a by-day calendar up and over. Calendar pages were ripped away, one at a time.  Seasons changed. My beard grew long, and housed a den of foxes.

In the end, I looked wearily down upon the hard-won fruits of my labor, and I cried out in a great voice, 'How much does Photoshop cost again?"

First, you'll notice two things about this image. One, I slipped and revealed the title of the new novella, which is Saving the Sammi.

Second, the cover really stinks. Although I think I really nailed the magical effluent around Meralda's wand. That is some Impressionist masterwork there, people. Each dot a masterpiece.

After long and careful consideration, I decided against drawing my own cover art. Which sent me scurrying back to the net, in hopes of finding legal, suitable images I could use.

It was the legal aspect of this I found most daunting, originally. I'm no Intellectual Property lawyer, but I know you can't just snag any old image that catches your eye and make your own book cover out of it. That would make me as bad a book pirate, and I hate those guys.

So I did a little research, and was glad to find a number of sites which sell royalty-free images that are licensed for use on book covers. And the prices aren't always the hundreds or thousands of dollars I was afraid of finding, either. Many were well within my budget.

The legal hurdle crossed, I settled on and began my search for suitable cover images.

Now, I knew I wasn't going to find a ready-made image which depicted the scene I had in mind. But I have Corel Paint Shop Pro X4, which makes it easy to edit and combine multiple images and which offers a vast array of effects and graphics features. I've seen it called the 'poor man's Photoshop,' and at $75 I concur.

So what I was looking for turned out to be three images -- one of Meralda, one background image, and one of a steampunkish airship.

Searching on 'steampunk female' or the like inside Dreamstime pulled up a wealth of images. Some were drawn. Some were photos. Some were....

Well, let's just say that wardrobe malfunctions must be common among steampunk females. Not quite what I was looking for, since Meralda is adamant about remaining clothed. 

Finally, I found what I was looking for -- a young woman wearing flying goggles, black gloves, and a scarf. 

And she's got a smirk. I liked it, so into the cart it went. 

Now I needed a background. Something stormy and ominous. I found plenty of photos of storm-fronts, but they tended to include cityscapes, and modern-day Chicago doesn't really work for depicting steampunk Tirlin. 

But then I stumbled across this:

That had it all. Some clouds, an airship, a steampunk porthole and vintage maps.  

I was set.

All that remained was to resize and combine the two images. 

The optimum size for an Amazon catalog image is 1562 pixels wide by 2500 tall. So I resized my background -- no problem. Then I did a rough insert of Meralda, and quickly found she was facing the wrong way, which covered up the airship.

No big deal. Paint Shop let me mirror her, and also extract her from the dark background in her image. Then I resized her extracted image, over and over, until I found one that fit.

Then, just for fun, I added a title and a byline, and voila! A rough draft of a book cover, all done by a guy who has yet to manage stick figures on paper...

No, this isn't the final image. I'm still messing with a few things.  But I thought a few of you might be interested in a behind-the-scenes walkthrough  of how book covers are born here at Casa Tuttle.

Oh, and yeah, no Mug. I suppose the demand upon artists for depictions of many-eyed houseplants is still relatively small. I'd have drawn one myself, but -- you saw how that went.

So if you're a fan of All the Paths of Shadow, keep a lookout for the new Meralda & Mug novella, coming any day now. I'll announce it here, on Twitter, on Facebook, from my cell at the Lafayette County Detention Center, all my usual haunts.

And if you like the cover, now you know its story!


  1. I'm amazed that you found such a perfect background! I'm going to say that your second cover attempt was much better than the stick figure one. Just in case you were wondering ;-)

    Doggone shame there's no Mug though. I suppose us readers will have to settle for having him in the story itself.

    Can't wait to read it!

  2. Thanks April! I'm determined to present an image of Mug, one way or another! Although I will refrain from any further attempts at drawing.

  3. I love your gentle snark and this back of house glimpse. Just as I love Mug and Meralda and am looking forward to their next adventures.