Cover art with Stuart Jaffe

Today, gentle reader, I have asked a good friend of the blog, author Stuart Jaffe, to write a bit about cover art. He has two series with fantastic cover art – the Max Porter series and the Nathan K. series- please follow the link to check them out. Here’s Stuart!

Ah, cover art. A topic that could fill (and probably does) numerous books. Let’s try to narrow things down a little and take a look at some specific aspects of cover art. Today, let’s take a look at cover art for a series. Those last three words are the most important towards addressing this topic — for a series. Because what this really means is branding. You have an artist and you have an idea for the correct image to express the genre and mood of your book, but what about the series as a whole? If branded properly, a reader will be able to see at a glance that several books laid out next to each other are part of the same series. Heck, even if other books are interspersed, a reader should be able to pick out the series books.

In order to achieve this, there are a few things to consider, and in the grand tradition of the internet, I’ll bullet-point them for you:

Color: there are a ton of ways to approach this, and working with an artist helps. The thing to remember is that color is one simple way to connect all your books. My Max Porter books have numerous indicators that they are a series, one of which is color. Every three books follow the same color scheme.  Books 1-3 are all shades of blue. Books 4-6 are red. And the green set of three will finish out later this year. But color can be more than a monotone. You can choose to make all the colors pastels, or bright neons, or nothing but dark colors except one bright color. As long as you follow the pattern throughout the series, color will help connect the books. Color also helps define genre — for example, dark, moody colors are obviously not the choice for a romantic-comedy about summer camp. Most genres have set colors which you should be familiar with. Feel free to break from those limits, but know the rules first, then break them.

Layout: the layout of the entire cover should be consistent throughout a series. The author name, the book title, the blurb quotes, any information you put on the cover should always be in the same place on every cover (or as close as the cover image will allow). This consistency will contribute majorly to branding the series. Plus, if you have a layout in mind to begin with, it will help your artist understand what parts of the canvas they have to work with. The layout doesn’t need to be fancy — most layouts follow one of handful of patterns — but it does need to be consistent. There are times when shifting this information on the page is necessary or even desired, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

Lettering: this refers to everything about the words. Font choice, font size, font color, you name it. And guess what? Just like all the above, you are looking for consistency. I recommend using no more than two fonts and use them the same way every time on every cover. In my Max Porter novels, the title and my name are in one font, the other (smaller) writing is in a second font. Those fonts, the general size and placement of the lettering, and the color choice (which is consistent with the entire color scheme, all are the same throughout the series. In my post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Malja Chronicles, you can see that the stylized titles are also consistent. In those books, the words THE WAY OF are turned on the side and the various titles are made extra-large. Every time. Every book.

Image: this one is optional but very effective. If there is a single image or image type than can be repeated in every cover, you have another great way to tie a series together.  A single image can be a character or location or anything.  The Max Porter books have a variety of images on the covers, but every cover always has an image of a ghost detective from the 1940s with glowing eyes. Another example: An image type might be a different family crest or rune for an epic fantasy series. Though each individual image is different, being of the same type (rune, family crest, etc) the connection is made.

To be clear, you do not have to do ALL of this for the covers of a series. Only one, or a combination, or a slight alteration will work. The key is consistency. If every cover is completely different, nobody will know you have a series going. But if all the covers have at least one (and preferably more than one) aspect that is the same from book to book, your fans will be grateful.

So, if you understand how these things work in concert, then you will have a better way to communicate with your artist. You can let them know the exact layout beforehand which will, in turn, provide them with the boundaries that they get to work in. Boundaries are great things for all artists. It forces creativity and, if you let them play within those boundaries, the stuff they come up with will exceed your expectations.

Thank you Stuart! Next time, tune in for a discussion of how to contract and work with a cover artist.

Until next time-

Lillian

Southern Rites by Stuart Jaffe

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Gentle readers, it is my deepest pleasure to introduce you to Stuart Jaffe, purveyor of fine historical paranormal noir. His Max Porter books start with Southern Bound, and continue to the current installment, Southern Rites. Set in modern-day North Carolina and based on real historical events, the series follows the cases of Max, Sandra, and Marshall Drummond. Max Porter is a researcher (making connections between disparate things is his superpower), who works with his wife Sandra (who can see ghosts) and Marshall Drummond, who is the ghost of a detective from the 1940s.

I invited Stuart to a Q and A on my blog to celebrate the release of Southern Rites, the seventh book in the series.

1. Why historical fantasy mixed with noir detective?

The Max Porter series grew out of an accidental discovery. At the time, we lived in Winston-Salem, NC while my wife worked on her Masters at Wake Forest University. Periodically, I would find myself out at the campus (about 30 minutes from where we were living) waiting for her to finish up with a class or teaching or whatever, so I’d hang out at the campus library. One afternoon I decided to learn more about the area — we had only moved there for my wife’s schooling and I knew little about Winston-Salem or the South. In the course of searching around, I stumbled upon a little known fact regarding Winston-Salem, cigarette production, World War II, and German POWs — mainly, that we housed German POWs on American soil and used them as forced-labor to keep producing cigarettes for American soldiers. And my brain went ka-pow! From that moment, I started creating the series and it’s developed ever more depth with each book.

2. Your Max Porter series is based on real events. How do you find the source material for your works?
I have an ever-growing collection of local histories as well as books on the weird and strange stories about the area. They are not hard to find. North Carolina has a long, odd history filled with unusual tales as well as fables of magic and mystery. It would be harder to avoid finding good material. I also frequent the libraries and use the ultimate research tool — the librarian. Finally, I can often stumble upon odd bits by letting the links of the Internet take me to strange worlds. Start with a simple search and an hour later you’ll end up in the most bizarre reaches of humanity. So, between all of that, I tend to find what I need to get started. Then I go visit the actual places and often meet helpful people who either are directly connected with the events or know the history better than I do. That’s the greatest secret source of information — people.

3. If Drummond could have a drink with any real historical figure in the ghost world, who would that be?
I suspect he would want to share a bottle of whiskey with Eisenhower. Drummond died in the early 1940s. World War II ripping apart Europe, and had Drummond lived, he would have served — probably would have ended up on Omaha Beach during D-Day. I think Drummond would have a lot of respect for Eisenhower and enjoy hearing how the man dealt with the pressure of leading such a massive army. Meeting the man would also be a touch of the world Drummond grew up in. And the truth for him is that no matter how long he lives, part of him sorely misses the world as he knew it.

4. If Max Porter could research in any library of his choosing, which would it be? And it can’t be UNC or Duke, cause I am a UVa grad:)
No doubts here — The Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University. It is the library he goes to many times and it’s the place the series was born. I love that library. It’s beautiful. It’s also two older buildings forced into becoming one, which gives it a lot of character with all these odd nooks to find and mismatched floor levels.

Having said that, I’m sure Max would love to spend a day at the Library of Congress or the New York Public Library. Those are amazing places, too.

 

Thanks Stuart, for dropping by the blog!

What I particularly love about these books is the interplay of historical events with the modern, the fast-paced plotting and the horrible scenarios that Mr Jaffe dreams up for his characters. I do love a great bit of suffering in my genre books:)

You can read more about this series and others at his website.

Until next time!

Lillian