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Enable your passion.

Create your vision.

Enable your passion.

Create your vision.

Enable your passion.

Create your vision.

Enable your passion.

Create your vision.

Cover Reveal for Sapphic Murder Mystery Time Loop Extravaganza! Plus 6 Stages of An Illustrated Cover

When Ana approached me for her latest book cover design, asking for a rush job so she could release during pride month, I was all in and practically drooling with excitement just from her "word-blah" (her words!) explanation alone:


"It's about two girls who fall in love, except one of them is a singer who keeps getting murdered, and the other is stuck in a loop reliving it, trying to stop it, and she's not even sure the singer is even into her or just kind of had a drunken experimenting whimsy...But now they keep waking up that morning after, reliving that day again and again...And dying...again and again and again. . ."

Yep, drooling. We've got bands and sapphic sexual identity crisis and time loops and murder mystery. Ding, ding, ding. Jackpot! I knew I wanted this cover to be bright and fun and messy, in that late night neon-retro vibe where I know I'm a Queen, but also probably fraying at the seam. Ana is always amazing and just let's me do my thing which is both a curse and a blessing, yeah? Kind of in a that "too many choices is worse than none?" Maybe that's just me.


I've had a few people curious about the "book cover design / illustration" process, so I thought I'd do a quick mini-ish break down on what I kind of see as the six stages of an illustrated work.


Step One: Inspiration & Studies


The first thing I do when I'm given a new project is to investigate and do a little market research. Figure out what people are doing, have done, and where I can find more holistic avenues of inspiration. I want to make sure my design is both original while capturing its story.


I then start scribbling different layouts and compositions and visual themes both in sketchbook and digitally. Whatever feels like will capture whatever the thing is I'm trying to grasp.


Now, yes, I could photograph these hand-drawn sketches but I'm already showing you shocking stuff below so I'm going to pass and just re-share what you've already probs seen.




Step Two: Doodled Concepts


At this point I usually send the client little doodles of different ideas to see what takes their fancy so we can start honing in our winning design.


How many and how detailed these little concepts are really depend on style and how clear either the author's or my vision is.


As an example, this is part of the breakdown I sent author J. M. Nelson last year:

Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September
My little digital concept doodles for Childe Roland


Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September





This is the winning monstrosity that Ana got.


She sent me a voice memo just laughing.


Said she loved it, and later admitted she had no clue what I was on, but trusted in the process. Which, I love her for. So much.









From these concepts, authors will usually choose one or combine a few ideas to create our 'pathway' which is when we switch from inspo gathering to proper development.



Step Three: Slightly More Finessed Concepts


Note: If an author has a distinct vision of their book cover and can scribble it for me, we skip Step One and Two and jump straight here.


This development window reminds me a bit of going to the optometrist. We know what letters we want to see across the room, but don't have clarity. We gotta get clearer vision.


So I take whatever rough concept we've decided on and turn my doodles and sketches into more literal actual comprehendible forms.


Or, I have like a major breakthrough and toss a giant spanner in the whole process because I figured out a way to express it all so much better. If this happens, I usually give the author an option to switch things up or stick with Plan A if it's still more their vibe or better for their wallet. (I don't charge any extra development I do unless they decide to go with Plan B, don't worry).


But, sometimes the author comes to me and apologies and reveals they've changed the brief, the entire genre!, or just would prefer to revert ideas to something else entirely and we have to go back to not just Step Two, but all the way to Step One! Yes, this happens. More than I should probably admit. So please know if you do this, you will be charged for the extra time. But don't worry, it won't be as much compared to this happening at Stage Four!


(This system is all about safeguarding us both from disasters haha)


Though, to be honest, I do understand how clients can get cold feet in this zone because everything's still a little wonky and the rubbish I'm sending is just getting clearer, not "better".


So it's understandable that some authors make rash decisions or get too many cooks in the kitchen until they discover they're envisioning someone else's idea, not their own, and have to start again anyway. (This happened recently to a client sadly).


My advice: Trust your gut and trust the process.


I try my best to read between the lines to see if there's any concerns and gently reassure clients that we haven't hit the actual "arty-arty" makeover part yet. But communication is always best and I much rather put a project aside and let you breathe and go through your own process to discover your vision before we wrack up hours trying every whim.


Otherwise, you can kind of think of it like that original AI dream visual generator thing? If you remember that? All this is me trying to look inside your head and make tails of it. It's often not pretty work and very messy trying to read minds haha


Like, look at this stuff. Left is what Renee and Jonathan at SkyNation received for Beasts of London at the last step of the composition design stage. Right is Ana's.


Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September, commissions open, book now

Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September, commissions open, book now


Rubbish yeah? But do they look like the final covers? No! But the design outline is there. . .


I got a response from Ana something like: "I trust you darling" which I took as code for "Please don't show me any more garbage and give me not-anxiety until you have a solid concept I can actually get behind". Which, honestly fair. Some authors like to be heavily involved in the process. Others like to email me their ideas and then wake up to a finished design two or so months later like, solid. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Knowing what suits you is key to a harmonious process I guess haha

Step Four: Actual Illustration Studies & Concepts


This stage I see like a backwards puzzle. We now have clear vision. But no pieces.


I have to find and illustrate those pieces.


Often times I start detailing assets from all the way back in Stage One if they've carried over to the final design. Most times I'm trying to find better references to express the idea. Even styles.


Each round of development has my area of focus getting smaller as I start locking off assets and we can actually now get it which is so exciting. Like, I'm still in love with this:


Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September, commissions open, book now

Eventually, we get a more put together concept that lacks finesse but has pieces.



Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September, commissions open, book now


For comparison, here's Beasts of London and Childe Roland at this stage:




Step Five: The Last Shakedown & Lettering!


I love this stage of the process. I usually have most of my assets in final stages and it's just a matter of "frankensteining" something better out of them, while addressing any last concerns.


It's also when I officially move mostly out of Fresco into Illustrator (unless, like with Beasts of London, I have to do a lot of photomanipulation which means I'm in Photoshop).


Often there's a final uh huh moment when I crack the last itch which is always so satisfying.


Usually, it's a lot of title work which either happens first or last depending on the cover style.

For this project, it ended up happening last. I did try a custom typography based on the original concepts but it just wasn't working for me. So this meant a little dip back into Stage One and Two to R&D an alternate path. But at this stage I'm pretty quick to know what I want.


You can see a little of that mania right here:


Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September, commissions open, book now, custom lettering and or titles

Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September, commissions open, book now

These last two stages are mostly me staring at the same thing for 30 minutes going back and forth and back and forth a minor edit only to metaphorically flip my desk, and more literally storm off to take Asha for a walk to clear my head and sense.



Step Six: The Final Touches


If I'm not already in Photoshop, this is when I cross over to reconstruct all my assets, make sure they're neat, and do a final once over to make sure everything pops. I do have a video of this section which I will be sharing once I can be bothered to turn the hour into 60 secs or less.


But once that wraps, I breathe a sigh of relief, stop fiddling and obsessing, and shift gear into some cute marketing asset work. And voilà! My work is finished.



Graphic from blog post Stages of an illustrated book cover design by dayna for a sapphic murder mystery novel releasing September, commissions open, book now

This job took me three weeks which is not what I advise. Rush jobs obviously cost extra, but I was able to pull this off because Anastasia trusted me to make something wonderful for her and Ana was just genuinely excited to have an illustrated cover from me for her story. She sees it like traditional art, in a way, where it was less about her directing and more about me just taking this far as I could and seeing what would be revealed when I pushed her concept.


It also helps that Ana hasn't finished her novel and is using this cover as much for inspiration as the other way around lol. I mean, she's now giving her main character an intergenerational ethnicity because this character I created just captured the personality so perfectly and brought her to life that Ana was literally like THAT'S GEORGE! Which was actually an awesome moment because she's so beautiful and neither of us were intending to go that way as we tend to have a bias to reflect what we see in the mirror, or wished to see I guess. So it's nice.


(I told her to go watch Talk to Me. Sophie Wilde wasn't a reference, but any excuse right?)


I usually recommend authors give me at least four months to work. It's highly unlikely I'll use all that time. But chances are things will pop up and you don't want your cover reveal, or worse, your actual release!, to be breathing down our necks. I work great under pressure, but not advised. Also, with all the hell Ingram can give clients--if that's your printer of choice--you want a big window to ensure you're not creating stress there. Trust me.


But that's it! I could keep rambling on about whatever, but it's past dinner time so maybe not haha If you're looking for your own original illustrated book cover, let's chat! I have a form and yes I am currently booking commissions and I'd love to figure out your vision :)



ABOUT ANASTASIA LYNETTE

Lynette's recent dip into the steamy waters of spicy romance comes after a long career writing young adult stories. She feels a bit in Wonderland! When not writing, or working the day job of doom, Lynette enjoys time with her two cats, Coco and Chanel, teasing her partner. and exploring new cafes and judging their coffee.,




ABOUT DESIGN BY DAYNA

Dayna is an Australian creative, working globally, to assist freelancers and brands to enable their visual storytelling and practices. From Netflix Documentaries and Best Selling Authors to international and small businesses, Dayna has provided design and creative solutions across a range of mediums including--but not limited to!--book covers, websites, and product designs.

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