Working with the illustrator

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Keith hard at work

Everyone knows how important a front cover is for a book. When books are published in digital form, as with Amazon Kindle, the cover is especially important because the purchaser doesn’t get to actually see and feel the book. Once the manuscript of the Priceless Princess was looking like a real story at last, I started to think about the book cover.

I am an artist and photographer, and I thought about making my own cover. At first sight, it seemed like a good idea. Technically it has become  easier every day, as new automated cover services appear, including Amazon’s own. If you want someone else to do it there are lots of more-or-less professional graphic designers and illustrators who offer to design covers for various prices, ranging from super cheap to pretty expensive. There is a limited choice of styles though and a sameness to a lot of them.

There is such a range of quality and style. This is especially so for children’s books, many of which seem to have simple line drawings and cartoon-like faces with some clumsy lettering. It’s hard to get a sense from the covers of what is going on in the books. Most of them didn’t look very appealing.

I needed a visual concept for the central character, Princess Sophie. My granddaughter Lulu is very blonde with blue eyes and pink skin. Pretty much what you would expect for a Princess. But I have another grand-daughter, Lulu’s cousin Lily, who has bright red hair and eyes that are brown but sometimes almost green. Lily is six years older than Lulu and I hadn’t had so much to do with her when he was young as they lived in the country. But as she grew older we began to see more of her, and I realised what an excellent enterprising brave person she was. I thought she would be a great role model for the Priceless Princess and  so I started looking for images which matched my  concept, without using actual photographs of her. I found an image I liked very much. It was a piece of digital art but the creator never responded to my Facebook requests and I could not track him down no matter where I looked. But his image gave me the idea I wanted to develop. It wasn’t just the look of the face and hair, but the costume and stance as well. She looked like a very brave an enterprising young girl, just what I wanted.

Although I originally thought I would just have an e-book version of the Priceless Princess, I soon decided that even though it was a short story it would be good to have a paperback as well. I looked at lots of children’s stories in local bookstores. I realised that the way adults used e-book readers may not be the same as the way children used them, and that in many cases children might not have access to them at all. Children can share a printed book with their friends, pass it around, show each other the illustrations they like. One person can read from the book while another is using their e-book reader somewhere else. Not everybody wants children’s fingerprints (and worse) all over their Kindle screens, but at the same time might not be ready to buy the child a Kindle just for them.  Above all, printed books are much more sociable than screens.

For the cover of a print version, you have to use a different technology and technique to that which works on an e-book. After much searching through people and companies offering book cover services I came across the remarkable illustrations by Keith Draws. Keith mostly works on SF and Fantasy titles. Even his covers for straightforward adventure stories have an element of edginess and a catchy quality which appealed to me. I contacted him for a quote and he told me what he could do for me and how the process would work. Keith lives in another country, far away from Australia, but thanks to the Internet the whole process could be done at a distance. I began collecting images I liked which more-or-less resembled the ideas I had in mind for the story and Keith set to work to make the cover. It only took a couple of versions and what he came up with was so much better than I could have even imagined. We discussed some internal illustrations – children’s chapter books usually have a few drawings – and from that emerged more ideas and images and concepts which I sent him, from which he did the fantastic black and white illustrations in the book.

It was a great experience, working with an artist of such responsiveness and intelligence. It gave me a whole new perspective on the capacities of digital art. Keith got what I meant usually straight away, sometimes after a couple of corrections. I have the idea of putting together a colouring book based on Keith’s illustrations, more on which later.

I can’t thank Keith enough for his patience and assistance, including with internal design and layout. Creating books for the new world of digital publishing is so engrossing and challenging, not for the faint-hearted, although it is getting easier all the time. And I especially want to thank Keith’s two daughters to whom he read the story and who especially loved the flying pony.

Visit Keith’s WordPress site here

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