Guest Post: Got You Covered by Shawntelle Madison + Giveaway!!

This month, I’m interviewing an industry professional, the editor-in-chief of Del Rey Books, my editor Tricia Narwani. We will delve into the process of how a cover is designed. The cover in question is mine, Kept, which comes out today from Ballantine Books. The process for the first cover in the series, Coveted, was actually a learning process. My book changed imprints from Del Rey to Ballantine and thus the art direction for my book changed. I loved both and I’m glad the Random House staff worked so hard to give me the best push possible.

Tricia Narwani: I’m glad that Shawntelle noted the change in imprint. When I first acquired Shawntelle’s delightful series and shared it with my colleagues, there was some lively discussion about how to best publish it. On the one hand, Shawntelle had created a truly original world with a fresh take on classic supernatural elements like werewolves and wizards, so we thought urban fantasy readers might enjoy it making it a Del Rey book. But it also had a smoldering romance at its core meaning it might be a great paranormal romance for Ballantine’s paranormal romance list. When Shawntelle rewrote the book, the romance had gotten hotter and even more compelling, so we finally settled on the romance list.
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Del Rey Cover Art
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Ballantine Cover Art

This is an important point for a cover discussion, because urban fantasy and paranormal romance have slightly different cover conventions. These conventions help fans identify what kind of book they’re looking at right away and it’s up to our clever designs to be creative within those constraints. Urban fantasy, with its greater emphasis on action and magic, usually features the heroine alone on the cover, but for paranormal romance, you gotta bring the sexiness, and that means the heroine has to be paired up with the male lead. So for the first book, heroine Nat Stravinsky was joined by Thorn, her love interest.

Shawntelle Madison: The process to bring about Kept began with an email from Tricia. Naturally, I had all sorts of ideas at first how the cover would come about. Thorn, or Paul Marron in this case, had already been front and center on the first book. If they planned to have him on the cover again I wouldn’t have balked too much. This is Paul Marron. :) I also knew, based on my past knowledge of covers, that there would be a different color scheme and I looked forward to what would be presented.shawntelle madison

So, how about some background before we delve into Kept? For the first book, Coveted, I was sent a questionnaire from Tricia. What did Natalya look like: I actually pictured her like a young Joanne Whalley. Remember her from the 1980s movie Willow? She is actually a brunette in real life. Next, what did she wear? Which was easy since Natalya pretty much wore the same wardrobe all the time: a pencil skirt and blouse. And finally Thorn. Picture any hot blonde guy with hazel eyes. Not too hard with my imagination.

For the second book, Tricia suggested switching things up a bit. In the case of Kept, we have two heroes vying for Natalya’s heart: Thorn and Nick the white wizard. Tricia suggested having Nick front and center. This is where the fun part came. Thorn was on the first book, but he is also in the second. He plays an important part in the second book, so leaving him out would be difficult. I asked Tricia if there was a way all three of my protagonists could be included.

Tricia Narwani: As Shawntelle mentioned, we were really happy with the first cover, which was a digital photo-based illustration by the fabulously talented Gene Mollica (check out his website, genemollica.com, to see more of his spectacular work). Gene starts by photographing models in the case of Thorn, the ever-popular Paul Marron and then digitally altering the image until it resembles an illustration.

But with a series, you have to strike a careful balance between preserving a distinctive, memorable, and consistent look and branding and putting out the same cover over and over again. One technique is keeping the same logo and title treatment but switching up the color palette. In this case, from cool, night-and-shadow blues to sultry, simmering reds-and-oranges. We made some subtle changes to Nat, too. She was quite prim and buttoned up on the cover of Book One, but we gave her a sexier, more relaxed look, to reflect the changes she’d gone through as a character. Another is featuring new characters. And with Nat’s second admirer, Nick the sexy-yet-sensitive white wizard, heating up Kept, it seemed like a natural progression to add him to the cover, too. Shawntelle sent me some notes on Nick’s appearance and wardrobe she suggested a hotter, younger Harry Dresden and Gene got busy casting an appropriately attractive model as Nick and ended up with John Paul Pfeiffer. (John Paul is actually the cover model featured on the Dresden illustrations by artist Chris McGrath.)

But featuring three characters on the cover presented a challenge for Gene and our brilliant art director, Dreu Pennington-McNeil. Kept is a paperback, so the size of the “canvas” is limited, making it tough to squeeze three characters into a single image. And with many readers shopping at e-tailers for ebooks, the cover also has to make just as big an impact at thumbnail size. Dreu and I looked at movie posters for inspiration, since they often have to arrange a huge all-star cast in an intelligible formation. And Dreu ended up taking inspiration from the story itself with Nat getting closer to Nick while trying to move past Thorn, we decided to put Nat and Nick front and center, with Thorn on the oustide looking in. Not only did it solve the design problem, it helped create a little suspense for Shawntelle’s fans – Is Nat finally falling for Nick? And what will Thorn do about it? It was the perfect solution, both aesthetically pleasing and true to the story!

Shawntelle Madison: Now that you’ve learned more about the cover development process for Kept, I’d love to know what you think about urban fantasy covers versus paranormal romance covers. What do you think of cover changes? They would be hard to spot if you don’t follow the author closely, but have there been any you’ve found interesting?

Leave a comment and I’ll pick one lucky winner to get a copy of Kept!WINNER – Tiffany Freund – thanks all for blogging with us!




shawntelle madison
About the author:
Shawntelle Madison is a web developer who loves to weave words as well as code. She’d never admit it, but if asked she’d say she covets and collects source code. After losing her first summer job detassling corn, Shawntelle performed various jobs from fast-food clerk to grunt programmer to university webmaster. Writing eccentric characters is her most favorite job of them all. On any particular day when she’s not surgically attached to her computer, she can be found watching cheesy horror movies or the latest action-packed anime. She lives in Missouri with her husband and children.

Find Shawntelle online:Facebook |Twitter |Website |Goodreads


Buy Her Books here – KEPT is on sale today!!

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