Steal It Like It’s Hot

I have a confession to make.  I do art like I write.  Mostly by my toes or something.  It’s not an entirely rational process, and the advantages of doing it electronic is that I can move things around until it “clicks” and this process sometimes takes years.

Which is fine, except of course in covers I don’t have years.  I don’t have years when doing a cover for a client (look, at least I don’t make their books look literary) and even when I start the cover for myself when I first write the book, it’s not that long till I need a DECENT cover either.


So I remembered an adage from when I was first learning to write and plot was a foreign concept.  (Things happened, mind.  Or as a friend writing his first book put it “when I don’t know what they should do I take them shopping or get them drunk.”  Which is fine, but is not a plot.  In my case my characters took a lot of strolls through the woods and cooked a lot.  And there was the book (never to be published) in which the characters drank so many cups of coffee that the entire book should take place in the bathroom.)

The adage is “steal the element you don’t have naturally.”  Because at the time I couldn’t even “see” plot, the best I could do was diagram a book’s plot and then replace the “hits” of that plot with mine.  It worked, and we call it my first published novel.  (Ill Met By Moonlight.)

So, faced with the bewildering array of cover possibilities and the fact that they signal genre and subgener and sometimes I don’t even know the genre or subgenre or if I do I don’t pick up all the signals (fact.  Bought three books this week without glancing at the cover.  Bought on title, author name and blurb.  (Well, in two cases, in the third I didn’t know the author.  I’m halfway through the book — have been reading in five minute segments, or so — and it’s d*mn good.)

When Amanda asked me to redo the covers for her Nocturnal series because the signaling has changed (and everyone has gotten better at covers, upping everyone’s game) I was a little flummoxed because I only read Urban Fantasy occasionally and it can be years between a bout of binge UF reading.  (I’m actually like that with everything.  I read all genres, but not at the same time.)

So I hadn’t looked at any new covers.  I asked her what series was most like hers, out today.

She gave me three series and I looked at the covers.  Since I was also looking at images she’d selected, I had to figure out how I was going to process the image (I have filter forge.  Buy it.  Best thing evah.  I can, if you wish, next week, do a post just showing transformations.)

I don’t remember why now (it’s been months.  I’ve slept since then) but at the time I eliminated two of the series’ covers.  Either because there was no way I could make her images work, or because I didn’t have fonts I could approximate to theirs.  (I am not allowed to have Adobe products on my system, and I actually agree with it, since they gum up everything.  And their new “rental” system is a pain because if you stop subscribing, you stop having the right to the fonts you already used in covers.  Realistically this means I can’t use the same fonts as publishers, who use Adobe.  At best I can approximate it.)  I have bought a package of something like 1001 fonts.  They’re mostly public domain and/or retired fonts, but they are very useful.  Yeah, I could have got similar with dafont, but think of the time it would take me, and this only cost like $30 to have all of them at my fingertips.  Periodically if I need something very specialized I go to dafont and others and get one or two for a job.

So the covers I settled on “stealing” were the Jane Yellowrock series covers.  And before you say “Ah, you stole them!” — not in any copyrightable way.  Only insofar as it has the same general design “touch/feel.”

Jane Yellow Rock

Note the not quite but almost monochromatic feel of the book — the pictures Amanda had sent me (which she’d bought) were not that monochromatic but more realistic.  (And btw, they’re not scenes from the book, just an attractive model with several poses.  Back when she and I were trying to be a lot more realistic, we spent a lot of time trying to find stock photos of policewomen.  Don’t.  JUST DON’T.  Apparently to some people “policewoman” means open top and sexy lingerie, and that’s the BEST we found.)

I actually had to go in search of a filter to give the photo a similar look, but that was fairly well accomplished:


My least satisfactory thing was the font for the author’s name.  It should be blockier.  But it was the only semi-leggy font I had, so it had to do.  It’s “fluffier” than the original and if I stumble on a better font, I might change it (and drive Amanda insane having to put it in again.)  But the rest I more or less stole, and it comes closest to signaling the genre, etc. than anything else I’ve done.

So, if you don’t know how to do it, steal it like it’s hot.

And if someone can identify a look for “historical” and one for “High brow vampire historical semi-erotica” I can stop redoing the covers for the musketeers mysteries and the vampire musketeers.  The second is not up yet and is already giving me cold sweats  And the first has had about five covers and the current ones suck.  (I have new ones ready to go up, but it’s low priority and waiting till I have time to finish the sixth book.)


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39 responses to “Steal It Like It’s Hot

  1. I need to take classes. I use several different programs, but I not only don’t know how to do anything past the basic manipulations, I don’t understand enough to even use the online tutorials. I need a live teacher to lead me by the hand through the preschool levels.

    And then redo almost all my covers.

    • First download the filter forge and play with it. Seriously.

      • If you don’t use (or like, me, detest) Photoshop, be aware that the vast majority of filters will work with ANY bitmap editing program, and most editors will let you specify a directory for filters. I put all my filters in a single directory and point all my image editors at them.

        And if your editor applies filters too slowly, check out Corel PhotoPaint… it is much, much faster at it, especially on old hardware.

        Oh, and those transformation samples sound interesting; do post ’em!

    • I use Filter Forge for the grunge and frame. Haven’t tried it for the whole shebang.

    • Laura M

      I am starting to learn Photoshop Elements. It’s supposed to be easier than Photoshop, but, it’s hard. I even bought a book. I just did a cover for a short story myself. All I wanted to do was overlay a girl’s face on a double helix, and make the girl’s face transparent.

      I asked for Help. I read the book. I Googled. I found nothing. That, I thought, will teach me not to get the cheaper version. Then I erased all the background around her face. That looked pretty good. It was when I was stumbling around in layers later that I saw a little button for “opacity,” which some people might call transparency. There it was, after two hours of erasing, including the do-over when I accidentally erased her cheek. Turned out the erased version was better than the transparent one.

  2. Right at the moment, we’re trying to walk my daughter through making covers for me. This is difficult, since none of us have done it before. I keep pointing her to these type of posts, but I don’t think anything has sunk in yet.

  3. Uncle Lar

    “I have a confession to make. I do art like I write. Mostly by my toes or something.”
    I just knew that there had to be a logical explanation for all those typos.
    As for a cover for S&B, musketeers, vampires, all that frilly French lace. The possibilities are endless.
    Do remember that perfect is an elusive critter, and known to be the deadly enemy of good enough.

  4. One of the free fonts sites lets you download whole groups at a crack… don’t recall which one, it’s been a while. Much faster than pawing through ’em one at a time, especially if you’re a font freak with a collection of …at last count, 17,000 unique fonts.

    So is there a better management program than old (1997) Bitstream Font Navigator?

  5. B. Durbin

    By “leggy”, do you mean tall & thin? Most type editors have an ability to change the scaling vertically or horizontally, so you can take a blockier font and stretch it vertically to get the look you want. I suggest that if you do so, you use a nice round number for the scaling, like 150%, and WRITE IT DOWN. That way, you’re not stuck trying to figure out what you did before.

    Ask me how I know about writing things down.

    (Incidentally, I still love Photoshop, but it’s what I use for my professional job, so there’s a lot of expertise there… and I have an older, non-subscription version (along with relatives at Adobe who can keep me from being forcibly upgraded.))

    • Yes, but if you stretch it, it never looks right…

    • This is why I like doing a hybrid with a bitmap background and text as a vector foreground. It makes such things super easy. It also allows making a template, which not only speeds things up, but maintains a certain look. This is what I do for the company web page. Change the background; modify the text; export in the format of your choice, and you’re good to go.

  6. The only thing I don’t like is that the animal head is too close to the edge of the cover, so I just saw a spotted line at first.

  7. Bill S

    With all the warrior women in sff shouldn’t the covers of the books that feature them have that character portrayed by a physically fit model? Too often the woman swinging that sword on the cover looks like she could barely pick up the paperback the cover is on. Come on, there are tons of fitness models (see for a start) who look like they would be tough in a knife, sword, gun, etc. fight.