Art and Design

Gingerbread Murder – A Story in Cover Design

Creative minds can be so fickle.

For the past 2 years I’ve been regularly creating book covers for freelance projects as well as for my and my friend’s company Red Empress Publishing. Designing covers began as a way to expand my art portfolio and learn design techniques but has since grown into something I immensely enjoy. Each time I get a new design request it’s like starting a new mini-mystery. You have to take these tiny, sometimes nonsensical blurbs of information about the novel and figure out the right way to piece them together so you get just enough of the story on the cover to pique curiosity without giving away all the good bits.

On occasion, I get some very odd requests. For instance, at one point I was working on a cover for a book when the author asked me to add a random floating puppy head “because people like books that have dogs and cats” – yes, an actual quote –  which may have made sense if the book had anything to do with dogs and cats, but it didn’t. I couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of it for days (thank goodness we were corresponding via email).

While these really weird ideas can be frustrating, there is another kind of request that really throws my mind for a loop. These cover ideas can be aptly summed up in the following way: where the stock images be at?! 

These covers usually have very unique concepts (in this case murdered gingerbread men) and tend to blind side you just when you’ve decided on deadlines and let your imagination run wild creating amazing mockups you’re going to put together to really wow the author with… and then the hunt begins, and you find nothing. Absolutely nothing. All your glorious artistic visions go up in flames as site after site turns up void of any worthwhile image. Hundreds of pages and thousands of images later your creativity wanes, your mind goes hazy and you gently float off into a state of artistic uselessness.

Then. You pull yourself together. There are deadlines to make, expectations to be met, and your honor as an artist to uphold. You halfheartedly pull a few images into a document and painstaking put together a mock cover design. It is the worst mockup you’ve ever done. You can’t help staring at it wondering how you ever thought you could be good at this. It haunts you for days as you pretend not to see it sitting there on your desktop. You should never show this to anyone.

Here, I’m going to interrupt myself and show my latest atrocity to you.


Yes, this clip art style mockup actually happened.

But then one day you wake up and your mind is suddenly overflowing with creative energy and excitement. You skip to your desk to find that all those once endless pages of useless information are now bursting with inspiration. You’re pulling images from left and right as you bring brand new concepts to life. In very little time you’ve come up with a whole set of nicer alternatives only to look back at your first attempt and wonder how you could have been responsible for that mess.


(Available Soon in Spanish on Red Empress Publishing)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is – sometimes – how a book cover is brought to life.



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