The process of commissioning cover art is an interesting one. In the old days, it was pretty simple for the author: The publisher handled it. Maybe you got a chance to comment on or even approve the choice of artist or the design, but if you weren’t Stephen King, you probably didn’t even get that. Hopefully you liked it, but in the end what matters to the publisher is not that it’s true to the author’s vision—or even true to the story—but that it sells books. We’ve all read books with covers that seemed barely related to the content, and that’s why.

As a self-publishing author, I had the chance to right that wrong—but at the same time, I lost the author’s luxury of caring only about my vision. Like the publishers of yore, I had to worry equally—or perhaps moreso—about selling the book.

And what sells a book? Opinions vary, and sometimes it just comes down to a certain magic, but I think a cover painting needs to convey atmosphere. It needs to be colorful and eye-catching (in the world of electronic publishing, it has to look good at many sizes, all the way down to icon scale). It needs to tell just a bit of a story. It needs drama and tension. Most importantly, it needs to ask questions, so the reader wants to crack that book open in search of answers.

Way, way down at the bottom of the list, it needs to represent something that happens in the novel.

The Mason of New Orleans cover

Unless this is your first visit to my site, you’ve seen this already. More times than you probably want to. So, what the heck, here it is again.

The events in my cover “happen” in Chapters 10 and 11, so if you’ve read the book (or the chapters I posted here on this site) you might recognize that stage of the story. But you might also notice that no scene exactly like this occurs: The bloodied arm, the hunted skulking, and the frescoe of St. Martin don’t all occur at the same exact point in the story. As the reader, should you be outraged? Should I, as the author? Not, I think, if the painting has achieved the goals I mention above.

So what do you think? Did the fabulous Drew Baker (who, unlike many cover artists, did in fact read a draft of the book before composing this) knock it out of the park? Is this a book you’ve gotta read? Or should I have insisted on something right out of an actual scene?

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