Tag: Covers

The Underwater Ballroom Society anthology cover

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If you been hanging around my social media over the last couple of days (which, I assume, everyone does), then you will have probably noticed the announcement for the upcoming anthology The Underwater Ballroom Society, which will be coming out at the end of April. I’m really pleased to have a novella in the anthology, which is full of so many of my favourite writers. I thought about telling you about the novella, but I think I’ll save that for another post. What I want to tell you about today is the cover, which was revealed yesterday on the Book Smugglers blog.

Because, as well as contributing a story, I also designed the cover, which you can see here:

This is actually the first time that I’ve designed a cover for an anthology rather than for a novel or short story. The anthology consists of fantasy and science fiction stories all of which include at least one scene set in an underwater ballroom. You can read more about the concept in the cover reveal blog post. These stories include a wide range of genres, settings, and time periods. My first ideas for the cover were all scenes of or in an underwater ballroom. But, inevitably, when I sketched these out they tended to give the impression of a particular story or location. That can work for an anthology, but in my opinion, particularly with such a diverse anthology, it’s better to have a cover that represents the concept overall rather than any particular expression of the concept. I wanted a cover that would give the feel of the stories as a whole without actually showing a scene from a particular one of the stories.

So, I decided to do away with the ballroom altogether and go with “underwater” and “dancing” as my concepts, in a scene that at least hinted at a speculative element (as all stories are science fiction or fantasy to some degree).

I’m not an artist, so my covers use a combination of stock photos, but I really enjoyed the process of painting the water and combining the images to create this underwater scene. I hope you like it too.

Like I said, I will tell you more about my particular story and some of the other stories in the anthology as we get closer toward the publication date. For now, you can add this on Goodreads and subscribe to the anthology newsletter, which will give you the chance to win one of fifty free copies of the e-ARC when it is available. I will also offer a few free copies of the e-ARC on my own newsletter, which you can subscribe to here or on the front page of my website.

I can’t wait to share this anthology with you. There are a wonderful variety of stories for you to read by some amazingly talented writers, and I feel really privileged to have been invited to be part of it.


Cover Designs

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I don’t get to spend much time on cover design anymore (or web design, for that matter) because most of my non-childcare time is spent on writing, but occasionally I get to do the odd cover. Here are a couple of covers I’ve designed for Steph in the last month.

First up is a cover for her short story, Shadow Duet, which is a sequel to her historical fantasy, Masks and Shadows.

I was particularly pleased with this one, because I made it entirely from freely-available, public domain images, so other than my time, it didn’t cost a penny.

The second cover is for Steph’s forthcoming novella, Snowspelled. My contribution to this was a little less, because I was working from a specially-commissioned artwork by Leesha Hannigan. All I had to do was add text, make a few subtle adjustments to make the text more visible, and add the frills. But I think it turned out really nicely. Here it is:

Follow the links to find out more about the stories!

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb – New Cover

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Hey folks. Fantastic news. SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will have a new cover when it comes out in paperback on July 18th, 2016. I liked the hardcover version, but I think the paperback catches the book better. No need for me to waffle on about this. Here it is:

As with the hardcover, the art here is by Jeremy Holmes.

Find out more about the book here.

The Emperor of Mars Cover

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The cover for my second novel, THE EMPEROR OF MARS, kind of snuck its way out into the world last week without telling me. So, it’s time to officially give it its freedom here.

Without further waffle, here it is in its full glory:

The cover art is by Jeremy Holmes, just like for book 1. I think it’s great.

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is out on January 10th, 2017.

You can pre-order it now: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository (International)

Add on Goodreads

Some News! (A full book jacket, interior art, a giveaway, and reviews)

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My lovely editor, Christy Ottaviano, sent me through the full jacket of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB: front cover, back cover, spine, and internal flaps all in one lovely, lovely image. I think it’s absolutely awesome. I love all the little details like the airships holding up the text panels. The art is by Jeremy Holmes (who also did the internal artwork, which is just as awesome) and the cover design is by Eileen Savage. (TBH, I don’t know exactly which of them did exactly what on the cover, but clearly they are both incredibly talented!)

While we’re at it, here’s one of the interior illustrations, showing Cousin Freddie inspecting a mysterious invention, the water abacus (click on the picture to see it larger):


A week or two ago I put up an extract from the School Library Journal review of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, but I didn’t put it all up because it wasn’t online. Well, now it appears to be Amazon and everywhere else, so I might as well share it here:

“Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan wishes his life on 19th-century British Mars were more like the adventures he reads about in his Thrilling Martian Tales magazine. Sadly, it’s school break and instead of being off with his friend Matthew Harrison, he’s staying home trying to keep his family on track. His father is a brilliant yet absent-minded mechanician, and his mother’s main concern is gaining back the family status she lost when her own father lost the family fortune. When dim-witted cousin Freddie literally comes crashing down, Edward wonders how much worse things can get, but before he knows it, he is tangled up in a madcap adventure with even more action than his magazines.

“It seems that Edward’s father’s latest invention, the water abacus, is thought to be the key to perhaps one of the last of the great dragon tombs of Mars. In the past, it was these tombs that held the wonderful Martian technology that enabled British Mars to thrive—and made the tomb explorers rich. There are many who want to use the water abacus for their own purposes, which leads to fights, kidnappings, attempted murder, and a great chase. All of this is set in a perfectly delightful steampunk and fantasy world complete with clockwork automatic servants, dragon paths, and spaceships. Deeper topics of race relations and colonization are deftly explored through the political unrest among the British, the French, and the Martians.

“VERDICT A smart addition for middle grade collections; be prepared to purchase planned sequels.”

And while we’re at it, here’s an extract from the ALA Booklist review:

“Engaging characters and an action-packed plot are bolstered by some meaningful observations on Martian colonialism … this will appeal to fans of zany adventure tales.”


And, in case you missed it, I’m giving away a SIGNED ARC (ADVANCE READER’S COPY) on Goodreads.

That’s all!

How the Courting Magic Cover was Made

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The final cover for Courting Magic

Yesterday, Stephanie Burgis revealed the cover for her forthcoming novella, Courting Magic, part of her Kat, Incorrigible series of books (the series is called The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson in the UK).

As I designed the cover, I thought I’d give an overview of how I went about doing it. If you’re not interested in this kind of thing, feel free to skip. I won’t be offended. I promise. (Well, not much. Not completely. Well, I’ll forgive you if you add the novella on Goodreads. Well…)

This isn’t going to be a full tutorial on how to create the cover, but hopefully it will give you an idea of what steps you would need take to design a cover like this.

The original stock photo that we started with is below. (You can click on any of the images in this post to see them at a much larger size.)

The original stock photo

(I’ve put a watermark on the original image because it’s not a free stock image. Hopefully you can still see what we’re working with.)

Whenever you’re embarking on a project like this, where you’re going to do a fair amount to an image, it’s worth spending a little time figuring out exactly what you’re need to do before you start.

So, looking at the original photo:

  • The background is boring. We need something more interesting.
  • The dress is nice, but it doesn’t “pop” out particularly, and we want the image to have impact.
  • The model has blonde hair. Although the books never describe the colour of the heroine’s hair, all of the previous book covers have had her with dark hair, so we’re going to keep that.
  • This is a nice period photo, but the book is a fantasy adventure (with romance and humour) and we need some of the fantasy element in there too.

Okay, so that’s the main things we’re going to need to deal with.

Extracting the figure

The first job is arguably the hardest: to remove the model from the background. I’m working in Photoshop, and the techniques I’m talking about here are all based on Photoshop. Other tools will have similar options, but IMO Photoshop is better and more powerful than most other tools you’re likely to have access to.

A quick aside: Whenever you’re editing an image in Photoshop, you should make all changes on masks and new layers. You should never edit the original image directly, because changes made to the original image can’t be reversed, whereas work done on layers and masks is easy to change or dump if you make a mistake.

So, selecting the figure: Making a selection of the model’s dress and the couch she’s on is easy. You can use the pen tool (most accurate, but more difficult and slower), the magic wand tool, the quick selection tool or even the magnetic lasso tool (not great in this case, but sometimes works). The hair is tougher. You should make a rough selection using one of the techniques above and then use the ‘refine edge’ tool. If you’re having trouble selecting the hair, this is a great tutorial:

When you’re done, create a clipping mask using the selection.

The Wallpaper

The next stage, after selecting the model, was to add a new background. We played around with a variety of backgrounds, but in the end went with something nice and simple that would allow the figure to be the focus of the picture without creating a distraction: some fairly muted wallpaper.

I found this pattern on deviantart, courtesy of user ‘pixelsandicecream’ and inverted it (so it’s a light pattern on a dark background). I found a stock photo of some old paper to use as a texture, put the pattern over the top (with a little bit of blur), then used adjustment layers to change the colour to what I wanted. Finally, I used a large, soft, white brush to create the light halo around the model’s head on the wallpaper. This draws attention to the model, while stopping the wallpaper being too ‘flat’.

The Hair

The hair needed darkening. To get that rich brown with a slightly reddish glow, which is what I was after for the hair, I simply chose a very dark brown and (on a new layer), I painted roughly over her hair (this doesn’t need to be enormously exact, but you shouldn’t stray too much onto the skin. I changed the blending mode to ‘soft light’ and clipped the layer to the extracted model (so that it didn’t spill over onto the background).

This left the back of her hair, where it’s shadowed, looking way too dark. On another layer, beneath the one I’d just painted, I chose a blonde colour from her original hair and painted roughly over the dark part of her hair. Again I set the blend mode to soft light and clipped to the extracted model.

At this stage, I wasn’t 100% happy with the outline of the hair and the dress. I thought they lacked depth (as I said, extracting hair, particularly against a background like the one on this original photo, where it blends into the background, is tough). So, I made copies of the extracted model, with the hair adjustments I’d made, merged the copies into a single layer. Then I blurred this copied layer using a Gaussian blur, and with a soft brush on a layer mask, painted away some of the edges where I didn’t want the blur to happen (the couch) and part of the hair, so it wasn’t over the top. Although this is a subtle effect, it adds volume to the hair and makes it more three dimensional. It also improves the quality of the edges of the hair and the dress.

This is where we’ve got to now:

This is starting to look pretty good, but we still want it to pop more so that it has more impact when someone is scrolling through Smashwords or Amazon, for example. Notice also that I’ve left a pretty big space at the top with very little detail. You want plenty of space for your book title. It’s kind of hard to make the book title look awesome if you’re doing it over the main part of your image, so planning to leave a big space for it is a great idea.

The Dress

The dress was pretty easy. I used a hue / saturation adjustment layer and simply cycled through the hues until I found a colour I liked for the dress, then adjusted the saturation and lightness until I got exactly what I wanted. (If you’re interested, the settings I used are: hue: -90; saturation: +41; lightness: +7. But you can vary these to get pretty much any colour you want for the dress.) I clipped the adjustment layer to the extracted model (because you don’t want it to affect the colour of the wallpaper) and then created a layer mask and painted on it with a soft brush over the parts that I don’t want to change colour: the couch, the face, chest, shoulders and hair, the arms, and the gloves.

Magical Element

Courting Magic is a fantasy novella, and we need to show that. The heroine, Kat, is a ‘Guardian’ with impressive magical powers. But it’s not the kind of novel where people are being blasted by lightning bolts, and magic is heavily frowned upon in good society.

We decided to go for an effect of magic leaking out from beneath her hands, where she’s pressing them against her dress, and then floating up and off. (The magical ‘blobs’ floating from her are a motif in a couple of the book covers, and I wanted to follow that.)

There were two parts to building this up. Firstly, the magic coming from under the hands. This was built up with multiple layers, using soft brushes and blurring. I used a radial blur to give the subtle effect of light leaking in an outward direction.

The second part is the ‘blobs’ of magic drifting out and up. This was simply done with a soft, round brush, placing each blob individually. By varying the size, opacity, and colour of each blob, I quickly built up the effect.

I could have painted it all in one go, if I’d wanted to, by going into ‘Brush Presets’ and adjusting the Shape Dynamics, Scattering, Color Dynamics and Transfer, but I wanted more manual control than that would offer. Still, if you’re in a rush and the details of the effects aren’t quite so important, this is a good way to do it (e.g., if you were painting stars in a sky).

Minor Touch-ups

We are pretty much there, now, with the image. It stands out really nicely from the page, and I think it will grab attention if someone is browsing. But there are a couple of really minor things I wanted to improve. You might not even notice they’ve been done, but they’re worth it anyway, because they don’t take much time.

Skin Blemishes

I went through with the healing brush tool (on a new layer) and removed a few of the distracting skin blemishes. This is something you have to be a little careful with, because if you do too much, the skin starts to look unreal. So you don’t want to remove everything. For example, I didn’t take out the moles or the skin creases, but I did remove a few other minor blemishes. This actually helps with the quality when the image size is reduced.


I wanted the eyes to be a little more of a focus in the face. I just used the sharpen tool (on a new layer, of course) with a soft brush and painted over the eyes until they became clearer and sharper, then I reduced the opacity to about 70%, to ensure the effect wasn’t over-done.

Skin Colour

The skin was looking a bit washed out now. It didn’t in the original, but with the darker hair and the vibrant dress, the skin doesn’t quite look so great anymore. I used a curves adjustment layer to add a very small amount of red and to reduce the green and blue minutely. I ensured this only adjusted the skin by using a layer mask.

The image is now finished, and all that’s left is to add the text to it.


Courting Magic is an ebook, and that means that, primarily, it needs to work at very small size, so that when readers are tootling through Amazon (or whatever) looking at books, the cover is still readable.

There are three pieces of text that need to go on the cover: the title (Courting Magic); the sub-title (A Kat, Incorrigible Novella); and the author’s name (Stephanie Burgis).

The three novels in the series have a common style of text for the title. I wanted to echo that, but the fonts used on the novels are too thin and light to be easily readable at small size, so I chose similar fonts that were heavier and easier to read.

The title is the most important bit of text (this isn’t true for ‘name’ authors like Nora Roberts or JK Rowling or Stephen King, but it is for the rest of us), so I put it in that nice clear space at the top and made it pretty big. The subtitle is the least important, so it’s pretty small by comparison. The author name I put on a fairly blank part of the dress at the bottom. This helps balance the cover while framing the important centre of the picture.

I’ve used drop shadows on all the text. This makes it look smoother and makes it stand out more. The author name has a small bevelling (don’t do this at home, folks; bevelling can make text really, really horrible) and an incredibly faint outer glow which darkens the area around the author’s name, to help it show up more.

And that’s it. The cover for Courting Magic.

If you’re making a cover like this, you’ll find you make plenty of wrong decisions and mistakes, but that’s okay. If you do all your work with layers and masks, you’ll find it pretty easy to fix or change. Sometimes you just need to experiment to figure out what is going to work.

This is actually a fairly simple cover. There’s nothing here that is particularly difficult if you know what you’re doing with Photoshop, with the exception of extracting the model’s hair from the background.

Here’s a larger version of the cover for you to look at to see if you can spot more of the details! Enjoy, and don’t forget, the novella will be out in mid-August. You can add it on goodreads here.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Feel free to leave them below, or send me a message through my contact form. If you’re interested in my cover or web design services, you can find out more about them on my 50 Seconds North website.

If you got this far, thank you for reading!

Sunshine and book covers

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Well, who’d of thought. It’s turned hot. Really, really hot for Wales. (“Wales: not always raining…”) I suppose the correct response to this would be to dig out some shorts from somewhere, grab a cool yet awesome hat, and head out to enjoy it. Instead, I’ve drawn the curtains. Well, we’re not really built for this kind of weather over here.

Anyway, I’ve been playing about with the openings of two possible books for the last couple of weeks, and today I really nailed one, so I’m going to pursue this idea for a while. Luckily, both of these books are planned as chapter books, at around 10k words, so I should be able to get both done if I can find good openings for both.

In other news, Steph has revealed the cover to her forthcoming novella in the Kat, Incorrigible series, Courting Magic, set about five years after the previous Kat book. You can see the cover reveal over at the YA Book Nerd blog. I designed the cover, and I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out.

I’ll do a blog entry in the next few days talking about the idea for the cover and what I did to make it, for those who are interested in such things.

That’s all for now. The sunshine is getting too close, and I must hide…