Monday, May 16, 2011

No Time. No Budget. No Permission - How I Shot My First Book Cover In 15 Minutes

My literary agent, Barney Karpfinger, called me a few weeks ago with an urgent request. A client of his, Leah Hager Cohen, had written a beautiful book about a family dealing with the loss of a child. The publisher was having a difficult time finding appropriate cover art, a deadline was quickly approaching, and they might have to settle on a cover that nobody was crazy about. In contrast to the heavy tone present in the book's title, The Grief of Others, he wanted a cover that offered some hope yet also retained a sense of mystery. He asked me to create a cover photo with two essential elements- home and light. I suggested the first image that came to me-a house at dusk with light pouring out of the windows, and a happy family scene inside. The mother would be alone representing the family's grieving, in juxtaposition to the joyful scene in the next room. It was a long shot, but we decided to give it a try.

I had to implement this concept immediately. It is unheard of for an author or agent to submit their own cover art. The publisher did not know Barney had contacted me, so we had to ensure to get them an exciting image before they finalized the cover later in the week. Cover art typically involves weeks of pre-production, days of shooting, and weeks of post-production. I had 48 hours. And I've never done it before.

First, I needed to find the home. My wife suggested a stunning yellow Victorian, and I approached the owner- "Are you home tomorrow? Want a nice photo of your house?". Then I needed to find the right mix of family members- kids had to be the right age, parents under 40 and attractive. I combined two sets of friends to obtain the perfect mix. We all met and waited for sunset. I had not done any location scouting nor did I bring any lighting, and proceeded with trust that it would work out. We turned on all the house lights, and as the skies darkened I shouted out directions from across the street. I took 100 photos in 15 minutes, and then it became night.

I sent a few images to the publisher and hoped for the best.

(Click images to enlarge for detail)

A week later I received an email attachment with this mock-up.

They loved it! However, they also thought the mom in the window was a bit creepy and Psycho-esque. Did I have any other options? ...Nope. (I had not mentioned I only was able to shoot for 15 minutes!). Could I reshoot the mom again, so they could combine the photos in Photoshop? Oh, and could I do it tonight?

The mother I had recruited is an artist and friend, and the home owner is very proud of her home. I asked the mother to walk up the stairs towards her family, and sent this photo over the next day:

Yesterday I received this final cover from my agent, with effusive notes of gratitude. Everyone was happy.

My first book cover! Next stop- romance novels. Those must be fun to shoot.