The Evolution of a Book Cover

My cover artist is Chris Howard. Before I begin talking about the Rider of the Sun Horse cover, I want to talk about him. He's really the star of this show, and I really can't recommend him enough. If you like these covers, check out his site to buy copies of his books. Sometimes he has prints for sale, too.

But onto the real subject here: the evolution of a book cover. Chris and I have a very casual but wonderful writer-artist relationship. When he has time to slip in a cover for me, he does so. I leave him with a veritable treasure trove of cover concepts and ideas for him to work with. (Speaking of which, I need to update my concept and idea file.)

While most authors probably don't have a commission list multiple covers long, my publication schedule is often in flux. So we work ahead of the books. When the inspiration hits me to really nail a book out and finish it, the cover art is already done and ready for the book. It works great for me, and it allows Chris to work me in whenever he happens to have time. It's an ideal relationship for the both of us. (Your mileage may vary. I know plenty of people who would be driven insane by this.)

The cover of Rider of the Sun Horse was born from a bunch of random ideas tossed out, with little to no care for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and coherency. Chris speaks RJisms.

Here is a copy paste of the initial description. The BLEEPS are not curses. They're actually spoilers, which I have cut out so the book isn't ruined for people.

The main star of the novel is a guy called Lars, and he's a blond-haired man, in his 30s, good looking, in the rugged aragorn way, except he's lean. He has a pair of cursed, BLEEP bracelets he wears BLEEP . THe story is about BLEEP , he decides to take matters into his own hands–he decides to participate in a race in order to gain the king's favor, BLEEP .

There are lots of things we can do with this cover–you don't have to use a horse unless you want to. It's general fantasy fare, but I can give you a whole list of scenes that we can use for it when you're in the mood for working on a cover with that fantasy feel to it. 🙂 (It's in the same world as Storm Without End and Storm Surge–Lars is actually BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP !)

As an addition: While he's in his 30s (late 30s, actually) he looks more around the 25-30 mark, so he should definitely be a grown young man, but not old either. Somewhere pleasantly in between.

If you decide to take on the challenge of a horse, I have the links to the breed and coloration here: (BLEEP  is a horse BLEEP , which favors a real breed of horse.)

This is the color spectrum of the horse and breed I'd like to use; a really vibrant almost metallic sun golden chestnut, but if you want to model after an Arabian / Lean Thoroughbred, this is also good! (it's easier to find model images of those breeds than the Akhal-Teke since the Akhals are rare, especially in that coloration.) If you wanted to use steeplechasing photographs as a model, that would work smashingly well since it's a cross country race. (Some photos below!)

There is a scene where Lars and his horse are BLEEP BLEEP  that might appeal to your love of water (Thus resulting in an image like this )

As for tack, here are some images for the type of saddle he'd be using, bridle, the sword he'd have, and so on. (It's based on a WWII cavalry saddle, which is kinda along the right lines)

He uses a cavalry sabre; in the later half of the novel, he BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP :

As for attire, he'd be wearing a standard tunic and trousers fit for hard work as well as riding boots:

Example of garb:

This would be the style of riding boot:

Is that enough reference material or do you need more? <3

That's a lot of data and links, I know. But I find it really helps to let him get creative with covers. I try to provide Chris with a feel and tone for the book, some links for ideas of mental imagery I'm having, and then I let him go for it!

Here is the first rendition of the cover:

RJBlain-RiderOfTheSunHorse-ChrisHoward_rev23At this point, I'm like OH HELLO THERE. my first thought was OMFG, I don't remember telling him what the city looked like… which is totally in the book.

My second thought is, “Lars looks like Sean Bean!”

And then my head promptly exploded. So, we start emailing back and forth. I'm all down with this, except his hand is bothering me, and while I love Sean Bean (except he always dies, ack!) I am thinking he either needs to be in profile looking forward or he needs to be doing something stupid–like looking over his shoulder instead of paying attention where his horse is jumping.

I also don't like the red, so I ask for most of the red to be removed from the banners. The royal colors are yellow and blue, typically. While red is used by the nobility, their banners would use blue, and the city favorites white and blue motifs.

This is what he sends back.

RJBlain-RiderOfTheSunHorse-ChrisHoward_rev37I immediately fell in love with his face. This is exactly what I was looking for, so I beg Chris to leave his precious beautiful gorgeous face as is. There's now an issue with his shoulder and I'm still not a fan of the hand, so we start going back and forth on the hand. I'm going to spare you the adjustments to the hand–we did a lot of updated files and back and forth on it. Eventually, because I sucked at pin-pointing what I didn't like about the hand, I took a photograph of what I wanted with my cell phone. I used my purse as pretend reins.

I'm just classy like that.

Here's the cell phone picture for your amusement.

image (2)We have a serious discussion about the positioning of that hand. I think by the time we were done discussing the hand, it was the most-talked about piece of the entire cover art. Rest was all about having too much coffee for coherency, colors of banners, generic giggling, and things of that nature.

You know, the picture perfect example of professionalism. (Not. We have fun, though.)

This is what I got back.

RJBlain-RiderOfTheSunHorse-ChrisHoward_rev58In the caption, you'll notice I mention that this is file #58. While he didn't show me 58 versions, he showed me a lot, and he keeps old saves so we can backtrack if I'm stupid. (Sometimes it happens! Sometimes I'll toss out an idea that just doesn't work, so we go back a few versions and try again.)

At this point in the cover art, we are at the final stages. He will do detail work, then he'll send me some updates–I will confirm it's done, and he'll send me the files.

I'm sure he has fixes he wants to make, but at this stage of the game, my part of the work is mostly done.

I can't say this enough, but I really love working with Chris. He makes the cover art process such a joy.

Now, all I have to try to do is make the book live up to the cover. That'll be the truly difficult work.

Side Note: Some riders will make mention that the rider's seat looks wrong. The cover is based on a hard runs in steeplechase. Steeplechase isn't exactly safe, and riders often end up with some really crappy seats. (And they often fall.)

Lars falls in the book–more than once. I absolutely love the fact that the cover reflects reality; there's no such thing as a perfect rider or a perfect horse… and his posture really captures the reality of the race. It's not safe, and some of the shit he pulls is flat out dangerous.

It also reflects that this is fantasy and not the real life. You can't learn to ride a horse, care for a horse, or how to do anything with horses from a fiction novel.

You need a real horse, a real instructor, and real experience. So, the cover is exactly what it's meant to be: it's art.


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The Evolution of Cover Art Text | On Writing says February 13, 2015

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