Keli Gwyn
Great Covers Begin with Art Fact Sheets

After you sell a book (!) and the contract is inked, one of the documents you’ll receive from your publisher is an Art Fact Sheet, which an author is asked to complete in order to help the publisher’s design team create a cover that fits the story inside.

Not all houses refer to this document as an Art Fact Sheet. My publisher uses the term Cover Direction Questionnaire, an appropriate name since it’s chock full of questions.

I’ll use my Questionnaire as an example, since it’s the only one I’ve seen.

The first questions dealt with the basics: release date, title, series, and author.

Six sections followed, some with subheadings. These may vary from house to house.

Background/Setting

In this section, I was asked to state the year and time period covered in the book and to give information on the locale, including such features as the lay of the land, the season(s), the vegetation, and other geographic features.

I provided information about the town of El Dorado and described the stores owned by Miles and Elenora, the hero and heroine, since they’re important locations in the story.

Summary

What my publisher wanted was a 50-100 word blurb that gave the set-up of the story. I used the summary from my proposal, which was worded like back cover copy.

Character Descriptions

Because my book is a romance, I provided descriptions of Miles and Ellie, including physical features such as age and occupation, hair and eye color, hair and clothing styles.

"Miles Rutledge"

In addition, I was asked for an overall description that could include height, build, personal style, and countenance. This is where I was able to include the fact that Ellie is determined and a bit feisty, elements my publisher captured so well on the cover.

"Elenora Watkins"

I was asked to include information on up to two secondary characters. I listed Miles’s mother and Ellie’s nine-year-old daughter, since they appear in the story quite a bit.

Story Conflicts

I included two major conflicts in the story that could potentially be shown on the cover.

Tone

I was given several choices and asked to pick the one I thought best fit my story. I chose “romantic showing the heroine.” I had the benefit of having seen the cover for the first two books in the line and knew they’d included just the heroine, so my choice was an easy one.

Symbols

In this section, I mentioned the silk flowers Ellie wears at her throat, an aspect of her shop that is very important to her, and her violin. I didn’t expect to see the violin on the cover, as I said in the post where I revealed the cover of my book, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, so I was delighted to see it used.

Photos

Following the sections, I was invited to submit any photos of the characters or setting that would help my design team. I sent the historic photos of Miles, Ellie, Miles’s mother, and Ellie’s daughter that I’d used as the models for those characters.

I’d purchased reprints of two photos of El Dorado taken around the year my story takes place from our local museum and got permission to send them to my publisher.

• • •

Do you work from photographs when you create your characters, or do you locate pictures of your characters to match the images in your mind after you’ve written the story?

Were you surprised by any of the elements requested in an Art Fact Sheet?

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Keli Gwyn
Cover Love

Covers are important. I know we’re advised not to judge books by them, but I do anyhow.

My publisher sent me the finalized version of my cover, which I’m now able to share.

I think Barbour’s team did a great job. Why? Because it’s my book, and I’m biased. 🙂

In all seriousness, I’m delighted with the cover, in part because it answers many of the questions I ask when I look at a book’s cover.

Is it a romance? The use of the word “bride” in the title lets readers know it is, and the beautiful cover model reinforces that fact.

Is it a contemporary or a historical? Several factors show the reader that the book is a historical: the style of the model’s dress, her hairstyle, the Old West town behind her, and the use of the Western-style font for my name.

Where does the story take place? The use of “El Dorado, California” in the title makes this quite clear. The number and sizes of the buildings show that El Dorado is likely a small town, which is true.

Is the tone of the story dark, funny, or sweet? This can be harder to determine, but I like to think the cover hints at the fact that the story is a sweet romance. What gives me this impression are the choice of colors, the light sky as opposed to a dark one, and the absence of a fearful look on the model’s face. There aren’t any obvious humorous touches, so I wouldn’t expect an overly funny story. (I’ll let you in on a secret. There are some fun places I hope make readers smile or maybe even chuckle a time or two. 🙂

As the author, I can look at the cover and see how Barbour’s design team worked hard to add some important elements from the story.

  • The intent look on the model’s face, coupled with her stance, do an excellent job of conveying Elenora’s determination.
  • The tall building beside the model’s left elbow is Ellie’s shop, and it contains some important features that play a part in the story.
  • Ellie plays violin, and I’d hoped to see her instrument on the cover, although I didn’t see how that would be possible, since her shop is the primary focus of the story. Barbour’s design team figured out how to include it, using it as the icon between the title and my name.

I’d dreamed of seeing my name on a book cover for years and wondered what the cover would look like. Would I like it? The answer is yes. I’m delighted with the cover and am grateful to Barbour for doing such a good job.

• • •

If you’ve had a book published, what was your reaction when you saw your cover?

If you dream of having a book published, what do you imagine your cover will look like?

If you are a reader, what questions do you like to be answered when you see a book cover?

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Keli Gwyn
Happily Ever Afters: Fact or Fiction?

I’m a huge fan of stories with happy endings. I love seeing couples experience the thrill of meeting, getting to know one another, and realizing that they’re in love. A happy ending is the frosting on a mighty tasty cake.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if romance writers aren’t misleading readers when we wrap up our stories in tidy packages, tie all the threads into pretty bows, and give the impression that our couples will have no trials to endure, no challenges to face, and no hurdles to overcome once the proposals have been accepted or the wedding vows recited.

Real life doesn’t work that way, does it? We know it, and so do readers.

I read an unusual and unexpected Valentine’s Day post, written by my agency mate, Heather Kopp, titled “This is the Person You Will Hurt,” and was impressed with her honesty and transparency.

Heather talked about how we’ll end up hurting our spouses more–and more often–than any other person. It’s inevitable. The closer we become, the more friction there can be.

The most important point Heather makes is that forgiveness is crucial in a godly marriage. We’ll likely find ourselves on the giving and receiving end of this precious gift.

As I pondered the truths in Heather’s post, I asked myself how they relate to the HEAs romance readers crave. After puzzling over that question for some time, I realized that making a small shift in my thinking could make a big difference.

Instead of promising my readers Happily Ever Afters, I can strive to give them Hope-filled Ever Afters. The couples in a romance aren’t guaranteed happiness, but they do have hope of a rich and rewarding future.

The guests at a wedding, especially those who are married, know the couple’s life won’t be all sunshine and roses. They expect the husband and wife to face some tough times but to work their way through them as others have done.

In the same way, I believe readers who reach the HEA ending of a story know the couple has what it takes to make their relationship or marriage work. Our heroes and heroines have endured trials, faced challenges, and overcome hurdles. In the process, they’ve grown individually and as a couple. If the story could be classified as an inspirational, they will have matured in their faith as well.

If we’ve done our job as writers, we’ve given our readers hope that the characters they’ve come to know and–hopefully–love, will take the lessons they learned with them as they move into their fictional futures, futures that will include a hefty dose of happiness.

• • •

What do you think of HEA endings? Are they satisfying or sappy?

Do you think it would be more realistic to refer to HEAs as Hope-filled Ever Afters?

Do you believe that forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we can offer our spouses?

• • •

Image from iStockphoto.
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Keli Gwyn
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