Shivers and Sighs Week: Paranormal Romance Cover Art

By Dawné Dominique

An evolution of paranormal romance covers: Dark Shadows tie-in books (left) were precusors to modern paranormal romances. The sub-genre blossomed in the 90s (centre) and has continued strong into the 21st century (right).

If you’re a reader of paranormal romance, then you’ve seen some impressive cover art of late. It’s not all about bodice-ripper covers or a smudgy outline of a wolf howling at the moon, anymore. The artwork is intricately detailed, sensually stunning, intriguing, and downright hauntingly-beautiful.

Silvia Morena-Gracia invited me here today to discuss what goes into the creation process of paranormal romance book covers. My name is Dawné Dominique, and not only do I create the cover art, I’m also a published author in the genre.

Have you ever read a book and looked at the cover and thought, What the heck? I mean, nothing on the front had a thing to do with the story. I’ve even heard some people will refuse to read that author again because the depicted artwork had absolutely nothing to do with what was inside the pages. Personally, I wouldn’t go to that extreme, but I know that the majority of us buy a book judged on the cover. If it has nothing to do with the story they’ve just read, some tend to feel a little cheated.

As a writer, I can envision how a scene will play out in a dozen ways, but getting it down on paper is another matter altogether. This holds true for cover art. In my line of business, the most powerful tool I have as an author, and artist, is my imagination. But when I haven’t painstakingly written out each scene or described every character, creating the perfect cover becomes even more difficult. As the artist, I must somehow get inside an author’s head and create something from their imaginations. My tools to do this: a paragraph-sized blurb, or a brief synopsis, and sometimes, not always, a couple of lines that describe how the author envisions their cover art. This is where the trick of “reading in between the lines” is essential.

This cover by Tony Mauro is a contemporary example of paranormal romance art that does not feature "bodice-ripper" imagery, for many years a staple of romance publisher's.

In the world of publishing, especially with the influx of ebooks, a book cover is an integral selling tool. The artwork must entice and hint at what’s hidden in between the pages by catching the eye and being visually interesting. This is where I come in.

Creating cover art, particularly paranormal romance, is a long and arduous process that can take several weeks, even months, to find the right concepts that work well together, and more importantly, models that fit the character descriptions as well as possible. Then there is the daunting task of piecing together certain concepts (i.e., modern-day, gothic, historical, etc.); coordinating colours and layers, backgrounds, and even fonts, are all considered. As a mani-digital artist, wherein I manipulate existing photographs with Photoshop techniques from stock photos, I try my best to come as close as possible to an author’s wishes. Sometimes, it’s not always what they’ve asked for, but I can honestly say that 99% of the time when this happens, they’re delighted with the end result. Today, digital imaging makes it so much easier to edit backgrounds and colours, but it’s certainly not an easy job. I love the challenges, and the rewards when I get it right are worth every hour I’ve put into the creation process.

Publishers have their own artist information forms that an author fills out. It can contain character descriptions, scenery, mood, seasons, important objects or symbols, and a tagline to hook a reader’s interest. For some writers, that’s the extent of their input. The book cover is created using the information supplied by them, then it is sent to the publisher’s cover art department to be either finalized or changes are requested. If authorized, the author receives a finalized copy to begin pre-promotion – the process is complete; however, the publishers I work for prefer author input, which means drafts are sent directly to the author and we work together to design something all parties will be happy with. I believe that happy authors are productive authors and with their suggestions, they can sometimes offer an insightful idea or two that I may have overlooked. More importantly, a relationship of trust is built, as more times than not, I will work again with these same authors, so it’s important I get it right.

Twilight, with its distinctive imagery, helpped set a trend in paranormal romance covers.

Paranormal romance is a hot-selling genre these days. Just look at the success of movies like Twilight or television shows such as True Blood. Similarly, paranormal romance covers are usually dark, gritty and highly sensual. Creating colours that match the story is another important aspect to keep in mind. Differing hues of red tend to catch the eye best because of its brightness and relation to the colour of blood, but it must complement and enhance the overall artwork. Whether it’s paranormal romance, fantasy or even horror, fonts that are bigger and brighter work best. On a publisher’s selling webpage, books are usually depicted at thumbnail size, so title and author name should be readable, or as close as possible, without taking away from the overall design. The artistic conception must entice, invoke curiosity and nudge a potential reader to look closer. Foggy, smoky backgrounds create mystery and a ghostly feel, and those tend to get second looks, too. The bottom line is to create something that is visually appealing. Bodice ripper romance covers still sell as well as they’ve ever done, and in today’s standards, the more flesh that is revealed, the better the sales. Trends are always changing, however. With the influx of M/M paranormal romance, washboard stomachs have never changed as an important focal point. One must remember that the majority of romance readers are women, so having a hot-looking man on the front will always inspire sales.

As a published author, a managing editor, and a cover artist, I have a unique perspective of all sides of the publishing world. In other words, I have an advantage in knowing what sells and what doesn’t. In recent years, authors and publishers have moved away from hand-drawn “art” to photographs for more realism, and as I mentioned, digital imaging is much easier to edit/revise. Fantasy is still the mainstay for hand-drawn art, and I, for one, appreciate the hard work and effort put into every one of that genre’s covers.

When I’ve completed the first draft of a cover, I ask myself one simple question: Would I be happy with this cover if it were mine? Thereafter comes the anal side of me, wherein I’ll tweak and refine colours, enhance small details, insert and remove objects, try different backgrounds, play with different layers, change fonts, etc., until I basically drive myself nuts. Once I feel the cover is ready, and I would be proud to display it as my own, only then will I send it off to the

One of Dawné Dominique's own covers.

author for their review and comment. The majority of time, I get it right the first time, and others, well, I’ll revise until the author is happy. There are some writers who tend to visualize their covers all through the writing process, and they refuse to accept anything other than what they’ve imagined, even if it’s impossible to manipulate. The artwork must hint at what is between the pages and not what they’ve conjured in their minds, although I try my best to come as close as possible. Every reader will imagine the characters and scenes in their own way. The cover merely adds to strengthening those visions. I don’t like to disappoint, but there is a line that must be drawn after numerous attempts to please them aren’t going to happen. In addition, I must remember the “sell-ability” aspects. Thankfully, the publishers I work for allow me the freedom to say when enough is enough.

All in all, I absolutely love what I do, and every cover is a challenge to exemplify an author’s deepest desire to see their words depicted into art.

You can find more about Dawné at her website.