MASFFA held it’s first ever cover contest and we were impressed, not only with the covers representing, but with the amazing turn out in voters. It was an awesome opportunity to showcase local talent and we intend to turn this into an annual event. However, it is not enough to simply have a winner, we decided to showcase the dynamic duo; author Chris Philbrook and artist Alan MacRaffen, who brought our winning cover to life.
Author Chris Philbrook
Tell us a little about your novel…
Fyelrath is the 3rd novel in the urban fantasy Reemergence series. Tesser: A Dragon Among Us is about a dragon that wakes up beneath the city of Boston, and adapts to modern life by watching Kevin Smith movies in a pizzeria. Fyelrath is another dragon, one who is responsible for managing the water of Earth. She’s brought to the UK when a bizarre infection begins to mutate humans into aquatic monsters.
What was the idea behind your cover?
The series has a distinct graphical cover design. I didn’t want to use the same designs everyone else wanted, and my designer Alan MacRaffen excels at this kind of cover art. Each book in the series is tied together by the silhouette of the dragon at the center, and the skyline of the city the novel takes place in along the bottom. Each novel looks unique with its own colors and dragon design, but they are all clearly the same series.
How does your cover reflect your novel?
It’s perfect. The dragon is an excellent representation of what she looks like in the book, the skyline of London is accurate and stylized at the same time, and the background reflects some of the… goings-on as well.
How did you originally discover Alan MacRaffen?
I think it might’ve been on a school bus in 8th grade. No but seriously we went to high school together. There’s no one I trust more than him to listen to my ideas, and see them through. He’s a professional; everything is decided on, nothing is left to random chance or laziness. When you combine that level of attention to detail with a relationship like we’ve had (20+ years and 13+ novels) you get award winning covers and layouts.
What suggestion would you give to new authors about choosing cover art?
Find an artist with a resume you appreciate. Talk to them. Give them your idea and allow them to be creative. If you don’t let them run with your idea, you’ll never get their own personal muse; you’ll only get their interpretation of your rote idea. Be flexible, have high standards, and hire a professional.
Artist Alan MacRaffen
How did you get into designing covers for authors?
I’ve always been an artist. I even went to art school, but I’d never really made a living from it. It was more of a recreational pursuit. Then I wrote my first novel, Carnival of Time. After sitting on the finished manuscript for a few years, I finally decided to self-publish. It was a real learning experience. Writing a book is a huge undertaking. But learning that I couldn’t just submit my raw Word file—that I actually had to create a marketable cover, find a way to format and generate a whole new kind of file I was totally unfamiliar with, then another file for the ebook version—that was truly daunting. Almost to the point of giving up. But I had gotten so close, I couldn’t let it go. I channeled my stubbornness into determination and learned all I could about book design, interior formatting, and how to compile all of that into a professional-looking file ready for publishing. I won’t lie: it was a huge slog, but eventually I got everything to come out exactly the way I wanted it. When Chris finished his first book, he remembered that I had figured all of that out, and offered to pay me to do the same work for him. I’ve worked on every book he’s done since, and eventually branched out to other clients as well.
What was the inspiration behind designing the Reemergence series?
I love drawing creatures: dragons, monsters, animals. My preferred method is to sketch them in pencil or pen, but while that might serve well as an interior illustration, it makes for a poor book cover. However, I was also really taken with a lot of the graphical covers I’d been seeing on bookshelves recently. Clean, dynamic and eye-catching designs with sharp-edged silhouettes and relatively simple planes of flat color. For Tesser, the first book in Chris’s Reemergenceseries, I decided to combine the two, using a hand-drawn illustration of Chris’s main dragon protagonist, then converting it into a crisp graphic silhouette. I included the Boston skyline to show where the story takes place, and added in a background of glyphs and symbols to evoke the theme of magic that runs heavily throughout the first book. Chris has an array of important dragon characters in his series, each physically distinct and with their own themes and qualities. By changing only the colors and details of each cover, they keep a consistency of design that ties them together as a series, while still standing out from each other. Each one tells you what the main dragon character is like, physically. The skyline shows you where the story takes place, and the background symbols give you hints about the book’s theme and additional characters.
Can you describe the how the back and forth works with an author?
Chris and I have known each other since high school, so our dynamic is much more familiar than with the usual artist/client relationship. I’ve even written a novella that takes place in one of his worlds. But whether I’m working with Chris or another author, the process can vary a lot from book to book. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for an image, other times they’ll suggest a great concept right off the bat and all I have to do is find a way to make it happen. Other times the author might suggest something cool, but then I’ll counter with one of my own ideas, and if it’s right for the book, they give me the go-ahead. There are stumbling blocks sometimes. I’m not perfect, and now and then I have to tell a client that I don’t have the right kind of technique or resources to pull off a particular image. But I can always suggest an alternative, and if that doesn’t work for them, I’ll try another, and another, until we find something that fits the author’s vision. It’s their book, and ultimately the cover has to serve the author’s needs, not mine.
What should authors be on the lookout for when choosing designers?
My biggest suggestion for authors would be to keep an artist’s style in mind. Look at their other work before getting your expectations up about what they can create for you. If you approach a cover designer who always uses dark, edgy photo-manipulations, and then ask them to do a really cheerful, colorful painting, it’s not likely to end well. Either they’ll just say no, because they know that you’re asking for something far outside their skill set. Or—worse yet—they’ll say yes, and you’ll end up with a hot mess of a cover that neither of you are happy with. So always look at an illustrator’s portfolio and consider how your book would look dressed up in that same style.
What suggestion would you give to new authors about illustrating cover art?
If you don’t have a really strong background in art and design, hire a professional. It will cost money, but you get what you pay for. Cliché or not, people really do judge books by their covers. You’ve already put so much time and effort into writing your book; you want to make sure your cover reflects that same level of quality.