Check Out the Final Cover for DUELS & DECEPTION by Cindy Anstey!

What happens between cover voting on the blog and the final, printed cover? Sometimes not much, sometimes a lot! For Duels & Deception, the cover changed significantly between cover voting and final, and to explain why, I think it'll be helpful to look at the cover design process as a whole. 

It's different for every book and every designer, but I can tell you that I almost always start with a pencil and paper. To begin, I draw tiny, rough thumbnails of as many different concepts as I can think of. Getting a lot of ideas down on paper as quickly as possible is how I avoid getting fixated on a particular idea too early (which can be very frustrating when, a week later, you realize it's not going to work). One of my thumbnail sketches for Duels & Deception looked like this:

D&D Anna sketch

You can tell already that it has a couple major things in common with the final cover: The type is on a diagonal and there are oval frames for the main characters in the corners (see the male and female symbols?). There are also some sketchy beginnings of Roseberry Hall on the top, and . . . something . . . for Robert down there on the bottom.

Once I decided this was a direction worth pursuing, I created a color rough using a combination of drawing by hand (the type, the settings) and stock art (the silhouettes, the background pattern):

D&D Turquoise cover

This color rough is what we used for the cover voting on the blog, and is the direction that ultimately was chosen. I liked this composition a lot, but I was never really happy with my execution. The title type is inconsistent and feels both stiff and too curly, the silhouettes are too plain and clearly in a different style than the type, the setting drawings don't work in the space, and the whole thing just feels flat. 

So once this direction was chosen, I reached out to the incredibly talented Sara Mulvanny, and she agreed to recreate it in her own style. (You can check out more of Sara's work here.) I asked her to keep the basic layout and the major elements the same while incorporating her own illustration style, hand-lettering, and sensitivity to color. Two weeks later, she sent us this beautiful sketch:

D&D sara sketch

You can see already that Sara did what I had been unable to do: she made the cover feel cohesive, like all of these different parts belong together. To me, this sketch is successful for several reasons: everything is hand-drawn and in the same style; the curve of the type echoes the oval vignettes and wraps around them in a way my straight diagonal type didn't; and the setting illustrations are sensitive to the spaces they're in (no awkward overlapping like in my color rough). 

Once Rich D., Emily, and Lauren had all approved the sketch, I asked Sara to go ahead with the final art. After another couple of weeks, she sent us the stunning final art: 

D&D final art

I love how Sara took the teal and cream palette of the original color rough as a starting point and made it so much more dynamic by using multiple shades of teal and a brighter, more lemon-y yellow. She also bumped up the contrast a lot, which makes the title and the silhouettes really stand out, while the setting illustrations sit back a little bit. (As a design teacher of mine used to say, "Choose your hero!" Decide what you want people to see first, and make that element stand out.)

As you can tell, a lot can change between sketch and final! As much as I love to sketch my ideas out and try to work out the lettering and illustrations on my own, I don't have a lot of experience as an illustrator, and sometimes it's better to bring in the pros. Sara knocked this project out of the park, and I'm so glad to have had the chance to work with her on this cover. I hope you like it as much as we do!

Author spotlight

Anna B.

I'm a designer for Swoon Reads!

See More