From Concept to Cover

by Dana Grimaldi, Assistant Editor/Editorial Assistant, Harlequin Heartwarming & Gold Eagle

A good cover does two things: it accurately represents the story and it catches the reader’s eye. At Harlequin, we work hard to make sure all our covers do both!

First, the author fills out an art fact sheet. We ask for a description of the hero and heroine and information about the plot, setting, themes and the story’s hooks. We’ll also ask for a few of the story’s key scenes, because one of those moments could be the perfect cover image.

Next up is the art brief, where the art director, editorial team and marketing group go over all the titles in a given month. Each book’s editor talks about what makes that story special and the team decides on which concepts will work best. The group also considers the month’s covers together to make sure there’s variety. Ideally, we’ll have a mix of images: a man or woman alone, a couple, a family, a beautiful setting or even animals.

Day 5_Blogpost1_Concept to Cover - art brief

The art department commissions cover art from in-house and freelance artists. Some covers require a photo shoot and others are created using existing photographs. Once the cover images have been created and approved by marketing and editorial, the text is added and they’re copy edited and proofread.

It’s so exciting to watch a scene description or an art director’s sketch turn into the finished cover! I wanted to give everyone a sneak peek into that process.

Harlequin Heartwarming author Eleanor Jones suggested this scene from her book Footprints in the Sand.

MOOD: A young woman, wild curly golden streaked hair, brown legs, barefoot, walking on the sand. Ahead of her the glittering serenity of the bay, seagulls overhead. A trail of footprints in the sand.


SITUATION/LOCATION: The shore, Jenny Browns bay

OTHER: The focus is on the footprints that are already beginning to fade as the sea washes over them. The girl is lifting her face to the breeze, staring out to sea.

In the art briefing, we talked about showing the hero and heroine together. The art director also decided to crop the image, so we see only the couple’s legs and feet with the footprints. This tight focus gives the image a much stronger impact and works nicely with the title.

Day 5_Blogpost1_Concept to Cover - cover 1

Writing is often described as a lonely or solitary pursuit, so I’m glad that making the cover is a group effort. Whoever wins this year’s So You Think You Can Write contest will have a team of passionate experts on their side to help create the perfect cover.

One of my favorite Harlequin covers was created for Orange Blossom Brides by Heartwarming author Tara Randel. (I may be a little biased!)

Day 5_Blogpost1_Concept to Cover - cover 2

I’d love to hear about your favorite book covers! Have you ever bought a book just because of its beautiful cover?

11 replies on “From Concept to Cover”

Yes, definitely – I think, if done well, it represents the author’s voice. I discovered Adele Parks because of a particular edition of her books. The cover looked sassy and fun, so I gave her book a shot, loved it, and bought all her others. A few years later I saw the same book with its original edition artwork. It was boring and didn’t reflect the author’s voice – and I realised I never would have picked up that first book and discovered her work!

A stunning cover wins me over every single time. I started reading the Heartwarming line because of the amazing cover on Karen Rock’s Wish Me Tomorrow.

I confess to being one of those to be so easily swayed or repelled by the cover of a book, even though I know, like any writer dase, the truth behind the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’

The cover art of ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Diana Wynne Jones is ghastly in my personal opinion, and had it not been for my deep love of the story within I would have most likely not have brought it. Nora Roberts cover art for her book ‘the Witness’ isn’t really all that inviting to me but I again, love the story. Which really only give further proof to the saying.

The cover art of book two in the woodcutter series by Alethea Kontis isn’t as inviting or mystical in is appearance as it’s predecessor. Both however are fantastic inventive stories. The cover art for the Westerling series by Sarah Morgan I found to be very accurate to the characters and vividly enticing.

The cover art of B.J Daniel’s ‘Winchester Christmas Wedding’ is dark but festive and stunningly showcases the story within. The most recent cover arts that I have seen were Carla Cassidy’s for her book ‘Wanted: Bodyguard.’ I can’t recall a more accurately displayed cover art, it was like seeing a screen-scrap off a movie. Showcasing on the cover an almost exact moment from the book, such clarity and form that astounded me.
In the intrigue genre B.J Daniel’s ‘Boots and Bullets’ cover art was the perfect display of simplicity with impact. Just a dusty pair of cowboy boots tossed on the ground with scatted bullets around them. Very intriguing based upon the title and cover art, I brought it then read the backing.

Cover art is vital in my opinion even in books that harbour stories that the reader might not like. A recent one I found, that I personally didn’t like to read for the choice in the hero’s name but I was intrigued enough by the cover art to buy it anyway. A smashed Christmas Ballball with scattered mistletoe for the cover of ‘Mistletoe and Murder’ by Jenna Ryan. Being a festive intrigue the broken Christmas decoration set off an haunting element to the story. Gripping title and even better cover.

A classic cover art on a Kay David’s book ‘The Target’ is good too, tropical setting with a bomb expert posing in a dramatic regal way. I recall buying this book also based just upon its cover art.

‘Gift-wrapped Governesses’ – ‘Christmas wishes, mistletoe kisses’, and Caroline Anderson’s ‘Assignment: Christmas’ are all beloved cover arts by Harlequin that paint an inviting, festive but enchanting cheerful invitation to the reader. I adore them. And even Nora Roberts ‘Home for Christmas’ (the very first book I ever read) is a simple but beautiful and enchanting cover. Just a simple Christmas Wreath. I liked this one, so much so that when my childhood copy got destroyed I searched high and low for one with the exact same cover, not content till I got just the right one.
As you can see there are so many cover arts that I adore and a few I don’t like.

I’d like to ask is it a case of just a stray typo for us writers as it is to find a mistake in the cover art? Such as a heroine with blonde hair and having a woman with red hair on the cover?

To pick a cover art I love over all others is like asking a writer to pick what story of theirs they love more. I know for me that’s impossible.
Among writing I have a keen interest in cover art, painting and in fact like to mock design my own for my own stories. A lot of romance cover art is done by Jon Paul. Who’s work I revere for its painting like quality and colour. I think cover art is just as important to a book as any word within in its pages. Perhaps a little more at times.
After all A good cover can sell a bad story a bad cover can ruin a good one.

…..Sometimes. 😉

I’m probably one of the few people who has not bought a book based on its cover for some of the reasons Eliana names above. I usually read the first page, several pages in the middle and the ending. If I don’t like how it ends, I don’t buy the book. Maybe I’m weird, but that’s how I do it.


Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite books, and I also wasn’t a big fan of the original cover:

Although we try to make sure details like hair color and eye color are correct, it’s not always possible to get a perfect match, especially if we’re working with stock photography. Our number one priority is finding a stunning image that captures the story’s emotion and makes readers want to take a closer look.

I’m a fan of Sarah M. Anderson. I love the cover for Bringing Home The Bachelor. You sense that this motorcycle guy isn’t your usual romantic hero. I loved the thought of a guy not usually considered sexy getting the girl. The story so delivered on its cover promise.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *