Author and Ebook Cover Artist Julie Ortolon

- by Dara Girard

Tell us about yourself

I’m every bit as much an artist as a writer. They’re both in my blood, but the art came long before writing. I started in fine art as both an artist and an art dealer, but the day I discovered computer graphics I fell in love with doing layout and design. I took to it so naturally, I landed a job doing ad layout for a newspaper, where I worked until I sold my first romance novel in 1999.

For a while after that, I designed bookmarks, postcards, ads, and other promotional material for fellow authors. I love graphic art and design, especially creating and manipulating images in PhotoShop. I gave it up for a while, though, because of back-to-back writing deadlines, and I’ve missed doing it. So doing ebook covers is very exciting.

Why did you decide to develop ebook covers?

Because the need is so huge! The minute I decided to republish my own out-of-print novels as ebooks, I started cruising the ‘net to see who else was jumping in this game. I quickly discovered we’re living in the midst of a publishing revolution. A lot of authors are republishing their backlist, which is blurring the line between self-published ebooks and traditionally published print books in terms of quality of the writing.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the covers.

I hope I’m not stepping on any toes, but I’ve seen a lot of mediocre covers on ebooks by established authors. That’s hardly surprising, though. Individual authors don’t have the resources or budgets of a major publishing house when it comes to cover design. This has created a serious need for professional looking covers at an affordable price.

It’s similar to the early days of Web design. Think back on how simple author Web sites where ten years ago compared to where they are now. I predict cover design will go through the same evolution, but I love novels and graphic design too much to sit on the sidelines and wait. Plus, it’s a perfect opportunity for me to combine my two passions.

How do you approach designing a new cover?

I like to work with the author, rather than just designing a cover on my own and presenting the finished file. I start by looking at the original print cover, reading the blurb, and even the opening pages if I can. Then I talk to the author and find out how they felt about the original packaging. Do they want me to copy the packaging as closely as possible without infringing on copyrights? Or do they want something completely different?

If they want something different, we discuss what tone and message they want to convey. Images, colors, even fonts all speak a language and I like to know what I want the final graphic to say before I start gathering the pieces.

What are common mistakes you see in ebook cover designs?

The first is images that fall short of the mark. The challenge is finding appropriate and affordable images—especially for historical romances. The trick I’ve learned when looking for images at places like BigStock.com is to not look at the whole image as it’s presented, but to visually zoom in on bits and pieces and imagine how it can be manipulated. I frequently take bits and pieces from multiple images and PhotoShop them together.

The second mistake is doing too much or too little with the type. Sometimes the cover looks like the designer just popped in an image and slapped the title and author name on top without making the words work with the image as a cohesive package. Other times, the designer gets too tricky with the type. I personally don’t like covers that scream “computer generated.” I like them to look like printed covers, like you could actually walk into a brick-and-mortar bookstore and find that book sitting on a shelf. Doing that requires a delicate hand when it comes to PhotoShop effects such as beveling and drop shadows.

I reserve the right to change this opinion in the future as the publishing revolution continues to unfold. Who knows what will come next. We may be seeing animated, interactive, 3D covers. Right now, though, I like ebook covers that look like a scan of a printed books.

What are some of the differences in designing an ebook cover versus a print cover?

3D Image Design

Ah, here’s where I already have to contradict what I just said. The big difference between an ebook cover and a book sitting on a shelf in a brick-and-mortar store is the size at which they are viewed. On an actual, printed book, the designer can vary the font sizes a lot, so things like cover quotes can be really small compared to the title and author name. If you do that on an ebook cover, it won’t be readable. The challenge is making all the text readable but still having the reader’s eye go where you want it.

Same thing with the images. Keep it simple enough to make sense when viewed as a thumbnail on a computer screen.

People do judge a book by its cover, why don’t many authors focus on this key component when designing an ebook?

Not all authors are comfortable or well suited for being part of the cover design process. Since we’re talking specifically about NINC authors, we’re all used to having a publisher with an art department to take care of that. Add to that the scarcity of affordable graphic designers who specialize in designing novel covers, and it’s not surprising that the quality of the covers don’t always match the quality of the writing. That’s sad, because you’re right, readers do judge a book by its cover.

Another problem is deadline pressure for the current work-in-progress and the hundred other balls a career novelist has to juggle. It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation to simply do whatever is easy and quick to get the book out there to see what happens.

I think that’s an injustice to the stories. Maybe the book being republished as an ebook is something the author wrote years ago, but it’s still their baby. At the time when the author reached those magical words “The End” that novel meant the world to them. So why settle for slapping on an easy cover and tossing it back out into the world with a wait-and-see shrug? Whether it never performs well or sells a hundred thousand copies, it still has the author’s name on it. It still represents the words they wrote.

Do you think being an author and artist gives you an edge in your work?

Absolutely! For a number of reasons. I’ve been on both sides and understand both sensibilities. As an author, I know that what I’m designing is emotional. It’s a visual representation of a story that took blood, sweat, and tears to create. Yet, as someone with a strong background in sales, ad layout, and graphic design, I want to create an effective marketing tool.

You offer many resources for authors on your website and on your blog you track your progression of turning your print book into an ebook. Why did you decide to do this?

I’m crazy and decided I didn’t need a personal life? Actually, I’m only half joking. Sharing everything I’m learning is enormously time consuming, but I’ve discovered the old saying is true: Teaching is learning. When I started my blog to track my progress learning social networking, online promotion, and the changing world of publishing, I was a babe in the woods. Now, I even amaze myself with how much I know and how much I can help others. There’s still a ton to learn, though, and it grows every day, so the journey at JuliesJournalOnline.com will continue. I love it when authors who follow the blog jump in to share and/or ask questions. That’s the point: for all of us to learn together.

How can authors interested in your service reach you?

They can see more samples of the covers I’ve designed at “My Cover Designs” page at http://www.juliesjournalonline.com

And they can e-mail me at: Julie@JulieOrotlon.com

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that ereaders and estores are a total game changer in the world of publishing. These are exciting times to be an author, and I’m thrilled to be on the frontlines, actively part of the e-revolution.

16 comments

  1. Interesting blog! I’m always fascinated to hear how covers come about, and some of the new covers are more visually intriguing to me than the originals. Thanks for sharing your process!

  2. Thanks Sherri! This might sound odd, but sometimes designing a cover is nearly as scary as writing. I have those moments of thinking, “I’ll never pull this off.” Then, somehow, it all comes together. I’m really proud of the covers I’ve done so far and look forward to doing more.

  3. Great blog, Julie. I love the covers you are designing!

  4. Thanks Julianne!

  5. Great post. I loved the covers! What beautiful designs, very professional looking. Your website is great, too. There’s so much info there for authors doing their own books now.

    Thanks!

  6. You’re welcome, Angelique. I always like to hear when authors find the blog useful, since it takes a lot of time.

  7. I found your post very interesting and informative. I’ll be sending my husband to have a look, since he’s designing my ebook covers.

    It’s a whole new world, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing so much information with us.

  8. I enjoyed the interview. Do ebook authors have more control over their covers. I know several authors who have complained that they had no control over the book title or the cover. That’s how they end up with a book about a blond and the cover picture is a red head!

  9. Thanks for commenting Karin and you bring up a very good point. I’m sure Julie will have some feedback for you, but here are my two cents.

    It depends on whether an author is working with an ebook publisher (who would handle editing, cover design, distribution etc..) or self-publishing (the author takes on all the various tasks herself). When working with a publisher (both online and off) an author sometimes has to give up a lot of control.

  10. Julie, your cover designs are fabulous! I’ve been experimenting with designing covers for my OOP books. I have Photoshop Elements 5.0. I don’t have a problem manipulating the photos that I buy from stock photo sites. What I struggle with is making the words look like they’re not computer-generated. When I use Elements to create the copy, it looks kind of cheap and low-res. Any tips for fixing this? Thanks so much for a great blog!

  11. Your covers are lovely, Julie! Like you, I have a design background. Unlike you, I’ve never learned Photoshop (nor have the time or inclination), so I’m adrift in the brave new world of publishing our backlists. It’s incredibly generous of you to share your process and this information with other writers.

  12. Karin, I think Dara did a great job answering the question. Thank you Dara!

  13. Nancy, on the fonts looking low resolution, I’m wondering what dpi and size you’re working in. The final image has to be 72dpi, 600pixels x 900 pixels, but I always design the whole cover in 300dpi, 8.33 inches x 12.5 inches. When it’s finished, I flatten, convert to 72dpi, and save it as a .jpg. That really helps the fonts look smoother.

  14. Thank you Mary Jo!

  15. Julie, thanks so much for the excellent advice on font resolution. You’re right; when I reduced the size and dpi, the copy looks ten times better!

  16. It is always interesting to learn how fellow book illustrators approach their work – and this interview does a nice job of giving such insights. The sample covers were interesting as well – though I wish they were a tad larger.

    Keep up the good work!

    ~Duncan
    ======================
    Book cover illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, ILEX, Fort Ross, Moonstone Books, ISFiC Press, and many other publishers and self-publishing authors.