Monday, August 21, 2006

Cheryl St.John: Behind the Scenes with Covers

Call me prejudice, but I think Harlequin Historicals covers are absolutely gorgeous, and they just keep getting better. I get a lot of questions about how the covers are created. In years past we had to fill out ten pages of Art Fact Sheets, known among us as the AFS. Since all my writing is done on the computer, I bought a typewriter just for the Art Fact Sheets. Then we would mail the completed forms, along with artwork, to the editorial staff. More recently, technology has allowed us to fill out these forms at a special Harlequin author website developed just for this purpose. Doing so involves scrolling through a lot of pull down bars and finding something close to the description needed. We suggest specific scenes as well as a couple of generic ones that portray the theme and feel of the book.

You can teach some of us old dogs new tricks, and I love the ease and simplicity of the new method. I now scan and send my artwork as attached files. I always send pictures of my hero and heroine, and usually a shot or two of scenery for the location, as well as description and accurate photos of clothing, horses and other items that play an important part in the story.

The editor who is working on my cover, adds her own thoughts and suggestions to the package, and then they have a meeting where the art department and editors plan covers for the coming months. They look at the author's past covers and consider her specific "branding" or the look that says this is a particular author's book by sight, often using the same font and similar style. They also look at the covers from the previous months so they don't duplicate, and they consider all the books in the line that will be coming out that particular month, so that each cover is unique.

Sometimes the resulting cover is exactly a scene, a couple, or a theme I suggested; other times it's nothing like I imagined. I always defer to the strategy of the marketing and art departments who are in the business of packaging for greatest impact and who want an appealing item to sell as much as I do.

I don't see the finished product until I get a .jpg file from Harlequin or receive an envelope full of cover flats in the mail. It's always exciting to see that new cover for the first time. Some covers I love it at first sight, others grow on me.

The next cover I will see is for my February '07 release, THE LAWMAN'S BRIDE. Here is the picture of City Marshal Clay Conner that I included with the AFS. Now it's just a waiting game to see if my hero looks the way I imagined him the whole time I was writing his story. I don't know who the model is. I found him in a magazine ad and knew he was my marshal. I keep pictures of my hero and heroine above my PC as I work on the story and it helps me visualize.

clay Posted by Picasa

What do you especially like about Harlequin Historical covers?


Margaret Moore said...

I agree the HH covers are lovely! I've rarely had a bad one, and they seem willing to take chances and do different things.

You'll have to blog later and let us know if he, or a reasonable facsimile, made it on to your cover!

Michelle Styles said...

Personally I tend to like the North American covers better than the UK. In fact, I believe as they are combining the lines, they are going to try to make the covers the same, or very similair. All my covers thus far, because they don't have any Roman artwork have been specially commissioned from North America.
What I have amazed at is the length of time they need to commission artwork.

Anyway, I think Clay is to die for! And I hope they do use him for inspiration.

Jennifer Y. said...

I just think the HH covers are lovely...most are very vivid and eye-catching.

Great blog! I love Harlequin Historicals and have been a dedicated reader of them for years!

Sharon Schulze said...

Cheryl, I also use pictures when I'm writing, and send them in with the art info. Sometimes the photos are from ads, sometimes they're shots of actors/actresses from TV or the movies--it all depends who caught my eye when I was envisioning my characters.

One time I didn't send a photo of the heroine, because I never found one I liked until after I sent in the Art Fact Sheets. I was very surprised and pleased to discover, when I got my cover, that the heroine on the cover looked so much like the actress whose photo I found that she could have been the model!

I hope your vision of Clay makes it onto your cover; he's gorgeous.

Allison Littlehales said...

I also think that the HH covers are better than the M&B covers. They're much more modern and enticing to the readers. I really like to see accurate clothing and artifacts, too. But that's just me!

Allison Littlehales

katrina said...

City Marshal Clay Conner is very yummy looking!! He's perfect! I can not wait for that book!!!
I also love the HH covers and I do feel a sense of safety (for my wallet :0) ) when I see one of those covers (YK, they are very distinct) because I know that book no matter what the title or who the author may be that the storyline is going to be great!

CherylStJ said...

We do like to hear that, Katrina! Thanks!

LuckyLouPlattsmouthNE said...

MM: I have 20 of your HH's, plus 3 more. Found Deborah Simmons when you did 2 anthologies together. Noticed one of your heroines was pregnant & 3 were signed by an artist. I studied art 4 yrs in HS so am attracted visually, but once I find a favorite author like you, Cheryl & Deb, I buy regardless of cover. CSJ has heard my story of my indignation in telling a co-worker that the hero was a battle-scarred warrior, not a smooth-skinned muscleman and the girl was clad in lavender toga, totally out of period!! We laughed from the belly for 5 minutes over that!!
Thanks for the insight on inspiration, input & production.

LuckyLouPlattsmouthNE said...

Cheryl, Clay reminds me of Timothy Dalton in Chambray. Like the frayed cuff-looks comfortable & soft.

Margaret Moore said...

Thanks, Luckylouplattsmouthne! The book with the pregnant heroine on the cover was THE SAXON. In North America, she was on the back. In other countries, they used that picture for the front cover. You can see an example at

You'll have to scroll down a bit, as I have other covers from foreign editions of other books there, too.