Here’s a look into how an author’s mind works when it comes to coming up with covers for indie publications. As you know, Bob, I wrote Grading the Curve back in 2013. It was my first MF romance, and if I’m brutally frank it shows. I also had a few issues with the original cover, so I came up with the graphic on the left for use in ads and other promo. While the models weren’t a perfect match, I felt they represented Alex and Ellen a bit better than my cover (e.g. an impoverished scholarship student working multiple jobs would not have a spray tan and a French manicure. Just sayin’).
Fast forward to 2018, and I got the rights for Grading back. I immediate set into gutting the story and rewriting it because hoo boy it needed it, and in my spare time I played around with turning the 2013 ad graphic into a new cover. One eensy problem — while I still liked the female model, the male model I used had turned into the 21st Century Fabio. He’s absolutely everywhere, on everything from romance novels to HIV test kits (I’m serious). We’re talking ridiculously ubiquitous. Plus he didn’t really look like Alex, whom I described as looking like Daniel Craig if you shoved a big stick up his ass. Call me fussy, but I like having my models bear at least a faint resemblance to the characters in the books, and since I do my own covers I can call the shots.
So off I went to Deposit Photos to start searching for a new male model. Luckily my Google fu lends itself to coming up with good search terms so it only took me an hour until I hit the jackpot on the gentleman at right. Not only does he look far more like my cranky, sexy English professor than 21st Century Fabio, but he also was in the right position for me to do a composite with the female model’s pic (in an aside, I love photographers who use blank backgrounds with their subjects. They make my life so much easier). After much tweaking, shading, adding of effects and whatnot, I’m happy with the final result for Belaurient Press’s edition of Grading the Curve. Now I just have to finish editing the story–
Well, no, let’s be honest — I’m gutting and rewriting the story using the skills I’ve picked up in the last five years. It’s gone from 15K words to approximately 30K words, with far more backstory for both Alex and Ellen and some new characters such as Alex’s English department colleague Amar, who is trying to get Alex to let go of his guilt over his late wife’s death. Personally, I like Amar — he’s like a Sikh Jiminy Cricket, a good friend who’s more than willing to call Alex on his bullshit but still wants to see him happy. I’ve also relocated them to my favorite imaginary college Lake Michigan University, which allows me to use Hyde Park as a setting and puts GtC in the same setting as my short story “Tied with a Bow.” Because I like meta stuff like that.
When Shifter Woods: Roar came out, it received a complaint from a reviewer that the cover art used models with shaved chests. Since you’re never supposed to respond to a reviewer I bit my tongue, but I did think, “Lady, if you can find a model with chest hair in the right age range, lemme know because I’ve been looking and they’re NOT out there.”
And then I read a comment a few days ago about the awesomely talented artist Jay Aheer and how she painstakingly painted on chest hair for another author’s cover because the character had chest hair. My first thought was, “That Jay, she always goes the distance with her work. Such a professional.”
My second thought was, “Wait, you can do that?” So I did some searching and by gum, it is possible to add chest hair onto a hairless model in Photoshop. After finding a tutorial, I decided to build my own chest hair brush and tried it out with the cover for Shifter Woods: Snarl (it’s coming, people, I promise). The result worked, but it looked like my poor wolf shifter had been manscaped within an inch of his life. So I built another brush, this one with thicker, curlier hair, and tried that.
WOO! As you can see, the result looks damned good. So, keeping that reviewer’s comments in mind, I went back and added a fair amount of curly hair to Mike’s chest for the cover of Shifter Woods: Roar. I’m going to build another thicker brush with straighter hair, just to change things up a bit, but it looks like I’m free of the shaved chest tyranny of stock photography, yay!