Here on the blog today, I have an interview with Australian speculative fiction author, Christopher Ruz. He’s got a wide range of stories available – both short and long – and many more in the works. Well worth checking out. I recently read his novel, Century of Sand, and really enjoyed it. An epic fantasy tale set in a diverse landscape, peopled with unique characters – some of whom I will never forget.
Not only did I love the story, but I adored the cover design and wanted to get inside his head and find out more about it. I hope you enjoy
I love the cover of Century of Sand. It’s really beautiful, and quite artistic in comparison to many titles out there. What made you decide to go in that direction?
I knew when I was first planning to self-publish Century of Sand that the cover was possibly the most important part of the equation. Fantasy art speaks to readers in very specific ways. It has its own particular language. If you look at the works of modern fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta, and more recently Brom, you see hyper-realistic colours, hard brush strokes, and eclectic palettes. I wanted to be a part of that artistic language. I also think that the cover of a book informs the reader as to both the content and mood of a piece. Regardless of what people say about not judging a book by its cover, the art on the front of the book does effect how we interpret a work. As such, I wanted to give my readers the very best design possible, and not cheat my audience by slapping together a quick and dirty design.
The cover is hugely important in an online environment as it’s the first thing that draws the eye – what were the key components you felt were necessary to catch a reader’s attention for this book?
I’ve learned a lot through trial and error as an indie author, and the three most important parts of any cover are (I feel) clarity, genre, and mood. A cover doesn’t have to depict a particular moment in a story, but it must be absolutely clear what the book embodies. My genre is fantasy – specifically, an epic swords-and-sorcery trilogy. To represent this, I put my main characters up front, in fantasy garb, holding swords. It sounds obvious, but the number of fantasy covers I see that could easily be slapped on to the front of a colonial drama or historical fiction is staggering. Hence, my quest for clarity.
The mood is just as important, and is related to colour and composition. Century of Sand is the story of a journey, and to represent a journey we need to see the distance from here to there. Hence, my characters in the foreground, and Ini’s fortress in the background as an ominous hint as to what lies ahead. Finally, the colour is vital. The blues and greens in the foreground are calming, and are very un-sandlike, which adds an air of unreality. In the background, muted reds hint at blood and danger to come. The transition between the colours creates tension and mystery.
Those three elements together – clarity, genre and mood – are what I felt are the most important aspects in catching a reader’s attention.
How did you start the process? For example, did you look at artists first, or did you decide on the style you wanted then go looking for someone who could pull it off?
I’ve been a long-time member of deviantart.com, so I’m familiar with a lot of artists that work in the approximate style I was after. I approached a few different artists once I knew what sort of cover I was after, asking for quotes, and one in particular was the perfect fit – talented, pleasant to work with, and within my price range. I sent him my sketches and specifics for colour and mood, and he worked almost independently from there.
I know you’ve done a fair few of your own covers for your other published works, what made you look for an artist for this particular novel?
It was purely because I didn’t think I could do the book justice on my own. Century of Sand has occupied four years of my life, and I didn’t feel it proper to slap one of my amateur photochops on the cover and hope it sufficed. I want to represent myself as a professional author, and for that I need a professional quality cover, for which I was happy to pay professional rates. And it paid off – I receive as many compliments on the cover art for Century of Sand as I do for the book itself. I hope it’s directed a lot of business towards Chris Newman, because he deserves it.
Finally, what is the best advice you can give to someone seeking a cover artist?
Take your time. There are many talented artists out there, and many who are happy to work at affordable rates, but not so many who are easy to work with. Make sure you have a good idea of what you want before you begin the process – being vague with your artist will only lead to frustration. Then speak to as many appropriate artists as possible, get quotes, balance out their style versus the cost, and examine very closely which of those artists are courteous and prompt with emails, and which can’t be bothered. Their personalities are as important as their skill with a brush. Finally, be willing to pay! If you cheat your artists, they’ll cheat you back, and talent should be rewarded. Save your pennies and make sure your cover is something you can be proud of, instead of something hasty and cheap. Remember, this is your business. Your cover is your advertising, your public face. Make it beautiful.
Thanks for your time, Chris! And for answering all my questions.