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The Covers

My talented cover designer is Kari Rust.

Not only does Kari provide the cover design for The Ravenstones, but she also writes and illustrates her own books (Tricky, Owlkids, 2017, and The House at the End of the Road, Owlkids, 2019). See here for information on her latest book.

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Kari lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. She came to my attention through my daughter Sarah (one of the world’s great connectors – I gather they met at a preschool event, through their children).

Kari and I met in person for the first time in the autumn of 2016 at the 49th Parallel coffee shop on 4th Avenue (the heart of Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood), one of the city’s finest coffee places. [Just don’t get me started on the perfection of the lattes and accompanying Lucky donuts – it won’t be long before I end up writing about cinnamon buns! For those who really want to know about my not-so-secret favorite pastry, they should go to my Google reviews. Sorry, I apologize for the slight digression.]

Later on, after that initial coffee break, as we began our collaboration, I provided Kari with my sense of which ones needed highlighting over the whole seven books. My initial instructions to her were as follows:

“It occurred to me that what I’m looking for in the cover art is something very strong and dynamic, conveying the sense of mystery and adventure.  As such, it struck me that a style as is conveyed by woodcuts would probably work best. [When we met] I mentioned I was a big fan of art deco’s clean lines and minimalism, which can lead to a degree of abstraction and simplicity. I believe this kind of thing would work in this context. 

“Although I haven’t found an example of exactly what I have in mind, I’ve been researching (and taking pictures of) the kind of woodcuts I’m thinking about. I can forward you a few samples (separately) to help conceptualize the project.” (email of Oct. 18, 2016)

I also attached a two-pager with my ideas for the covers for every one of the books, as well as two plot summaries, one covering the entire Ravenstones series and the other detailing the first two volumes.

This is one example of the engravings I sent to Kari later on, as an example of what I liked:

George Walker, Curiosity, 1998

Since then, we’ve moved forward book by book. I send Kari the relevant chapters or passages by email (we didn’t live in the same city at the time) and she comes up with several suggested options in rough proofs. That’s when I face my greatest challenge – having to choose amongst several that I like. We go back and forth after that, while she incorporates any of my thoughts, finalizes the illustration and refines any details.

Book covers (not just the front but also the back and the spine) require a great deal of thought, planning and conceptualization. Creating an effective cover is both an art and a science, and not everyone is up to the task. One must visualize what the illustration will look like both on a small scale (seen online on Amazon and Goodreads) and a large scale, in print (maybe even in a bookstore near you!).

A book cover gets little more than a quick glance from prospective readers, who have a choice of thousands (6,000 new books each and every day on Amazon so I’m told). The picture must be tasteful, convey something important about the book, its main character(s) or theme and ensure essential background details are present. Of course, the back-cover must make room for text about the plot and/or the author.

I’m no expert (and I’m certainly not famous), so my name alone does not sell books. So, an appealing cover is really important. It’s a guessing game whether a reader will be attracted to buy a copy of the book on that basis alone. One learns (from countless experts in the publishing world) as to what works and what doesn’t. Time will tell whether we’ve been successful.

When I look at book cover art, I see much of the same thing over and over again, most of which fails to impress me, and some of which I thoroughly detest. For The Ravenstones, I wanted a common look over the seven volumes, I wanted to stand out from the crowd and I wanted the artwork to reveal something about the characters. I think Kari has achieved all these goals, in spades. All being well, one day we can also move on to illustrating the contents.

Apart from the information on the characters and what the books are about, I gave Kari little stylistic direction on the individual characters. So I was thrilled with her final proposals and the common look that she’s given the series. As I write this post, we’re working on the cover for Book 5. It has proven to be the most challenging one to date, as we moved from a focus on the wolves and bears to that of the birds, in this case the duck and the raven.

I feel blessed to have been introduced to Kari and would recommend her highly to any writer seeking a thoughtful illustrator. To my reckoning, she has been able not only to draw each animal involved in an appealing fashion but also to capture its true personality. This is no mean feat.

Over the course of the seven volumes that make up The Ravenstones, I intend to highlight most of the main characters, focusing on those who carry the storyline in each book.

All the currently published covers can be seen on The Ravenstones website, but I thought readers might be interested in seeing a couple of rough (but still exceptional) drafts we decided not to use for The Invasion of Aeronbed:

Rough Draft for Volume 2 of The Ravenstones
Rough Draft for Volume 2 of The Ravenstones

I still like them both; they’d make great posters when all is said and done.