The book cover of my debut novel Heather’s Mannequin is something I’m very, very proud of, because of all the work that went into it. For those that already read the book (link to Amazon is below), you should know what the bloody mannequin hand holding the pink scarf is a reference to. NO SPOILERS FROM ME, but it’s a major scene in the story. And it’s a topic for another time.
Today, I will delve into the cover’s background, what led to it, and what I learned about myself in the process.
Around November 2019, I was on the 7th draft of my story and things were shaping up. While the drafts were piling up, I thought I should get to work on a book cover. I needed something eye-catching. Before I could ask around, I had to decide on a color scheme. After considering blue (for dreariness) and yellow (for mental illness, I guess?), I decided on white because of the bare-bones approach to the narration. The background war of the story is rendered irrelevant. The narration’s primary purpose is to focus on the main character and her mental anguish only. The reader is forced to perceive her struggle through a scope. The background is essentially blank. White, if you will.
So white it was.
Next, I had to decide on a graphic. I originally envisioned the main character, an amputee with prosthetic limbs, grabbing her face in agony (with her fake hand). Her real hand would start vanishing in embers, Infinity War-style. Now, I can’t draw or paint for crap. I tried commissioning a local tattoo parlor for an art piece. Keep in mind, this was before I knew Fiverr was a thing.
After describing to the tattoo guy what I was looking for, he started getting all fidgety. He mumbled something about not being comfortable with putting his art out there (even though the receptionist indicated a willingness, via email, and stated the parlor has done artwork for book covers in the past). The artist took my number and said he would call me. Of course, that call never came. So he didn’t get paid and I saved some coin. Water off my back.
So I was back at square one. I realized I had to take matters into my hands. Again, I had no idea that Fiverr was a thing. If I couldn’t draw something, then I’d put my iPhone to good use and take a photo. Photos are easy: You just position the objects correctly. Since my main character was at risk of losing her humanity, (“becoming a mannequin”) I decided to buy an actual mannequin from Amazon for $70. I thought about painting a fading eye on the face and placing it in front of a fire.
Funny story: I matched with this girl on Tinder once. She seemed like the quirky art major type, which I like. It seemed we were hitting it off when I mentioned I was writing a novel. I sent her the above picture to show what I was working on.
She never responded. Haha.
Anyway, I realized the whole mannequin-face thing wasn’t working out. It showed too much. Considering the context of the story, I needed a symbolic mannequin. What I was getting was a literal mannequin. It just wasn’t working. So I thought, “maybe I should give the face concept a rest and try something else.”
I started moving my camera lens downwards to focus on Heather’s bleeding arm (really, it was paint). Still, something was missing…I was only seeing a literal mannequin, not a symbolic one. Plus, putting the clothes on it made me feel creepy. You ever imagine the crazy artist in his underwear, spending hours in front of a canvas, with bags under his eyes and puffing at a cigarette? That was me.
I’m kidding. But one night while the red paint was drying, I dabbed at it with the pink scarf by accident. That was my eureka moment. I wrapped the hand with the bloodied scarf and realized it captured a prominent scene perfectly. After all this time trying to capture the right look involving the mannequin’s bare visage, all I needed was its hand! Less is more! Eureka!
I finally had the right concept and brought the mannequin to my back yard (on a rainy friggin’ day, no less). In one session, I made about 50 different shots with my phone. A friend of mine and I agreed the one on the official cover was the best shot and angle, by far. After uploading it to, and playing around with, the PicMonkey app for a couple weeks, I found a font and shade that worked well. Et viola! The official cover was done.
This whole process would’ve been prevented if I simply went on Fiverr, but then I wouldn’t have gotten the experience. See, this taught me a few things. One, your passion for art can be greatly solidified through hard work. Don’t take the easy way out. If you do, you won’t care as much about delivering a quality product. Writing Heather’s Mannequin was the hardest, yet most rewarding, thing I’ve done in my 28 years on this planet.
Two, this taught me to be solution-oriented. Don’t stop at dead ends. Get your sledgehammer out and knock the fucker down. Take some initiative and find a way to get it done. And that’s what I did. I couldn’t be prouder.
So that kids, is the story of how Heather’s Mannequin got its cover. ‘Tis a story of flaky artists, creeped-out Tinder chicks, some happy accidents, and a genuine passion for all things art. Till next time! Deuces!