A Chat with Cherith Vaughan, Cover Designer for Murder in the Forbidden City

Today I am so excited to share the cover for my new novel Murder in the Forbidden City!

Aren’t they just gorgeous! I am so excited for this novel. Check out the blurb:

Peking, 1867

When one of the Empress’s ladies-in-waiting is killed in the Forbidden City, she orders Inspector Gong to find the killer. Unfortunately, as a man, he is forbidden from entering the Inner Court. How is he supposed to solve a murder when he cannot visit the scene of the crime or talk to the women in the victim’s life? He won’t be able to solve this crime alone.

The widowed Lady Li is devastated when she finds out about the murder of her sister-in-law, who was serving as the Empress’s lady-in-waiting. She is determined to discover who killed her, even if it means assisting the rude and obnoxious Inspector Gong and going undercover in the Forbidden City.

Together, will Lady Li and Inspector Gong be able to find the murderer before he – or she – strikes again?

Be sure to add the book to your shelf on Goodreads! The book will be available for preorder on June 20th!

I am going to be talking a lot about this novel over the coming weeks, but I wanted to give my cover designer Cherith Vaughan a chance to talk a bit about what went into creating this cover. I honestly did not think she would be able to pull this one off, at least not in this way. She designs all of my covers and while I am happy with all of them, this one was one of my most difficult requests. “I want it to look like a movie or TV poster,” I said. “You know with the floating heads over the city?” But when it comes to stock images, Asian faces are so hard to find, which she mentions in her interview below. So when I saw the mockup, I just was just in awe of how beautiful the cover was and that it was exactly what I was looking for. I’ll let her tell you more.

Interview with Cherith Vaughan, Cover Designer

I have always loved looking at book covers, but for most of my life I never thought about the work that goes into creating one. To me, they were simply something that sold the story behind the cover.  (No matter how many times we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, we all do it!)

It wasn’t until about 5 years ago, when Amanda asked me to create a book cover for her, that it dawned on me how much work can go into making a good cover. I still remember how much my heart raced, the thrill… the terror of starting something new but wanting it to turn out well, especially for such an great friend. Looking back now, I have to laugh at how bad the cover is (I’ll probably think the same when I look back at covers now in a few months), but it was this humble beginning that pushed me to where I am today and into a career path I truly love.

I’ve learned – and am still learning – so much about cover art creation over the months. While I love learning and love working on covers, it’s not always the easiest task. Here are a few of my observations about cover art creation: Where are all the Asians?! I work on a lot of Asian themed books and, even with 1/3 of the population being Asian, almost half of the “Asian” images feature other ethnicities or are poor quality.

Where are all the Asians?! I work on a lot of Asian themed books and, even with 1/3 of the population being Asian, almost half of the “Asian” images feature other ethnicities or are poor quality.

Most of the popular Asian themed books use stereotypical Asian elements to portray the story such as fans, tea cups, etc. While this is fine, I’m a little shocked that almost every other category has at least a good mix of abstract vs. concrete concepts.

It’s always better to include multiple mockups. At least one or two with the author’s ideas incorporated as much as possible, and at least one or two of your own inspiring.

The more we know the better, as much as your ideas inspired your story, they inspire us. Details are extremely important, and can often inspire us when we’re looking for a new way to portray your story in cover form.

A good cover is not as expensive as it seems. Most quality custom covers go for about $250+ when not on sale. This includes hours upon hours hunting down, editing, drawing, and designing the final product. It’s sometimes hard to forget when we just see the final product, but  a good custom cover is a true labor of love.

A  good cover will, in a single moment, convey the mood, characters, summary of the book while still being able to draw in potential readers using just a teeny tiny thumbnail image… and to think that this split second of judgment took hours, days even weeks to make!

To me, a cover is a representation of myself and my work. I don’t want to put out a product that I can’t be proud of, and I want my authors to feel proud of their covers as well.

And finally, please, for the love of all things good, find a good cover designer! No more boxed out images (lesson learned), no more weird cropping, no more rainbow arch font in times new roman. Let’s be the start of something amazing… Let the good cover art revolution begin! 😛

If you are looking for a cover designer, you can see Cherith’s portfolio and contact her through her website, Shredded Potato. You can also purchase her premades at Empress Author Solutions (more premades coming soon!)