How to Create an Eye-Catching Book Cover

Adrian Liang on April 07, 2016

A Promise of Fire-smThis August marks the release of debut author Amanda Bouchet’s A Promise of Fire, the first in her Kingmaker Chronicle series. As you can see, the cover is exciting and dynamic. But how exactly was this cover made? Independent cover artist Gene Mollica agreed to reveal the steps he takes to design original, eye-catching covers.

Q: Gene, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A: I’m a photo-illustrator specializing in fantastical and otherworldly images for the entertainment industry, most frequently for book covers. Originally a painter (RISD grad ’90), I made the switch to digital media in graduate school (School of Visual Arts ’01). It was a daunting transition at first but now it’s an equally obsessive process. Creating images that the authors feel translates their original vision and offering a window into that world for the reader is as much fun as I’ve ever had.

Q: How did you create the design for the cover of Amanda Bouchet’s A Promise of Fire?

I always start by asking the art director for details about the book. In this case I talked to Sourcebooks Casablanca’s awesome art director, Dawn Adams.

Dawn had Amanda send us a synopsis of A Promise of Fire and a description of how she visualized the heroine. As part of that, Amanda gave us a story outline of how our heroine, Catalia Fisa (or Cat), develops throughout the three books.

Cat isn’t just a warrior; she is also a powerful Magoi—or magic user—known as the Kingmaker. All of the different roles that Cat fills needed to be considered when designing the cover, and this was something that Amanda, Dawn, and the publisher needed to come to a decision on before we could create the covers. Once the overarching direction was decided, then I could move forward on my end.

I was assigned all three covers for the Kingmaker series so that they would all have the same feel and could be developed together. This meant we had a lot to consider. After many discussions we decided on the first cover concept, which was showing Cat’s warrior side. Here’s the mood board we created for Cat:

Image 1 - Moodboard

Q: Once the cover direction is fleshed out, what are the next steps?

For us (me and my team) once we have a direction our job is to get the details the author provided correct. We start with the costumes and props.

To bring to life the visual details of a character, I work with professional costumer Deborah Gerard. Deborah has been with me for more than five years now, and she not only helps me costume the models, she also helps me form the total concept of the shot.

With Deborah’s help, my team provided sketches of the costumes and props that we felt would suit Cat and the world of the Kingmaker Chronicles. It’s important to make sure that all of the costumes and props we use feel authentic because most fantasy is based off of the historical world. Having someone very familiar with the history of costumes is critical to complete the whole look of the shot.

Cotume design

While all this thought process was in development, we also cast talent for the photo shoot. In this case, we cast Jordan Michelle from MSA Models for the role.

Once we have the costumes and our model, we move on to the actual photo shoot.

Q: What is the cover shooting process like?

Great shoots are all about having the best possible planning. For the three covers of the Kingmaker Chronicles, I spoke a lot with Dawn, Casablanca’s art director, about what part of the Kingmaker world we wanted to focus on for each cover. We also discussed what side of the heroine we wanted to highlight.

At the shoot itself, we have our cover model on hand, in this instance Jordan Michelle, and we also have my photo team, my hair and makeup person, and my assistant.

The entire team works with me to get the shots we want for the cover. In the photo shoot my hope is to get shots that are unique and really draw people in. I want to create an image that makes people walk across the aisle of their bookstore, pick the book up, and ask what it’s about.

This particular shot was one that didn’t quite work for the cover, but it was so fierce that the publisher is keeping it for potential future use.

Extra shot of model

Q: What happens after the cover shooting process?

Once the shoot was finished, I sent the whole shoot to Dawn. She then reviewed the images with the editor for A Promise of Fire and the publisher. Together they selected the shots they liked the best.

Dawn and I then work closely to take the best shots and create the cover art. I provide rough directions, and she guides me through. Once we have a final direction, I go to finish. 

The final cover!

A Promise of Fire

Q: Where can we find you online?

My website is:


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