Going UnderCOVER with Skyla Dawn Cameron
Today we get an unusual cover treat. Skyla Dawn Cameron has designed covers for many, many books. But today we’re talking about the evolution the covers for her own series, Demons of Oblivion. After you finish checking out the cover info… be sure to check out book one in the series, BLOODLINES, it’s free during this blog tour, from Oct 28 – Nov 1!!
Bloodlines…has had a few different covers.
It was first released in 2008. Covers using 3D art were fairly common at the time. Poser used for covers still has quite a negative bias against it, in some cases for good reason; as a digital artist, I’ve always found it quite useful, though (more on that in a second).
The first Bloodlines cover was done by an excellent digital artist, Ana Winson.
I felt Ana did a wonderful job with this cover as it did the most important thing: it exemplified the main character of Zara Lain. You look at that cover and know she’s about to pull out a weapon on you.
It was 2011 when I was able to do a rewrite of the book (I’d originally written Bloodlines in 2004 or so; several years later I’d grown enough as a writer that, when I had the opportunity to clean it up, I jumped at it…and added about 25K words and gutted the whole thing). To go with this and the release of the next few books in the series, I received permission to redo the cover myself and give it an update.
Astute viewers will know this is also done with Poser (same model and outfit, in fact). And I love this, not just because I made it, because it also so completely encompasses the character of Zara Lain.
This one was a bit of a hit or miss with readers. Interestingly, it wasn’t the Poser that seemed to get people (in fact, many I know who are specifically anti-Poser were impressed with this one), but the sheer boldness of it—the stark white background, the blood—was polarizing.
The reason Poser was used for the initial redo, and for the Hunter and Lineage covers at that time, is because stock photos are quite limiting the more particular you want to be with your characters.
I’ve worked as an artist and I know how ridiculously caught up authors can get in the fine details of a cover, missing the overall picture; I strive to not do that. For example, Zara never wears a corset in the course of Bloodlines—does that matter? No, it doesn’t; the point is that she would wear a corset, which is why I gave her one there. The tone and feel of the book/character is more important than what colour nail polish she’s wearing.
But Zara Lain is a very particular sort of person and, not to sound like I’m insane, but she would not let me use just any stock photo. It couldn’t be a black-haired chick with a sword, as she doesn’t use a sword; it couldn’t be a blonde with a gun, as she isn’t blonde; and by god she’d better have good clothes.
Similarly, with Hunter, it was difficult to find a woman of colour carrying a katana. Ryann’s also a nun and the hot-chick-in-leather-pants or bare midrift sort of cover wasn’t going to work for her. And Peri from Lineage is Asian, and finding a non-sexualized image of an Asian woman with a weapon wasn’t easy (Japanese school girl carrying a sword, though? Oh, that’s doable).
In a perfect world, they’d have custom art like books from large publishers (my dream for these books? That would be Chris McGrath, no question). But I don’t live in a perfect world: I have lived in small press and epublishing, where the budget just isn’t there.
With the 2011 covers, sales still weren’t where we’d hoped. It’s one thing if people pick up a book and don’t like it, but if they’re not picking it up to begin with, well, there’s a problem. So I went back to the drawing board one last time in the hopes of injecting some life in the books: I loves these characters and this world, and I’d love it to be financially viable enough to spend more time with these stories.
This time I decided to forget about swords, guns, and leather pants urban fantasy heroines, and start by finding people who look like my main characters. Not merely their physical features but the overall feel of the character.
That. That right there is Zara. The model is naked under the curtain and is certainly sexualized, but Zara is an overtly sexual character to begin with. And the look on the model’s face says she doesn’t need to be holding a gun on the cover to kill you.
I did have some people question as to whether this made the book look more paranormal romance than urban fantasy. They’re likely right but there’s some sex in the book and…and my particular brand of romance (which never ends well), so it’s still somewhat fitting.
Similarly, with Hunter, it was important for me to find someone who looked at least similar to Ryann. I absolutely refuse to whitewash people of colour on my covers. The model also had to have a vulnerability to her without looking weak, and couldn’t be sexualized in the way Zara’s cover was.
And then there’s Peri:
Her hair’s too long, her clothes are too nice/girly, but she’s holding a gun and she will not hesitate to shoot you; this was as appropriate as I could find for Peri (as most of the Asian models were too cutesy and smiling; Peri is vaguely sociopathic and suicidal, and Happy Fun Time just did not work for her).
So there you have it. For better or worse, my art graces the covers of my books, and where they succeed or fail rests entirely on my shoulders. The first purpose of a cover is to draw the reader’s attention to maybe read the jacket copy or a sample of the writing, and it’s my hope the revamped art does just that.
The remainder of the Demons of Oblivion series covers…
Thank you for having me, Jennifer!