The Story Behind the Artwork


Marketing experts say that the cover of a book accounts for 50% of the buying decision, so after all your effort writing the book, it makes sense to spend a good amount of time and money on your cover.

I was very fortunate to discover Iana Zaalishvili, a wonderful artist/designer living in Georgia, near Russia. Her beautiful illustrations and cover art felt just right for my story. Here’s how it all happened. If you want to create a great cover for your own book, I hope you learn something.

The first two artists who initially agreed to do the cover pulled out, so I lost a lot of time, and ended up with a very tight deadline. I had an idea for the cover, but it is not easy to communicate what you want when you are not an artist yourself. After searching through hundreds of images on the web, I selected two, which you see above, to represent the style that I wanted. I actually contacted the artist who created the lovely picture of the young person looking down into the water with all the lights and shining fishes, but she was very expensive.

So I posted my project online using Elance, an online freelancer service, describing the scene I wanted to depict. I envisaged Joe, the dragon, diving down into the deeps to recover the microvita seed from Atlantis, as Princess Iris waves to him from the ship.  To give an idea of the style I was looking for, I also attached the two images I had selected.

Seventy five artists responded, so I spent two days going through their portfolios and narrowed it down to three. This was very difficult – there are so many talented people out there! I found it extremely hard to then choose between those last three, but finally settled on Iana. I’ll post some other examples of her work in another blog – I just love it, and she is a delight to work with. She is even sending me an original of one of her earlier paintings as a gift! Soon it will be hanging in a frame on my wall, along with the original of the Real Dragons cover painting.

After the fact, I can now reveal that Iana’s first two sketches had me really worried. I didn’t like them much, and I was afraid that I’d wasted my money, plus I was almost out of time. But when I saw the third sketch, which is the  one displayed above, I almost wept – I knew I had made the right choice. Over the next few days I became increasingly excited as the dragon came to life in full color. It was so beautiful – I was mesmerized. This was far better than what I’d imagined.

Once the painting was complete, Iana scanned it. It is much larger than the book cover and there is no high quality large format scanner in her town (the capital of the country), so she did it in sections and put it together with photoshop.

Meanwhile, Devashish, who is also my editor, was working on the layout for the text. He sent Iana the InDesign template so that she could import her artwork and create the cover. This part went very quickly, and Iana demonstrated her professionalism once again, coming up with half a dozen good options with different fonts and colors. It was easy to agree on the best design, refine it and finish it.

Meanwhile, when browsing through other books to choose my fonts and design elements for the interior, I got an idea from a fabulous fantasy book called Inkspell. Each chapter has a little drawing surrounding the chapter number, and another drawing at the end. Devashish and I decided to use this idea. Since Iana was already working long hours on the painting  I tried to find another artist to create the little drawings through a different online service, but this proved to be a complete waste of time. The guy was hopeless and I ended up paying him off just to be free of it. Fortunately it did not cost much money.

But I was left with almost no time, and no images for the inside, so I appealed to Iana, who’d just finished the painting, and within a day she’d come up with the lovely little drawings you see at the beginning and ends of each chapter. Iana to the rescue!

So that’s one way to create a book design. Here are a few keys:

1. Find a great designer. I’ve used both Elance and 99designs, with good results. I now know several excellent freelance designers, in case you’re interested.

2. Have a clear idea of what you want, and do lots of searching to find examples of the style you want, to show your artist.

3. Work with our artist closely and don’t be afraid to ask for as many changes and iterations as you need to get it just right.

4. get to know your artist and help them to understand the spirit of your book so that they can capture the essence of your story in their work.

5. pay your artist a bonus if they do an exceptional job, and recommend them to others seeking a good designer.

This whole process from start to finish only took about ten days, but that is really rushed. Try to allow much longer – 3 weeks at least, and even then you won’t be doing much else during that time. Iana worked extremely hard to meet my deadline. If you like her work and might like her to do something for you, let me know.

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Dada Nabhaniilananda is a yoga monk, a meditation instructor, a keynote speaker, a musician and an author. You can find out more about him at his other websites:


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