Friday, November 4, 2011


photo by Dawn Sketch

RON WARREN and I have been best pals since our high school days, which, trust me, was a damn long time ago now. He's an award-winning photographer who is as skilled at shooting weddings as he is at artsier work. The covers of THE BASTARD HAND and DIG TEN GRAVES were both designed and put together by him and his wife Dawn Sketch. For the last couple years, he's been the editor of the online speculative fiction mag, The Nautilus Engine, (which you really should check out) and more recently he's started, along with his wife, Aspiring Author Book Covers.

May I present Mr. RON WARREN...

It’s an honor to be invited to guest-blog here at Psycho-Noir, especially since Heath’s premiere novel publication (the cult fave, The Bastard Hand) spurred my leap into designing book covers.

Where do book covers come from? The big publishing houses have in-house art departments, or, more frequently, contract out the design in a piecemeal fashion to freelance artists. Many authors have very little input into the look of their book. Small presses and e-publishers, however, often appreciate having this little bit of extra work taken off of their plate. Writing a check is far easier than dealing with those temperamental artists, right? (I feel that I would be doing all artists a disservice if I didn’t go a little bit Charlie Sheen right about now, so…. “WINNING!”)

In regards to The Bastard Hand…the book was picked up by Jon Bassoff at New Pulp Press and Heath dove into the back-and-forth process of editing the book for publication – tightening things that needed tightening, and lassoing any loose ends. Somewhere in the process he came to realize that he had some say in the design of the cover. A lot of say, it turns out. So Heath called me up and said, “How’d you like to design the cover for my book?”

Now, although I did a bit of design, the reason he called me is that I am a photographer and probably the only person he knows that can pummel a graphic file into some semblance of submission. I’ve been shooting professionally for over five years now, primarily in the world of event photography, but I’m always trying to expand my repertoire (hence, macro, real estate, portraiture, fashion, headshots, sports, fine art, products, landscapes, etc.). In other words, I’m kind of handy with the camera and the Photoshop. Tempted to quote Ron Burgundy, here, with: “I’m kind of a big deal.” But I shall refrain, because my namesake, while hilarious, has a much bigger ego than me.

The gears did begin to turn, however. I was very excited by the prospect of an organized, commissioned project, especially for a book I had read and eagerly wanted others to buy and then love it as much as I had.

Whenever possible, I like to work from my own original files (rather than stock photography) so the search began for churches that screamed classic simple southern Baptist or similar. Done. Shoot it. Check. Model shoot to bring Charlie to life. Roger that. And let the compositing work begin. After some tweaks, variations and options, we had something that fulfilled Heath’s vision. But Jon at New Pulp Press had the last word. He called me out on a small problem or two, I fixed ‘em, and the cover was finalized in no time.

The process and results were so satisfying creatively and professionally, that I decided I wanted to design more book covers, and, voila! Aspiring Author Book Covers was born! We’ve created covers for just about every kind of book from fiction to nonfiction. Some of the samples at the web site are for books that are currently available, others for upcoming books, and some are spec. work to show off, basically.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard it, and, although we should heed it, let’s face it, we don’t always. When a book is recommended, the cover becomes unimportant. However, when you are lurking in a cozy bookstore, scanning the shelves and stacks to discover a treasure for yourself, the initial draw, that impetus to actually put the book in your hand and learn more, can only be a compelling title or an eye-catching book cover. This truth is compounded when scanning those tiny thumbnail images on an Amazon or Barnes and Noble website page. So I’m proud to do my little part to use the book’s wrapping paper, as it were, to draw attention to the real gift that lies inside.

Although I think the print book is not much longer for this world (bittersweet as I am both a book lover and a tree hugger) the evolution of the e-book will sustain the essence of books and book covers, writers and artists. I look forward to seeing where the mediums will go, and how I can travel with them.

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