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Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin.jpg

They say never judge a book by it’s cover, but we do, don’t we? We’re all suckers for a book with a killer image. So this time, we’ve got cover artist extraordinaire, Kelly Martin.

Kelly does gorgeous covers. I’m lucky to have worked with her on my Village Affairs and Queens Crescent series. She took time out to answer my questions.

What are the current trends in m/m books covers?

Oh gosh! I’m probably not the right person to ask. I do my own thing and have my own style.

What advice would you give to a writer when they are planning their book covers?

First, I just want to say that a book cover is an ad, and a promise to the reader of what they are about to get into. Most of us look at book covers on the Internet though sites like Amazon or Goodreads. The covers are thumbnail size, not too big, and each cover is fighting for our attention. Most of us make a decision to click or not to click on a cover within seconds. That means your cover needs to make a strong visual impact.


My advice is keep it simple. Don’t try to include every single element on your cover. Focus on a good concept or key element that illustrates your story. Show what’s important. Less is often more. If the cover is cluttered with too many elements, it creates visual confusion. Nobody is really going to be able to see those elements when they’re thumbnail-size.


If you’re working with a book cover artist, remember that the artist will probably not have time to read your book. That means you have to be prepared to communicate the essence of your story and characters to the artist.


Also, when describing certain elements and characters, you need to provide a detailed description. The artist should to be able to pick your character out of a crowd. The same thing is true with non-character elements. For example if you have a tree your cover, then the artist needs to know what kind of tree. It sounds really obvious, but you’d be surprised what gets missed. 


Most cover artists work with stock images, which they alter using programs like Photoshop. Just remember that the artist might not be able to find a perfect match for your characters as you have imagined them. The artist may be able to change certain details, like the color of the character’s eyes or hair, or swap heads and bodies. Even then, you might not get a perfect match.


Working with stock photos is generally the most cost-effective route for both artists and authors. Some authors with a large budget can hire a photographer and models for a custom photoshoot. Another option is to hire an illustrator to create the key art from scratch.

What was your path to becoming a book cover designer?

After graduating for college with a bachelor’s in art, I worked as a layout artist for a car magazine for a number of years. Eventually I left to become the art director of a monthly boating magazine. Print has been dying a slow and painful death for awhile, and when my magazine was sold (and then dismantled), I struggled to find another job in a shrinking business. A friend saw an ad for a book cover artist, and I applied. I’ve been designing covers ever since — and loving it!


What is the creative process from your side?

As I said, I rely on the authors to tell me everything I need to know about their book and what they want to see on their covers. Then I search for stock images and fonts that inspire me. I like to go over the images with the authors. Then I combine the two. I really value and enjoy collaborating with the authors. It’s a team effort.

What are the key elements of a winning book design?

When I look at winning book covers, they all have great type, a strong concept, and are well executed. I don’t see a lot of clutter or a bad use of fonts.


Do you have any tips for artists looking to get into this industry?

If you are just getting started, you need a portfolio, or course. The world is virtual now, so an online portfolio is a must. If you don’t have any sample book covers to show prospective clients, then you need to create some. I suggest creating covers for imaginary books in the styles and genres you’d like to work. Once you have a solid online portfolio, then send the link to publishers and authors to see if they might be interested in giving you a try. 


Be sure to use good quality stock images. It’s worth investing in credits at stock photos houses, and a lot of them have great deals. Some of the ones I recommend are DepositPhotos, Shutterstock, Bigstock, Dreamstime, iStock, Period Images, and Neostock.


A lot of great Photoshop artists post tutorials on YouTube. Watching them is a good way to learn the tricks of the trade and sharpen your skills.


What is your workspace like?

I freelance from home so it’s just me, a desk, and my computer.

Do you have music playing when you’re working? If so, what?

I rarely have music playing, but when I do, it’s something that I can get lost  in that isn’t too distracting, something atmospheric. Because I work at home, it often gets lonely, and I want to hear voices. So I’ll listen to a movie or documentaries. Sometimes I’ll listen Joe Frank, who was a local radio personality in Santa Monica.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid, I had no idea what I wanted to be. When I went to college I still didn’t know. I tried every major from Science to English. I’ve always loved art, and it felt like it just kind of picked me.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami.

Who are your favourite authors?

Murakami, Kafka, and Rand are my favorite authors.

Do you create art other than wonderful book covers?

Thank you for the compliment, Kristian! Sadly not right now. At the end of the day, I’m so tired, and the weekends are spent catching up with life.

Where would be your dream holiday destination and why?

I’d love to go back to Kauai, and stay at the Waimea Plantation Cottages. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there. We saw rainbows almost everyday, and at night we could actually see the stars. The air is fresh, and the light just feels different being so close to the equator.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I love cooking, playing Scrabble with the husband, who cheats, and watching classic Hollywood and foreign films. I also like watching really crappy sci-fi movies and TV shows.

Where can people find you?

They can find me at

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