Friday, January 8, 2016

The Kismet of a Book Cover with Gigi Pandian

HALLIE EPHRON: The covers of Gigi Pandian's book have a scary, child-like, ghosts-and-goblins feeling to them that is so perfect to entice readers who love magic, mystery and history. But great covers don't just happen...

GIGI PANDIAN: Have you ever judged a book by its cover? I’m guilty. I love it when a book I adore has an equally compelling book cover. (Yes, I’m a book hoarder—but that’s a story for another day…)

But what exactly goes into creating a book cover? My latest mystery, The Masquerading Magician, comes out today, so I thought I’d share a behind-the-scenes look at how I ended up with these book covers for my Accidental Alchemist series about a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick. The books have covers that are not only beautiful but perfectly capture the spirit of the books. It didn’t happen by accident. Here’s the story of how these covers came to be. 

My publisher, Midnight Ink, asks me for cover design ideas before their Launch Meeting, a meeting that takes place close to a year before a book comes out, that’s attended by editorial, sales, publicity, and design staff. At the meeting, the publishing team discusses a title, tag lines, and cover design ideas that resonate with the group. The Accidental Alchemist was my original title, but The Masquerading Magician took a team brainstorm.

After that, a smaller group is involved in a Cover Design Meeting, where a more detailed cover concept is created. Depending on whether it’s a photographic or illustrated concept, the team will then contract a photographer or an illustrator. A lot of thought goes into it! I’m a graphic designer, but I don’t normally design book covers, so I was surprised by how much of a team effort the cover creation process was.

With a vision in place, the team hired a brilliant illustrator who captured the essence of my books: whimsical, mysterious, and not too dark or gritty. A happy story, for sure—but here’s where my particular story gets especially interesting: I turned out I knew the illustrator.

When Midnight Ink hired illustrator Hugh D’Andrade, they had no idea he’d been one of my lecturers when I was going to art school. Once he was hired to illustrate my covers, Hugh and I reconnected. We learned we both have similar day jobs at nonprofit organizations in San Francisco, and spend our free time on similar creative pursuits: while I write mysteries, he illustrates posters and book covers with his unique, mysterious style.

Here’s a peek at Hugh’s design process. (All the images below are courtesy of Hugh D’Andrade.)

These initial sketches were cool, but a bit too edgy for a not-quite-cozy paranormal mystery series. After feedback, Hugh made sure Dorian the gargoyle had a friendlier appearance. (Yup, that’s a whisk in the gargoyle’s hand. Dorian is a French chef.) 

For the new book in the series, The Masquerading Magician, we’d already established the feel of the book covers, so the initial sketches could be rougher, since the “feel” of the series had already been established, so these sketches were primarily exploring the elements to be included in the cover.  

Voila! A mysterious cover that highlights the classic magic show act that’s central to the plot of the new book. 

Do you have a favorite book cover? Or perhaps a confession about a book you bought solely for its cover?

About The Masquerading Magician

Deciphering an ancient alchemy book is more difficult than Zoe Faust bargained for. She’d much rather be gardening and exploring her new home of Portland, Oregon—but time is running out for living gargoyle Dorian Robert-Houdin. If Zoe isn’t able to unlock the alchemy book’s secrets soon, the French gargoyle will remain awake but trapped in stone forever.

When Zoe gives herself a rare night out to attend a classic magic show that reminds her of her youth, she realizes the stage magicians are much more than they seem. A murder at the theater leads back to a string of unsolved robberies and murders in Portland’s past, and a mystery far more personal than Zoe and Dorian ever imagined.

USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) and the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician). Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, the follow-up won the Left Coast Crime Rose Award, and her locked-room mystery short fiction has been nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. Connect with Gigi on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and sign up for her email newsletter.


  1. Happy Book Birthday!
    How interesting . . . Although I appreciate a great book cover, I can't say that I've ever purchased a book solely for its cover. I've never given much thought to the process of creating the cover for a book; this is quite an eye-opener . . . .
    I'm looking forward to reading "The Masquerading Magician."

  2. What a great story, Gigi. I loved ALCHEMIST and look forward to the new book. I adore my first Midnight Ink cover - they captured my Quaker midwife perfectly - but I don't know who the artist is. Must ask!

    You can spy cozies by their covers in bookstores or libraries, although some are "cuter" than others.

  3. Love peeking at the process, Gigi. Thank you for lifting the veil here. The covers are wonderfully whimsical, and definitely draw me to wanting to read what's inside.

    One of the best covers in recent years was the one for The Night Circus. It's such a quirky book, and really needed a quirky cover to match, which they achieved, I think.

    As for whether or not a cover led me to purchase a book, I'm positive they have, and more than a few times.

    The cover of Franzen's Freedom, which features a photo of a bird, has I'm sure figured prominently in the success of the novel. My brother-in-law happened to take that picture, and I know he's gotten royalties for every separate edition of the book.

  4. This is so fascinating! Thank you! Gigi, wonderful. Congratulations on your wild success! xooxo

    And I love how the smallest tweak makes such a difference…the smiling/or not gargoyle, for instance. Changes the whole feel! ANd what a coincidence with the artist. (If you put that in a book? No one would believe it.)

    Wow, Karen, that's fascinating!

    We're working on SAY NO MORE right now --I say "we" but my major role is to say oh, not so much or yay, love that or could the letters be red?--and it's fascinating. We're down to two. And they are completely different.:

    Now the key is to make the cover look good in thumbnail, because so many people see them only on line.

    The only book I've bought on a whim, knowing noting about anything, simply because of the cover, is Mr. Churchill's Secretary! I thought--this is so great, I bet I'll love this, I did. And look what happened!

  5. That IS cool Karen! and this is such a fun post, Gigi, the covers are gorgeous! And great that you have the early sketches to show us.

    So let's hear more about the book--a gargoyle with a whisk? Have to love that!!

    Hank, had no idea that's how we got Susan--what a funny coincidence! and aren't we lucky??

  6. Gorgeous covers, Gigi! The red and blue compliment one another so strikingly.

    These are fun books, full of surprises, and excellent meals.

  7. Welcome, Gigi! What fantastic (and fantastical) covers! Loved the first and so looking forward to the second. Brava!

  8. Happy book birthday!

    The covers are great. I don't know that I've ever purchased a book solely because of it's cover, but covers will draw me to a book.

  9. Thanks, Joan!

    Edith -- You've got a wonderful cover, too. You should definitely find out who the artist is!

    Karen -- I'm with you that The Night Circus cover is fantastic. That's a book I initially checked out from the library, but I ended up buying it because I wanted to have it for my shelf! Though, to be fair, that had more to do with the fact that it's such a great book I wanted to pick it up again whenever I felt like it ;)

    And I'm so glad to hear your brother-in-law still gets royalties for the use of his photo!

  10. Hank -- GREAT point about covers looking great as thumbnails. Covers have to look great both at full size at at a fraction of the size -- no small accomplishment.

  11. Roberta -- I really thought the fact that I had a vegan gourmet French chef who was a GARGOYLE would prevent the series from getting sold, but I'm so happy that readers love Dorian the gargoyle as much as I do!

    After a cancer diagnosis 5 years ago, I ended up with food restrictions due to my cancer markers, yet I didn't want to give up eating great food. Therefore I took cooking classes and learned how to cook gourmet vegan food from scratch. While recovering, I was writing, so and this is the book that flowed out of me. It combines alchemy (the Elixir of Life was a big idea during chemotherapy, as you can imagine) and cooking -- both of which are about transformation. And because I have a cozy mystery sensibility, the book ended up not being a dark novel, but those themes explored within a lighthearted puzzle-plot romp.

  12. Hi Gigi! You are lucky to be with a small press as writers with the big houses often have very little say on their cover design. A cover can make or break a book and I've had friends whose covers have given away major plot twists or been so completely off base with the genre. Yours are perfect. They say magic and fun!

  13. Gigi, I love the covers, I love the idea, and your personal story makes it all the more interesting.

    I've had varied input on my covers over the years. For a while, Morrow used my photos on the covers (I did NOT get paid royalties:-)) But I've had less say in the covers since they decided to go with a more big-book design. The upcoming book, Garden of Lamentations, is going to be a little different and really stunning, I think.

    So interesting that you have to think about thumbnails now, isn't it? I think all of us REDS have been very lucky in our cover designs, but I absolutely love Rhys's last few Molly Murphy covers. Beautiful!

    I can't tell you how often I've picked up The Night Circus in bookstores because I loved the cover, but I've never actually bought it. Hmmm. Adding to list...

  14. Happy new book baby! My copy has arrived and is waiting for me to "attack" it.
    I love your books, all of them.
    The idea of a gargoyle who is a gourmet cook is just too marvelous!

  15. Thanks so much for the kind words about books, Ramona and Susan!

    Mary -- I think that's exactly it. If a book cover is stunning, I'll stop at the bookstore to pick it up, or click on an electronic link to read more. So it's an important first step to interest a potential reader. Then I put the book down if it's not for me.

  16. Deb -- It's so fascinating to me that *big* books often have a certain style of cover. And so exciting that you're a big-book author! Agreed that the Reds have all been blessed by the book cover gods.

    The Night Circus is a book that definitely lives up to it's amazing cover. It's worth moving it up your reading list.

  17. Libby -- Thank you so much! I hope you have fun with this new one. It was so much fun to write -- and since the books have recipes, I had a great excuse to hang out in the kitchen experimenting with decadent vegan recipes :)

  18. Lovely covers, Gigi, and the books sound great. They are going on my TBR list.

    As I stopped to think about it I realized that I don't choose a book by its cover, but I often reject one by it. I expect the cover to communicate something about the genre and style of the book.I often dismiss books at a glance, if the feel I get is that the book is of a style I don't usually enjoy. I have occasionally been led astray that way, and later read rave reviews of a book that led me to seek it out after all.

  19. I like Alexander McCall Smith's covers for his Botswana-based series with Precious Ramotse---you could pick those off a shelf by the colors alone, I think. Your covers are beautifully done, Gigi. Covers definitely attract/repel me--I can often tell by the cover alone whether a book by a new author will be worth my time.

  20. Those are fabulous covers, Gigi, and I believe covers still make a huge difference, both in brick and mortar bookstores and online. I remember a ravishing cover for a Danielle Steele novel that suckered me into buying it. The book was dreadful, but it shows the power of a great cover!

  21. Happy Book Birthday, Gigi! At Bouchercon 2014, I actually stopped in my tracks when I saw the ALCHEMIST book cover. Went over to the Midnight Ink booth and told them how gorgeous it was (they already knew). The second cover is stunning too! Loved hearing the story of how they came to be. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Susan and FChurch -- that's a great point about how often we *reject* a book by its cover. I'm sure there are great books out there that I haven't discovered because there covers aren't properly branded to tell me I'd like them.

    Julia -- Ha! Yes, sometimes at a bookstore I have to force myself not to buy a book solely because of its beautiful cover.

  23. Cynthia -- Wow, thank you! Yes, I'm so lucky the Midnight Ink folks had such a great vision for the covers.

  24. Ouch! I'm way behind on your books Gigi. I've found new series to read based on covers that drew me in. I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries. When I see a really attractive cover with people in period dress, Edwardian, the 20s, Regency, whatever, I have to read the blurb. And your covers are outstanding. They are so whimsical, they pull me in.

  25. I'm a huge fan of the Jaya series, now I need to meet Zoe and Dorian. Love the covers. In the days of books on the shelf, yes, absolutely I would buy a book by it's cover. That's how I met Lord Peter! Now that most of my reading is done on a Kindle, I will be attracted by a cover, but drawn to buy by the synopsis. One thing for sure, every cover, no matter the forum, it needs to tell a story. Yours most definitely do. Good work!

  26. Wonderful covers, and the first book was wonderful as well. Looking forward to this new one!

    I love book covers and have bought books solely on the strength of the cover. Interestingly, this happens rarely with mysteries, but I'm oten tempted by covers for science fiction and fantasy books. As an example, not having read anything by author Jay Lake, I bought Madness of Flowers: A Novel of the City Imperishable simply because of the cover. I later bought and read other books by the now sadly deceased Lake, but that cover got me started.

  27. Gigi I am at ALA Midwinter, and stopped by the Midnight Ink booth. Your book is there and mine, and both covers on the poster look gorgeous! I put a picture on my Facebook page but because I am posting from my phone I don't know how to tag you.LOL.

  28. Thank you, Kait and Richard!

    I have such mixed feelings about my Kindle. I love both the feel and the aesthetics of printed books, but it's so much easier to try out new authors on an eReader...

  29. Oh, Edith, that's wonderful! I just popped over to your Facebook page and found it :)

  30. Happy Book Birthday, Gigi!

    Thanks for the peek into the cover design process. Very interesting. And gorgeous!

    I am waiting patiently for the audio version of MAGICIAN. I can't wait to hear what's happening with Dorian and Zoe. ALCHEMIST was awesome!

    I'm another who hasn't bought a book because of its cover but I have rejected some. For example, I'm not a big fan of cowboy stories so put a ten gallon hat on the cover and I'll walk away. Give me a gargoyle and I'm in!

  31. Thanks, Marianne! Fingers crossed the audiobook will show up soon. In the meantime, let me know if you have any gargoyle book recommendations!

  32. I misspoke. He got a fee for the use of his photo in subsequent editions (other languages, for instance), not royalties. But it was bonus money that was unexpected.