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This is a breakdown of how I created the branding and covers for the Mystery Shopping Mom series of cozy mystery novels by independent author Kelly McClymer. I had a blast designing these covers!

Initial consultation

Kelly had see the work I’d done on Valerie Comer’s Farm Fresh Romance series and loved the style of illustrations I had done for it. She asked me to do a stand alone chick-lit novel, as well as a four book series of cozy mystery novels.

Kelly had previously hired a designer to do the first of the mystery novels, and while she had been satisfied with the cover, the designer had decided to stop doing book covers, leaving her unable to get matching covers for the next three books. She asked me if I was willing to sign a contract for the full series and I agreed happily. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

Strong series branding was emphasised as a priority, she wanted the covers to go together at a glance. This is always very important to me, so we were on the same page from the start.

Series Branding

The covers needed to say “mystery” while still keeping a light feel. I wanted to avoid the classic magnifying glass, and we didn’t want the covers to be bloody. Kelly described the tone as “…humorous shopping mom mystery, the secret love child of Harriet the Spy and James Bond.”

Here are the brand elements that I designed to run through the series:

  • The main character Molly wears a trench coat, to give a spy feel.
  • Molly is always holding a shopping bag with the series title on it.
  • In the background there is a silhouetted row of buildings that represent each story’s location.
  • I chose a bold and playful font to add to the lighter tone.
  • The bottom graphic is consistent for the series and contains the author name in a contrasting font as well as caution tape to further say imply mystery without being bloody.
  • I chose a bright and slightly girly colour palette to use for the series to further tie the covers together and project a fun tone.

Creating the Covers

For each cover, I started by coming up with a concept based on what Kelly had told me about the location and theme of the book. I would do a very rough sketch to explain my plan. For the last two, I didn’t even do a rough sketch because Kelly was comfortable with just a written description of what I planned to do. We had built enough trust that I could just tell her the plan and she could envision it based on the previous covers.

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Next step was taking a photo reference to work from. I used my tripod and timer to get shots of myself in a trench coat. I don’t look exactly like Molly, but I use photos more for the pose and the clothing details. Changing the hair and build is easy.

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Once I had a photo reference I did my tight sketch of the figure. I do all my illustration work in photoshop, so even if it looks like pencil, it’s digital! I would send Kelly the sketch to make sure that we were on the same page before I continued to the final art.

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Creating the final artwork is sometimes very orderly (lineart, then colour, then background, then typography) and sometimes I finish a piece here and a piece there until it’s done. It all looks the same in the end! I created the front cover first, sending Kelly emails to keep her in the loop as I chose colours and she would give me ideas based on the story for the background silhouette.

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The final step was the cover wrap. We decided to have the background image wrap around the spine (a handy trick so that if the printer cuts it a little off center it still looks good on the spine), caution tape and all. The back cover was designed around the content she gave me, with a background using the skyline from the front cover for interest.

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Once the wrap is completed and final payment received, I delivered the high-res version of the front cover (for e-books) and a pdf of the wrap (for print books)

Here’s a shot of all the covers together. I love that they are clearly different from each other, with details that highlighted each story’s location and mystery, but still tie in together well thanks to the shared colour palette, matching compositions and the footer graphic.

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