Vickie McDonough: The Making of a Book Cover

Everyone loves a great book cover, but an odd cover can make us pause and wonder what the author was thinking when he/she requested it. But the truth of the matter is that most authors have little input on cover designs, which is generally decided by the sales, marketing, and/or art departments. The amount of input an author has usually depends on the publishing house they write for and how well-known the author’s name is.

Most publishers will have the author fill out an art sheet which includes descriptions of the main characters, the setting, theme or faith element, a special feature that is key to the story, such as the covered wagon that appears on my covers below. The publisher also sometimes want to know the key plot points and will request photos that represent your characters and/or settings.

I asked Becky, who works in the art department of my publisher, Whitaker House, how they go about choosing a book cover design, and here’s what she said:

“I get the book title and the art sheet, and after looking over character descriptions and a blurb about the story line, I hit up stock photo sites to see if I can find images that fit the descriptions or decide if I will need to get models in to do a photo shoot. While looking through countless photos I am thinking of designs and how I want the book to look, taking into account if it is a stand alone book or part of a series. If it is a series, how am I going to keep the books the same so they will look like they belong together. At some point during my photo search I will either find a picture that I will work around or I will come up with an idea that I want to do and then must find just the right picture to make it all come

together. Follow all this searching is some Photoshop magic, and a cover is born.

“That is how my technical process is done, as for the creative process, that is much harder to explain. I have heard authors describing how their characters do not behave for them and rebel against where the author wants them to go in the story progression. I can relate to that with what I do as well. At times I can sit down and a cover just flows from me, and at other times I fight with one all day long and try to get the image in my head out onto paper.

“I also do a lot of research, as well, looking at books in the same genre to see what others are doing–if there are growing trends or fading trends. I love walking through book stores to see all the covers and what catches my eye vs. what makes me think “why did you do that?!”

“After I create 1-2 covers, along with the other designers here doing the same, the covers are all taken into a cover committee meeting and a winner is chosen. From that point, it is given to the author to see if any tweaks are needed, until a final is agreed upon.”

I appreciate Becky sharing her expertise with us and giving us a peak into the cover design process. I thought you might also enjoy seeing the development of the cover design for my new release, Whispers on the Prairie.

Version 1Version 1: This is the first cover that my publishing house, Whitaker House, presented me. Overall, I really liked the design. The color combination was different, I loved the title fonts and the curlicues around my name. The wagon looked good too. The thing that I didn’t feel fit my historical story was the heroine. Her hairstyle and dress looked too contemporary, especially the sleeveless blouse.







Version 2Version 2: The second cover was better. The long sleeves more accurately portray the 1800s time period, but the heroine’s hairstyle still didn’t, and her reading a book really has nothing to do with the storyline, so I gulped and asked for a different heroine.








Version 3Version 3: Whispers on the Prairie was purchased last fall as an already completed book. My publisher wanted to release it in time for the International Christian Retailers Show in late June. Since there wasn’t time to hire a model and do photo shoots, they used stock photos. They kindly allowed me to search the photo sites they use, and I found a picture of the blond woman smelling a flower. This worked perfectly for my storyline since flowers are something both my hero and heroine love. The dress was a good match for the time period, even though it was white, and the hairstyle also looked historical.





Version 4Version 4: I could have easily lived with cover #3, but there was one more change I requested—that the back of the wagon be pink. In Whispers on the Prairie, Ethan, my hero, helps city folk get outfitted to travel the Santa Fe Trail. Instead of taking his advice and picking the sturdy wagon Ethan advises, my heroine suggests a red faded wagon to her uncle because it’s bigger and will hold more. The “pink” wagon is a symbol to my hero of the heroine’s stubbornness and a bone of contention between them. I wanted the colored wagon reflected on the cover, because it was an important issue, and I though it might intrigue buyers. I didn’t quite end up with a pink wagon, but close enough. I want the thank the folks at Whitaker House for working with me to create a lovely cover for Whispers on the Prairie.

So, what do you think? Do you like the final cover best or one of the others. Be honest. You won’t hurt my feelings, because they’re all nice.

I will be giving away two copies of WHISPERS ON THE PRAIRIE to readers who comment.  Good luck in the drawing.


Vickie McDonoughVickie McDonough is an award-winning author of 27 books and novellas. Her novels include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series and Long Trail Home and End of the Trail in the Texas Trails series. Long Trail Home won the Inspirational category of the 2012 Booksellers’ Best Awards. Whispers on the Prairie, the first book in the Pioneer Promises series has just released. It was selected by Romantic Times magazine as one of the Recommended Inspirational Reads for July.



Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. But she lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen and others living in the West in the 1800s. Vickie is the award-winning author of 27 books and novellas. Her novel, End of the Trail, recently won the Best Published Fiction Novel of the 2013 OWFI Contest. Her books include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, two books in the Texas Trails series, and Whispers on the Prairie, Book 1 in a new series set at a stage stop in 1870s Kansas. Whispers on the Prairie was chosen by Romantic Times as one of their Recommended Inspirational Books for July.

Vickie is a wife of thirty-seven years, mother of four grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and grandma to a feisty seven-year-old girl. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, antiquing, watching movies, and traveling.


Contact Vickie:




Visit her website to sign up for her mailing list and keep up on all of Vickie’s book news.




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24 thoughts on “Vickie McDonough: The Making of a Book Cover”

  1. I totally agree that book cover #1 character did not show the proper time frame. I enjoyed seeing the progression and the pink wagon in #4 adds a big of information that really makes me want to read this book. Love the final product.

  2. Right off, I thought the first cover was confusing with the two different pictures. I always wondered how the covers were chosen. The cover is very important to me too especially in selecting a book by an author I have never read before.

  3. It’s interesting because when I first starting reading, I didn’t realize there were more than one cover. All I saw was the first cover and I thought to myself, ‘It’s too bad they couldn’t find a more historical looking heroine.” I almost thought it might be a time-travel. As much as people try to say that you can’t judge a book by its cover–everyone does. That is the first chance you get to make a first impression. Sometimes, the minor details can change the whole look and feel to the cover, and the pink wagon definitely finishes this cover. I love the name bar. The only thing that didn’t really fit for me was the placement of the flourish under the title (or if it needs to be there at all). Overall, I think the composition is well balanced and the colors appealing. Very nicely done.

  4. The making of a book cover was fascinating to read! I loved it!

    While you should never judge a book by its cover, it is the first thing you see when you reach for a book. In that way, it is the book’s first introduction.

    The final cover is beautiful! I am so glad everyone worked to make it the very best for Whispers on the Prairie. I especially love that you changed the color of the wagon. Attention to the details is sometimes the difference between a good book and a great book! I know this will be a GREAT one and I can’t wait to read it!

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. I liked your ost. Very interesting. I tend to look at covers before reading the back of the book. I can’t wait to read this.

  6. I was just talking with my daughter this week about some other posts I have read about how book covers are designed. We are both very interested in the process and it was fun reading how yours came together. I definitely like #3 and #4 best and now that I know why it is pink, it makes perfect sense!

  7. I loved seeing the transformation! Covers are so important. I totally agree with all your reasons to ask for another draft. It bothers me when I read a book and the cover doesn’t accurately represent the story/characters. I love your books and can’t wait to read your new one!

  8. I like the final cover the best. The cover of the book encourages the reader to pick it up, it’s the hook. The pink on the back of the wagon really makes the cover pop. I’ve never read any of your books, but the cover of this one certainly makes me want to!

  9. I love the final cover of your book, especially the color of the wagon. Thank you for explaining the process so well. I love reading your books and have favorites, but I look forward to this new book and I am sure I will love it.

  10. I like 3 and 4. Either one would be o.k. I love looking at the cover of a book. There are some books I will not buy for my kindle because I want that cover in my bookcase.

  11. I’ve always found the cover art fascinating and I think your last cover is perfect. There is just nothing worse in covers when they get it wrong – most common seems to be hair length for some reason!

  12. Very subtle differences but you can see how each one improved through the process… My favs are #3 & #4. Very nice! Thanks for sharing your cover making process… very interesting to learn some behind the scene info.

  13. I have to say I liked 3&4 the best of all of them. The first two just doesn’t fit the time frame. I really didn’t think that authors had much say in covers but I guess I was wrong. I love a pretty cover myself. These two seem to fit to me.

  14. Very interesting to learn about the cover process. Number 4 is my favorite. Book covers are always fascinating.

  15. I like 4 the best. I enjoy perusing book covers since that is what attracts the buyer most of the time as well as the blurb.

  16. Really interesting article. Those people who say “You can’t judge a book by its cover” should read this. I often look at a cover and then read about the title and blurb. i think covers give one a quick hint on what to expect when reading the book.

  17. If I was just picking a cover without really knowing the story, it would be #3. I guess the way you explained it, the last picture makes more sense. But thinking of that time period, 3 still looks better to me.

  18. Thank you for sharing how covers are designed at your publishing house. You are lucky. I have heard many authors comment on how little input they have other than the art sheet. Even complaints that the characters depicted are all wrong go unresolved. I do like nice covers, but dislike it when they are so different from what is in the book.

    I like the third cover best. I understand the reasoning for cover 4 and it makes perfect sense. If they had gone with a brownish red closer to the background of the author name on #3, It would have worked better for me. The color in 4 comes off as more of a lavender than a faded red. Either way, it is a very good cover and will catch the eye of browsing readers.

    I hope the release of WHISPERS ON THE PRAIRIE goes well.

  19. Thanks for sharing about the process for the covers. I really like fourth book cover as it seems more in line with what I know of the storyline. Sometimes I read a book and wonder what the cover had to do with the storyline!

  20. I think the book cover is very important, because it catches the reader’s eye. Book cover 3 or 4 was the best. I understand why you chose book cover 4, so yes you made the right decision. I like it the best with the added color on the wagon. Thank you for sharing the process of choosing book covers and please enter me in the giveaway. Thank you!

  21. I agree cover #4 looks the best.
    I think it’s great they listened to your opinion about the cover because who else but the author can decide best if the cover resembles the story.

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