Reference Pictures for Cover Art

I’ve learned that while you’re promoting a new book, you pretty much become your cover. It’s your calling card. The funny thing is people very often ask me if I posed for the cover of Butterfly Swords. (No, I didn’t) I’m tickled pink by even the thought that I could be a cover model.

As authors, we don’t get much control over our cover art, yet the cover can make or break the book. I do, however, get to send reference pictures to give the art department perhaps a little inspiration as they design the cover. None of the pictures I use for inspiration look exactly like my characters or setting. I use them for a certain feel. Somewhere in between, an image emerges.

I suppose the art department does much the same thing. This morning I sent along pics for The Dragon and the Pearl and I’m totally jittery nervous about what they’ll come up with.

I always felt this picture by DeviantArtist feimo captured the attitude of Li Tao, though he’s much younger and prettier than the cold-blooded warlord. I wish the print were for sale.

The power play between the jiedushi, the military governors, are central to the book. I sent a couple of pictures to highlight the look and feel of the warlords.

An artist’s rendition of Cao Cao from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Ah, Tony…from the movie poster of Red Cliff. I still need to see the uncut version…

We talk about setting as character in writing, but more needs to be said about clothing as character. Suyin’s wardrobe is practically a secondary character in The Dragon and the Pearl. The Tang Dynasty is all about the fashion: gorgeous clothing, creative hair styles, accessories, accessories, accessories. In the context of those times, Ling Suyin would have been considered a super-model.

I’m now a junkie of the Chinese Clothing online store. I’m actually thinking of buying this blue dress to celebrate the manuscript being accepted and, you know, just wearing it around the house.

And speaking of setting as character, the famous Bamboo Sea is where it all takes place. I dream of going there one day. It’s too bad hubby doesn’t like to travel or eat exotic foods. He does like pandas, I believe.

So can you see a killer cover out of all that?


  1. Leanne Ogasawara
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 12:32:04

  2. Pamela Cayne
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 12:36:34

    I’m drooling over all of it!! Though if all of your books are as awesome as BUTTERFLY SWORDS, you could have a picture of mud on your cover and it’d still sell out!

  3. Lexie C.
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 13:08:42

    Jeannie you should buy the dress! Its so beautiful 🙂 And I love feimo’s artwork–I have a couple of prints/postcards that I hung in my room.

  4. Jeannie Lin
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 13:43:50

    Leanne & Lexie: I don’t need much urging. Maybe it can be a Christmas gift to myself!

    Lexie – There are several of feimo’s pictures that I love. They always happen to be the one’s without prints for sale though. 🙁

    Pamela – Aww, thanks! I have no idea what they’ll come up with so it’s very exciting.

  5. Dara
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 14:08:04

    I would so buy that dress and walk around the house in it. Like, all the time. 🙂

    And I LOVE all of those pictures–I can envision the setting so well just by looking at those. I have a bunch of pics that I save too for my books to help me “see” the setting.

    Also, thanks again for the critique! I have lots of polishing to do but at least now I have a better idea of where to start it at. It always takes another person to see that…at least with me 🙂

  6. Joanna Terrero
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 15:31:10

    Oh, Jeannie, you got me all excited. Are you giving Li Tao his own book?

    BTW, there is another Chinese artist who sells her stuff, if you contact her, she might do something for you. The only problem is negotiating with your publisher to use the drawing on a cover. Her name is Heise and her work is very similar to Feimu, this is a link to one of her drawings.

  7. Eden Bradley-Eve Berlin
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 17:33:35

    Gorgeous artwork!

  8. Jeannie Lin
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 19:51:55

    @Dara – No problem! It was a pleasure reading your work.

    I did prance around in my pink hanfu when my husband wasn’t home. I may have also been holding swords at the time…*blushes*

    @Joanna – Wow!!! Those pictures are wonderful! The manga style doesn’t quite fit with Harlequin, but maybe I can commission some art for a postcard like I did for the first one. She really is very similar to feimo in style!

    And yes, Li Tao gets his very own book. 🙂

    @Eden – Aren’t they lovely? I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and keeping them crossed for the next months about the cover.

  9. Cate Rowan
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 21:23:18

    YES!!!! I am so excited because it sounds like Li Tao will be your next hero. He is YUMMY and I was rooting for him as soon as I closed Butterfly Swords. 😀

  10. Jeannie Lin
    Nov 23, 2010 @ 07:36:15

    @Cate – Yes, he was a bit of a surprise as I didn’t plan the entire series out as I wrote each book. I’m very excited about it!

  11. Darynda Jones
    Nov 23, 2010 @ 11:08:56

    Wonderful post!!! I can’t wait for the next book, Jeannie! And, Tony……..I’ve had a MAD crush on Tony for many a year. Sigh… Have you seen Chinking Express? LOVE IT!

    Love you more.

  12. Jeannie Lin
    Nov 23, 2010 @ 12:56:56

    @Darynda – I can’t wait either! But on the Tony front: I haven’t seen Chunking Express, but I used to watch him way back when in the Hong Kong serials. He used to play good boy type roles. Now he’s quite intense!
    You can join our little Tony Leung fan club we have going. 🙂

  13. Kelly Fitzpatrick
    Nov 23, 2010 @ 17:25:51

    Covers are exciting and terrifying.

  14. Jeannie Lin
    Nov 23, 2010 @ 23:23:09

    @Kelly – And the feeling never goes away, does it?