Designing a SPFBO Winner – Cover Creation For The Dragon’s Blade

In this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO), Mark Lawrence decided to hold a cover competition in addition to bloggers judging the books themselves. I was over the moon to discover that the cover for The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King had won both the judging and public vote. I thought I’d run through the process of making the cover so people can see what it is like for indie authors who have that extra level of involvement in cover design. You will also get to see some odd early versions!

Covers are always going to be crucial to a book’s success, especially for unknown authors. In the moment a potential reader looks at your book, a good cover should do three things. It should It should grab their attention, it should signal the book’s genre and it should give a feel for what sort of story it will be. In short, it should make them want to pick it up, or click through online, and read the blurb. So from the outset I was certain I wanted the Dragon’s Blade itself to feature on the cover. Not only would it scream FANTASY but it would also suggest there will be a fair bit of action and pace to the story.

I am also very fortunate to have an artist for a mother and she sketched out some ideas for the sword based off of my description. The result looked pretty damn awesome and worked as a great guide for the designer, Rachel Lawston. Rachel took her own approach but having a solid starting point meant the final design followed the same vision.

The Dragon's Blade vertical down

The Design Brief

In the design brief I got to suggest the approach we should take. Now, this is your chance as a self-publishing author to say exactly what you’d like the cover to be. Be specific. Make comparisons to other covers you like and describe an image clearly just like you would in your prose. Saying ‘I’d like a freaking cool looking sword please’ won’t help at all. Convey what mood and atmosphere you want to invoke. Most of all, take plenty of time to think on this. With everything taken into account my brief was just shy of one thousand words long.

DRAGONBLADE_V1 smallIt is especially important to check out the competition in the categories you intend to place your book in. Go onto Amazon, Kobo and fall down the rabbit hole of browsing well past the top one hundred. Check out the fantasy sections in bookstores to see what has been coming out lately. In my brief I attached cover images of books by Trudi Canavan, Brandon Sanderson and Ben Galley as examples of the clean feel I was after as well as cover’s with swords such as John Gwynne’s Malice and Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings, to use as guides. And while I say this is your chance to voice your opinion, do be reasonable. If your designer comes back with some alterations or recommendations then listen carefully. A good freelancer will have the experience of the genre and the industry to know what will and won’t work.

DRAGONBLADE_V2 smallA few weeks went by and Rachel began sending over her ideas.

The Stages of Design

As you can see, this first image (on the left) takes the ‘clean’ look in mind with the white background. However, with such a busy bottom half I felt there was too much white space by comparison around the title. Removing the red and yellow swirl might have fixed that but I fell in love with it instantly. The Dragon’s Blade can emit fire and the intricate, beautiful pattern suggested flames without actually putting any in.

To the right, the second cover’s water-stained background helped even out the look but I felt having the subtitle in red drew too much attention to itself. It stood out because of the black lettering and dark handle on either side of it and made the eye jump to it first rather than the main series title.

The third version below combined the background I liked from the second cover and the imagery from the first. With the title in red, the eye was drawn to it first before being led down through the subtitle and into the design of the sword.

And yes, my middle name is Robert.


There were a few extra designs between this and the final cover but those were mostly small tweaks, in particular to add detail on to the pommel and handle of the sword, and lighten up the dragon head and blade itself so the image could be seen. We also flecked some extra black through the title so the red wouldn’t be too garish.

And that’s it. The final cover had arrived. It’s gorgeous and I was extremely lucky to land Rachel as a cover designer when I did.

Once again I’d like to thank Mark Lawrence for arranging the SPFBO for another year, all the bloggers who are taking part and to everyone out there who voted and is actively following the contest. The SPFBO is much more than a competition. It’s about highlighting the best practises of the indie world, bringing in new readers and letting other authors connect with each other and share information and ideas. To everyone whose book is still in the contest, I wish you the very best of luck!

Final cover small

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