Making the Cover of A Death in the Family

One thing I like about independent publishing is getting to create my own covers. I don’t normally share the process – it’s often not very interesting – but this time I turned to actual illustration to get the cover for A Death in the Family created. And it all began with a selfie. Or two.

Let’s pretend I don’t look exhausted before I even got to work creating the cover, and move on to selfie #2.

With those two pictures taken, I had to do something to make the cover look more like I needed it to: a part human, part skeletal.

Insert dodgy nose job. I had to keep my face about the same size, which meant losing some of the middle part of my face. But it’s okay. I was planning on losing that, anyway. I was also originally going to just use some digital photo magic, and keep the entire thing looking like a photograph, but when the complexity of the skeletal face dawned on me fully, I moved towards illustration. But before that, I made my eyes red. (Fun fact: the rest of my eyes were red by the time I finished creating the cover, because that’s what happens when you look at a screen on full brightness all day without taking the appropriate breaks.)

The first step in the illustration process was the eyes. Lines were drawn in around them and shaded to allow for some depth and detail, and the eyebrows were made thicker than my own. I also kept the eyes red – there’s a reason within the book for it. The hair is also different from mine. I should also add, when I illustrated the cover, I was creating a Caucasian character, but my protagonist – Ben Cooper – is never described as being of one ethnicity or another.

Between versions of the cover, and on the suggestion of my brother, I turned the skin grey. It’ll make sense as the rest of the cover is built up over this one small segment. But with the upper face drawn, I had to turn to the thing that made me illustrate the cover instead of using photographs: the skull.

I built up the skull from the teeth – hence the look on my face in the second photo. Laying the teeth was important. Each one was drawn separately and then moved about as necessary. They were also made larger than my teeth, to help them stand out on the cover more easily. The shape of the skull was then drawn in over the photograph, and detail was added for shading and for the necessary holes in the front of the skull – where the jaw separates behind the teeth, and the nostrils. (Super professional science talk, I know!)

Combined, they make up an almost complete face, and it’s easy to see where certain details get cut off along the way. We’re almost at the point where the bad nose job gets covered up. But first, make the head a little less naked.


The hood for the robes was added in in several pieces. The top and bottom were placed in front of the face and skull illustrations, with creases added below for depth, and a lighter shade added over the sides of the face to give it more shape – before it was just a bunch of colour splashed onto a page in approximately the right shape in some instances. The hairline is covered up at this point.

Enter the Scythe. Taking up the top half of the cover, the Scythe allows for the divide between the flesh and bone elements of my now-illustrated face. (I’m told it doesn’t look too much like me, anymore, and I’m hoping that’s a good thing.) The addition of a sheen, I hope, makes it look more metallic in nature.

At this point, the illusion becomes more complete. The Scythe covers the dodgy nose job, and dulls the colours of the face a bit more. All that’s left are: the background colours, the text on the cover, and the erosion effect. I have a fondness for erosion on book covers, but rather than go for the peeling-away look that I used in the creation of the Rebirth Cycle books, I went for something a little more like broken glass. (Which is, in fact, an edited tree stump, sourced from a royalty-free image site, and edited until it was no longer a tree stump at all.) The end result is this:

I was insanely proud of this cover. I put a lot of work into it, and when the books showed up at my house, it felt like the work really paid off.

And of course, every book needs a spine and a back cover. The thing that one needs to remember when producing a wraparound cover like this is that it’s better to have the front cover spill onto the spine a bit, rather than risk the spine spilling onto the front. (Even if it means there’s some of the spine on the back cover, the important thing is that when readers look at the front of a book, they aren’t seeing something that doesn’t belong there.) I usually avoid that issue altogether by making my image wrap around the entire book, spine included, but it didn’t feel right for this one – especially not when that would mean giving the Scythe a define length. Space should also be reserved on the back of the book for a barcode, should you be adding one. Some publishing sites will generate these for you, and will indicate where you will need to keep clear on the cover.

Interested in reading the book? Find out more about it below, and follow the Facebook event for further updates. It launches at K-Con on April 1st.

Benjamin Cooper is about as close to death as someone can get, without actually dying. Literally.

In the wake of the Worst Year of the Century, the Coopers are visited by a man straight out of folklore, Death himself. Ben is forced, by way of fulfilling a supernatural debt, to take over the mantle of Reaper.

But life as Death is more complicated than Ben could ever imagine, and perfectly executing every order is rarely an easy task.

A Death in the Family is a tale of paying for others’ decisions, seeking to understand dying, and falling hopelessly in love.





About Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a writer, born, raised and still living in Dublin. By day he's a student and bookseller, by night he writes fiction and uses social media.
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