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Designing the look of a genre, by accident: Sarah Hansen of...

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If you look at the top selling New Adult books on the market, you may be surprised to learn that they are almost all created by the same cover designer, one Sarah from Okay Creations.  Sarah is so identifiable and that there is a goodreads list designated just for her.  Her client list reads like a Who’s Who of New Adult (Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines, Kim Karr, Courtney Cole, J. Lynn, A. Meredith Walters, Chelsea Cameron) which basically means at any given time, an Okay Creation cover is on the top ten of the NYTimes and USAToday Bestseller List.

I understand that you have a background in Fine Arts and mylar balloon design and that cover design grew out of a conversation you had with author Colleen Hoover and friendships you made with other authors. What did you know of the publishing world at that time?

I was merely a reader.  I have been an avid reader for my whole life, but had never heard of self publishing.  Amazon recommended n The Island” by Tracey Garvis Graves to me, I did not even know it was SP.  When I finished OTI, I looked Tracey up on Facebook because, honestly, I wanted to see where she was from in Iowa.  From there I then read Beautiful Disaster and then Slammed and POR.  When I first messaged Colleen, it wasn’t even about her books.  I had noticed her Amazon bio mentioned John Green, who is my personal hero.

What was the first cover you created?  Was it the KA Linde “Avoiding Commitments?”  What do you like about that cover today and what, if anything, would you do differently?

- I don’t think I would change anything.  Those covers have quite a following and changing them in any way would take away from that.  In the beginning of any design career, it takes time to learn about the printers, and how things print.  It took me awhile when I did balloons to “get” how the colors printed on balloons.  Same goes for Createspace.  They print dark, so I always keep that in mind when creating the print file.  So while I wouldn’t change anything, I do have a better understanding of Createspace now and what to expect from there presses.

Do you read every book for which you create the cover?

-No, I read none.  The only exception to this is Hopeless and Avoiding Commitment.  I have already read AC on fictionpress when I met Kyla.  And I beta for Colleen so I read her stories as they are written.  That book and cover have a very special place in my heart.

Your covers are primarily New Adult right now. Is that because of the success of the books you’ve designed for or because that’s a primary area of interest for you?

-Honestly I am a through and through YA reader.  I have obviously read some NA, but it’s not my primary genre.  I think I am know for my NA covers because of the success of the books they are on.  I get really excited when I get a paranormal cover to do, I love photo manipulation.

Is there a difference between designing a cover digitally and one for print?  How do you take into consideration things like thumbnail size versus a larger sized image?

-Secret:  even if you order eBook only, chances are I will design the whole thing because 99% of clients think they only want eBook and come back for print.  It’s also easier for my to see the whole thing as one from the get go then come back to it later. I always minimize the cover to see what it will look like on Amazon.  And while I think the title being somewhat visible is important, I truly believe a striking clear picture is more key.  Most people will read the title that is next to the cover anyway.  A good picture makes them click to begin with.

Do authors ask you to create a cover similar to X bestselling book? I’ve seen quite a few that remind me of J. Lynn’s “Waiting for You”.

-Actually not all that often.  They say “I came to you because I loved….” but don’t ask me to recreate my own design.  I think there are only so many ways a kissing cover can look.  I like easy to read fonts, that is very important on a cover.  So yeah, you’ll see me use fonts over.

How do you keep the covers fresh?  Alternatively, are you worried about the sameness of the covers at all?  

-Each cover requires it’s own personal attention, and I rarely have a design in my head before I start working.  I do have a “moment” when I find the picture.  Something clicks and sometimes I have to convince the author I am right, lol (example – Shelly Crane hated the Wide Awake picture.  I did it without her permission).  I try not to be the same, but as I said before, there are only so many things you can do to couple pictures to make them different.  It was the same when I worked in balloons.  We had to create 60-70-80 concepts for Mother’s Day.  Or Happy Birthday.  There are only so many ways you can put confetti, or hearts, or flowers.  You just need to make each one pretty in its own way, and not think to hard about the rest.

Because of the success of the books on which your covers appear (basically your covers could be a list of who’s who of NA self published success stories), you are really defining the “look” of the NA genre. I’ve read that you are trying to “show hope… love, want, passion, but are a bit reserved.”  And I’ve yet to see you do what I’d term as a “clinch cover.”  What is it that you think readers are responding to in your covers?  (Sarah emailed me and said that she didn’t know what a clinch cover was and I had to email her example)

-Well, now that you have told me what a “clinch cover” is, haha, I can say NO WAY.  That is just not my style.  I think covers are sexier with clothes on.  Less is more.  Always.  Show me a secret kiss in public between two people before a guy with giant muscles grasping at a girls behind.  That’s my version of sexy.  I think I leave a lot up to the readers imagination on the cover, and that’s what sells.

If you could change the look of romance covers, which often show just the bared chest of a man, what direction would you go?

-I tend to like the girl only covers.  Let’s see HER emotion towards the story, which generally has some level of angst.  Let’s allow the potential reader to relate to the woman on the cover, and what she is feeling.  Because obviously the majority of romance readers are women.  Let’s leave the guy up to their imagination.

What other services do you provide other than book cover creation?

-I do swag for my clients, I also am now working with photographers to create custom shoots for covers.  I no longer do any design outside of book covers because of the volume I do, around 30-40 a month at this point and booked until November.

Finally, what’s the last great book you read and would recommend to my romance reading crowd?

-This is really hard to answer since I generally stick to YA, and the romance books I have read are easily ones all of your readers have read.  But to me, romance is the love between two people, YA or not.  I am gonna go on a limb and recommend “Just One Day” by Gayle Forman.  She is the queen of making a book romantic when the characters aren’t even in the same country.

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Sarah’s in such hot demand that she is booking 6 months out (so self published authors get your orders in).  Most of what Sarah does is New Adult but I’d love to see her do a historical or paranormal cover. In fact, I’m thinking of commissioning her to do a cover for something, just to see what fresh life we could breathe into the romance genre. Have any ideas readers?

You can see more of Sarah’s work at her website, Pinterest, Facebook or on Twitter.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

17 Comments

  1. Kristi
    May 15, 2013 @ 10:45:09

    What an amazing interview! I loved this interview! Sarah, you rock!

    I would also love to see her do a historical :)

    ReplyReply

  2. Megan @ Reading Books Like a Boss
    May 15, 2013 @ 10:53:41

    Yay, Sarah! I am a huge fan of her work and NA novels. Great interview, Jane.
    ~Megan

    ReplyReply

  3. fred lebaron
    May 15, 2013 @ 11:09:16

    Great interview, so cool to see Sarah’s work acknowledged as the vibey, atmospheric and entrancing gateway to these amazing books!

    ReplyReply

  4. C. Michelle
    May 15, 2013 @ 11:33:16

    Great interview! Sarah is extremely talented and has created several of my favorite book covers. That’s why I asked her to help me with the cover of my debut novel, Pinned Up =)

    ReplyReply

  5. Mari Mancusi
    May 15, 2013 @ 12:46:32

    Sara did the cover for one of my Dorchester re-releases, Love at 11. It is BY FAR superior to the original cover done by traditional publishing. (You can see it here. She is also amazingly easy to work with and a real fan girl of authors and books — this isn’t just a job for her, but a passion…and it shows in her work. :)

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  6. Maili
    May 15, 2013 @ 13:04:51

    In fact, I’m thinking of commissioning her to do a cover for something, just to see what fresh life we could breathe into the romance genre. Have any ideas readers?

    Nice one! I nominate these, taken from DA’s Top 100 Romances:

    Bad Girl – Michelle Jaffe
    After the Night – Linda Howard
    MacKenzie’s Mountain – Linda Howard
    Fallen from Grace – Laura Leone
    To Have and To Hold – Patricia Gaffney
    The Windflower – Laura London
    The Bride – Julia Garwood
    Rejar – Dara Joy
    A Knight in Shining Armor – Jude Deveraux
    Lord of Scoundrels – Loretta Chase
    Outlander – Diana Gabaldon <— see, I'm playing nice
    For My Lady's Heart – Laura Kinsale
    A Man to Slay Dragons – Meagan McKinney <— this would probably be the toughest
    George and the Virgin – Lisa Cach <— ditto

    Hope DA or its readers will pick one from that list.

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  7. Kim
    May 15, 2013 @ 13:18:16

    Two books that received glowing reviews for content, but an emphatic thumbs down for their covers, are What I Did For a Duke and The Spymaster’s Lady. It would be interesting to see how Sarah would tackle either of these covers.

    http://julieannelong.com/internal/images/Books_What_I_Did_for_a_Duke.jpg
    http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1345986088l/959745.jpg

    ReplyReply

  8. Ros
    May 15, 2013 @ 13:34:37

    I have a question for Sarah, if she’s reading the comments. Why do so many of the covers in the slideshow have the tag ‘a novel’ on them? Isn’t that pretty much taken for granted? Do the authors ask for this, or do you add it for some kind of design reason?

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  9. Sarah
    May 15, 2013 @ 14:02:42

    @Ros: there is a certain word count a book must be over, I believe, to be considered a full length novel. There are many readers who prefer to only read books of at least this length, and don’t like getting sucked into a story only a 100 pages long. By placing “a novel” on the cover you are assuring readers that the book is full novel length. Same way “a novella” tells them it is a short story.

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  10. HelenMac
    May 15, 2013 @ 14:46:26

    Jane, I LOVE the idea of commissioning Sarah to do a cover for a historical or a paranormal.
    My votes would be for:
    Julie Garwood – The Bride
    Jude Deveraux – A Knight in Shining Armor
    Christine Feeham – Dark Prince
    or MaryJanice Davidson – Undead and Unwed.
    These aren’t my favourite books, but it would be interesting to see Sarah’s take on them.

    ReplyReply

  11. Ros
    May 15, 2013 @ 15:32:03

    @Sarah: Got it. I’d normally include that info in the blurb, personally.

    ReplyReply

  12. Nancy
    May 15, 2013 @ 15:36:39

    Ooooh, I second Kim’s suggestion of What I Did for a Duke or The Spymaster’s Lady. Both great books with terrible covers. Especially The Spymaster’s Lady. Anything with “spy” in the title should not have a boring, been-there done-that cover!

    ReplyReply

  13. Isobel Carr
    May 15, 2013 @ 16:01:07

    @Ros: “A Novel” was traditionally used on books where you were differentiating them from non-fiction titles (so that readers could easily tell the difference between say a biography of Marie Antoinette and fictionalized retelling of her life). It always strikes me as very strange when it appears on books which are quite obviously works of fiction and could not be mistaken for anything else.

    ReplyReply

  14. cleo
    May 15, 2013 @ 17:25:26

    I nominate any of Nalini Singh’s psy/changeling covers. They’re fantastic books with incredibly bad covers. I recommended the series to a friend and she was enthusiastic until she saw the covers and said nfw.

    ReplyReply

  15. Lisa
    May 15, 2013 @ 23:58:40

    Sarah did my July cover and I swear it’s so gorgeous it gives me performance anxiety to live up to the cover:) It’s my favorite cover EVER! The instant my agent saw it she was as excited as me.

    ReplyReply

  16. Estara
    May 16, 2013 @ 12:42:18

    @cleo: I thought the UK Singh covers are ok – but you are so right about the US ones. Since I purchase in e and have Calibre, I usually just paste the UK cover over the US one, so I don’t have to look at them on my Sony.

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  17. cleo
    May 17, 2013 @ 18:38:17

    @Estara: I was surprised the first time I saw the British versions – they’re SO much better than the US versions (except for Heart of Obsidan, that US cover is good).

    ReplyReply

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