Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A very special guest


A few weeks ago, when THE SECRET LIFE OF LADY GABRIELLA was shortlisted for the RNA "Romance Prize", I received a lovely email from Larry Roibal in the States, the artist who produced the gorgeous cover for my book. I subsequently discovered that Larry's covers have adorned at least two of my award winning books -- my favourite, THE MARRIAGE MIRACLE, which won a Rita in 2006 and A FAMILY OF OF HIS OWN, which won the Romance Prize back in 2005. You can bet I'm putting in a special request to have him work on all my covers!

Larry trained as a traditional artist, studying at the prestigious Parsons School of Design, New York, and Parsons in Paris, France, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in 1982. He has been a working illustrator ever since, creating over five hundred book covers for publishers, including Avon, Berkeley, Harlequin, Pocket, and Silhouette Books.

His work has been recognized by the Romance Writers of America for Best Cover Art featured on a Long Contemporary Novel, and he was awarded an ARTemis Award in 2002.

He's here today to tell us about the process of producing cover artwork. Feel free to ask questions!

I was honored to be asked by Liz Fielding to be a guest on her blog and give some insight into the making of the cover art for her romance novels. First of all, kudos to Liz on her 50th book published title what a remarkable milestone.

I feel privileged to have created covers for at least five of her books...and from what Liz tells me a few of those have been nominated and won awards so I was doubly blessed that my work happened to be teamed with her award winning writing.

The process of creating the covers starts long before it gets to me. A group of very talented designers and art directors develop a look for their line of books. The look has to do with the design, branding and style of type, to the style of painting, color pallet used, and the level of sensuality. This helps to set their line apart visually from other books. Also, since a line of books may have many titles per month, and they don't want six images of a couple on a balcony for instance, it's important (and a major undertaking) to come up with different concepts for each cover. It's only then (if I'm lucky) that an art director might think that I would be a good illustrator to call.

MT, the Art Director for Harlequin Romance is very talented and great to work with. She has a wonderful sense of style and knows the line of books better than anyone. She will provide me art facts, like the characters physical descriptions and a visual reference on which we have something to discuss, i.e., "We love the feeling of this visual reference, but we want to change A, B and C."

I then need to book models that fit the character discriptions, research backgrounds, secure wardrobe, and do a sketch before I go to the shooting. I have an extensive collection of props and clothes for photo shoots, but I'm not above rifling through my wife's closet to get just the right prop, and looking at the examples below I recognize a dress my wife bought to wear to her brothers wedding. I also put some time into developing a game plan for the one hour photo shoot depending on how complex the assignment and weather or not there are children or pets, it's not always so easy to get what I need to complete the cover in the one hour shooting. All of the examples I sent are from assignments for Liz's Books. It's a good way to highlight how
each book looks like they belong together while being different. Each has a man and a woman, and each conforms to the art directives of the line of books, but each has a very different concept, while the characters maintain a connection between them in each, they are A. flirting with the camera B. reacting to a situation or C. engrossed in each other.

After the shooting, I will do a post-shooting sketch and send it to the Art Director along with some alternative poses. After all the time put in, I start to have an attachment to the piece and the decisions I've made, so having a fresh pair of eyes review the project is a very valuable asset. As a freelancer I have first and foremost please the client but also not let my ego get in the way of making the work better and I've learned to welcome the Art Director's feedback. Especially one as good as MT.

From there I go to finish. I've been trained as a traditional artist or oil painter, and have completed the majority of my book covers as oil paintings. In recent years however, I have learned the new technologies in order to keep relevant and serve the market place, and today, all of my commercial work is done digitally. Which basically means I draw and paint with a stylist on a large Wacom tablet and in real time paint on computer monitor.

Larry, thank you for giving us an insight into how a cover is produced. It was absolutely fascinating -- and I greatly admire your wife's taste in clothes!
In honour of Larry, the prize this week is a bit special -- a collection of books with Larry Roibal covers: The Marriage Miracle, A Family of His Own, The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella, Reunited: Marriage in a Million and The Valentine Bride. That five chances to win, so get busy with the comments and the questions!

For a chance to win, the burning question is -- What, on a cover, will make you reach for the book?


Jane said...

Wow, Larry's covers are beautiful. For some reason I like blue and red covers, they definitely catch my eye. I don't like cartoonish covers. I also like scenic covers.

EllenToo said...

I like colorful, realistic covers. I don't like cartoonish cover either. They need to be simple and not overly crowded with images.

Anonymous said...

That's fascinating. I really like Larry's cover for Lady Gabriella - and, as you know, I loved the book.

Interesting question - I think I like covers with some movement, as Lady Gabriella has.

I'm always also intrigued by something that is odd or out of place. It stirs my imagination if it implies a story.

For example, I'd buy a book with a cover that shows a discarded mask, an abandoned car with a door open, a woman (or a guy) falling off a horse. A baby? No.

Anne McAllister said...

Wonderful post, Liz. Thank you, Larry, for explaining your work process and how things have changed over the years. I'd love to see how you work with a WACOM tablet.

What makes me pick up a book is a feeling I get from the cover that I'd like to spend time with these people. If they engage me, then I'll pick up the book. And yes, I have bought a book just because I was drawn to by the cover!

sheandeen said...

Wow! How fascinating--never knew there was so much involved in creating a cover. The very special part of it is he shows so much romance in the scenes/couples he creates. Thanks Liz for inviting him on your blog to explain his creative process.

Donna Alward said...

I like balance....I like a cover to have that sense of balance and rightness to it - just like a satisfying ending. LOL And I like chemistry, if it's got a hero and heroine on it. It's got to have personality.

Larry has done at least one of my covers, he did Hired By The Cowboy. I can't tell you how thrilled I was with it, especially as it was my debut Romance.

Lynne Marshall said...

What a fascinating process! Thanks so much for sharing Larry and his huge talent with us. I loved all of the examples.

Unknown said...

I like the covers to be colorful and love blue covers. A handsome man on the cover is helpful to. Some covers just kind of jump out to you. Also like historical covers for some reason.

Estella said...

What an interesting post. I never knew so much work went into one book cover.
I like a bright colored cover, red blue, pirple, etc. No cartoon work.

Melissa Leavitt said...

LOVED this topic! Thanks Liz! Too cool that Larry uses a Waccom tablet. And studying in Parson in Paris? Heaven!

What makes me pick up a book? I like covers that are not bogged down with a lot of visual noise. Clean design with the focus on the couple. I like the models to be almost speaking to us, like your cover for Lady Gabriella and Donna's gorgeous book Hired by the Cowboy. A hunky man on the cover or a sweet little baby gets me every time. :)

What I don't like is when the cover art doesn't even come close to the author's description of the character. GRRRRRR!

Romance, Rumours and Rogues said...

Great post, Liz!

I love Larry's covers and I'm super curious if he's ever done any of mine...

What attracts me to a cover is the encapsulation of the book, so if it's a gorgeous romance, I expect a romantic couple on the front.
Mind you, a bare chested hero never went astray either ;)

Anonymous said...

I had to pop over and say HI to Larry myself. I used to work in Harlequin's Art Department and had the privilege of working on many covers with him. Cheers Larry and I hope everything is great with you...the covers you've done for Liz are outstanding...

Michele L. said...

Oooo...I love artwork most of all! Bright colors such as pink, red, orange and yellow always catch my eye! Your covers are very beautiful Larry!

I tend to pick up a book first from the artwork on the cover so I can look at it more closely then I read the cover. I do have my favorite authors where it doesn't matter what the cover looks like.

Very interesting topic! Thanks for being with us Larry! It was so nice having you here!

Michele L.

Myrna Mackenzie said...

That was totally fascinating. You'd think after all these years I'd have more of a clue about the cover process, but I don't (didn't).

Thank you for bringing Larry on as a guest.

Anonymous said...

Liz, what a great post. Larry's covers are gorgeous.

What kind of cover makes me pick up a book? It has to be the smile and/or grin and/or twinkle in the heroine's eye. Yep, I was a sucker for the Lady Gabriella cover.

Jan Jones said...

Absolutely fascinating post! I could have read on for hours. Do you do conference talks in the UK, Larry?

Covers - I like the people to be real. I want there to be a spark between them. I want to pick up a book, look at the cover, and feel as though I'm eavesdropping on a moment in time.

I'd quite like the cover to reflect the story, too!

What I HATE is when the cover turns out to be the same as one on a different book by a different author! I feel cheated on so many levels, then.

Michelle Styles said...

How absolutely fascinating. I love finding out how covers are created. It seems that Larry does quite a few for the Romance line which fits as his covers seem to have the special romatnic touch.
Thanks Liz for having him stop by.

Unknown said...

What a great blog! Thanks Larry for letting us see the process. I am fascinated by the idea of painting using a WACOM tablet... it all links in with a story I am writing which features asn artist.

Anyway what grabs me about covers is if they have some movement, that feeling that you have just captured one moment in time and in the next things will have moved on. A bit like action in a story I suppose.

Erastes said...

I'm jealous. As a writer who has, up to now, been published by publishers who have a tiny tiny cover budget (about $50-100 on average) these covers - and the way they are made - are like squashing my nose against the windows of Harrods on my way to the £1 store.

It was a really interesting post, as I've always wondered how those "realistic" covers are created.

As a writer of gay historical fiction, I write in a genre which suffers abominably from dreadful covers I long for the days when there's some romance, lace and embraces like these covers, and less obligatory nakedness.

Margaret McDonagh said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post, Larry - and Liz. It was fascinating to know some of the process that the artist goes through when working on a cover.

It's a shame we don't get to know who takes the credit for our individual covers.

What draws me as both reader and writer is the setting, the background, which gives a general feel and appeal and then, most importantly, the characters themselves, the feel that I want to know these people and read their story.


Liz Fielding said...

Lots of cover thoughts here. Jenny, I love you ideas and like you, I don't find a baby on the cover much of an incentive.

I'm not keen on cartoon covers, either.

Erastes, I feel for you. I once signed eBook rights for three of my books but the covers were so awful I wouldn't put them on my website!

Margaret, there used to be one cover artist who signed his covers. My double with Betty Neels had one of his covers and Anne Weale loved him. Dick something?

Anonymous said...

I'll be thinking of Larry and the other artists the next time I fill out an art fact sheet for my editor. I had no idea that much work went into our covers. I love covers that manage to capture a real spark of interest between the man and woman. That can't be easy.

Dena said...

Thanks Larry for explaining the process for making the cover artwork. There is a lot more to it than I thought. Your covers are wonderful and I can see why you have been awarded for your work.

I always like to see a good looking model with a nature scene or one entire color in the background on covers.

I have a question for Larry. Was it difficult changing the way you used to produce your art to the new digital technology?

Linda Goodnight said...

Liz, this was a fascinating blog. I'm going to tell my other author buddies about it. I'm sure they, like me, will be interested in how our covers come to be.

Thanks so much.
Linda g

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I've just been on my own website to send everyone over here to read Larry's fascinating account.

I like movement in a cover, too, and light, bright colours. But I am so often disappointed in the hero, who never looks anything like the man I've had in mind, so prefer pictures where there's not too much focus on his face. That way I can keep my own image of him, whether I'm a reader or an author.

Anonymous said...

First to Larry, what gorgeous covers. I was late to the last blog you guested at (was it Jennie Adams'?). But I said then that I wish we knew who did the covers so we could appreciate the person by name. And I think just putting a name to the cover would make us appreciate it more. I could listen to you for a lot longer on how you do your work. Very interesting.

What on a cover will make me reach for a book?

I feel like I'm repeating. Something beautiful, something discarded (makes me wonder why, what happened). I'm not very original, I guess. :)

Oh, well,


limecello said...

This was such a great post - I loved learning about some of the process for making a book cover.
To answer your question... the whole thing. I think I'm attracted to bold colors - or almost monochrome covers. The picture on the front - I don't need people, or half naked men. If it looks nice, is different, and done well, I'm attracted to it. The font, the scene on the cover... emotions on the models faces - I can't really separate any one thing out.

Anonymous said...

For me, a cover has to give me a hint of what the book is about. Just a couple in a clinch doesn't indicate much. I like the historical covers because they give you a hint that it has highlanders in the story, or pirates, etc. Or a couple standing by a horse or a fast car indicates somethng like that is in the story. I liked the covers of Elaine Duillo, artist, but Larry is very good too

Fiona Harper said...

I always wondered how the covers were created and I've loved the covers for Harlequin Romance/M&B romance recently - so much better than the stock photos they used to use for the UK.

There's a wonderful softness to your cover pictures, Larry. You mentioned on Trish Wylie's blog that you liked John Singer Sargent? Me too! Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is my favourite painting, and I can see where you have got the inspiration for the lovely soft light in your pictures now.

And on the subject of cover subjects: I love my kids, but I have to agree with Jenny, babies on the cover turn me off!

Anonymous said...

Liz, thanks again for inviting me to be your guest here, and congratulations on your 50th book!

Nicola, I have done two covers for you, Impossibly Pregnant and Found His Family.

Jayne, What a surprise! So nice to here from you, I hope you are well.

Thank you to everyone else who has posted here... My cup runneth over. It's especially nice to hear that my work is pleasing the authors as they are your babies.


Anonymous said...


I checked out your site and low and behold I see three books on the cover page that I created. "The Heirs Convenient Wife", which you wrote as part of a series with two other authors, Melissa McClone's "SOS Marry Me", and Shirley Jump's "Sweetheart Lost and Found" which I also did.

...and, a few years back I worked on a series of books, The Fortunes of Texas and created the cover art for your book "Keeping Her Safe"

catslady said...

I like a variety of covers and like some others, don't care too much for the cartoon types. Hopefully it matches the story but that's after the fact. I like the cover to somehow match the title. I can really see that in the ones you did for Liz.

Anonymous said...

I've created a number of your covers as well, including, "Appointment at the Altar", "Outback Boss City Bride", and "Newlyweds of Convenience".

Thanks again to Liz for asking me to be her guest blogger.

Congratulations on the 50th Book!

Meljprincess said...

What an awesome post, Liz! I've always wondered about the cover process.
A rippled, naked, male chest or certain colors make me reach for a book.

Melissa K.

Anonymous said...


Hi to Michelle Douglas,

I was fortunate to get the call to illustrate the cover for your debut book "His Christmas Angle"

Maureen said...

The first thing that always catches my eye are colors. I never seem to have the time I want when I'm shoppnig for books so I am usually quickly scanning to see what looks good and often it's a bright color that I notice and then I'll take a look at that book.

robynl said...

I love a beautiful outdoor scene or a white picket fence scene; I think that covers are a work of art in and of themselves. I don't go for the garrish type covers(cartoon faces out of proportion).

Larry, you are indeed an artist!!! Have you ever done canvas paintings for anyone? Thanks.

Carol said...

Thanks so much for having Larry as your guest this week. I also never realized how much went into creating a cover.

What makes me pick up a book to buy is and interesting cover. A romantic couple, a hunky hero with a beautiful herone, or a couple with a cute baby would all catch my interest and have me reading the blurb to make a final decision.

I loved Larry's cover on THE MARRIAGE MIRACLE. It is the kind of cover I mean. It caught my interest and had me buying the book, which I loved.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, Larry, you did 'His Christmas Angel'. I love that cover (tempted to capitalize that entire sentence). But I figured I was kind of biased as it was my very first ever book. When it arrived I hugged it to my chest and stroked it. Unlike the twinkle in Lady Gabriella's eyes, you managed to convey warmth in both my hero and heroine's faces perfectly. Thank you.

Liz Fielding said...

Robyn, do got to Larry's website -- -- and see all his work. Beautiful portraits and landscapes, as well as covers.

I do find it interesting that so many of you have mentioned colour as a factor. I do like clear, fresh colours, and the "evening" look in both The Marriage Miracle and Reunited; Marriage in a Miracle that seems to have been achieved with a light colour cast, blue in MM and mauve in RIaM. It is very romantic.

I think it speaks volumes that we've all been raving about the new look covers since the HR makeover and so many of them are Larry's work.

Thanks, Larry!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Liz and everyone for such great feedback on my work.

...and thanks Liz for pointing out my Web site. as a blogger myself I just signed in on previous posts and I apologized if you were expecting to find my work and instead found my daily doodles. If you are interested in seeing more of my work, I signed in this time highlighting my web site, so if you click on my name above it will bring you to a site where you can find my work.

Thanks again everyone.

Melissa McClone said...

Thanks so much for writing about this, Larry! Very interesting. I've always been curious how the AFS I fill out becomes a cover!

I just saw you did the cover for SOS Marry Me! Thanks for that one. It's funny though, the dress the heroine is wearing is almost identical to the one I wore to the Harlequin party in Dallas. It made me do a double-take.

Anonymous said...


Some times the wardrobe can be very specific but looking back at the AFS (Art Fact Sheet) for SOS Marry Me it simple said:

A very pretty feminine dress

I'm glad we have similar taste.. :^ ) ..Actually I remember bringing two dresses to that shooting, I shot both of them and the Art Director made the final decision.


Liz Fielding said...

Larry I did put a link to your website on the blog, but these things are easy to miss. I do hope everyone took the time to come and visit.

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