Interview with Dylan Drake, Graphic Artist
Welcome to this month’s Cover Artist Feature! I met Dylan Drake at BEA this year. Dylan’s company, Wayword Author Services, offers indy authors not only great cover designs, but also print and ebook formatting, editing, and a variety of other services as well.
Thanks for joining us, Dylan!
Hi Ivana – Thank you! I’ve followed your blog for a while so it’s an honor to interviewed!
Tell me a little bit about Wayword Author Services.
Sure! This is actually a new venture I’ve started that just sort of organically came together. After 15+ years working in publishing, web development, digital marketing, and graphic design, it came to me one day that between myself and the colleagues I’ve worked with over the years in editorial, marketing, design, and illustration, that we have all the tools, talents, and knowledge to do what big publishing houses do for their authors, but on a smaller, more individual scale.
I am the resident art director, cover designer, and illustrator. When I can – and when it makes sense depending on the artistic style needed – I illustrate for the covers. My original love is pen and ink, and I enjoy doing interior illustrations for chapter headings, maps, and frontispieces. I also work with a Wacomb tablet in my digital illustrations for cover art, which allows me tons of freedom and is much more forgiving than working in traditional media. There is no undo function with ink and paint!
If time doesn’t allow, or if I feel a book needs a style of art that I don’t do, I contract out this portion of the cover design to one of the many artists I’ve worked with over the years. For example, there are some truly phenomenal illustrators working in fantasy and science fiction that can almost magically bring a fictional world to life. Finding just the right style of art for your story is crucial for attracting the audience you want for your book. People subconsciously respond to visual cues before making buying decisions, and your book cover design and art style, in my opinion, is the most important way to communicate what your book is about, even more important than back cover copy and blurbs.
Beyond cover design, I work with several brilliant editors that do an amazing job polishing up manuscripts and helping with plot and character development. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to being “self published,” and it has a lot to do with poor editing. You can have a world-changing story but if people can’t get past the run-on sentences and misspellings, they won’t take it seriously. That’s why I wanted to offer indie authors both services – cover design AND editorial. Because both elements are crucial to a book’s success.
The final piece is book interior design and eBook formatting. A beautifully designed book interior assures a positive reading experience. I was recently gifted a novel from an indie author that I was very excited to read. The cover art was beautiful – detailed paintings of the fantastical setting and characters. But once I cracked open the book and starting reading the first page, I realized I literally could not read story because the font was too small. These are the types of mistakes a self-published author might make simply because they don’t know any better. That’s why I started this company – because I believe writers should do what they do best – write. Leave the design and layout to the experts.
Your art samples show both illustration and photo manipulation; I like that you can do both. Then you can pick what’s best for the story. And AMEN about the editing! You mentioned 15+ years in the industry. What’s your background in graphic design and indy publishing?
From a very young age I was a voracious drawer. My folders and notebooks were literally covered in doodles and drawings when I was a kid. My first crack at college I studied fine art, but life intervened, I dropped out of college, and through a circuitous route I ended up in book publishing and worked my way up as far as I could without a college degree. It was always in my mind that I wanted to go back to school, but at that point I was too practical to be a fine artist. It finally clicked when I managed graphic designers and artists through marketing and product development roles. I realized that I wanted to do what they were doing! So I went back to school full-time, while working full-time, and got my degree in graphic design and digital media.
One of the things that drew me to want to be a designer was the freedom that the independent designers enjoyed. They could work from anywhere, take a vacation any time, and decide on the jobs that they would take. So right after graduating I started my own design company, and my first clients were in book publishing – of course! Because that’s where my contacts were. But gradually I began to build a diversified client base and have worked across a variety of industries, from pharmaceuticals to video games to credit card companies. I’ve designed magazines, book covers, catalogs, logos, packaging, ads, and websites.
Last year I took on a project that was a game-changer for me. My mother, who has been an unpublished short-story writer for as long as I can remember, decided she wanted to develop one of her short stories into a five-book series. So I pretty much dropped everything to help her launch the books. I read and edited them, designed her book covers and interiors, and built her author website. I even set up her social media accounts and taught her how to interact with her readers and build her audience online. She went from a brilliant hermit to being a successfully-published independent author.
As fate would have it, I met another author who wanted me to help her in the same ways I was helping my mom. And that’s when the idea for this business really took shape.
In my heart I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, a bit anti-establishment. I believe there is too much money and power in too few hands. It’s that way in government, in business, and also in publishing. Publishers and agents are in it for the money and they aren’t too keen on taking a chance on an unproven idea. That’s why I believe in the independent publishing revolution. Everyone has a story to tell, and should never have their dreams of being a writer shot down because they received a rejection letter. I saw the same thing happen with my mom – she got five or six rejection letters and almost gave up. Now her books are available on Amazon, and she continues to get 4 and 5 star reviews from her fans. It’s inspiring to see!
Yay! I feel the same way about indy publishing. Congrats to your mom on her success! Covers are so important to book sales and exposure. Book covers draw the attention of new readers. So, what’s your process for designing a great cover?
I think the single most important thing for me is to first understand the audience. This comes from my graphic design background. Before I even pick up a pencil or crack open my machine I first need to know who the book is written for. Oftentimes the author might not even know, which is why I like to read the manuscript before I begin concept development. When I first read my mom’s stories, I thought, “Wow, these are really great YA sci-fi adventures!” So I designed the covers to be very illustrative, showing the main character’s face prominently to engage with the reader. Later, she decided she didn’t want to limit the audience to only YA, so I changed the art to appeal to a broader audience by showing more of the world in which the story takes place, with the characters much smaller and in silhouette. But as reviews poured in, everyone seemed to sing the same tune – “great YA story, but I enjoyed it!” In the end, I think we found a great visual balance between both audiences, regardless of which category the stories end up being placed in (right now we’re thinking of putting it back in YA!).
But to go back to your question, I first send my clients a simple questionnaire to help me understand how they view their book. Then I read the manuscript or book for myself and discuss the design direction with the author. Once we agree on a direction, I ask them to send me visual examples of the style of art they envision. I also do my own visual research, gathering examples of current design trends and the covers of similar books together, then start sketching and brainstorming. I always submit at least three design directions for the author to choose from, and go from there.
Often I’ve found that authors have a hard time being their own art directors—simply saying they don’t like something is never helpful. So I ask a lot of questions about specific aspects of a design to see what it is they like and don’t like. It’s tough, but I do my best never to take anything personal—something I learned throughout my career. Design is so subjective—I could be in love with something that the client just doesn’t “like,” and it could be simply our different backgrounds and tastes. Maybe they just don’t like ice cream and I really thought ice cream was the best thing to put on the cover because I like it. So I try to remember that even though I’m the artist, it’s not MY art. It’s a collaboration.
One of the pillars of a well-designed cover is choosing the right font, or choosing to create a hand-drawn title. Nothing screams poor design like using a cliche font on your cover. It really is a pet peeve of mine. I love typography and have an extensive collection of fonts that I draw from for my designs, depending on the application.
I’m no designer, but I love fonts, too! They are addicting. 😉 Your website also lists a marketing guru, and when you approached me, it was for a book review. Does Wayword Author Services help with marking and promotions as well?
Great question! This is a part of the long-term goal of this company. The marketing guru is actually my husband who has a great deal of experience in high-level business development and marketing roles. He’s actually my partner and we are starting this business together. At the moment we’re focusing on offering services for the product itself, but eventually we’ll expand to offer marketing and promotions services for authors. We will be doing this on a case-by-case basis for now, so we’re open to discuss this possibility with authors.
Wow, a one-stop shop for indy authors! How should an author go about contacting you to inquire about your services?
Thanks, Dylan for being on our blog today. I learn something new with each interview we do!