Evolution of a Book Cover: ‘A Pirate’s Honor’

J.M. Aucoin . Jake Hawking Adventures, Writing about writing 1133 No Comments

'A Pirate's Honor' cracked the Top 10 Best Selling Sea Adventures on Amazon earlier this week!

‘A Pirate’s Honor’ cracked the Top 10 Best Selling Sea Adventures on Amazon earlier this week!

First off, big thanks to everyone who picked up the first issue of the Jake Hawking’s Adventure. I hope you all enjoyed the debut of Hawking and the Broad-Wing. The second short-story, The Royal Bounty Hunter, is slated to come out at the end of the month. Pete is hard at work designing the second cover and it just might be better than first. I’ll post another teaser image of that when it’s done, but, damn, it’s coming along nicely.

Speaking of cover design, I’ve had a blast collaborating with Peter on the Jake Hawking covers. He’s an amazing artist, a great guy, solid hockey player, and has a lot of cool ideas for covers. We’ve had some nice back and forths, throwing ideas around and seeing what sticks, what works, and what doesn’t. It’s nice to work with a guy who isn’t just a Yes Man and will run with my ideas because I’m the client and I’m giving him money. Obviously, if I really want something done a certain way, he’ll do it, but he pushes back when he thinks something won’t work. It’s really refreshing and I trust his judgement. He runs his own comic publishing business, Alterna Comics, so check it out.

But I wanted to show you the process for how we came up with the cover for A Pirate’s Honor for those who like the “behind-the-scenes” stuff.

More after the jump…

Brain Storming Session
It started off with me sending Pete a copy of the story. Since it’s so short he’s able to read it all and get a feel for what it’s about, the scenes that might make for good images, and the plot. He then emails me back a few ideas and I send him what came to mind and we go through the list. Here’s what Pete came up with:

1) Jake holding a sword in a “ready to fight” kinda stance, with the sword in a blocking position and we see Charles’ reflection in it. Charles is looking pissed/teeth clenched, we mostly just see his face maybe some hair/etc.

2) Iconic type of image – Jake with the brim of his hat kind of casting a shadow/cover his eyes and he has a bit of a smirk.  It’d be a bust shot – so chest/shoulders up.

3) mood shot of a broken sword on the tavern floor. sort of a close-up of the sword and some of the hilt, maybe a spilt drink too or some kind of “shit went down” kinda stuff.


Jake Hawking sketch

Quick pen sketch to get basic idea of the design.

4) Charles has his sword resting/touching near Jake’s neck. Jake has an “oh shit” kinda look.  (this shot might be better suited for a comic book though and not quite for a prose/novel/book/short story)

5) Bar keep whispering into the ear of a big fat guy burly kinda guy and the guy looks kinda shocked – they’re both staring over at Jake whose shadowed profile is in the foreground.  This is a more complicated shot and would involve 3 figures as well as some background – so it would probably end up costing extra money – but i figured i’d throw it out there.

Quick sketch
My idea was an image of Hawking standing behind his broken sword (on the ground) and we get a glimpse of his opponent’s leg/sword or Hawking looming over the map. But for an introduction to the character, we thought #1 was the best. Simpler and easier to show. Here’s Pete’s quick sketch of how #1 looked.

Jake Hawking sketch

Detailed pen sketch

Even that sketch is better than anything I could do. It’s why it pays to invest in a good graphic artist to do your cover and not try it yourself. I had a couple of notes, but really this was just to give me an idea of what he had in mind in really basic terms.

I sent him some detailed character sketches and reference pics for hats, coats, swords, etc., on his request, so he would get the feel and the time period right. I think he nailed it in the final design.

Detailed Pen Sketch
From there he drew a slightly more detailed pen sketch.

This was to give me an idea on the entire cover layout he had in mind. I loved the idea of the ripped paper, like Hawking just cut through it with his sword or something. At this point we weren’t sure what would be in the “ripped paper” sections. We just knew we wanted it in there. I don’t think I had many or any notes for Pete at this point. Gave him the OK to move on to the next iteration of the cover.

Jake Hawking concept sketch

FInal Pencils

Penciling the Cover
After that, Pete started working on the actual cover itself. Needless to say, I was blown away by his artistry. I also loved how we can see a reflection of Hawking’s adversary in the shine of his blade. It’s a nice, small detail that I think people will enjoy if they notice it. It’s our little easter egg, if you will, for the people who pick the story up.

To the left is the late pencil design. I didn’t have any notes. Pete was blowing me away with how good it was coming out. Gave him the OK to start the pens and such.

Cover Inks
Next, Pete sent me the inks version of the cover. Again, I had no changes. It was looking awesome. His inkwork was amazing and the cover was really starting to pop and take a life on it’s own.

Jake Hawking ink

Cover inks

The shine of the sword is more pronounced, the shading gave some real nice depth, we see that Hawking’s hair is black, the scar is added near his left eye, and we get a little better view of the reflection in the sword. Pete even went a little crazy and colored in Hawking’s blue eyes. Loved it.

Hawking, Now in Color!!!
Next, Pete scanned in the image and started adding in the colors. He went with a more matted, realistic sword look than a super shiny blade. I’ve seem some real swords that are practically mirrors, but most aren’t that glossy. Still, we bent the rules of science a little to keep the reflection of Hawking’s enemy on the sword. It’s subtle and I love it.

Jake Hawking cover

Hawking in color

Pete also had the cool idea of making the background red. Originally we were gonna do something that could’ve been considered a tavern wall, or stucco house, but he didn’t think the cover would pop as well. I concurred. The red background really makes Hawking stand out, especially as a thumb on Amazon, and it gives a sense of alarm and danger that is felt in the story’s plot.

At this point we started figuring out what would go in the ripped pages. We had two ideas — wood or a map. The wood would’ve been to represent Hawking’s ship, the Broad-Wing. But the map made more sense and looked really cool. I sent Pete a few maps I use for reference when writing. I’m not sure if he went with that or not, but I loved how the addition of the map came out. It blended beautifully so your eyes are drawn to Hawking in the middle, but also filled that white space with something interesting and piratical.

The Final Product
After all that, Pete did the lettering. We went with a classic-looking type font. We didn’t want to bang readers over the head that this was a pirate story since the word pirate was in the title and the drawing pretty much does that as well. I also enjoyed the fun font he used for A Jake Hawking Adventure up top in the red bar. It gives a sense of action and adventure, I think.

A Pirates Honor Jake Hawking CoverAll-in-all, I was really pleased with how the first Jake Hawking cover came out. As a fan of pirates and comics, it was really cool to see Jake Hawking go from just a character in my head to an actual drawing of him. It’s a little surreal, but a lot was fun. It’s where being a writer and a costumer/cosplayer crossed, as I got to send Pete reference pictures, give character designs and then see the image come to life.

If you haven’t yet, pick up a copy of A Pirate’s Honor for $0.99 on Amazon. If you enjoyed the story, I’d be honored if you left a review on Amazon. Also, tell all your friends and family who enjoy smart pirate stories, swashbuckling, or a little fun adventure about the story. Word of mouth is the best way to get people to help Hawking take off.

And be sure to let us know what you thought of the story and Pete’s cover design in the comments.

J.M. Aucoin

Author. Fencer. Sometimes actor. Full-time nerd. I write swashbucklers & historical adventure novels.
  • ronsonbeck


    Cool! I’m supposed to be seeing my rough sketches for my cover soon, I trust they’ll be as exciting.


    • Justin


      Nice, dude. I’d wager you’ll have a big ol’ smile on your face when you get yours. haha


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