Hi Chris. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I’ve admired your work not only on my own book covers but also on some of the other genesis authors. It is your work that’s seen first and it’s that first impression that will get the reader interested in picking up the book. You are the first line as it were. Your work is a direct partnership with the author even if you’ve never met them. And it is your work that the readers ask a lot of questions about.
Q: So tell me Chris How did you first get into this field?
A: I got into graphic design after realizing I didn’t want to take accounting in college. I knew I loved computers, and yet I loved to draw. I was a sophomore and really didn’t know what I wanted to do after changing my major. One day my father gave me a newsletter from his university (University of Eastern Washington) and there was an interview was with someone my father thought I might be interested in. The interview was with a fellow alum named Todd McFarlane. Some may not know him, but I was amazed. He was a talented comic book artist and writer who became extremely well known for doing Spiderman for Marvel Comics. The article was about him and his fellow comic artists starting their own comic book company called Image, and Todd’s new comic hero was named Spawn (you might have seen the movie). Anyways, Mr. McFarlane also elaborated about how he studied Graphic Design. Immediately I knew that was what I wanted to do. At least the publishing part of it. And to be able to still draw was a plus too!
Towards the end of graduation I managed to get a lucky call from Wilbur Colom of Genesis Press who was fishing my university for designers to work on some book covers. My first book cover was called “Lasting Valor” by Vernon Baker and Ken Olsen about the first African American to win the medal of honor. It’s an autobiography that turned out to be a big deal – there was a foreword by General Colon Powell and a few notes by President Clinton. This ended up being the start of something that I fell in love with.
Q: Was this a lifelong dream of yours
A: Growing up I always liked to read. I was reading Moby Dick and Jack London when I was seven years old. My parents were very supportive of my appetite for reading. Did I know that this would possibly lead me to a calling that I was passionate about? At the time, no. But after having actually done my first book cover, I was hooked and a lot of it is due I believe to my early attraction to reading mixed in with my desire to create something visual. A business partner and myself started a company called Interlink Media Group to take on the demand for our design services for both print and for web.
Late in 1999, I had a disagreement with my business partner and I decided to part ways. I took a new job that was strictly web oriented. I thought I would be ok without doing books. But I really did not know how much I would miss it.
After a couple of years of being away, I called Genesis again to see if there was any overflow work that I could possibly help with. As fate would have it, they did need help, and this is what I consider to be the truly defining start of my book designing career. Most of the books that I have done from this point in time have been some of the best work I’ve ever done. Part of it has to be that I had grown in skills with designing with the computer, but another part was the fact that I realized that this was something I loved, and I put all my passion into it and was able to produce some amazing covers. The feeling of being able to go to a book store and see something that you did, or to even get letters from the authors thanking me for making their cover really did make it a dream come true.
The work has grown to such a level, that my wife has become a key player in helping me keeping up with things by scheduling, researching, and doing basic administration of what has become our small family book design business that we call Dibolmi. In case you are wondering, Dibolmi is the internet name of my wife that I knew when we had first met online 7 years ago. It stands for her full name, Diana Teresa Bolivar Millan. That was a mouthful, so she came up with Dibolmi. But I digress.
So I would say yes, book design was a lifelong dream, but it took me a little bit of time to realize it. I don’t want to ever step away from it again. I would like to be designing books fulltime, and slowly I am creeping my way towards being able to fulfill that dream.
Q: Can you name some of the other books that you have designed covers for? Of course I know that you’ve done, The Color of Trouble, The Wedding Gown, Misty Blue and my next book, Let’s Get it On.
A: I have designed probably close to 200 books. I can’t really name them all. One of my favorites though is of course my first book Lasting Valor, for sentimental reasons. Probably some of the newer covers I’ve done for mass market paperbacks have been pretty good. I’ve done covers for Gwynne Forster, Donna Hill, Beverly Clark, and of course Dyanne Davis. J
Q: Chris, can you tell us if the author has any input at all on the covers?
A: Well it depends. If it is a reasonable request that won’t have a terrible impact on the marketability of a cover, I would say the publisher will consider an authors request. However, if for some reason the request is whimsical and not entirely relevant to the story or characters, the publisher may pull rank and say no. I’ve seen it go both ways.
Personally, I like to get some feedback from the author because it helps me capture the essence of their book. Obviously I have to design a cover that will sell, but I also want to make the soul of the book apparent. The old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” holds no merit in this day and age
Q: What do you use for your inspiration for covers? Do you use back cover blurb or marketing information?
A: I generally get a tip sheet that has basic information about the book. I tend to pull most inspiration through lots of research and gut feeling. My wife and myself sit down and take the name of the book and dissect it. Writing out many synonyms for the title as well as reading the synopsis and writing out synonyms for the basic plot of the story. We use these as our keywords and begin a massive search for images on all the various image libraries. Most of the time I’ll know when I see an image that it is the one. But sometimes a image will only be good for part of my vision so I have to use more images to develop the cover into a collage. And there is the occasional moment where I actually do a full blown illustration.
There are times though where I can’t seem to get the cover. This is definitely where I get in touch with the author to help lead me out of my block by helping me understand their characters and the situations they are in.
Q. I’ve visited your website just to get an idea of what else you’re working on. Could you tell the readers what it is that you’re working on and what they can expect to see when they visit your website?
A: Well I have two websites actually. I have my personal website (http://www.chrisesler.com/) which is more of a reflection of my thoughts regarding work in the internet field as well as book design. Not much in the way of photos unless they are of my adorable two year old daughter Isabella.
My new site that I am pushing for my design work as a book designer and illustrator is called Dibolmi (http://www.dibolmi.com/). To get an idea of what I’ve done and what I’m doing is to check out the Portfolio section. I am currently adding all the books I’ve ever done there. So far I’m on 1999 with some 2003. I plan to have them all uploaded soon so you can see what I’m working on.
The Dibolmi website will have a lot more information about the services I offer and news about my covers. I think the biggest new lately is that one of my covers was going to be featured at Book Expo of America by Kensington Publishing Group.
Q: Of course, I know that you’re a genius with the romance book covers. Are there any other romance publishers you work with?
A: Only recently have things gotten to a point where I am pushing to do this full time. I currently only work with Genesis Press. I work with Kensington Publishing Group, but with them I am still work on Genesis Press books…just their mass market books.
I’m really looking to get my name out there as much as possible among the publishers to be able to get more covers to work on. Maybe I can become the next Chipp Kidd…hehe. Or at least reach some level of notoriety (hopefully good) that I can work with many many publishers. Know of any other publishers that might need some book design help? ;)
Q: Are you working on any other genre, --non-fiction, sci fi, paranormal?
A: The primary genre I deal with is romance due in part to Genesis Press who focuses mostly on romance. But I have done and still do some general fiction, autobiographies, anthologies, Christian and lately scifi.
Q. Chris , I’m jut curious and you don’t have to say romance (smile) what are your favorite covers and what covers make you cringe?
A: That’s a tough one. I don’t think there is any particular genre that is better than others. Its more about the design. I’m an artsy person, so I like things to be different. I like some things that are busy and some things that are simple. Handling of color and typography is very important as well as knowing what sort of media you are going to be printing on.
Probably the genre though with the least attractive covers are self-help books – think “Books for Dummies”. A great designer that I aspire to his level is Chipp Kidd who works for Random House – There are a couple of books out now that actually chronical his work over the past 10 years.
Q: There are a lot of self published authors and I’m sure they’re going to want to know if they can get you to do covers for them. Is that a possibility?
A: Give me a call, shoot me an email. I’d be happy to design their book covers. You can reach me at my agency website http://www.dibolmi.com/ or at my personal website http://www.chrisesler.com/
Q: Do you read any of the books before you design the cover?
A: I used to read them more when I was typesetting the books as well as the cover. But not so much anymore. But I do look through the insides when I get my copy, and if it peaks my interest I have read them.
Q: Would you take an author’s idea for a cover? Example: landscape and make a cover from that?
A: maybe. If it is explained poorly, maybe not. But if there is some well thought out explanation of what they would like, it’s a good possibility because now I have a better understanding of the story. Someone who says they want a cover with a field of grass and blue sky and that’s all they say will probably not get my ear. But if someone states that the grass and blue sky have some sort of meaning on the story like the main character always finds peace by thinking of a blue sky with green grass. Sure, I am more inclined to listen to their wants.
Q: What works best for you when you’re conceiving a cover-do you like images-general concepts, specifies-as in specific colors…?
A: The best inspiration for me is a well thought out title with maybe a paragraph or two of the story. Of course I need to know about the characters and general appearance. I don’t like specific colors, because that limits me a lot and can cause me to freeze up on a design. I like generalities such as locations, maybe income level or occupation, and general appearance. That gives me enough information most of the time for my own imagination to take control and I can see in my head what I want for the design.
Q: What type of cover do you like doing-cartoon, illustration, photo…
Do you have a favorite style? And if so do you think a particular style is more effective?
A: Lately I’ve been trying to do more illustration, but the drawings are based off photos. But I still deal mostly with photography. That is where my strengths are in photoshop. I’ve used that program since version 2, so I’ve gotten it down pretty good. I use it to merge photos and change peoples races or take someones face and put it on anothers body.
Probably the most effective style is some sort of high contrast. And some illustrations do this nicely. A good example is to look at some artwork by Frank Miller (known for his books Sin City). Amazing high contrast illustrations.
Q: Do you show your work to the authors before the final decision is made?
A: That generally is left up to the publisher. But if I am conversing with an author via email, I will email them a proof as it moves forward.
Q: Do you illustrate any of the really racy covers?
A: Christian Romance? Yes, although they are the hardest to do. Interracial Romance? Yes, and these can be hard depending on the setup. Steamy Romance? Yes. Erotica? Yes. The racier the cover, illustration seems to work better. It kind of works likes a tease and makes the readers mind take control and ask the question “what do they mean by that?” which in turns causes them to pick it up.
Q: What would be an option other than one with people for historical romances?
A: Historical romances are hard. You almost always have to use people, but you can use objects that are referenced to that time such as spectacles, corset, white gloves, etc. Illustration works well here too. If you are going to use people, you will be hard pressed to find appropriate photos.
Q: Does the author have the option of using an abstract covers and then putting pictures on the first inside page?
A: Hrm. That probably is up to the publisher, but I’ve never seen that really.
Chris, I want to thank you again and wish you continued success. You are truly gifted. you again. Please if there is anything at all you’d like to leave the reader with that wasn’t asked in this interview go ahead and tell us.
Where can readers reach you? And what other sites can they view samples of your work?
I’m putting up all the examples of my book covers and web designs on http://www.dibolmi.com/portfolio/index.php
They should all be up there in the next couple of days.
I can be reached a variety of ways.
Website: http://www.dibolmi.com/ & http://www.chrisesler.com/
Skype Phone #: 425-296-6590
MSN Messenger: chrisesler2
Yahoo Messenger: chrisesler_2000
I would give my address, but we are about to move to about 30 minutes north of Seattle.