(Note before you proceed: Not every illustrator/designer will work this way. Mike and I are good friends so he's very generous with his talent. We've also worked together for many years and have built an efficient system between us. If it's your first time working with a designer, it's always good to have a general idea of how s/he works -- portfolio, timetable, expectations, etc -- before entering into a contract.)
I knew Mike wasn't going to read a romance book so instead I gave him a detailed brief, similar to what we expect from our advertising clients. It outlined the novella's characters, the setting, the synopsis, and all the important events. It also explained to him what I basically wanted: a cover that had tropical elements, a light K-pop feel, and a large title font. Simple, no? How he would interpret this is up to him -- that's what he does best after all! But to show him my perspective of things, I added links to Korean/Japanese videos and movie posters for inspiration. (You know, just to be clear that I meant something closer to this than this.) Artists and designers usually appreciate initial direction so that they know where to take the project. Make a wish list or even a list of things to avoid -- and don't change your mind halfway! Trust me, it will help both of you stay on track.
After about ten days, Mike showed me two different cover ideas. The sketches (or thumbs or croquis) were accompanied by pegs so that I could imagine the final product better. He also recommended some illustration styles that he could do (not shown here).
After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to go with the sketch on the left. I love the way that it establishes that the novella is about an island romance. It also manages to include the calamansi muffin (an important element in the story) in a smart yet subtle way. Though I liked how eye-catching the other cover was, I thought that might be more appropriate for a younger-themed work. The left one definitely answered what I requested.
Next, Mike worked on the background, which he applied it to different layouts. I had to pick one again and this is what won:
By then, Mike had already moved on to the main image. Because we had clear direction since the beginning, we didn't need to go back and forth on the details. Now it was just a matter of putting everything together and tweaking things here and there. I placed my trust in his skills because I know he wouldn't steer me in the wrong direction.
Making a book cover takes a lot of hard work. But collaborating with Mike was such a painless and enjoyable experience. I really appreciate how much time and effort he devoted to Cover (Story) Girl, as though it were his baby, too. He kept me updated and showed me his works in progress. He even applied the final illustration to wallpapers, bookmarks, postcards, and other things we could think of. In the end, I have a lovely cover that captures the spirit of the story I had written. What more can an author want?
So if I haven't said it enough: Maraming salamat, Boss.