Putting a face to a character

Now that my manuscript is safely in the hands of my publisher, and the illustrator has finished the map (squee!), the next step in the publishing process is the cover design.


The gal on the right in the second row…close…but not.

The gal on the right in the second row…close…but not.

After spending the better part of two days sifting through stock photos, I now despair of finding a girl who really looks like Alara. I know Alara has a high forehead, pointed chin, and green eyes. Searching on those keywords yields zero results.

OK, she has dark hair. Searching that yields photos of people with hair in dark settings. How about brunette woman? Yikes, too many results. Some of them have the right look, but they’re all modern. I need a girl with a Victorian look. Now we’re getting closer. Only I meant Victorian, not Victoria’s Secret. Oy.

I spent the whole day like this. One girl has the right shape of face, but she’s blonde. Another has a perfect costume, but her bun is all frowzy and tousled. The stylists seem to have lost their hairbrushes. Or they only brush backward anymore.

There’s one with a great costume, but her hair is hanging down all stringy around her shoulders. Have the stylists also forgotten how to use hairpins? And when the hair is perfect, the makeup looks like it’s from a production of Cats.

Wait. Let’s try black bun hairstyle. Oof. Too modern, too messy, too…blonde? Could have sworn I said black. Ah. I see. The blonde model is photographed on a black background. D’oh.

Let’s try skipping the updo court scenes and see if we can find a sword-wielding shot. My heart skipped a bit when I saw this one.

Yeah, she could be Alara. Except during the fight scene Alara’s hair is braided. And the model has brown eyes. Alara doesn’t wear gauntlets, and she uses a rapier, not a broadsword. And there’s no snow in my story, which takes place during summer. Dang.

Eventually, by including words like historical and costume, I narrowed the selection down to some I could work with. It was a fun exercise, but ultimately I wound up with a stack of compromises. I sent my suggestions to the editor, and it will be fun to see what the designers come up with. Other titles in OakTara’s fantasy line have some pretty good-looking covers.

Have you ever tried to find a photo of your protagonists? How did that go?


About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

3 comments on “Putting a face to a character

  1. I’ve had Marsten’s face in my mind for 35 years (he’s the hero in my thrilling Christian romance novel Amberly, which is receiving fabulous reviews on Amazon and would make a SUPER Mother’s Day gift and…ok, I’ll stop plugging now). One day I was strolling through Dillard – and there he was! On the wall, in a Perry Ellis suit ad. I found him online then contacted his agent and found he’s a high-profile international model and really had no interest in gracing my book cover. Oh, well. His loss. I continued my search and found another dude who looks really fine. But it took a LOT of hunting! And 90 bucks to acquire the license to publish him in 300 dpi.

  2. My hero looks like my husband, so no problems, there! (I hear that Stephanie Meyers modeled Edward on her hubby, too.) My other hero, the werewolf, looks like the kid who played Neville in the Harry Potter movies, except as he looks now (which is totally hunky).

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