Great Covers Begin with Art Fact Sheets

After you sell a book (!) and the contract is inked, one of the documents you’ll receive from your publisher is an Art Fact Sheet, which an author is asked to complete in order to help the publisher’s design team create a cover that fits the story inside.

Not all houses refer to this document as an Art Fact Sheet. My publisher uses the term Cover Direction Questionnaire, an appropriate name since it’s chock full of questions.

I’ll use my Questionnaire as an example, since it’s the only one I’ve seen.

The first questions dealt with the basics: release date, title, series, and author.

Six sections followed, some with subheadings. These may vary from house to house.


In this section, I was asked to state the year and time period covered in the book and to give information on the locale, including such features as the lay of the land, the season(s), the vegetation, and other geographic features.

I provided information about the town of El Dorado and described the stores owned by Miles and Elenora, the hero and heroine, since they’re important locations in the story.


What my publisher wanted was a 50-100 word blurb that gave the set-up of the story. I used the summary from my proposal, which was worded like back cover copy.

Character Descriptions

Because my book is a romance, I provided descriptions of Miles and Ellie, including physical features such as age and occupation, hair and eye color, hair and clothing styles.

"Miles Rutledge"

In addition, I was asked for an overall description that could include height, build, personal style, and countenance. This is where I was able to include the fact that Ellie is determined and a bit feisty, elements my publisher captured so well on the cover.

"Elenora Watkins"

I was asked to include information on up to two secondary characters. I listed Miles’s mother and Ellie’s nine-year-old daughter, since they appear in the story quite a bit.

Story Conflicts

I included two major conflicts in the story that could potentially be shown on the cover.


I was given several choices and asked to pick the one I thought best fit my story. I chose “romantic showing the heroine.” I had the benefit of having seen the cover for the first two books in the line and knew they’d included just the heroine, so my choice was an easy one.


In this section, I mentioned the silk flowers Ellie wears at her throat, an aspect of her shop that is very important to her, and her violin. I didn’t expect to see the violin on the cover, as I said in the post where I revealed the cover of my book, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, so I was delighted to see it used.


Following the sections, I was invited to submit any photos of the characters or setting that would help my design team. I sent the historic photos of Miles, Ellie, Miles’s mother, and Ellie’s daughter that I’d used as the models for those characters.

I’d purchased reprints of two photos of El Dorado taken around the year my story takes place from our local museum and got permission to send them to my publisher.

• • •

Do you work from photographs when you create your characters, or do you locate pictures of your characters to match the images in your mind after you’ve written the story?

Were you surprised by any of the elements requested in an Art Fact Sheet?


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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25 Responses to Great Covers Begin with Art Fact Sheets

  1. Keli, It’s fun to hear about this part of the process. One surprise for me was the summary. Did you give the same one you had already submitted to the publisher to the cover questionnaire or was it a different one?

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Thanks for your comment and your question, Stacy.

      I included the summary I’d prepared for the proposal. It read like back cover copy. The Barbour Design Team took what I’d written and jazzed it up when they created the marketing copy. In my post this coming Wednesday, I’ll be talking about that part of the process.

  2. Oh that is so cool how much you are asked. I like the idea of sending photos. I think about my covers a lot–I’m visual like that. This is going to be a wild ride. 😉

    So glad you are passing along such goodies.
    ~ Wendy

  3. I think it’s super interesting to see how different publishers handle cover art. At Waterbrook, we fill out a nine-page author questionnaire for each book, but it’s not strictly cover-related. There are some questions about what we hope to see or how we imagine the cover, but there’s a bunch of other non-cover related questions.

  4. I create my characters in my mind, but locating photographs sounds like a great idea, too. In one of my novels, the MC’s house is an integral part of the story. I actually did find a snapshot of how I envisioned it initially–at a home improvement store in the paint aisle, no less. Since I’m a very visual person, I like the idea of using photos for inspiration and adding our own personal touches to make our characters and settings come alive.

    Thanks for sharing your process with us, Keli! It’s all so exciting!

  5. I love these details! So fun to hear about this, since I was curious about how covers were created and what “input” an author has.

    I just recently looked for pictures for my characters. For some reason, when I found them, I felt like I knew my characters even more. I’m a visual person, so that’s probably why. 🙂

  6. You are so full of great information. Thanks for always sharing.

  7. Melissa Tagg says:

    I love how well your cover matches the information you gave the publisher. I have photos in my head for my characters…helps me when I’m describing them…but I hadn’t thought of having other photos – setting, symbols, etc. That would be a great help. (And, hmm, maybe that’s why I shouldn’t be dragging my feet on Pinterest.)

  8. Donna Pyle says:

    Keli, I didn’t know this part of the process even existed. How very fascinating to learn! It’s sounds like a very involved process, which I’m grateful to know since the cover is the reader’s first glimpse into the story itself. Thanks so much for this very educational post!

  9. I love filling out cover art sheets. It’s like making a list for Santa, then waiting with anticipation for the first glimpse of your ‘cover art gift.’

  10. Linda Gartz says:

    All good info to keep in mind as we write. We can start creating these “fact sheets” as we go along, so ahead of the curve.

  11. Interesting. I create the characters in my mind first, then try to find a celebrity or layperson who looks like them. My publisher got a detailed list from me, lol. I didn’t realize it was unnecessary to include secondary characters. I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything 🙂

  12. It took me a long time to fill in the details my editor requested. They all made sense, but sometimes it is difficult to be that specific. My hero is always easy for me to describe – he rarely changes from the hero I take his personality traits from. 😉 The heroine is more difficult to see in my mind’s eye, but I find if I don’t have a clear view her personality doesn’t come through either.

  13. very cool glimpse into what goes into the making of a cover. thanks for sharing, keli!

    i love erica’s comment about waiting for santa….i’m sure that’s very much how it feels.

    • This was an eye-opener, Keli. So many writers complain about their covers, one would think their art department never bothered to find out what the books were about. Glad to know first hand, that at least some of them try. I don’t work with actually photos for my settings because they are mostly modern day NYC. I imagine some of the faces of characters, but they are basically a figment of my imagination. With the exception of the angel in one story … he reminds me of Jeff Bridges. I try not to base the look of anyone I already know and sometimes don’t give too much graphic desc. in my books.

      This is yet another day, I had to tag on. WP solved the problem with one blog. I am waiting for them to take care of this one. Thanks for another great post 🙂

  14. Brianna Soloski says:

    This is so interesting. I wish July would hurry up so I could read your book.

  15. Loree Huebner says:

    Keli, thanks for sharing this part of the process – so interesting.

    I do create my characters in my mind and work from there.

  16. Susan Mason says:

    Wow, you put a lot of effort into it, Keli! I never used to do pictures before, but now I’ve started doing mini-story boards for each book and it makes a huge difference. I love having it in front of me as I type away!

  17. I have begun looking for my “models.” I have a rough idea of what my characters look like, but I want to find “real” people who I can study and describe. My setting is a real place and I have many, many photographs of it – that part has been easy.

    Thank you for sharing this process with us! It’s fun to imagine and dream about what is to come.

  18. Very interesting, Keli. Thanks for the sneak peek into the process. 🙂

  19. This was so neat! I love reading about the process of other writers. It makes me feel a little more confident for when it’s my time! 🙂 I have an image in my head of the characters, but I find photos that nail that character down. Sometimes, I have a hard time finding a male character that fits perfectly.

  20. Marji Laine says:

    Wow, this is so in depth. I had no idea the design team would be so detailed. That’s so cool! Thanks for sharing about this process.

  21. Fascinating info, Keli! I’ve always wondered what kind of questions were asked on the art fact sheet. 🙂 Thanks for the insight. I’m the type of writer who mentally shapes an image of a character, and then goes on a scavenger hunt to find headshots that are similiar. One of these days, I may try to find the photos first to see if that helps me in my descriptions. 🙂

  22. Cindy R. Wilson says:

    Oooh, this is cool! I always wondered about this process, and I’m kind of glad it’s so detailed. Thanks for sharing with us, Keli!

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