The Cover Evolution of a Scottish Romance Novel

This week’s blog post is a little bit of a peek inside the process of creating the cover for my upcoming book release, A Promise to Be Kept. I thought it might be interesting to see the considerations, trials, and tribulations, as well as the long, long hours that I poured into it.

So first thing’s first. Yes, I could have hired a professional. And looking back at the sheer amount of hours that I sunk into this cover, perhaps paying someone would have resulted in a smarter cost/benefit ratio.

But I’m fortunate enough to have experience in my previous life with most skills that are used in cover design – photo editing and manipulation, typography, layout, vector design etc. So I thought, why not? Plus, I have been itching to dive into Affinity Publisher and get a deeper understanding of the Affinity suite of products as a whole. I’m the type of person that learns a lot better through practical application rather than just tutorials and help guides, so everything made sense to give it a go.

Enthusiastic? Sure.
Foolhardy? Quite possibly.
Overconfident? Without a doubt.

I definitely had a few concerns, though. Firstly, an overwhelming amount of romance covers are dominated by half naked men in various poses. My genre, Scottish Historical Romance, is a prime example – men in kilts and not much else, all day long.

The problem is, I didn’t (and still don’t) really know where to source these images. I could use paid and free stock photography websites, but there’s only so many buffed men available, and I’d hate to be using the same images that are found on other covers. Could you imagine if one of my dear readers recognised those abs from another cover? I’d die from shame.

I could bite the bullet and pay for a model shoot specifically for my cover, but that’s a huge outlay of cost for a first novel. I’d love to be in a position to explore this option in the future, but for now it’s just not feasible.

My ultimate solution was to place emphasis on the woman, rather than the man. I love the idea of my cover showing the proud and strong female character front and centre, with the added bonus of having far more stock photography available that would be appropriate.

And yes, I’m very aware that this could end up having a huge negative impact on my book – maybe people really need the hunky man.

The Evolution of A Promise to Be Kept

Iteration 1


So now, on to the covers. My first design was an exploration of the idea mentioned above – the female at the centre of the cover (click on any cover to view it in higher resolution):



Apart from that, it actually lacked a bunch of stuff that I later realised I needed. For instance, Scottish romance almost always has tartan on it, to differentiate at a glance from historical or other types of romance.

In some respects, I look at certain elements of this first iteration and think it’s not too bad. But whether it’s considered a ‘good’ cover or not is actually irrelevant, because it isn’t a good Scottish romance cover.

You’ll also notice a few other things – the title was simply ‘A Promise Kept’ back then, and the series was ‘Tartan Desires’.

Iteration 2


The second iteration swaps out the image at the bottom with something that I felt was more reflective of the setting, being the stark Highland moors, and I brought in a tartan element, through a nice image that I found of a tartan fabric twisted into a rose pattern:



Except I could never figure out how to integrate the rose nicely. Even now I look at it and cringe; it wasn’t elegant, or fancy, or effective as an indicator of Scottish romance. It was just kind of slapped on.

The series also evolved to be ‘Tartan Dreams.’

Iteration 3


The cover was taking up a lot of space in my mind already, and to be frank, I wasn’t happy with it. It didn’t scream ‘Scottish romance’, and felt too contemporary. I went back to the drawing board, looked at a lot of other covers, spent a lot of time in a state somewhere between despair and panic, and threw everything away to start afresh.

I had this sudden inspiration to make it a more stylised cover, using vectors rather than photography, employing the use of things like negative space as a design elements. I didn’t really know what I wanted in my mind, so I just started throwing things together.

I bought stock images and traced them in Affinity Designer to get vector shapes of characters, then played around until I had about 5 variations of design, colour and tartan usage. Here’s two examples to give you an idea:



I also found a more appropriate font that matched the flowery script found in other historical romance novels, and revised the series name for the final time: ‘Legacy of the Laird’. As a descriptor it was far more appropriate, since the main central theme that will run between all books is the legacy left behind by the tyrannical old Laird, and how it affects the various characters in different ways.

Despite my efforts, this iteration never really progressed to a point where I was happy with it, and ultimately, I decided it was just too different from what readers expect from a Scottish romance.

Iteration 4


Enter the fourth, and final, iteration.

Back to the drawing board, again, until I had a flash of inspiration to use a combination of the previous covers. Why not the woman front and centre, but still retain the stylised silhouette of the man?

I threw a quick example together and felt straight away that this had potential, and after no less than 10 revisions, I was left with what would be the final cover:



And here’s a bunch of notes / thought dumps as to some of the decisions I made:


  • The title changed to ‘A Promise to Be Kept’. This was quite a late title change (the book had already been submitted to beta readers, so it was somewhat ‘in the wild’), but it was my own fault – I forgot to check the title right at the start of the process, and to my horror I found no less than 5 other romance novels with the same title, some very recently published. What a rookie move


  • I decided to implement a watercolour style effect for the woman’s face. I did this for a few reasons – first, I love the effect, and think it fits in well with a historical romance. It also gives me greater freedom to find the right stock photography – for instance, the model I used wasn’t actually the main subject of her photo, but a secondary subject further into the background, and not available in a high resolution. There was really something about her that caught my eye though, so by applying the watercolour effect I could disguise the fact that her image wasn’t the best quality.


  • I played with all sorts of effects for the male silhouette but in the end, decided simple was best, and gave me the most readability in thumbnail size (where most viewers will see the cover when they browse Amazon). I did apply a subtle brush stroke effect around him, though, in a nod to the style used for the woman’s face.


  • The overall colour scheme was selected using Coolers.co – an amazingly cool website where you can generate complementary colour schemes.


  • I love the Affinity suite of products. Relaxing on the couch, tracing vectors on my iPad, and then laying it all out on the big monitor is such a cool process. I can’t wait for Affinity Publisher to also be made available on iPad – conceivably, once that happens I could design the whole cover while lying in bed. How cool is that?


  • Although, my 2017 MacBook Pro was starting to struggle in Publisher with the full paperback dimensions and the ridiculous amount of layers and effects I was using. Perhaps an M1 Mac could be a necessary business expense…



The final task was to adapt the title for paperback. When I first started the design, I didn’t even consider the fact that I might release in physical form, so the page setup and dimensions were all catering to the e-book requirements.

After a bit of faffing about with the Amazon templates they provide for correct layout, I had the canvas expanded and ready to go. From there it was a pretty simple process of repeating a few elements, adding the finalised blurb and spine text, and then presto – a completed paperback design:




It hasn’t escaped my attention that I spent a long time on it. For weeks on end, I put my children to bed and then returned to the computer to work for hours and hours every night, with a large part of that simply banging my head in frustration.

Despite that, I’m very happy with how it turned out. But there’s a nagging voice in my head that keeps asking – “are you happy because it’s actually good, or are you actually just feeling the relief of it being done?” Because my happiness alone doesn’t tell me if it’s a decent cover or not, particularly in the context of the Scottish romance genre. It might be missing the mark altogether, and I’ll have to give up and pay a cover designer to slap a shirtless man over the top.



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