A Conversation With: Jeanine Henning

Jeanine Henning, Nhakira, trilogy, fantasy, book design, book cover, artist, illustration, bookstagram, writer

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I’ve got to say a well-designed book cover plays a big factor in drawing readers! I can’t count the number of times I’ve picked up a book because of its beautiful cover. Well, in this, Jeanine Henning has an ace up her sleeve. Not only is she a writer, she’s also a hugely talented artist who specialises in book design and illustration. So it’s no wonder her fantasy trilogy, Nhakira, boasts such gorgeous covers. Check out the beauty of the box set!

I’ve always been fascinated by the book design process, so I was psyched to be able to host a conversation with Jeanine where we chatted about her job as an artist and book cover designer, her favourite creativity tools as well as the Nhakira trilogy and why she chose to go to the self-publishing route over traditional publishing. Her enthusiasm and passion for all things creative really shines through her answers. I won’t say much more, but let her words speak for themselves!

Tell us about Nhakira, your fantasy trilogy! The covers looks absolutely beautiful!

My trilogy features a heroic female lead (proud to say) written for the modern reader. The main plot centers around the battle between good and evil, when incredible power is accidentally bestowed upon my character, a rebellious eighteen year old slave, who has to embark on a dangerous journey with the purpose of saving the world (against her will!).

Though there are impressive magic battles, dark villains and superhero-like abilities galore, what truly makes this trilogy special is the core of my series; when you strip away the fantasy, it’s the tale of a disadvantaged orphan who rises from slavery and is forced to make life choices to ultimately face the tyranny that led to her world’s demise. She eventually has to battle her own demons in order to not just survive, but save others as well – and how Nhakira does it is where the exceptional and motivational aspect of the story is found.

What made you decide to go the self-publishing route with Nhakira?

I can honestly say: to keep the ‘essence’ of Nhakira as true as possible. There is an honesty in this character and the trilogy, and even though I did ‘qualify’ to present the manuscripts to agents, I didn’t. In the traditional publishing process, books are chopped and edited – and I just couldn’t do it this trilogy. There are personal teachings and hard lessons I wrote into Nhakira, that is intricately part of the ‘magic’ found in her story.

Lots of writers are interested in self-publishing but don’t know where to start. What advice would you give them?

Well after they’ve written a book, I’d advise them to really, really, really do a lot of research! (and there is a LOT available online). Be sure who you’re writing for i.e. your target market and the genre. Then also, prepare yourself for a LOT of self-promotional work.

Self-publishing has grown from the so-called ‘vanity press’ to a professional platform in a few short years. But that also means the books being published need to be produced with professionalism in order to stand a chance commercially. Some authors do a lot of research online and they manage to create their books perfectly well; however, I always suggest a new author should work with one or all three of the following in their book’s creation process:

  • Editor
  • Cover designer
  • Book formatter

These professionals (and please be sure they are professional) will normally educate and ‘lead’ their clients through the process. So it’s a learning curve as well as creating a professionally polished book.

The other tip would be – understand Amazon. There are multiple articles available that cleverly explain how the Amazon Search Machine works, so it is imperative for an author to understand the Distributor through which they will be Publishing. And I use capital letters because an author becomes a Publisher, and they need to carry that title with swag 😉

Nhakira, Sal's Journal, book illustration, artist, writer, Jeanine Henning, self publishing

You’re a book cover designer and a writer. Which came first, writing or book designing?

I can honestly say both. I’ve always been drawing and writing stories since I was little. And when I was a Lead Creative Designer (many years ago) at a game design studio, my skills for writing flowing parallel to design were honed, because one has to construct whole worlds and their inhabitants while creating the art concepts. So I can honestly say writing and designing goes hand in hand for me.

I’m always intrigued by the design process of a book cover. Could you tell us a little more about this?

That’s tricky! Purely because my process and approach is quite different and artistic. But I do have a streamlined questionnaire in which I manage to ‘pick the author’s brain’. It is vitally important for me to understand the author’s ‘vision’ for their book, and once I do, the creative process just takes over and is unique for every author. However, I do digital design covers as well as illustrated covers, so those two have very different conceptual approaches. But the main important starting block is the author’s vision and the essence of the story. If you congruently line up the vision with story with cover – you get the art piece that calls to readers.

You’re also the artist for the graphic novel Scarlett’s Curse! What was it like collaborating with a writer to create a graphic novel series?

It was amazing. One can honestly call it a ‘rush’. I think when the right artist and writer pair up, magic happens. And that character becomes like your ‘child’ in a way. It even hurts a little when the character has to go through bad things! And even now, when I work with authors on their kids’ books for interior and exterior illustrations, I still get the same rush, because we use ‘words’ to create then physically manifest a character on paper. It’s an amazing process.

Tamor, Sal's Journal, Nhakira, book illustration, writer, Jeanine Henning

What are some of your favorite design and writing tools? 

Design tools: good old pencil to page. No tablets and no computers. I want to create that character with my hand and see it come to life the old fashioned way. For digital design – Photoshop all the way 😉

Writing tools: my moleskines and pen, haha! Also old fashioned. Every written piece starts off as a whole bunch of scribbles in my moleskine or any note pad for that matter, before I start writing on my MacBook (which would be my second favourite writing tool).

What’s a regular day like for you?

Get up early. Probably work out. Coffee. Maybe two cups. Then I work until lunch time. More coffee. And depending on my schedule I often end up working until after 11pm. But weekends are relaxation and hiking time, so it is all balanced.

What are you currently reading right now?

Believe it or not, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators.

Finally, what’s next for the future?

I love what I do, i.e. book cover design and illustration, so that is definitely long term. I’m working on two new books currently, one of which is finished and in editing. And I’m also looking at starting a branding company as I feel there’s a need for branding and design to come back to ‘passion’ again. Everything has become celluloid and ‘cold’ in my opinion. I would also love to do more workshops for kids into art as to educate them on illustration and design – and – becoming free thinking creatives bound by no rules but their own vision ethic 😉



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