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Survival of the Fittest

[Edit: The first cover I had here was sent to me in error; the better cover is below.  Comments are pretty much the same.]

The authors say:

A book for business owners or managers which presents an unusual approach to the dog-eat-dog mentality. One chapter is how to avoid creating zombie employees, another that the leadership structure shouldn’t be top down but more like the flexibility of an amoeba. We hope the cover suggests a different and better approach to making a profit and developing people.

 

SurvivalCoverdraftV3

SurvivalCoverdraftV3

Nathan says:

I always like to start my critique by commenting on what’s already there, but… there isn’t much there.  This is the kind of cover you might use for a captive audience — a textbook, maybe, for a class taught by the authors — but it’s definitely not a marketing instrument, which is what a commercial cover should be.

You use plenty of interesting metaphors and references in your title, subtitle and description: “survival of the fittest,” “Darwinian,” “dog-eat-dog,” “zombie,” “amoeba.”  I don’t know how light or colloquial the actual text is, but if it matches the images those words put into my head, then you could definitely have fun with this. Have a T-Rex wearing a conservative tie and holding an iPad! Zombies around the water cooler! An amoeba with black-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector!  Yes, this is custom art we’re talking about, but given that it lends itself well to cartoonish line drawings, I think you could wave a couple hundred dollars in front of a webcartoonist like Carter Reid or David Malki and get something that just oozes with awesome.

If, on the other hand, you’ve got a more serious book behind this cover — punctuated by some interesting metaphors, but not as lighthearted as I assumed above — then you could still bring those metaphors to the cover.  A solid, dependable font like Trajan, surrounding a posterized silhouette of a T-Rex, would still give enough of an eye-catching appeal while not misleading readers on the tone of the book inside.

(Why a T-Rex, and not just better versions of the fish you have? Well, which do you think is more attention-grabbing? I thought so.)

What do other people think?

 

Patchwork Brothers: Bandits in Burlap

The author says:

This is a super early draft cover, but I’m drawing a complete blank. It’s for a kids chapter book about a mysterious quilt that takes a pair of brothers back to the wild west. They have to face off with outlaws and skeptical lawmen to find a way back home. I’m drawing a blank at balancing the handmade “quilty” elements with the rough and tumble nature of the two protagonists. I ended up with a fantastic cover from last book’s critique so bring it on, I can take it.

Patchwork Roughest Draft.JPG

Patchwork Roughest Draft.JPG

 

Nathan says:

Yowch. I’m glad you said you can take it, because you’re gonna get it with this one. But at least you admit that you’re drawing a blank.

I think you need to go to the bookstore or library and take a good look at the popular chapter books.  Here are the things I see as being common elements:

  • Colorful artwork with semi-cartoony exaggeration.
  • Characters that young readers can instantly identify as relatable protagonists.
  • Type that’s bold and sometimes fancy, but always readable for people who haven’t mastered (and may never HAVE to master) cursive script.

Now, what I’m about to suggest may be beyond your skillset, but you do what’s necessary to market the book:

If you want to keep the quilt motif, let it be the WHOLE cover. Make the individual quilt squares big enough that you can show the protagonists themselves in the squares in a scene from the book, or at least a situation indicative of the story (maybe have two or three squares which are all part of the same image, even though they’re separated).  Render the quilt in deep enough colors that you can use bordered light type for the title and byline and have it stand out.

Marketing to young readers is a specialized skill, in your target audience isn’t going to “get” subtleties of typeface, color scheme, etc., which designers for adult books can often rely on in place of a full illustration.  You very well might need to partner with a professional illustrator to get it how you want it.  (I actually know someone with reasonable rates who might just be the person for you — let me know if you’re interested.)

Other insights?

The Queen’s Viper

The author says:

Hatred prowls the streets of London, and her name is Viper. Ancient and wicked, Viper feeds on human aeir, the magical energy that connects people to everything. She discovered the unique power of Princess Elizabeth’s aeir by accident. Viper put Elizabeth on the English throne to sustain herself and find her past. When Viper uncovered her kin, she discovered an enemy with enough power to trap her for 400 years. In 2012, something releases her from her bonds. Aided by her Foundling, Mouse, and a group of humans selected by him, Viper seeks revenge on her foe and the descendants of those who imprisoned her…starting with Queen Elizabeth II. Lesley Donaldson’s re-imagines Celtic mythology into an urban fantasy unlike any fairy tale you’ve read before.

Queen's Viper first draft cover

Queen's Viper first draft cover

Nathan says:

I like the file name of the image you sent me: “Queen’s Viper first draft cover.jpg.”  First drafts are great for throwing ideas out and seeing how they stick.

My first observation is that the art is a little shaky — not terrible, but definitely less than confident. (I’m speaking here from experience — I can turn out a sketch that looks great, but when I go back to finish the details, I get stuck on the nostrils and the lips and having the two eyes match, all the same trouble areas I see here.)  Unfortunately, the white space around it means that the face has to carry the entire cover, and it’s just not up to it.

White space is its own problem.  A lot of books, especially “grimdark” fantasy novels, have put it to good use recently, but it does bring its own particular problems. You’ll notice that most of the books using a white background (a) have high-contrast, almost chiaroscuro artwork, and (a) use asymmetrical layout to keep it visually interesting. Unfortunately, yours does neither — the white space comes across as simply unused, rather than an intentional part of the design.

My suggestion, if you’re going to stick with the same artwork (even if it’s refined): Put the face to one side, making it less symmetrical, and let the type carry more of the weight of communication: make it not only bigger, but more evocative.

Other ideas?

Check out Corp-ID-Theory

cropped-wordpress-masthead4[1]
While you’re waiting for the next critiquable cover to show up here, you could check out Corp-ID-Theory, a cool new blog by Michael Shumate. why yes, we are related; in fact, he’s my father.  And whereas I’m a largely self-taught designer who proceeds by gut feeling and tries to justify it afterward, Dad is an honest-to-goodness retired professor of graphic design.  His new blog is all about branding design, and if you think that’s a field unrelated to book cover design, you definitely need his blog.

We Can’t Rewind [resubmit]

The author says:

The newlywed Don and Denise Richards get their minds swapped with those of his son Jackie and her daughter Jaymee respectively while their Caribbean honeymoon cruise is lost in the Bermuda Triangle. No matter what they try, they can’t seem to find a way to swap back! Now what will they do? “We Can’t Rewind” is the latest prospective title for this paranormal romance. (Before you ask, yes, that’s from the lyrics of “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles, though it has only the most tenuous association with this story.) The prospects of coming to an agreement with traditional publishers so far are looking rather poor, so it seems I will have to design and publish the whole book myself; I still plan to get a professional artist to redraw the final cover, however.

We Can't Rewind Scratch

We Can't Rewind Scratch

[previous submissions and comments here and here]

Nathan says:

The cover is definitely evolving. Much clearer, brighter, easier to process.

That said, it’s still not sitting right with me somehow. It’s a (very strange) love story, but I don’t get that from the cover. I’m guessing from the description that there’s a certain amount of wacky comedy a la Freaky Friday, but I also don’t see that in the cover.

You said that, as independent publishing is looking more likely, you “plan to get a professional artist to redraw the final cover.”  May I suggest that a professional graphic artist or designer is worth more than his ability to draw what you tell him?  You seem very attached to using certain elements to market your story, but maybe you should have a graphic professional read the first few chapters and tell you how he would market your story.  You might be surprised (pleasantly).

Other comments?

Breakers of the Code [resubmit]

The author says:

Hello everyone! I made some changes to my cover in an attempt to kick it up a few notches. The idea of using a more obvious monster, and more obvious… implements helped and I like it more now! There are a few specific notes from the last version that I am addressing up here. 1) I tried the different colour backgrounds, and while they did work and look nice, the main character’s accent colour is green, so it didn’t feel right to have it someone else’s colour! (I did gay it up with a rainbow though.) 2) I am not sure if I am sold on the phallic arrow as opposed to the bum arrow. Everything I tried looked a bit too… spot on. I have included it on this version to see what others think. Otherwise thank you everyone for the comments! – ♥ CB

Breakers of the code - Cover v2

Breakers of the code - Cover v2

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

Boy, that butt just pops now, doesn’t it?

I honestly wouldn’t notice the phallicness (phallicity? phallusy? whatever) of the arrowhead, but the lower viney protuberance jumped out at me… so much so that I’m wondering if Amazon is gonna let it by.

I don’t know. I think that I’m not the best commenter on this one, as I’m really not the target buying audience.  I’ll just say this: My favorite humorous-erotic cover (and it’s even fantasy!) is one that I saw on Joe Konrath’s blog a couple of years ago. Here it is. (What, you think I’m gonna display it here?)

Otherwise, I’ll let everyone else weigh in on this one.

The Book of the Not-Dead-Enough

The author says:

With a fresh round of spending cuts in the Afterlife and immigration services stretched to breaking point, mistakes are inevitable. Admin errors, but from the Other Side. The Book of the Not-Dead-Enough is a collection of contemporary short shorts and flash fictions about the people who have died but been returned to their bodies. And don’t drop the Z-bomb; they hate that. These stories are their continued attempts to keep calm and carry on in a world that has seen too many George Romero films. Some of them are silly, some of them are topical or satirical. Loitering somewhere between Dickens, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, this collection isn’t wholly flippant nor wholly serious, but tickles at the join between. [This is a second draft cover, and obviously needs to lose the Shutterstock stuff]

NDE Cover 5a - Xcrop

NDE Cover 5a - Xcrop

Nathan says:

A clever idea, and clever imagery.  I think a few tweaks will yield huge dividends, design-wise.

I’m okay with the typeface used, but I think you need to use it more dynamically; making “of the” smaller than the rest of the title is the first thing I thought of.  (You might even try shrinking the initial “The” to the same size and putting it on its own line; I don’t guarantee the results, though.)

I also think letting the title occupy more of the cover is a good idea.  Obviously, you’re hampered by “Not-Dead-Enough,” which needs to be on a single line, but I still think that the title needs to take up more real estate.  Nothing in the imagery will be hampered if it’s slid further down the cover.

The “for rent” sign really sticks out as being cut-and-pasted due to its angle; if you can find a replacement image, you ought to use it, and maybe have it canted as it sticks out of the grave. (Same thing with the “Gone Fishing” sign — those things never hang straight, even for the living.)

This looks like a really clever project; I’m actually pretty interested in reading this.

Other comments?

Breakers of the Code

The author says:

A virtual world perverted. An ancient threat looming. A spunky elf pantsless. Industry giant Tornado Tech Games has just released their latest masterpiece, the massively multi-player online role playing game Annals of Gentalia and Anders, the honest elf Night Ranger is pumped to explore its most secret depths. But things are not always how they seem in the virtual world and when the elf accidently breaks into the hidden code of the game, his play experience is forever altered. Adapting to a game world where the once normal monsters have become charged with sexual energy, Anders sets off on an epic journey to save his own ass. As the world quickly plummets into chaos around him, a vital question lingers over the world. What kind of avatar would willingly release a horde of sex crazed monsters into the world? More importantly to Anders though is his own personal question, when am I finally going to find some new pants? Title: Breakers of the Code Genre: Elfrotica (A mix of fantasy & gay sexyness that does not take itself seriously) This is one on my cover ideas for this book. It is at a publisher right now and I am waiting to hear if it will be published by them, but I still am working on ideas for the cover anyways. I am not sold on the ‘Book one’ part. It may not be needed. This cover does contain one element that must be on any final cover though. A key plot point: Elfbutt.

Breakers of the code - Cover

Breakers of the code - Cover

 

Nathan says:

It’s a technically good cover, but it just looks like a straight (in at least two senses) YA fantasy. It’s missing two elements that need to be there in much greater quantities according to the description:

  1. Funny!
  2. Sexy!

I mean, come on — “Elfrotica”?  This is way too reserved for that! Accentuate that elfbutt — I should be able to see the buttcrack in the thumbnail! Go all out with the exaggerated fantasy font! Make the monster a lot more obvious and cheesy!  Turn it up to 11!

(Unless everyone else says I’m wrong, of course.)

Serpentine

The author says:

Basically, high school junior Xen Aspen (still working on that name) is a mutant. At least he thinks he’s some sort of freak, that is. He is immune to snake bites and has an illegal part time job hunting venomous ones for rich people. One day, though, he learns that he belongs to a group of hybrids from a failed mutation experiment a hundred years ago (This is the book cover I designed for my book and I’m such a noob so I need your help and advice. Thanks).

WITH NAME - Serpentine

WITH NAME - Serpentine

Nathan says:

One thing you need to keep in mind is that, even though there’s no utilitarian reason for ebook covers to be any particular shape, they still ought to strike prospective readers as “book-shaped.”  The first impression of yours is that it’s an album cover.

I like the serpent eyes in a (more) human face, but I warn you that the floating disembodied eyes are such a design cliche that they’ve lost effectiveness.  I think you would get a lot more mileage out of the cover if you put an entire face/head on the cover with reptilian eyes.  (The fact that the image you use for the snake eyes is far lower resolution that its needs to be isn’t helping.)

I think the font you use for the title is marginally okay, but leaving it hollow decreases readability.  Make it either solid, or a texture tight enough that it looks solid in thumbnail.

The byline font, on the other hand, doesn’t have much going for it: It’s hard to read at any size, and it gives a medieval flavor to the cover which doesn’t match the description you gave for the book.

Anyone else?

Capitol Kidnap

The author says:

Paranormal mystery. Geared towards readers of Kim Harrison. It’s set in modern day Sacramento, CA. Naomi’s living a normal life and trying to keep being a werewolf secret, when her brother’s kidnapped. His kidnappers threaten to kill him and reveal he’s a werewolf to the world.

Cover-Medium

Cover-Medium

 

Nathan says:

I’m going to assume this is the “sketch” version and not hammer you on mechanics like the bad “magic wand” cut-and-paste edges around each of the elements. Let’s look at the big picture.

First: The font has to go.  There’s nothing evocative about it.  I would recommend you use a maximum of two fonts — one for the title and byline, the other for the series title.

Second:  Give that your name is not a household name, I think you should reserve the place of prominence for the title and put the byline at the bottom.  Or maybe put all three at the top, and shift all of the images down, getting rid of that black block at the bottom that screams “I couldn’t think of how to fill this space!”

On to the images themselves:

I understand what you’re trying to do, but it seems like the image elements are working against each other instead of with each other  — the silhouette vs. the bridge vs. the moon vs. the pawprints. Silhouettes, in particular, work a lot less frequently than they’re used.  I think you need to decide: Which will be the focal element of the cover?  (It doesn’t necessarily have to be dead center, as long as it’s very clearly the main point of the cover.) Then work with the other elements to have them help and add to that main element — and feel free to toss the elements (whether you replace them or not) that don’t play well with others.

More suggestions?

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