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First Mystery of the Time Vandal

The author says:

Dr. Elijah Snow wanted to record history, not become a part of it. But after stealing the T714 time-displacement craft from his US Air Force benefactors, he quickly found out that witnessing an event without participating in it was easier than it sounded. Accompanied by his quirky A.I ‘Fuzzy’, Dr. Snow sets out to document many of the major historical occurrences which had always intrigued him. From the Mongol Invasion to the crowning of the Danish king Harald Bluetooth, Elijah does his best to record without getting involved. But invariably he ends up becoming embroiled, time and time again, in these events, never failing to leave his footprint on the pages of history.

coverforweb

coverforweb

Nathan says:

I sometimes have “opposite” days where I think I have a good design concept, and yet everything I do to make it better instead makes it worse, until the only thing left for me to do is scrap it.  This cover reminds me of my output on those days: there may have been a good starting point (“good” meaning “something that caught your imagination”), but a succession of decisions that didn’t seem bad at the time bury it.

From your description, I’m envisioning a novel of obviously wide scope, colorful adventure, and more than a little humor. Unfortunately, I don’t get any of that from your cover.  The only indication of adventure or thrills is the silhouette of the running man, and he’s not central enough to draw the eye, nor specific enough to convey anything.  After reading your description, I can recognize the clock face as meant to convey the time travel element, but clock faces are also used to convey “ticking clock” tension in contemporary thrillers.  The buildings, likewise, are modern, as is the stolid typeface; there’s absolutely nothing here to clue the reader in on the genre, tone, or scope of the novel.

And the color scheme… waaay to murky to draw the eye.

This is a link to the current bestsellers in the Time Travel subgenre on Amazon. (You can refine the sub-subgenre further to Horror,  Humor,  Mystery,  Non-Romantic,  Romantic,  Thriller — and the fact that they have “Non-Romantic” as a specific sub-subgenre fills me with despair for my species.)  Ignore the covers from books by Stephen King and Douglas Adams, since the most important element of those covers is the author’s name.  The rest? These are your comrades, and your competition.  This is how readers of time travel novels expect their novels to look; this is what they look for.  Could your cover attract the positive attention of someone who just read one of these books and wants more?

My advice, cruel as it may seem, is to scrap what you’ve got and start over.  Start with a color scheme, or maybe with a font — those are the things a reader will see first, and they have to be interesting enough that they’ll take a second look.  Build from there.

If that’s beyond your skill set, seeking help from a reasonably-priced professional is your best bet.

Anything feel differently?

Still Life

The author says:

A short story about the end of the world, told through the eyes of an eleven year old little girl, hiding inside her parents pet shop.

stillife-cc

stillife-cc

Nathan says:

It never pays to spend an inordinate amount of time or money on a short-story cover, so if any suggestions here seem extravagant to a modest budget, cut back where necessary.

That said, it’s a great cover, but I’m not so sure it works for the story you describe, for one reason: the eye. I think that if the viewpoint character is a little girl, then the eye central on the cover should be that of a little girl.

Other than that, I’ve got the minor tweaks that are one designer’s preference over another, but they don’t impact the design in any major way. Anyone else got a major issue?

Gabby

The author says:

When Bo, a grieving widower, meets Gabby, he’s struck by her beauty, grace and laughter that wash over him like the sweetest song in heaven. Gabby is unlike any angel ever dreamed of—evil has no strength against her and the dark one and his minions are no match for this warrior of God.

What if You Knew Your True Love Was Meant for a Higher Calling?

Bo is a widower, trying to raise two kids by himself. His life is changed forever when he meets an angel in a black dress and a pair of killer stilettos. Little does Bo know at first that his new love, Gabby, doesn’t just look like she’s from heaven, she is God’s messenger. Gabby isn’t just a pretty face. She can also be an avenging angel, striking down anyone trying to block God’ plans. But, when the biggest obstacle to Gabby’s mission surfaces things get dangerous and complicated fast. As Bo and Gabby race forward on a crucial mission, Bo learns the healing power of love, but also becomes more attached to Gabby. She is everything he has always been looking for. Will Bo’s determination to get what he wants ruin not only his future, but also all of mankind’s? This story of peace, love, and hope will show every loss has a purpose and that no sorrow is forever.

Gabby Cover

 

Gabby Cover

Nathan says:

It’s a very pleasant image. That said, I’m getting more than a little bit of “suspense thriller” vibe from your description that I don’t see reflected in the cover.  Would a cover with more contrast help convey that?  Maybe not quite so broad a smile on her face? I dunno, because I can’t really tell how much of the appeal of the book comes from the suspenseful part.

The only technical issues I have are:

1) The selection edge on the top of her hair is too distinct; blurring that out will keep it from calling attention to itself.

2) The title looks fine at full size, but fades out for the thumbnail. That might solve itself if you use more contrast in the art behind it.

3) I have bad reactions whenever two different script fonts are used together.  In this case, I’d say to keep the ornate font for the title, and change the byline into something non-italic.

I have to admit, I’m not really the target audience for this kind of book, so I’ll have to supplicate other input even more than usual.

A change in policy regarding resubmits.

With the volume of first-time covers submitted currently, I want to decrease the number of resubmit posts to prevent a backlog.  Accordingly, a new policy: unless your resubmitted cover is a completely reworked and re-imagined cover, please post successive “tweaked” version of your cover in the comments to the original post.  I’ve edited the HTML hints below the comment box so that the image tag appears.  To repost your cover, please:

  1. Upload it somewhere on the web (your own website or blog, or a free host like postimage.org or imgur.com).

  2. Post it using the HTML tag like this:

    <img src="http://www.whereveryourimageislocated.com/yourbookcover.jpg">

Onward and upward!

The Eight Lives of Harvey Bradshaw

The author says:

Synopsis- Harvey El Bradshaw insists that his life is fragmented, defined by eight places, eight different times, eight, eight, eight. He feels like he is always becoming a new person as he grows older, almost like a snake consistently shedding its skin. To contrast the divided way he sees things, Harvey meets a small Spanish girl again and again over the years (her appearance almost always being a constant). Her name is Lucia Pérez. This book captures the life of Harvey and is split into eight main parts. Play on numerology to almost parody how much humans look for patterns in life. I am not the author, but I did design the cover. The genre is something like a combination of phycological journey/satire. The target audience would likely be young-mid adults (think 20s and 30s.) I tried to capture both genres through the cover, as well as make the “eight” very prominent. I worked off the idea of Harvey feeling like he was constanty becoming a different person, hence the faceless suit to represent a unknown identity (if that makes any sense). Thank you for your time and critique, I really appreciate it!

the eight lives of harvey bradshaw medium

the eight lives of harvey bradshaw medium

Nathan says:

I have absolutely no complaints about the general design. I think it’s distinctive, simple, intriguing, and appealing to the “intelligent lit” crowd.

My only advice would be on execution. The edges of the hat and suit (especially the hat) are hard enough that I can see exactly how and where you used the lasso tool.  That’s easily solved with a bit of feathering.

Also, I’m not thrilled with how you treated the byline.  At thumbnail size, it’s easy to be unaware of it completely; in full size, it still seems strangely shrunk and subdued.  I’d increase its size so that it stretches at least 80% of the width of the cover, and maybe add a blurred drop shadow to help it stand out more.  (I’m also not thrilled with “A. Fountain” as a byline either — it could easily be mistaken for a description of some sort. If this is your first novel and you don’t already have a following under that byline, I’d strongly suggest using a full name instead of a single initial so that your name looks more like a name.)

Other comments?

The Secret of Blackwood Manor

The author says:

When Mavis Grace inherits her aunt’s manor in the country, she thinks she’s received a chance to clear her family’s reputation. But her luck takes a turn for the worse when she discovers that the manor is haunted. Together with Alois Muscio, the mysterious village curate, Mavis must figure out how to banish the ghosts that walk the halls of Blackwood Manor. Between exorcism, dealing with her husband’s antics, and her budding interest in Reverend Muscio, Mavis’ life has never been stranger- and, when the light of the full moon strikes the Manor’s tower, things get much, much worse. The Secret of Blackwood Manor is a Gothic paranormal romance, aimed at, say, fans of Crimson Peak or Edgar Allen Poe. It’s set in an English manor and the countryside around it in the late 1800s.

blackwoodmanor

blackwoodmanor

Nathan says:

It’s a good thing I have a reputation for being brutally honest, or people might think I’m being particularly hard on this cover.

The brutally honest assessment of this cover is that it’s not very good; it’s got many more problems than good points.  Hopefully by pointing out the problems specifically, you’ll see better how to get your intent on the cover.

Problem #1: Type color. Red on shades of gray is hard to read and hard to see. Even in the larger version above, you can see how “Blackwood Manor” blurs into the images behind it; even though the colors are distinct, the contrast (the brightness/darkness) is too close.  Now imagine looking at it if you had only moderate color blindness, or if you’re browsing on a monochrome Kindle.  The problems are exacerbated in the thumbnail; not only is the print hard to read (which is not in itself a deal-killer), but the lack of contrast practically demands that your eye ignore it.

Problem #2: Type placement. Wedging both the title and the byline “out of the way” is a bad decision even in the best of cases — and by “best of cases,” I mean that the designer doesn’t want to cover up or interfere with the art.  That’s really not a consideration here (see below); there’s nothing that demands not to be obscured by type.  Instead the type seems like an afterthought instead of an integral part of the design.  (And the off-center placement of the byline seems pointless.)

Problem #3: The image.  I look at your description, and I see historical-paranormal-suspense-romance.  All that I can see of that from the cover is historical (because the images are old) and maybe romance, or maybe just pin-ups.  But there’s nothing there to entice me to read.  The straight grays — not even sepia tone — is dull and off-putting.  The images seem to have no relation to each other; no one component or image is central, either spatially or in terms of visual interest. Technically, the hard edges to image parts (like the headless man’s suit) and the inconsistent contrast in the various image parts make this, very distinctly, several images instead of one image.  And none of it seems to relate to the story: Is Mavis Grace a wasp-waisted dancing girl?  Is it so darned important to show a man in suit with a hat that he needs to intrude on the cover?  (If this were over on LBC, it would have earned the “photobombing” tag from the way that the headless man just seems to stumble into our field of vision.)

If I were you, here are the either/or options I would follow:

a) Start over, deciding on a color scheme and type layout first. Find a pattern — maybe Victorian wallpaper or wood paneling — and play with the contrast and color so that it conveys both age (yellowing works well for that) and suspense (high contrast, with shadows at the edge, is what I’d start with).  Let the type take up enough room that it has space to breathe — I’d probably let the title take up at least the top third.  Use drop shadows and/or subtle beveling to make the type “pop” from the background.  Then decide on a single central image to place on the background, in between the title and byline.  If it’s going to be that woman (or not — that particular picture might be appropriate if your heroine is a charming seductress, but not so much otherwise), then color her in such a way that she seems to be part of the cover, then do something distinctive to her.  I don’t know your story in depth, but find something either from the story events or the general theme that you can add. Maybe a blindfold.  Maybe a big chain instead of those drawstrings.  Maybe a birdcage over her head.  Whatever it is, remember that a cover’s first job is to entice the kind of reader who would enjoy the book, not to depict any single setting or event from the story.  Play with it all, until it looks good at first glance both at full size and in thumbnail.

or

b) Turn it over to a professional designer.  If your writing is good, it deserves to be represented by good design, and if your design skills aren’t up to snuff, you need to do what’s best for the book.

Other comments?

Deeds of Violence #1

The author says:

In an ancient medieval fantasy-esque world, Ahliss, a would-be hero travels in search for fame and fortune with a great sword of intimidating proportions at her side. The sword has a tendency of remaining bandaged up due to the smallest cut being an exercise in murder. It’s an epic fantasy serial covering the travels of a quasi-mythological hero, inspired a great deal by the shounen-genre in the way its lore is built. It would likely appeal to males 13+, but featuring a strong female protagonist as its principal character, I’d like to think female fans of epic fantasy 13+ will enjoy it as well.

Book Cover v3

 

Book Cover v3

 

Nathan says:

I think the first problem here (which is actually two separate problems) is the sword.

Problem #1a: I can figure out that we’re looking at a sword hilt, but my first impression is that it’s a… hammer? Casket on a pedestal?  You can see how it’s hard to make out.

Problem #1b:  There are a lot of fantasy books, mostly indie-published, that feature swords on their covers.  It’s much less impressive than most of them think. According to your description, the sword in this book is visually distinctive because it’s usually wrapped up; think of how much more compelling the cover would be with a sword (not just the hilt, but most of the sword) partially bandaged, with a gleaming edge showing through where it’s unraveling!  I doubt you could find a pre-existing stock image like that, true; but if, say, you contact someone who has posted stock photographs of swords on DeviantArt and asked how much to get a custom shot of a wrapped-up sword, I bet you’d be pleasantly surprised at the price.  (I’m not saying the wrapped-up sword is the only way to go; I’m just trying to work with the cover ideas you’ve already decided on.)

The second problem (or third, depending on how you’re counting) is itself a multi-part issue: The type.

Problem #2a: I think the outlined title is a bad decision.  Calligraphy already can present a hurdle to easy readability; the hollow outline only  makes it worse.

Problem #2b: The “#1″ seems more appropriate for a comic book or K-Mart flyer.  Fully spelling out “Book One” or “Episode One” or whatever seems more in keeping with the epic character.

Problem #2c: The spaceless all-caps byline.  As I’ve said before, the more unusual a name is, the more clearly readable it needs to be.  If your name were Bob Smith, you might get with “BOBSMITH” for the byline.  But with a name as long an uncommon as yours is, the byline is just a hopeless jumble.

Problem #2d: The layout of type around the central image.  If your cover art were custom-made and fascinating right down to the details, you might — might — be justified in squeezing the words out of the way so that art wouldn’t be obscured.  There’s no such justification here.  I’d say that your title here should be broken onto two lines, and all of it (including any “Book One” subtitle) could take up a full third of the cover at the top, and your byline — again, broken into two lines — should take up a quarter at the bottom.  You’d still have plenty of room for a simple but arresting central image (such as a bandaged sword) in between.

So there you are. Two problems, or maybe six.  Math is hard.

Other thoughts?

Time Winders [resubmit]

The author says:

A time travel adventure novel about a top Temporal-agent (female) forced to drag a hapless man through time. Much danger ensues. Written by her boss, the head of the Temporal Agency, Blog Glatnek.

TimeWindersEbook copy

TimeWindersEbook copy

 

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

Definite improvement!  You managed to be a lot more confident in your font use, while still maintaining the feel of the original (as opposed to my more “novelty”-style fonts in my mock-up). Here are a couple of things I would still look at:

1) I think there’s still a lot of wasted space at the bottom — I mean, it’s not like you need to make sure that the reader has an unobstructed view of her left sock, right?  I would tighten it up by cropping it a bit, making the top of that solid area behind the byline the bottom edge of the cover, and in compensation cropping a little from the left side.

2) While it’s good artwork, it tends to blur into a blue murk in thumbnail, or when glanced at (and remember, every book cover is first glanced at — it’s only after that first glance that a browser comes back for a second, longer look.) How can you make it “pop” more? I’d place with the contrast and/or the saturation — it doesn’t need to be garish, but a more dynamic contrast of light/dark or blue/red would make it more arresting.  Remember, your book cover’s first function is to work like a highway billboard, grabbing the attention of someone who could just as easily concentrate on something else. (Like the car in front of him.  Maybe you shouldn’t follow this comparison too far.)

3) The byline.  As you said in comments to the original submission,

I (Tanya Park, female) am the author. Blog (male) is the futuristic narrator of the book.

So where’s your name?  Because as it stands, there’s no reason for anyone to think anything except that Blog Glatnek is the honest-to-Elvis author.  This book will get filed under “G.”  If you’re trying to establish a pen name, that’s one thing; but if you’re instead trying to establish the identity of the narrator on the cover, I’d suggest something like:

From the Official Reports of

BLOG GLATNEK

Director General of the Temporal Agency
as told to

TANYA PARK

4) Commas. I’d take as many as possible out of your tagline (i.e., all of them). “A Long-Distance Time Travel Romance Novel.”  If you feel really naked without some more punctuation, you could hyphenate “time-travel.”

Anybody else?

Land of the Hoosier Dawn

The designer says:

This is the description I received from the author:

 

“An unforgiving fog from the nation’s most polluted river rolls over a small Indiana town one Friday night in October of 1993. For those who were caught in its path, a new day has dawned onto who, or what they have become. Their bodies have changed and their diet has become “inconclusive,” until dead bodies surfaced at their docks on the inland river channel. For police chief Linton Derr, living in Fogstow, Indiana was a real dream. There was little to no crime. Everybody knew everyone else’s name. It made his job just a little bit easier and helped make the community one of the most desired places to live in the small riverside county that was once desolated by coal mines. But all it took was one big tragedy to put things into perspective. To bring all the skeletons out of the closet and force him to see that even in small towns, evil can walk amongst them. It could hide its deeds in the shadows and when the time was right . . .”

 

The author received some feedback saying the text was too bright and that the red needed to be toned down, but I think that makes it too murky and impossible to read at thumbnail size. I’ve also tried using white text, but that makes the cover look bland and colorless. It was also suggested that the hand be centered, but that didn’t look good at all. I was pretty confident with the cover until the feedback from other writers started coming in. But they’re not designers, and I put more stock into what you guys say.

Land of the Hoosier Dawn12

 

Land of the Hoosier Dawn12

Nathan says:

Thanks for making my job easy! This is 90% of a good cover, and it’s a lot easier to pile on that last 10% when the majority of the heavy living has been done.

First, regarding the type color: Remember that you’re not limited to all-or-nothing on either red or white.  I pulled your picture into Photoshop to try something, and:

Land-of-the-Hoosier-Dawn12

I’d play with the width of the red border (which I made darker so it wouldn’t be so garish), and with using an off-white instead of pure white for the centers.  I also added a bit of a drop shadow, which is always a quick fix if you’re worried the type still isn’t distinct enough.

Second: The hand. I think an easy fix there would be to tip the hand on the diagonal — say, maybe 20 or 25 degrees counterclockwise. You could thus center its main visual mass while avoiding the “wine glass” appearance of having every cover element centered on the same axis.

Third: You didn’t ask, but I have some issues with the font (Freebooter, yes?). It looks fine for the title — the matching over-extending descenders of “OF THE” is a bonus — but it looks awkward in the byline, where the Ts just seem out of place.  Maybe using upper-and-lowercase instead of all caps would solve that problem.

Anybody else?

New Darwinian Laws For Every Business [resubmit]

The author says:

This is a resubmit, taking into account many of your suggestions. I also received some additional thoughts from Derek. Am I getting closer? Thanks again for your help and comments.

FrontcoverV15

FrontcoverV15

[original submission (as Survival of the Fittest) and comments here]

Nathan says:

Hmm.  The artwork is certainly less crude, though I don’t know that it’s still uncrude enough. And for what it’s worth, I disagree at least halfway with Derek, in his comment on the original post, regarding the need for a different title: I think that the wholesale replacement of the original title with “New Darwinian Laws For Every Business” is a mistake because, while it’s more accurately descriptive, it’s also more clinical and less evocative; not only is that less immediately appealling, it runs counter to the comment you made on that same post that you were indeed going for a “whimsical” approach.  Perhaps a longer, colon-divided title/subtitle — “Survival of the Fittest: What Your Business Can Learn From Darwin,” or somesuch — in which the subtitle is only slightly smaller than the title, and thus both are readable at thumbnail size.

Of the visual examples contributed, I really think that Viergacht’s mock-up is definitely the direction to go: it’s got that element of whimsy, it’s clean and clear, the text dominates and the image supports the title and effectively communicates the voice in which the book is (reportedly) written. Heck, I’ll reproduce it here because I think it’s that good.

Cux7rxs[1]

 

You can really see the appeal if you place your revised version beside his in thumbnail.  The cartoony vibe from his big fish really makes it for me:

FrontcoverV15 Cux7rxs[1]

I think that with a slight wording tweak so that the business aspect of the book is visible from the thumbnail, that’s really the way to go.

Other comments?

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