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Rock the Boat

The author says:

ROCK THE BOAT is an erotic romance set in current day America. A simple love affair becomes complicated when a soldier shares his new wife with his best friend. Parental disapproval escalates to lies and manipulation. A man with an obsession, a kidnapped spouse, and a murder, change a happy home into a nightmare. One that might be fixed by choosing the right man.

RTB good cover.JPG

RTB good cover.JPG

Nathan says:

I will readily admit that I’m not the target audience, but in my perusal of book covers in all genres, I’d noticed this distinction:

  • Soft romances usually have soft color schemes, airy or pastel.
  • Erotic romances usually have deeper color schemes — darker shadows, more saturated colors.

Your description says “erotic romance,” but the color scheme doesn’t support that.  That’s the first change I’d make.

But then: I don’t think the transparent overlay of the soldiers works, I don’t think the placement of the title works, and I DEFINITELY don’t think the “Word Art” warping of the title works.

I’ll give you the advice I give often: Look up the books on Amazon that you would expect to see in the same armload of books as yours.  Look at their covers.  Taylor yours so that all the signifiers are there to tell your potential readers that, if they liked those other books, they’d like yours.

Good luck.

Hallowed Souls

The author says:

The first of a series of high-fantasy books with more of an emphasis on historical fiction. There are multiple characters and multiple plots in the story all tied together under a single plot involving an economically stagnant country on the losing side of a war set in a world greatly influenced by Medieval Europe and East Asia.

Synopsis: War rages on as various kingdoms struggle to gain power and maintain their freedom. From the shores of the Grey Sea to the mountains of Cosca, chaos reigns. It is a tale of murder, rape and war. Here a peasant girl masquerades as a princess; a deposed king schemes to regain his throne; and fierce pagans strive to regain their freedom. As opposing forces scheme and plot to gain power, a strange sickness blows in from the mysterious east and ravages the land. Not even Spenta can save them as everyone, from fools to sages, realize that even the most hallowed of souls can do nothing.

hallowedsoulscoverdraft1

hallowedsoulscoverdraft1

Nathan says:

It’s well-executed art, and I don’t know how much of a draw it will be for readers.  In thumbnail, all I can see is “blue” (and maybe “tree”).  At the larger size, while I can see the human figures, I have to hunt for them, and I can’t make out enough detail to tell setting or genre from their clothes.  Couple that with a font that is the epitome of “generic,” and you’ve got a cover that tells the reader as little as it can.

Is the original artwork that intensely blue?  If not, I would scale that waaaay back, and let other colors at least give a penumbra of a palette.  Also, you could trim the artwork so that the characters are larger and more central (the only thing you’d lose would be some trees and sky).  Then find a font and font treatment that helps convey the fantasy genre (not Algerian!), as the artwork still probably wouldn’t be able to do all the heaving lifting in that regard.

Other ideas?

Vandal Valkyrie [resubmit]

The author says:

Changes include overlaying text directly onto the background image and adding a drop shadow. A less ornate typeface is used (actually the same font, but there is a world of difference between the all-caps and lower case for this font).

A dark fantasy and cosmic horror novel, book 1 in a series. The main characters quest to bring justice to the dread lord of an evil nation. But all of their actions are orchestrated by titanic forces that move in the shadows of history, seeking terrible ends that these mortal pawns cannot begin to imagine or oppose.

The art is a sketch by Alex Ruiz at Conceptmonster.net used with permission, my role was in colorizing and formatting it as a cover.

Vandal Valkyrie Cover

Vandal Valkyrie Cover

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

Getting there. Still not there yet.

Remember that the purpose of type on a cover is, first and foremost, to be read. Against a busy dark background, your title especially needs to stand out and be understood.  That means bolder, thicker letters, and more dynamic contrast between the type and the art.

Let’s say you’re browsing Amazon, and these two thumbnails are at the bottom of the page.  Which one is going to catch YOUR eye?

Vandal Valkyrie Cover        Vandal-Valkyrie-Cover-modded

(That’s my five-minute do-over, just grabbing a font that was convenient and futzing with the art.  Not the best font, not the best layout, but you get the idea.)

Any other comments?

Under a Hunter’s Moon

The author says:

Richard Parsons is a lupine, one of the many breeds of shape-shifters living in Seattle. Mortal legends of his kind call them werewolves. When a traveling exhibition returns to Seattle, Richard takes a night time visit, with plans that go beyond seeing a particular display. However he is unprepared for the memories and emotions that come flooding back.

This short story is set partly in current day Seattle, and partly in the near past. It’s intended to be part of a series of releases that provide some background stories that precede an upcoming novel.

xx-Under A Hunter's Moon 5in x 8in Cover

xx-Under A Hunter's Moon 5in x 8in Cover

Nathan says:

There’s a running gag at LBC.com about “Wolfie” showing up on covers. I’m afraid yours would be a candidate.

I can see what you’re trying to do here — a big shadowy wolf looming over the city — but it isn’t working.  The wolf isn’t looming so much as looking on in a disinterested fashion.  The filters you’ve used to render the wolf “ghostly” also make him plain and easy to ignore.

I also have a big problem with how you’ve decided to separate your type from the main image.  Let’s be honest: There are no particular details in your image that absolutely shouldn’t be obscured by text, so there’s no reason to keep your text completely off your image.  And in shoving the text to the top and bottom, and then encasing each in a border, you’re forcing the text to be smaller and smaller — the result being that not one bit of it is readable in thumbnail.

There are no quick fixes here.  To take your cover from your concept to a market-ready layout requires the find of graphic intelligence that is usually only gained from years of practice.  I think this is the point at which you should turn over what you’ve done to a freelancer to make it professional.

Anyone think differently?

Growing Amaranth

The author says:

Growing Amaranth is a retelling of Rapunzel. Amaranth lives in a secluded cottage with her mother when she meets a young boy who helps her realize she’s not as free as she thought. Her mother traps her in a tower when she discovers her friendship. Amaranth starts at 9 years old, but it follows her until she is 17. Its for YA, focused more on emotionally abused youth/adult. It is set in a fictional medieval/regency time.

Amaranth2

Amaranth2

Nathan says:

It’s a nice image. Let’s make it pop!

  1. It’s the Rapunzel story? Make the braid longer! I don’t care if it actually figures into the story. Make it longer!
  2. Play with the contrast and saturation.  Make the picture come alive!
  3. Why are you hiding your byline in teeny type?  You wrote a book. Be proud! You’d got that extra space along the top — put your byline there, then make the title just a bit larger to take up the space you just vacated.

Other ideas?

Black Mirror, Shattered Screams

The designer says:

Commission work for a client.

Book summary: In a world ruled by fairies, humans have developed a rudimentary communication system akin to the Internet using fairy mirrors. After a social experiment involving those mirrors spins out, two teens must decide whether to come out with the truth and face the consequences, or watch their world burn with the fire of revolution. YA magical realism thriller involving fairies and Magic mirrors, with some satirical undertones that raises questions about the role and safety of the Internet in the 21st century. Could be described as Macbeth meets The Crucible meets a magical Internet.

Designer’s note: I took inspiration from the simplistic cover of Gone Girl. While I do realize that’s an adult thriller while this is YA, I don’t think there’s too much of a difference in (cover art) style between adult and YA. The top part is supposed to be the magic mirrors involved in the book, while the bottom part is supposed to be shattered mirrors/glass. I hope those are recognizable on the thumbnail. A larger image will show the eyes in the mirror, which I hope looks creepy and mysterious. Hopefully the slightly orate font will hint at the fantasy elements, in what otherwise looks like a contemporary thriller cover.

Also, a question: I’m thinking about drawing blood in between the cracks of the top mirror part, and also have it drip down towards the title, in the style of Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen. Would that be too much though? Thanks for all your help!

image

image

Nathan says:

No offense, but without you telling me that it’s supposed to be shattered mirrors, I would have had no clue what I’m looking at.  A large part of what makes shattered mirrors look like shattered mirrors is the glinting glass along the edges, as well as the distortion of what is being reflected (see here). Instead of trying to freehand something that looks like a shattered mirror, my advice would be to take a photo of an actual shattered mirror, and then take an image — perhaps the heroine’s face, or some other striking image — and break it up between the shards, the way that a real shattered mirror reflects.

(Gotta tell you, “floating eyes” is a cliche we often see over at LBC.com — it’s been used poorly so often that I don’t know if it can be done right anymore.)

I also have a real problem with the title being divided by the byline.  It seems like an attempt to be overly clever, at the expense of readability.

And then there’s the fact that the title and byline are crunched into the center.  It’s not as if there’s stunning artwork that you don’t want to cover up, nor that it looks like an intentional use of negative space, what with all the meaningless detail/texture filling the rest (is that snow?).

I’d say make the text bigger (with the title separate from the byline), use an actual shattered mirror, add what you want into the mirror shards, and call it a day.

Anyone say different?

Dead Line

The author says:

Two men. Two centuries. One destiny. Tom Dorin, a maimed and disillusioned veteran of the Civil War, builds a new life in the Arizona territory. Jon Hansen, a graduate student in Tucson, Arizona, finds an antique photograph in a decrepit roadside museum. A disturbing portrait of a long-dead man who could be his twin. Only two facts are known about the man in the tintype. His name was Tom Dorin. On March 13, 1874, he hanged. What begins as research into Tom Dorin’s life for a master’s thesis, becomes an obsession for Jon Hansen. An obsession that consumes every waking moment, and threatens every relationship in his life. Until the morning he wakes in Tom Dorin’s bed. In the Arizona Territory. On October 19th, 1873. Only one fact remains certain. It is recorded history, unalterable. On March 13, 1874, Tom Dorin hangs. No one knows why.

DEAD LINE Critique

DEAD LINE Critique

Nathan says:

What you’ve got here is well-rendered.  However, I think some changes to the initial idea are in order for the cover to attract readers like it needs to, for a story that is essentially “Somewhere in Time meets Back to the Future III.”  (Yes, that means a lot of work for you if you follow my critique. No, I’m not sorry.)

First: The strong red and blue elements of the cover call to mind not just a western, but a pulp western magazine from the thirties and forties. Since your story isn’t a standard shoot-’em-up, I think you may be giving the wrong impression and turning off the readers who would actually enjoy the story.

Second: The two different photos of the same face is a good idea in theory.  However, to really work, the pictures need to be in complete parallel, directly across from each other, with each taking equal visual weight.  Here, the tintype occupies much more space, but the isolated blue on the student ID, and the much starter monochrome in the modern picture, keep the two from being balanced. And while the cover makes sense once someone has read the synopsis, I don’t think it works the other way around, which is how it needs to work.  And I don’t know if monkeying with the balance between the two pics will fix it.

If someone handed me that synopsis and asked me to design a cover, here’s what I’d do: A sepia-toned western street with people in period garb, and in the very center of the illustration, a figure in modern clothes in full color, facing away from the reader.  I think the normal color at the center would draw the eye toward its natural center of focus, and the contrast between modern and period clothing would be very apparent, making it clear that this is a story about a modern man in the Old West.  (I’d render the title in a distressed western font.)

Anyone have different ideas?

Vandal Valkyrie

The author says:

A dark fantasy and cosmic horror novel, book 1 in a series. The main characters quest to bring justice to the dread lord of an evil nation. But all of their actions are orchestrated by titanic forces that move in the shadows of history, seeking terrible ends that these mortal pawns cannot begin to imagine or oppose. Synopses: The End of Days has come and gone. Horrors from beyond sanity lay siege to reality. In this world, Alfair and Paemani come of age fighting to build a nation in the perilous North Marshes. Centuries later, their scion the Princess Valkyrie crusades against the Mad Count of Harkenvold. But against the Horrors, the Mad Count may stand as the only true hope. The story follows Alfair, Paemani, and Valkyrie as they seek victories that may imperil creation itself and fight wars that they may desperately need to lose as the North Marshes rises to prominence in an utterly hostile world.

The art is a sketch by Alex Ruiz at Conceptmonster.net used with permission, my role was in colorizing and formatting it as a cover.

Vandal Valkyrie Cover

Vandal Valkyrie Cover

Nathan says:

The art is terrific — sketchy, of course, but still bold and evocative for all that. You made a good choice.

The type… not so much. Problems:

  1. Every time I see the type isolated into a section away from the art, I think, “This art obviously wasn’t commissioned for this cover — it was acquired, and then someone tried to make the type fit.” Which is exactly what happened here, but you don’t WANT it to look that way.  I took a look at the original art to see if you have any more room at the bottom. You do. USE IT. You could place the byline at the top, and the title and series title at the bottom. Or place the title across her midriff (the two focal points are her head, and the head in her hand). But get rid of that pasted-on blue box.
  2. Both fonts you chose are ornate enough to be hard to read.  I think that with “valkyrie” in the title and a warrior woman dominating the illustration, you don’t need the Norse-ness in the title typeface to sell the concept; concentrate on impact and readability instead. The same goes for the series title and byline: the smaller the type is, the clearer it needs to be in order to be read.

Other comments?

Locksmith’s Journey [resubmit]

The author says:

“Locksmith’s Journeys” is the sequel to the YA science fiction novel “Locksmith’s Closet.” Lachlan Smith and his immediate circle of family and friends continue their search of the future through the time portal to learn the secret of what happened to the human race. Back in the present, they learn who made the portal and why.

LJ cover version 1.3

LJ cover version 1.3

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

Well, at least the paraglider is bigger…

It still lacks any excitement, any danger, any indication of genre or audience.  If I were to see this originally in thumbnail, I’d assume it was one of those “memoirs of my not-too-interesting life” volumes, because it all looks so peaceful.

Here’s my five-minute do-over:

LJ-cover-version-1

In addition to the obvious color change to a more “dangerous” hue, I also tilted the paraglider, because everything on this cover was so square that the contrast is appealing, and diagonals give an impression of instability and dynamism.

But I still don’t think it’s a good cover, and I don’t think this can become a good cover.  You’ve stepped away from the human figures on your first cover, which are definitely a better way to market to your audience than a distant paraglider.  You need to do that whole “Old Spice” thing: Look at successful YA books covers, then at yours, then at other covers, then back to yours…

Anyone think I’m wrong?

The Order of Agrios / The Claustrophobic Heart

A special twofer!

The author says:

This literary novella is the first of a 3-part novella series.

Jacob Alderdice is the son and heir of the prominent San Francisco family. Although dearly loved by his sister Vivian, his philosophical and artistic lifestyle has made him a pariah to his tyrannical mother, Larissa.When the Alderdices take their yearly summer vacation to the prominent resort town of Waxwood, Jake meets Stevens, an older man with an obsession for leadership. He befriends Jake and introduces him to The Order Of Agrios, a group of misanthropes who have rejected the commercial and conventional luxuries of their former lives to live in the wild. Seduced at first by Stevens’ powerful and charismatic demeanor, Jake comes to realize that behind the man lies something more brutal and sinister.

Any feedback would be much appreciated!

OOA Novella Cover Final

OOA Novella Cover Final

The author says:

This literary novella is the second of a 3-part novella series.

Gena Flax, abandoned by her mother at a young age, has built her life around caring for her guardian Helen, whose physical illness and mental peculiarities have reduced her to a childish, neurotic, and clinging woman.One summer, she gives her aunt a gift of the sea. She takes a room at the exclusive Waxwood Inn in Waxwood, California with money she has scrimped and saved from two jobs and her aunt’s disability checks. But the gift reveals the depths of mental deterioration, betrayal, and family secrets.

Any feedback would be much appreciated!

TCH Novella Cover FINAL

TCH Novella Cover FINAL

Nathan says:

I put both of these books in one critique, because series branding is a big deal, and they should thus be considered as one unit.

I’ve joked before that “literary” fiction covers go out of their way to look like they’re about nothing in particular. That’s obviously hyperbole, but the fact remains that lit-fic covers eschew anything which looks like an obvious pointer to a specific genre: No planets, no silhouette figures running down dark alleys, no half-naked headless couples embracing, no wolves. By that metric, the first cover especially succeeds: The art (public domain — Google Image Search tells me that it’s by Vilhelm Hammershoi, d. 1916) is both exquisitely accomplished and understated, and is quietly intriguing for readers who avoid the “crowd-pleaser” elements of popular fiction.

Using the first cover as the lynchpin of the series, then, we move to the second cover, and we run into some problems:

  1. Part of series branding isn’t just typeface, it’s type placement. Even though the position type on the first cover is largely dictated by the layout of the artwork, it’s also a good arrangement on its own. But to continue the brand, the same type placement should be used on the other covers in the series, which obviously limits the images you can use — you have to have something that will fit behind the predetermined type layout.  In eyeballing the second cover, I can see that mimicking the type layout of the first cover would put white letters across the lightest parts of the image — a liability for readability. But that’s okay, because…
  2. The image used for the second cover both isn’t good when considered by itself (it’s obviously a low-resolution image blown up to cover size with attendant problems, and the hues suggest that it was either poorly photographed to begin with, or it’s a print that hasn’t aged well), and doesn’t relate well to the image used on the first cover (a photograph instead of an antique painting).  Wouldn’t it be better to use another obscure antique painting — either another Hammershoi, or something that shows similar age and quiet reserve?

In short: The first cover looks deliberate, while the second cover looks desperate.  Make the second cover appeal to the same readers who are drawn to the first cover.

Other comments?

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