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How I Survive a Brain Tumor

The author says:

It’s an autobiography on how I survived a brain tumor in the year of 2014. Would love to get some feed back on my cover. I already know that the Paragraph that is on the back needs work on.

Nathan says:

Congratulations on your victory!  Book publishing and any other activity pales next to that.

I think the biggest question for you is who your audience is.  If you expect that most of your readers will be family, friends and acquaintances that already know you, then the cover is fine.  If, however, you expect it to be read outside that circle, you need to look at it like a marketer.  An advertiser.  A filthy capitalist. 🙂

Think of someone who doesn’t know anything about you coming across this cover in a bookstore or on Amazon.  What do they see? A generic picture of someone they don’t know.  Where’s the appeal?  Where’s the hook?  What catches their eye?  Answer: nothing.  They would already have to know you and your story to be interested in the cover, which is opposite to the way it needs to work.

The generic but dramatic images you see on motivational posters (the real ones, not the snarky “demotivational” posters) are actually what you want here.  Sunlight peaking through heavy cloud over mountains, flowers springing from a log in an old-growth forest…  These images are common but popular because they portray the universal theme of blessings through adversity.  There are plenty of those images available for free (try or for starters).  Remember, your cover needs to appeal to readers before it can inform readers.

Good luck.

Riven Calyx

The author says:

Mordrak has been commissioned to find a wizard to enlist his help. The wizard he finds is not quite as expected and has his own agendas which cross over with the personal ambitions of Mordrak. The tower here is the abode of the wizard he finds. Thank you for your time!

Nathan says:

Oh, dear.

I hope you want me to be brutally honest, because that’s the only flavor I come in:  This looks completely amateurish.

The painting itself, while adequate in a “My aunt Bernice did it and I’m hanging it in my living room” sense, lacks the technical skill to appear on the front of a book.  On top of that, you’ve missed every opportunity to make the tower — the only distinguishable feature in the painting — eye-catching or dramatic. (See any of these covers for how to do it right.)

You also having a boring typeface that doesn’t communicate “fantasy setting” or stand out in any way from the background.

And to top it off, the square proportions don’t look like a book cover.  CD cover? Audiobook? Maybe.

Listen: THIS IS IMPORTANT. Readers will see this and not only think, “The author obviously isn’t much of an artist”; they’ll also think, “The author is completely unaware of his inadequacies and shortcomings, and that probably applies to the book itself.” YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF IF YOU USE THIS COVER.

There are plenty of accomplished semi-professional artists out there, and fantasy towers are common subject matter.  Do a search on DeviantArt, pay the artist $25 or $50 to license his/her artwork, and throw in some extra to have him/her design your type.

Don’t give potential readers any reason to skip over you and concentrate on the next book on the page or in their feed.


RE:Play [resubmit]

The author says:

Colden Frost, nineteen years old gaming genius has always day dreams of ‘better’ worlds, like the ones in his games he plays – and wins. When he finds himself transported to a different world in a different persona, he is elated. But is it the world he has always dreampt of or a dark reflection of his own world encased in ice. A reflection that holds something much darker, much deeper? Will Colden be able to clear this game? Or will he be consumed by his own personal Ragnarok?

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

I like it — it builds on the strengths of the original cover. The only thing I would recommend is to brighten the “up” side of the wolf so that it shows up better in thumbnail.

Other comments?

Angel of Death

The author says:

Genre: Urban fantasy

Short blurb: Aria Cooper… High School student, Angel, Reaper, and apparently, a magnet for supernatural creatures. Ones that want to eat her. Aria is one month from her eighteenth birthday, on which she will finally become a Reaper. Her life has always been about one thing; death. As a Reaper, she will lead souls to their resting place. But someone seems determined to stop that from happening…

Target readers would be a mix between those that like the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare and Deadly Beauties by C.M. Owens.

Nathan says:

Really, this hits the bullseye for the target market.

I would play up the wisps of smoke so they’re more visible in the thumbnail; they’re the clearest marker of magic/spirit/otherworldliness here.

Other than that, I’d just play with tweaks like the upper edge of her hair (which seems to clash strangely with the background) or the straight quote in the one-liner.

Good job! Other comments?

No Quarter

The designer says:

This is the cover I designed for my husband’s first book. No Quarter is a chase thriller set in LA in present time. People who like the Reacher novels or Bourne Identity might like No Quarter.

Nathan says:

Is this the final or a mockup?  I’ll assume the latter, so I won’t dwell on things like odd resolution and inconsistent edges.

Obviously, the problem with designing a cover meant to appeal to fans of blockbuster authors like Lee Child and Robert Ludlum is that the most important cover elements for either of them are the names “Lee Child” and “Robert Ludlum.” However, their current covers are also firmly in the current tradition of covers for thriller novels: Bold type that fills the cover, with anything else as a secondary feature.

Here’s my five-minute redo, which also changes the proportion a bit (since Ludlum’s and Child’s books always seem to come as tall paperbacks). I also added the “Series Character” placeholder — since both of those authors are famous for their series characters, that’s probably the same thing you want to promote.


Now, this still has plenty of problems — I think the original gray-dominant color scheme probably causes more problems than it solves — but I think this gives you a good starting point.

(Also: Lose the map texture.  It doesn’t really add anything, and it actually adds confusion.)

Other comments?

Man & Horse: The Long Ride Across America

The author says:

In 1974 a disenfranchised young man from a broken home set out to do the impossible. John Egenes saddled his young horse Gizmo and started down the trail on a seven month journey that took them across 11 states, from ocean to ocean. It is a tale that’s as big as the America they crossed, an America that no longer exists. It was a journey that could only have been experienced step by step, mile by mile, and viewed between a horse’s ears.

Nathan says:

The faux sepia tone, and the lack of anything visual which immediately places this in the 1970s, leads to the instant error that it’s a tale of a much, much older time.  (Yes, a few seconds’ examination of the rider’s garb shows that it’s very likely a photo from the ’60s or ’70s, but you will have lost the attention of those potential readers turned away by the initial impression.)

In addition, both title and byline get lost — the title because of size and color, and the byline because of size, color and the busy background behind it.  There would be no downside to putting the title across the horse and lower — ain’t nobody going to complain about the horse’s face being obscured.

My advice would be to take the sepia filter off the photo, and then add an element or two to show that the photograph itself is a document of the journey: a white border with black mounting corners, perhaps, or a couple of fold lines across the print.  Then seek out a period-specific (or at least appropriate) typeface — not something as gaudy as the “Mary Tyler Moore” font, but still something with a connection to the time period — and make sure that it’s readable, or at least visible, at thumbnail size.

Other comments?

My First Ten Days in Heaven [resubmit x2]

The author says:

I’m comfortable exposing yet another effort because the tone of this site is educational, not one where finding fault is the turn on. Much appreciated by all of us writers without funds and with minimal design sense. You make the world of writing a better place. Thanks.

[original submission and comments here and here]

Nathan says:

Aw, shucks. Thanks. We’re all happy to offer pre-publication advice and support — we save our snark for after a cover has been published to the world.

My first reaction — before any of the technical design stuff — is that, in looking at the three prospective covers, I really don’t know what to expect in your novel. I don’t know the tone, the mood.  I know that it’s “literary,” whatever that means… but is it lighthearted? Leaden with awareness of the futility of existence?  Postmortal existentialism?  The three covers we’ve seen so far could each apply to one of those three, which would each appeal to different readers.

I’ve got several specific pointers about this cover (kerning, position of “A Novel,” etc.), but I feel like it would be rearranging deck chairs on… not the Titanic, but a boat that’s not going where you want it to go.

At this point, my advice would be to get a second pair of eyes.  Find a reader with at least a cursory awareness of book marketing, have them read the book, and then ask, “What kind of cover would you expect to see on this?”  If you want, show them each of the three covers you’ve shown us so far and find out which one best matches the mood or feel of the book.  Then you’ll be able to dive into how best to design that cover to appeal to your prospective readers.

Best of luck.


The author says:

Colden Frost, nineteen years old gaming genius has always day dreams of ‘better’ worlds, like the ones in his games he plays – and wins. When he finds himself transported to a different world in a different persona, he is elated. But is it the world he has always dreampt of or a dark reflection of his own world encased in ice. A reflection that holds something much darker, much deeper? Will Colden be able to clear this game? Or will he be consumed by his own personal Ragnarok?

Nathan says:

You’ve got a good balance between “techno” and “archaeo” elements here.  However, the wolf’s head looks more juvenile than primitive.  You could play with filters to make it look etched in stone etc., or you could just replace that with an actual Norse carving of a wolf’s head.

The other thing I’d say is make the title and byline bigger; there’s no benefit to leaving unused space around them.

Other comments?

First Ten Days in Heaven [resubmit]

The author says:


Michael Greyson awoke one morning feeling better than he had in years. Unfortunately, he soon learned he felt so good because he had died the day before. The upside to being dead was he made it to Heaven. The potential downside was he didn’t believe in Heaven, or God. Although Heaven is the last stop, Mike has one other option. This is a thoughtful story about being dead and Mike’s first ten days in heaven; helped by his guide Pete, no relation to the famous saint.

Audience is baby boomers seeking a better understanding of the meaning of life. It’s literary fiction.

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

I think all of the original criticisms from commenters still hold true here: There’s nothing to catch the eye or indicate the contents. There’s nothing that makes the cover a promo for the book.

You’ve changed fonts, but this one has its on problems: the kerning (spacing between letters) is problematic, so that “FIRST” looks scrunched together while “HEAVEN” has visible gaps (often a problem between A and V).  And the italic version for Personal Wisdom and Simply Bob isn’t a true italic; it’s just that same font, slanted.  I’ll grant you that most readers won’t be able to articulate comments about “kerning” and “true italics,” but they will come away with the impression that, not only is the cover not intriguing or appealing, it’s also not put together very well.

I think your best bet is advice I commonly give: Seek out half a dozen titles in the same genre that you would expect to appeal to the same readers, and examine their covers to see how readers of books like yours are used to being marketed to.

Other comments?

Evaline Transcendent

The author says:

Genre: Science-Fiction (colonization)

Back blurb: “Evaline is the shipboard computer on the Miranda Two, a colony ship destined for the planet Karman-III-Delta. She is possibly Earth’s last hope of establishing a working off-world colony. However, her predecessor stopped reporting home, so now she and the colonists must establish what happened to the previous colony.”

Nathan says:

What we’re seeing here is the common problem of being too close to the book. You’re the author and you know it inside and out, so the cover seems appropriate to you because it matches an image that you know is in the book.

But look at it from the perspective a potential reader — one who would enjoy reading the book you wrote — and ask, “What does this cover instantly convey about the book?”

Not much. Something science-fictiony, yes, but that’s a big arena.  In the thumbnail, I can see that there’s technology, and a redhead.  I may not even realize that she’s transparent (or I may just assume that she’s part of a semi-transparent collage — what we call “layers upon layers” over at

At full size, I really don’t get much more.  I might understand that she’s a hologram in that techno-industrial setting, and I may even get, from her binary morph-suit, that she’s an A.I., but probably before either of those my takeaway will be that she’s a rendered figure from Poser or similar software… and that will probably be a strike against you, because so many indie publishers think that Poser-generated covers are adequate (they’re not) that they also have their own category of “pseudohumans” at

Nowhere do I get “colony ship” or “mysterious lost colony” or anything that would be an honest draw for your target audience.  (And honestly, the title itself doesn’t help; it tells me nothing.) From the summary, I would expect to see a massive colony ship in space, or — and this would definitely get my interest more — humans in shiny space suits looking down on the overgrown ruins of a colony on an alien world.  (In my mind’s eye, the illustration is by Bob Eggleston. For what it’s worth.)

Remember: Your cover is a movie poster.  Your cover is a daring flash of ankle. Your cover, as an esteemed commenter on this site so succinctly put it, is clickbait.  What it needs to say is, “Check out what’s cool over here!” and show something that the target audience for the book would think is cool.

Other comments?

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