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Month – March 2014

The Burning of Cherry Hill

The author says:

THE BURNING OF CHERRY HILL is a dystopian novel set in North America 150 years in the future. Though it features teenage protagonists, it was written for the older teen/adult crowd. The siblings (Zay, 14, and Lina, 12) grew up on an island in hiding from a government they never knew existed. They are remanded to foster care when said government brutally kidnaps their fugitive parents and burns down their home. The kids have to learn to cope with a totalitarian (but prosperous and outwardly generous) government while trying to figure out a way to find and rescue their parents. The tulip is a recurring literary theme in the story.



Nathan says:

This is a beautiful cover, and it is absolutely wrong for a YA dystopian.  There is nothing here to indicate that readers of The Hunger Games or Divergent or The Maze Runner or Partials would be interested in it.  It is all well and good for the tulips to be a recurring motif, but a watercolor of tulips doesn’t draw the kind of crowd you’re trying to draw.

If you’re absolutely committed to using this artwork, then I would suggest you add a thick contrasting border of some kind which gives more of the feel of the setting and which contrasts with the tulips.  Is this a technologically advanced future?  Is there a way that could be represented in ths border?  How about a thick steel doorframe, complete with locks on one side and thick hinges on the other?  Combined with a different type treatment — one that boldly emphasizes the title rather than putting it to the background, you might have something.  But personally, I’d start over; hang the tulip original over the sofa, and then do something completely different for the cover.

(This is how I don’t make friends.)

Anyone else have input?

Out Bound

The author says:

Taiga Chavez is an imperfect person in an OCD world. A loyal soldier, she longs to leave Earth behind. But on her 1st Outbound mission, she soon learns that being the good soldier can have an ugly meaning. On a planet filled with aliens that give new meaning to the term “wild life” she must choose sides. At stake? Simply the fate of two worlds, including her own. No pressure. The year – 2415, The places – Earth and space. Science Fiction for adult or YA.



Nathan says:


I think I see what you were going for here, sort of a Predator-esque heat-signature portrait of the alien creature. Yes?

However. I really don’t think it works. The color scheme, combined with the blurriness of the graphic, doesn’t say “space” or “SF” or “military action” or anything like that to me. At best, it says “My Little Pony.”

In a similar vein, I can see what you were trying to do with the title spacing, but this really isn’t a font that is forgiving to that kind of deliberate spacing.

And the biohazard symbol seems like a completely random addition.

It might be easier just to start over with a different cover concept, but if you want to work with this one, here’s what I’d do:

  • Posterize, filterize and texturize the hell out of that image so that it looks like the computer-enhanced image of something barely seen.  Add some other readouts and telltales around it to emphasize that.
  • The parts of the cover that aren’t the actual alien, change them from pink/purple into something darker for contrast.  If you fade to black at the top, you can add stars to give some kind of outer-space feel.
  • I’d pick a different font, and then texture-fill it with burnished metal or something else that gives it a hard-edged, military feel.

Anyone else?

Design 101: The Cliche of Floating Eyes

Design 101 is an occasional series of design tips for non-professionals designing their own book covers.

Once upon a time, there was a book published called The Great Gatsby. It looked something like this:


Actually, it looked pretty much exactly like this, because since it was first published in 1925, this has been the cover illustration on just about every edition.  That’s not just unusual; it’s stupendous.  I don’t know if this was the first cover art that used the “floating eyes” visual motif (note: yes, there are also floating lips, but the eyes are what everyone sees), but the fact that this cover has remained the cover for the book might give you an indication of just how powerful a design motif that is.


What was once powerful can easily become a cliche once everyone starts doing it, especially when people new to a particular arena (like, say, indie writers who are doing their own covers with little experience) don’t realize just how common it is.  So while it is indeed possible for an experienced professional illustrator to use a “floating eyes” motif, if you are coming to this site for advice then you do not qualify as an experienced professional illustrator.

How common is it?  I used to update a tumblr called Floating Eyes, featuring nothing but book covers featuring, yes, floating eyes.  I stopped updating it not because I had run out of material — far from it! — but because I was finding it impossible to distinguish covers I had already posted from new ones. And that, really, is the point: It’s become a common cliche, a bit of graphic filler that does nothing to distinguish your book.

In the interests of proving my point, and because you might not click through that link, here is the FIRST 100 covers on that tumblog:

My point, I trust, is made.

Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Trilogy: Part 1

The author says:

Charming outlaw with own transport and limited social skills seeks lucrative, employment at minimal risk.

When you’re running from a murderous government and work for an equally murderous gangster, accidentally torching his apartment is a bad move.

The Pan of Hamgee just wants a quiet life but destiny has other plans.

GENRE: Humorous Science Fiction Fantasy – and Petrolpunk or whatever you’d call steampunk if it was about cars… if such a thing exists.

AGE BAND: Teenagers – and anyone else who is interested.

FACCover 600dpiFront

FACCover 600dpiFront

Nathan says:

I really like it. The cover tells me almost nothing about the book, but it makes me strongly want to find out.

My only comment is I don’t like the way the thimble is rendered in a different style from the rest of the illustration.  For one thing, it doesn’t have that pop-art vibe that informs everything else, and for another it makes the thimble harder to identify in the thumbnail.

That’s all I got. Anyone else?

In Good Faith, a Johnny Donal P.I. Novel

The author says:

Johnny Donal’s life in the South Carolina Lowcountry should be good but love gone awry, lies, double-dealing, and murder combine to make it miserable.
Donal, a retired cop with a successful investigations agency and he should be enjoying life. He isn’t. That he has a stellar reputation as an investigator; that he has a source of independent wealth; that he can pick and choose cases should, if anything, add to his good life. None of it does.
Instead, Donal is troubled. His lover Victoria left him and, worse, he’s batting zero with his attempts to get her back. He also has a client with a strange attitude about the circumstances surrounding her missing husband and Donal isn’t sure that he can trust the woman. Then a friend is murdered and that case intertwines with Donal’s missing husband case.
Despite a double dealing client, negative involvement with influential locals, and political obstacles all cluttering his investigation, the question becomes can the Donal, who has problems of his own to resolve, uncover the identity of the killer and bring him to justice?
Plot and subplots take the reader on a journey filled with duplicitousness and murder. As the story unfolds Victoria returns, but the fears that drove her away in the first place lurk just beneath the surface. All hell breaks loose when the killer tries to take Donal out. Closing the case and bringing the killer to the bar of justice will no longer suffice. Vengeance becomes the only option.




Nathan says:

I’ve seen several of these covers recently, which repeat segments of a single image around the layout.  I hate ’em.  Or rather, I don’t see the point.  If an image is strong enough as a focal point (as a chain is), then the repetitions are distracting; if it isn’t, then more isn’t better.

From your description, your book is target at roughly the same demographic that reads Harlen Corben or Lee Child or Michael Connelly.  So why doesn’t it look like them, so that those readers will recognize it as one of their own?  Here’s what I get from surveying books in that genre:

  • strong, narrow type, usuall sans serif
  • a strong but nonspecific central image
  • bold colors in a limited palette

Going from that, here’s a five-minute redo of your cover:


Now, this is definitely not the final I’d go with; I’m not sure I like the font I picked, the colors could use some tweaking, and the pure black background behind the chain is bland; I’d probably find some grungy texture to be the background, possibly sheet metal or the like. But you can see where I’m going.

(By the way, I know we’re not here to critique blurbs, but yours could use some streamlining.  Read it aloud in Gravelly Movie Announcer Guy Voice and see what could be tightened.)

Other suggestions?



True Colours of the Chameleon

The author says:

True Colours of the Chameleon is a modern crime/romance novel. An unemployable research scientist ‘Doc’ becomes a drug producer and forensic advisor in a criminal gang and befriends master of forgeries and disguises ‘Chameleon (Cam)’. When the Birmingham Seven’s heist of the Blue Moon Casino goes wrong, Doc and Cam end up on the run together with the spoils. They’re pursued not only by the police, but by two of their old comrades who want Doc and Cam out of the picture on account of them being witnesses to a murder. Doc is pushed to her limits when she is called upon to kill to defend herself and Cam, and it becomes apparent Cam is keeping a dreadful secret about his past from her that threatens to shatter her trust in him. As the law and their other enemies close in on them, they must overcome these barriers if there is to be any hope for their survival.



 Nathan says:

I’m okay with all the elements. I don’t like where they are.

The way things are arranged now, you’ve got a top half with plenty of detail/texture, and a bottom half in flat silhouettes.  As you can see in the thumbnail, the bottom two thirds ends up looking dull by comparison.

The first thing I’d try is moving the silhouettes up to the middle so they overlap into the top image, and move all of the text to the bottom. You’d have a visually intricate top and bottom, and the silhouettes in the middle, by virtue of them now being a focal point, won’t seem like an afterthought. (Without actually doing it, I’m not sure how well that would work — I’m a tinkerer when I design — but it certainly seems like it would be worth doing.)

Other thoughts?

Design 101: The Fonts That Would Not Die

Design 101 is an occasional series of design tips for non-professionals designing their own book covers.

We writers are used to saying what we want to say with the words we write.  But when words are on the cover of your book — in the title, the byline, a tagline or blurb — what the words say is no more important than how they say it: the font in which the text is rendered is an important part of the design of the cover as a whole, at least as important as the artwork.

Now, learning exactly how to incorporate type into your designs is beyond the scope of this post.  Mostly, I want to warn you away from some of the worst possible font choices when you start assembling your cover. Ready?  Let’s go:


Seriously, this is the most common font in the world, thanks to it having been the default font in just about every word processor for the past thirty years.  People recognize it, even if they don’t realize they do, and it implies to them that the book cover on which it appears is actually a term paper that was slapped together at the last minute.


No. Just no. This began life as an ugly font (the lines are drawn at weird angle, and the letter spacing and the use of serifs is inconsistent), and its as a free font in most versions of Microsoft Word meant that it was the nearest thing to hand when people quickly wanted to make text a bit frivolous or childlike or “fun.”  It has inspired a backlash of hatred (google “Comics Sans” to see what I mean), to the point that you can’t even use it ironically (whatever that means).


At one point, this would have been an acceptable font to use (although there are persistent kerning problems between uppercase and lowercase letters — see the gap between the uppercase “P” and the lowercase “a”?). Unfortunately, it has been so overused — and used poorly (see the kerning note above) — that only amateurs use it now.


Impact used to be a useful font. But again, overuse took it away from us — specifically, its use in thousands upon thousands of LOLcats and other captioned memes.  That association has crippled its use in non-funny, non-internet-self-referential situations, especially in white with a black border.


Otherwise known as “that royal font.”  This gets used a lot on fantasy novels by self-publishers who don’t realize that it’s (a) not as pretty as it looks at first glance — it’s kind of boring, really, especially because it’s all-caps  — and (b) it’s terribly overused, especially on self-published fantasy novels.


Here’s a tip: If a font is intimately associated with a media property with its own rabid fandom, the immediate recognition of that font will not help you. At best, your book will be assumed to be a parody of said property (and since all of those properties have plenty of lame-but-unintentionally-laughable self-published ripoffs, why would anyone want an intentionally laughable one?); more likely, yours will be assumed to be one of those lame-but-unintentionally-laughable ripoffs just mentioned.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have several fonts which I installed specifically to make these examples which I now want to wipe from my computer.

Old Things

The author says:

This is novel of the thriller/horror genre and centers around the life of a small town electrician who is in the process of breaking out and starting his own company. A early morning emergency call to his first customer starts him on a journey into the darkest corners of what we perceive as reality. He is to encounter impossible and horrifying things. Old things.



Nathan says:

1) THAT FONT MUST GO. A low-key photograph such as this one isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does shift more of the burden of communication onto the font, and this font simply isn’t up to it.  It is a distinctly non-scary font.  The replacement font doesn’t have to be out-and-out scary, because often those overboard fonts end up looking like a joke (for example, all of the “blood-dripping” fonts).  But something slightly distressed will do just fine.

2) I’d say to curtail the color palette of the photo a bit; you don’t need a full range of pastels to show on a thriller/horror cover.  If you overlay everything with a grunge texture, it can do double-duty of making the color more uniform, and adding that “gritty” connotation that works so well for this genre.

And since I had a few minutes to spare and it was easy to work on, I did this to illustrate what I’m talking about:


This is the five-minute version, and it shows; neither the font nor the texture is what I’d call my final choice. But it shows you what I’m talking about.

Any other comments?

March 23, 2014 Edit:

The author has made some revisions:

OldThingsCover v1.3

OldThingsCover v1.3

I like the addition of the birds in the sky; it’s an extra detail rewarding those who look at the full-sized cover.

I like the font for the title, but I’d still like to see it both bigger and brighter.  The same for the byline; I don’t necessarily think the author’s name needs to be read from the thumbnail, but it really disappears here.

March 24, 2014 Edit:

Another revision:

OldThingsCover v1.4

OldThingsCover v1.4

I would move the title down so that it’s centered in the darkness of the trees. And I still think the text would be served by a lighter/brighter color (not as much as in my five-minute rework, but some).

Other thoughts?

Camino De Santiago

The author says:

This book has already been published, but I would like to have some help to improve the cover.

Book Content

A non-fiction book about preparing for the Camino de Santiago covering things like:

– When to go and what to take (and what to leave behind!)
– What to expect during the walk
– Addressing lots of practical things like insurance, cultural shock, health, communication etc
– Pilgrims anecdotes to illustrate the points
– Links to other resources



Nathan says:

Now, I’m not a Camino de Santiago expert (in fact, I had to google it just so I’d know what we’re talking about here), but I would surmise that a guidebook such as this goes broadly under the category of “travel guidebooks,” for which it looks fairly appropriate; travel guides consistently have a no-nonsense vibe about them that says, “You can trust me.”

I think the design weaknesses here can be best seen in the thumbnail: The title merges into the background, and the subtitle wars with the title for importance.  Here’s what I would do:

  • Find a font that’s similarly no-nonsense (likely, but not necessarily, another sans-serif font) which has a thicker silhouette.
  • Use that font for the title, subtitle and byline.
  • Play with putting those (the title, subtitle and byline) in a darker color that will stand out against the background, possibly with a slight drop-shadow.
  • Make the subtitle smaller so it’s easy to tell which is the title and which is the subtitle.
  • I like having the byline to one side to balance out the signpost in the photograph, but I’d move it in and up some so that it really balances the signpost.

Anyone think anything different?


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