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Month – January 2015

Fates Undone

The author says:

A fantasy set in medieval times, Nara sets out on her spirit quest so she can take her mother’s place as Duchess of Tinn, along with her companion, Barris, and his dragon, Bramble. Along the way, a 1,000 year old spell is broken, releasing a murdered man’s heart and soul from the bodies of Barris and Bramble, turning him back into his true form of Prince Brogan. The new duo complete the task, but along the way, find that Nara’s home city lay in ruins, her father is dead, and her surviving family and friends are in hiding. The queen, banished 1,000 years ago, has taken over the territory with plans to take control of the kingdom. But the son she murdered will stop at nothing to keep that from happening.

Fates Undone 3

Fates Undone 3

Nathan says:

So, my assumption from the description and the current cover is that this is in the “grim fantasy” subgenre a la Joe Abercrombie. Yes? I hope so, because my comments are going to be informed by that assumption.

The best covers for grim fantasy novels have a muted color scheme, as yours does, but I think the most successful of them also have a “gritty” feel to them, which yours does not.  I attribute that largely to your type treatment: the color is a continuation of the main hues of your cover image, and the semi-medieval font doesn’t add and information or excitement to what the image tells us.

I think one of the best examples of a cover for the subgenre is this one:

519kPrCXRKL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_[1]

The artwork shows visual elements readily identified as “fantasy” (or at least “pre-modern”), while the type treatment wouldn’t be out of place on a police procedural or gritty “FBI vs. serial killer” suspense thriller.

So my advice is to play mostly with the type. Try something that’s not usually a fantasy font, something heavy and sans-serif.  I’d probably put it in white, as here, and add a slight grunge texture to it (slight enough that it doesn’t interfere with readability).

And if you don’t intend for this to be a grim fantasy, well, come back for an entirely different set of advice.

(One non-font comment: I’m not sure that the blur in the image really helps. Yes, it lets us know that the face is more important than the hands, but simply playing with the contrast could do that as well.)

Anyone else?

Guns, Religion & Robots

The author says:

Guns, Religion & Robots is a horror & sci-fi anthology. The stories vary from tales of death and recovery to making living agreements with artificial intelligence.

GRRDraft.PNG

GRRDraft.PNG

 

Nathan says:

You mean a collection, don’t you? An anthology is normally stories by different authors. (Yeah, I’m kind of a bear about that.)

The great thing about anthologies/collections/compilations/whatever is that you can use ANYTHING on the cover, as long as it fits the mood.  And you’ve certainly got anything!  Here’s what I would tweak to make it better:

1) Even though there’s a lot of detail everywhere, there’s still a sense of “white space” — an impression of blankness — probably stemming from that upper right corner. You could plug in just the edge of some other diagram there. I also wonder if a slightly off-white or creamy paper background to all of the white space wouldn’t tie it together better.

2) Is there a reason that “An anthology [grrr] by Brady Koch” doesn’t fill that purple space better?  Similarly, with how far in from the margin “Guns” and “& Robots” start.  I think you should expand your byline text to fill that purple, and move “Guns” and “& Robots” further to the left — especially “Guns.”

Other ideas?

The Last Great Hero

The author says:

Rawk is the last of the great heroes, an old man clinging to past glories as the world moves on. But the Age of Heroes isn’t going to slip away without a fight and Rawk might just realise that the good old days aren’t as good as he remembers. The Last Great Hero is a short sword and sorcery novel for YA and older readers.

TLGHJan15small

 

TLGHJan15small

Nathan says:

Custom artwork is usually the biggest hurdle for indie-published book covers, because the budget isn’t there for a professional-grade piece of art. This is a nice sketch, but on its own — especially as you’ve presented it — it’s insufficient.  But I always prefer to work with what you’ve got rather than scrap it and start over, so rather than tell you “the art doesn’t work, get something new,” here’s what I’d suggest to support it:

1) Add a border. Not just any old border, something ornate and illuminated and epic, like a gilded frame.

2) Replace the fonts. Use something just as bombastic as the border (being sure, always, that the ornateness doesn’t overpower readability).

3) Switch up your layout. The space above Rawk’s head is perfect for the title; use the space on the left for the subtitle.

4) You need to be really subtle on this one: Add a very, very slight texture to the illustration to give the impression of actual paint on canvas, rather than something done in Illustrator.  I can’t emphasize enough just how subtle you need to be with this — if it looks like a texture or filter, it will actually be a net negative. Apply the filter or texture, then make it 50% weaker, then make it 50% weaker again. You want it just enough to see it if you’re looking for it.

None of this is going to fool anyone into thinking that you had Michael Whalen or Boris Vallejo do your artwork, but it will keep the artwork from standing on its own, and should result in at least a passable cover.

Other suggestions?

The Freedom of Dragons

The designer says:

Dakin and Laurie have spent their lives running — from their father, from the expectations of the Empire, from the destiny being forced upon their shoulder — now, finally free, they have to face themselves and decide, once and for all, where this freedom will take them. This book is fantasy, but mainly introspective. It deals with family, loss, pain, and freedom. It is targeted towards older teens/young adults. (I am not the author of this book, however I worked closely with the author on the design of this cover.)

The Freedom of Dragons

The Freedom of Dragons

 

Nathan says:

I like the fact that this cover clearly says “fantasy” while not saying “fantasy just like every other damned fantasy you’ve ever read or heard about.”  Here’s what I’d tweak or explore:

1) Remove the “nanowrimo 2014.”  Nobody needs to know on the cover of the book when or under what circumstances it was written, and as most nanowrimo novels are shoddy first drafts that need dedicated revision to make them publication-worthy, advertising it might actually work to the book’s detriment in the eyes of potential readers.

2) The byline isn’t just unreadable at thumbnail size (which is understandable), it’s pretty much invisible. Even at full size, it’s easy to ignore. Use that space for “nanowrimo 2014” and instead expand the byline with tighter kerning, and with a teensy bit more contrast to help it stand out against the waves.

3) Something bothers me about the placement of the title over the island, but I’m not exactly sure what. Maybe if the “of” were solidly on the island, instead of bisecting land and sea… Try either bumping the title up — or, even better, shifting the image down so the cover isn’t split exactly in half by the shoreline.

4) I’d try making the dragon about twice as big, just so it shows up more clearly in the thumbnail. If you keep it over to the right, about where the wisps of cloud are below it now, it won’t significantly change the basic layout.

5) This is nitpicky now, but the letter kerning on “of” is really distracting.

A big list of suggestions looks like I’m telling you to make a bunch of changes, so I’ll reiterate: I really like the overall concept and design.  I think these minor tweaks will take it from “great” to “excellent.”

Anyone think differently?

The Handbook for Beginning Programmers

The author says:

This is a book that teaches freshman college students about computer programming. The title is long, but I am stuck with it. Because the title is long, I thought a picture might clutter the cover too much, so I chose a background texture. If the texture is a bad idea, please help me with suggestions. Thank you.

cover3

cover3

 

Nathan says:

The good news is that nobody “window-shops” for a programming handbook like they do for a paranormal romance.  In a case like this, with a no-nonsense book about a no-nonsense subject, a duller approach actually works in its favor, because it calls to mind a textbook — the ultimate trusted resource. So well done.

That said, I’d tweak a couple of things, both of which become more apparent when you look at the thumbnail:

1) The main title would be a lot easier to read if there were a dropshadow or border around the letters.

2) Having “Java Script” in a script font is clever, but it’s a jarring contrast to all of the other text, and also makes it harder to read.  I would find a script font which is easier on the eyes, especially at thumbnail size (of particular attention, a cursive “v” can often be mistaken for an “r” — make sure that “Java” doesn’t look like “Jara”), and then play with using that same script font for something else on the cover, either “The Handbook for” or the byline.

But otherwise, excellent work that hits the spot.

Other comments?

The Burning of Cherry Hill [resubmit]

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.

image

image

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

I.
Love.
It.

The color scheme bullseyes the dystopian vibe, the typography is clear, and the tulip motif is present but unobtrusive.

The only solid suggestion I’d give is to put periods after the initials in the byline, because there are so many series books out there that are “A Something-Something Book” that a reader could initially assume that the “A” is the word, not an initial.

If I were doing the design, I’d probably experiment with things like adding a very subtle “grunge” texture to the type, or reducing “The” and “of” in the title, but I don’t know that I’d decide in favor of either.

Well done.

Anyone say different? (If you do, you’ll have to answer to ME!)

Our Love’s Irreversibility

The author says:

(Note to Mr. Shumate: I hope you’ll pardon the verbosity; this is a fantastically complicated story. Also, this is a *very* preliminary “scratch” cover: I haven’t finished writing the last third of the novel yet, and I’m considering hiring a professional artist to do the actual final cover.) Truth can be stranger than fiction, as Don Richards knows: his unlikely modern fairytale marriage with Denise, the unwed teen mother he hired to take care of his little son Jackie after his first wife died in a car wreck, has Don doubting his life can possibly get any more bizarre, even with their Carribean honeymoon cruise passing through the legendary Bermuda Triangle. Fiction, however, proves to have a few surprises of its own as the Bermuda Triangle proves to be a place in which paranormal events long dismissed as exaggerations and mythical mumbo-jumbo are rare, but do happen. The trouble is, when myths come true in reality, metaphor is powerless to dispel these paranormal events the way it does in all the made-up stories. In Mr. and Mrs. Richards’ case, this is especially problematic because their minds have also been swapped with those of his nine-year-old son Jackie and her eight-and-a-half-year-old daughter Jaymee, respectively. What will they do if their swap proves to be irreversible? This is an adult paranormal romance with just a hint of time travel and a kind of “trash TV talk show meets the Brady Bunch meets Freaky Friday meets John Varley’s ‘Air Raid'” plot to it.

Our Love's Irreversibility Scratch Cover

Our Love's Irreversibility Scratch CoverNathan says:

(I hope the author doesn’t mind that I included his note to me in his description above, as I think it contains important information.)

Your cover ideas have good elements. I always encourage going with a professional, but the following may be helpful if you either decide to go it alone or want to give the designer other ideas:

1) Is your byline really “Blake Rem Lumen Coryn”?  That may be your name, but I think it’s ungainly as a byline — there’s distinctive (e.g., Martin Smith adding his “Cruz” middle name to stand out), but then there’s unwieldy.  People are unused to author names that are more than three names long — it doesn’t look like a name at first glance. I think “Blake Coryn” is distinctive enough to stick in memory much better than a four-part name would. (Also, once your name looks like a name, the  “By” is unnecessary.)

2) There’s a lot of unused background space. Especially when you look at it at thumbnail size, you can see that the large areas of nothing-but-rail to left and right add nothing.  You can make the child silhouettes larger and thus more immediately recognizable.

3) One of my rules of thumb is “big words need simple fonts.”  Irreversibility (which my spellchecker isn’t even recognizing as a word) is a perfect example. As you can see especially in the thumbnail, the word easily turns into “bunch of letter that cause me to tune out.” Also, the gradient in both the title and byline reduces the contrast and thus the readability.

4) There’s such a thing as having too many things aligned to the center. Shifting the moon off to one side (my instinct says to the left, but I can’t back that up) adds a little bit of variety to the layout.

Other ideas?

 

First Steps [resubmit]

The editor says:

Each story was written to the the theme of “A short fiction piece between 800 and 5000 words, in which the main character is traveling, either in flight or on a journey of self-discovery.” This book is the first anthology of short fiction by members of the Madrid Writers Club in Spain. Thank you for the feedback. This redesign addresses most of the issues well, I hope.

FirstStepsMadridWritersClub

FirstStepsMadridWritersClub

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

Making the title more readable is definitely a good thing. And I like what you’ve done with varying the type size on the two other blocks of text.

I still think you ought to have a subtitle that indicates the common theme, unless you’re planning on only selling to friends and family who would buy it whatever the subject matter is.

 

The Arctic Deception

The author says:

In the Arctic for a mundane protection detail after a failed rescue mission in Afghanistan, US Army Sergeant Kieran Blackwell and his elite Special Forces unit known as the Dragon Taskforce are looking forward to the quiet. But when a group of highly trained commandos attack the research facility and kill one of the scientists they’re protecting, Blackwell and his team discover that the “real” research being conducted has nothing to do with the effects of global warming, but something much more sinister. Blackwell and his team must use all of their skills to fend off the enemy and escape from the hellish Arctic landscape alive.

Arctic-Deception

Arctic-DeceptionNathan says:

A lot of good elements here, and the dragon image is both simple and striking.

My concerns lie almost exclusively with the type. As someone with a similarly uncommon name, I’ve found that the more unusual your name is, the more clearly you have to render it on the cover to make it readable. If the you’re using has lowercase characters, try using them at least for your surname; if not, I’d seriously consider using another font.

Also, the way the title is scrunched at the bottom makes it look like it’s an afterthought and you don’t want to cover up any of the cover art — which is striking and all, but not so amazing that you should feel bad about intruding on it. I’d let the title and subtitle take up the area at least to the dragon’s knee.

Other suggestions?

 

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