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Month – September 2015

Chasing Redemption

The author says:

Genre: Science fiction/Military thriller. Blurb: Captain Ben Wildes, the pioneer of Saturn and a highly decorated officer, is falsely implicated in a tragic accident that claims twelve lives. Once a rising star in the ESD (Earth Space Defense), he’s found negligent in a deeply politicized trial. A year later, Ben receives a surprising opportunity to redeem his career. He’s provisionally reinstated and tasked to investigate the fate of a missing commercial space mining vessel last reported an area that’s perilously close to a sensitive territorial line. The incident requires a delicate investigation, and Ben’s the only captain with the unique experience to handle the assignment. Evidence of attack is certain to breach long-standing treaties between two superpowers, which will lead to war. As the mission unfolds, Ben uncovers shocking secrets with alarming ramifications, and quickly learns that chasing redemption is far more perilous an undertaking than he ever anticipated.

Cover notes: This is a proposed cover upgrade to the current cover (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006ZMRCTO). I’m also utilizing a Shuttershock sample image (didn’t want to purchase until I’m sure it’ll be used), so please try to overlook the watermark and lower photo resolution.

ChasingRedemption2015Upgrade

ChasingRedemption2015Upgrade

Nathan says:

I’m not sure that this qualifies as an “upgrade” to your current cover.  Both are executed with skill and precision, and both have exactly the same problem: They’re the wrong covers for a military sci-fi novel.

Remember, your book cover has one purpose beyond all others: to attract the attention of the readers who would want to read the book.  So if I’m the kind of reader who would want to read a novel about a disgraced former officer now on an interstellar mining vessel who ricks being at the center of a war in space, am I going to stop and pick up the book (or read the blurb on Amazon) when I see an almost monochromatic picture of a uniform cuff?  (And that’s if I can identify it; at thumbnail size, my first impression is of an abstract design.)

You’re already a Shutterstock user, so search “spaceship” on there and see the incredible art available.  Or do the same thing on DeviantArt; the artwork there is not as likely to be overused, and most DeviantArt artists are happy if you offer them twenty or thirty dollars for the right to use a piece of art that they already made for free.  And when you search, remember your main criterion: “Is this an image that would capture the attention of someone who would like this novel?”

Good luck.

Leave Them in the Dust!

The author says:

This is a non fiction book for marketing managers and managing directors of business schools, universities and training organisations who sell leadership, management and technical professional courses to organisations. The book’s focus is helping organisations grow their business through sales and marketing so they sell more places and beating their competitors in the process. I’d grateful for your thoughts and feedback, as i find the proposed book cover design is bland

marketingexecbookcover

marketingexecbookcover

Nathan says:

I concur with your “bland” judgment.  I’m seeing two major problems with this cover:

  1. Professional silhouettes? Been done. So, so done. Overdone. Uberdone. Done beyond all previous conceptions of doneness.  Silhouettes like these are the zombies of the nonfiction cover universe. And yet your designer was so proud of the “clever” visual that he included it twice, sticking it in the title for added “impact”!  It also doesn’t help that their intercontinental connectedness makes this look like a book on business globalization, which doesn’t seem to feature in the book’s description at all.
  2. Even if — even if — globalized silhouettes weren’t an overdone visual motif, it’s a difficult-to-read cover.  Light-colored type against a white background, with only a subtle drop-shadow completely overpowered by the silhouettes within the type…  Plus, Impact font is as much the zombie of nonfiction cover fonts as silhouettes are the zombie of business book graphics. Plus plus, the subtitle is an awful lot of words (and inconsistently capitalized words, to boot) saying absolutely nothing.

Altogether, this cover is so generic and cliched as a marketing how-to book, it’s almost a parody, and not a very good one.  Sorry if that sounds awful blunt, but if there’s one thing that a marketing book cover needs to demonstrate from the first millisecond, it’s skill at marketing.

Anyone think differently?

Oliris

The author says:

Senana Sa’z Rays has always been angry. Since the day he hit puberty an unholy rage festers in him threatening to destroy everything he loves. It ultimately gets him imprisoned on planet Indiku for a sentence of five years to harvest in the Leeri flower fields. Sena didn’t expect to be taken by a blue dragon, or what they would end up meaning to each other. There is a race against time for the two, and they’ll have to find a way to survive when everyone is trying to kill them.

Oliriscover546

Oliriscover546

Nathan says:

I should preface all of my comments by saying that I am definitely not the target audience for this book.

That said, I like the cover in thumbnail.  The restrained and focused color palette brings together what could otherwise be two unrelated images.  I think the type is a little too restrained, and could benefit from higher contrast.

When seen at a larger size, however, the cover presents a lot of problems.  First is that the dragon pretty clearly has a horse’s nose.  In fact, it was only when I looked at the description again that I realized I was supposed to be seeing a dragon, not a mer-horse or something.

And the guy’s hand down his pants… combine that image with the horse, and there are clear implications of bestiality that are hard to ignore.  Unless your male protagonist is actually a model-turned-pornstar, get his fingers out of his britches.

There are other areas that need improvement — the single nipple that looks like an eye, the tattoo that intrudes on the byline, the odd glow that defines the edge of the horse/dragon’s nose — but those are the two largest ones I see.

Other comments?

Slate: Slippery Slope

The author says:

In a possible world, much like our world, the North American peninsula has fallen subject to a buy-out, which has seen the continent rebranded as the United States of Enterprise (USE). At the West Coast of the United States an enormous rock formation has manifested spanning nearly the entire coast. There, in a mountain range call the Gorgon Mountains, those rejected from the highly advanced USE society have made a home.

Slate - Slippery Slope Book 1 - Richard Heby

Slate - Slippery Slope Book 1 - Richard Heby

Nathan says:

So… where’s the cover?

Okay, that’s snarkier than it needs to be, but seriously.  There’s nothing here.  I can’t tell genre, mood, anything from what you’ve got.  I don’t think the fonts work well together (I don’t think that the title font works well for anything period), and I can’t even tell which is the book title and which is the series title.

I know that the success of books like Hugh Howey’s Wool series have been at the forefront of a resurgence in understated covers, with nothing but minimal text and background textures, and if used right those covers can be surprisingly effective. But let’s be honest: the original cover to the first edition of Wool was pretty unimpressive. Later ones are better, in that type and background still use dynamic color and texture to create a visual draw and convey a mood.  Howey burst on the scene in the early days of indie ebook publishing, where there wasn’t as much competition; I’d go out on a limb and say that if he were starting out today, using his original covers, he’d be almost completely ignored.

If you want to stick with minimalism — and like I said, that can certainly work — couldn’t you add just a little bit of visual interest?  For instance, a crack through the slate would not only make it more interesting, it would reinforce the theme of a divided society.  Stronger, slightly distressed type would not only make the words easier to read (“Slipper Slope” and “Book 1” are thin enough to vanish in the thumbnail), but could also add to the idea of a hardscrabble life on the fringes.

Other ideas?

A Killer Among Us

The author says:

Colby, the newest cop in town, stumbles upon a homicide on her first day. Tom, the italian boy everyone loves, shows up and seems to always be around. Tensions rise within the department and between Colby and Tom, can she save them while she saves the town?

a killer among us-titled

a killer among us-titled

Nathan says:

I’m not going to lie to you, there are serious problems with this cover.  Let’s look first at the ones that are visible from the thumbnail, since that’s the first impression most people will get.

  1. Color and contrast are not dynamic.  There are plenty of covers with a restricted color scheme, but they make up for it by high contrast — at the very least, some distinct blacks.  Here, though, nothing “pops” to the eye.
  2. The font is dead boring.  The longer I do this, the more I come to believe that a reader should be able to get the tone of the book — if not the actual genre — from the font alone.  By contrast, all that the Times Roman-ish font here tells us is that the designer didn’t know what font to use and so chose the most immediate default choice.
  3. The layout has no focus.  The title, the cops, the squad car, the house… all of them are in a contest for the viewer’s eyes, and consequently no single visual element sticks in memory or attracts interest.

Now let’s take a look at what become apparent at a larger size:

  1. Ouch. The officers are pixelated from blowing up a too-small image, the blonde officer’s head obviously does not belong to her body, her hair is cut out with a jagged edge that threatens to become the real focal point of the cover, and the shadow on her face looks like a can of spray pain exploded in her hand.  What’s really distressing about this is that there’s nothing about the final pose that’s dynamic or evocative enough that it justifies all the manipulation; it’s a picture of two cops. Surely there’s another stock photo somewhere of a male and female officer that can serve?
  2. You might get away with blending layers if the foreground figures are fading into the background, but it definitely doesn’t work when they’re blending into a tree.
  3. You’ve already established “police” with the two officers.  Do you really need the squad car to make it “policey” enough?
  4. The border at the top of the farmhouse photo only emphasizes that these are unrelated images which have been cobbled together.

Here’s what I would do, if an author gave me this cover as a rough concept sketch:

  1. Lose the squad car.
  2. Find a picture of two officers that looks good at the resolution I need and position them on the center-left of the cover, and have them looking across to the right side (instead of their current gaze, which looks like they’d rather be somewhere more interesting off to the left).
  3. Place the farmhouse on the right, in a position that indicates that it’s clearly background to the officers.  The human figures are the focus; the house is backdrop. If the original farmhouse picture didn’t have enough sky to fill the space, I’d cheat and borrow sky from some other source (sky is really easy to blend together), letting it get darker and sunset-like toward the top.
  4. Tie the officers and the farmhouse together by color.  You’ve got a late-in-the-day vibe in the farmhouse pic, so I’d experiment with oranges and reds to bring the two images together.  Orange and red are also “danger” colors, which fit in well with the crime-thriller theme.
  5. Put the title at the top, byline at the bottom, and find a good font.  (The easy way to do this: browse police thrillers on Amazon and see which covers stand out at thumbnail size because of strong fonts.  Then go to a free font site — FontSpace.com and FontSquirrel.com are good places to start — and find something that approximates what you found on Amazon.

Good luck!

Anyone else have comments?

Crystal Spires

The author says:

Crystal Spires by J. Wagner (YA) The story follows the adventures of a young police officer named Frizz(-ina), mysterious power sources, crystal mansions, and villains with covetous agendas in a massive, underground city. Sci-Fi Fantasy. (Hello Cover Critics. As you can see, I am trying to work out a composition for this book cover. It was very crowded in the first version and I had to cut a lot of things out. I have yet to add color but I would like to get the composition shredded before I commit to any painting. How can I make this a compelling cover you would want to pick up and read? Thank you for your time!)

Wagner_5

Wagner_5

Nathan says:

You got a lot of artistic skill.  I have complete confidence that you’ll be able to do this cover justice.

First: I would say, NEVER leave color to the end.  Unless the prospective reader is colorblind,the first thing they’ll notice — before line quality or title — is the color (and even if they’re colorblind, they’ll see the dynamics of light and dark first). How is the central figure going to “pop?” Murky colors for the ruins behind her, dusty pastels for the crystals, primary colors for the figure?  Whatever it is, you should go into the line drawing knowing what the end color layout is going to be; otherwise you’ll be there at the end, pulling your hair out over how to make the crystals distinct from the ruins without taking away from the figure.

Second: Is this a graphic novel?  Your description implies that it’s not, and if so, you might want to make the figure’s face less manga-ish to avoid a false impression.  Otherwise, you might get the perfect reader for the book ignoring it because they don’t want to read a manga right now, and manga readers who flip through it feeling gypped.

Third: I think you can let the type take up more space.  If the title were on two lines — say, with “Crystal” flush left and “Spires” flush right — it wouldn’t feel like it’s been pushed out of the way to make room for the artwork.  (That’s another thing that makes it feel like a comic book, because in a comic book the masthead is designed to be relatively out of the way to that it doesn’t intrude on future, as yet undesigned covers.)  Similarly, let the byline take up more space.

Other thoughts?

Grand Master’s Game

The author says:

Athanor Griffin and Violet spin across the galaxy, following his risky plan to solve the worsening portal crisis. Failures of the interplanetary portals sever transport, leaving people to starve without vital shipments of food. In the inevitable battle with their enemies among the Grand Masters, Violet and Athanor must recruit allies and overcome their personal nightmares.

Game-cover-clean

Game-cover-clean

Nathan says:

What you’ve got here is a sketch, roughing in the layout of both images and type.  Now you need to step up for the finishing touches.

  1. The male figure: The fact that his skin shows absolutely no blue highlights keeps him entirely separate from the background. Also, I know that hair is a pain in the ass, but the crisp edge on the back of his head and the fact that the blue background doesn’t show through his hanging locks make it even more apparent that he’s an external element.
  2. The fonts.  The title is boring, and the italics on the byline is unnecessary.  I can understand wanting something bold and solid for the title, but there are plenty of bold and solid fonts that aren’t as run-of-the-mill.

Hope this helps. Anyone else?

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