Before commenting, PLEASE read the commenting rules. It will make us both happier, you and me. Especially me.

Month – December 2015

The Eyes in the Gingerbread House

The author says:

A middle-grade to YA satire about government and digital security in the U.S. involving an evil Santa Claus. It’s mainly fantasy with a bit of sci-fi, set in a future Canada where Santa is real and runs a global Christmas operation. It is NOT dystopian by any means. It’s just normal Canada with some slight interference from Santa’s surveillance department. One line pitch: After a school trip to the North Pole goes awry, revealing some unpleasant truths, a twelve-year-old aspiring journalist and her friends must find a way to bring down Santa’s global surveillance operation. Just FYI, because I have a feeling somebody is going to jump to this conclusion: The red background is purely for aesthetics, as well as to invoke the imagery of candy canes (a fairly important part of the plot). It is in no way related to Russia, Communism, or any other western ideas of totalitarianism. The book is criticizing the U.S. Thanks!

6

6

Nathan says:

You lost me at “middle-grade.”

Seriously, there’s nothing here that indicates that the book is meant for a middle-grade-to-YA audience.  Even more than us adults (and that’s saying something), young readers pick up on the visual cues of covers to immediately understand that, of the books on display (either in a real bookstore or on an Amazon page), this one is aimed at them.  And what clues them in?:

  • A colorful, “fun” illustration of an interesting scene that portrays human figures, including the protagonists (so that the readers can identify the protagonists as someone in an age group they identify with)
  • Easily read type

By contrast, your cover includes type which cannot be read at anything less than full size, simplified icons instead of an illustration, a limited color scheme, and no human figures.  The red which you meant to evoke candy canes doesn’t, because (a) candy canes aren’t striped like that, and (b) at smaller sizes, it just becomes a solid red background.

If I saw your cover in thumbnail on an Amazon page — which is where most readers will first encounter your book — I would probably assume that it’s a nonfiction book with something to do with home surveillance systems.

As I’ve recommended before for books aimed at young readers, I say: Pony up for custom artwork, from someone who’s got experience in book covers for that audience.  Otherwise, your target audience will never know it exists.

Other thoughts?

Phoenix Afterlife

The author says:

This book was released in October with the cover as shown. I guess I thought most readers were like me: more interested in the description on the back than the picture on the front. Apparently I guessed wrong, and I’d like to come up with a new cover. This is primarily a literary story about the nature of consciousness and what makes us human, but the genre is near-term hard science fiction (emerging tech, not spaceships or time travel). Thanks for any suggestions for improvement.

phoenix-afterlife-500

phoenix-afterlife-500

Nathan says:

Before we get to the design particulars of your cover, I want to address your marginally passive-aggressive comments on covers in general.

You may have noticed that there are, like, a LOT of books competing for each reader’s attention. Wikipedia says that in 2013, over 300,000 books were published or republished in the U.S. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time to reserve judgment until I’ve read the back covers of 300,000 books; I have to use other clues and cues to narrow down the books in which I might conceivably be interested.

In other words, I need to be able to instantly gauge the interest factors shown on the cover for genre and style to guess if I want to bother reading the back cover.

For self-published books, the cover serves an additional purpose: it can present the book as a professional-grade work, as worthy of the attention of your readers as something published in New York.  Despite all of the rote repetitions of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” readers use the covers of self-published books to tell them if the author/publisher is sufficiently self-aware and self-critical to understand what actually looks good and appealing for a book cover — because an indie author who decides, through a combination of hubris and ignorance, to use an amateurish cover for his book probably has used that same combination of hubris and ignorance in judging whether the contents of said book are ready to compete for money with professionally published works.

Conclusion: The cover is important.  It is absolutely the first impression available to 99.9% of your potential readers, and you can’t afford to screw up that first impression.

So, on to your cover in particular:

  • I can’t tell by glancing at it — which is all the exposure most readers will have to it initially — its genre, or even whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.  I can’t tell if it’s cozy or gritty, challenging or easily-read.
  • The two main image elements — a photograph of snow mountains and a texture-filled silhouette of a phoenix — don’t seem to relate to each other in any way; they’re just random images, and not presented particularly evocatively.
  • The standard serif font is likewise not evocative.  You can convey a lot in the typeface, but this one doesn’t tell me anything.

Rather than try to reverse-engineer your present cover to meet the role of a book cover, I’d advise you to do some market research:

  • Find a half-dozen books which you would expect to appeal to readers of your novel.
  • Take careful note of any common elements among the covers, and how elements of the design convey the differences between them.
  • Sketch out a cover with an eye toward trying to appeal to those readers.

Good luck!

Any other comments?

First Epiphany of the Time Vandal [resubmit]

The author says:

Dr. Elijah Snow wanted to record history, not become a part of it. But after stealing the T714 time-displacement craft from his US Air Force benefactors, he quickly found out that witnessing an event without participating in it was easier than it sounded. Accompanied by his quirky A.I ‘Fuzzy’, Dr. Snow sets out to document many of the major historical occurrences which had always intrigued him. From the Mongol Invasion to the crowning of the Danish king Harald Bluetooth, Elijah does his best to record without getting involved. But invariably he ends up embroiled, time and time again, in these events, never failing to leave his footprint on the pages of history.

delCOVERNEWEST

delCOVERNEWEST

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

A much stronger design concept this time out. Now we can get down to fine-tuning.

First: I like the idea of the echoing silhouette, but not THIS silhouette. His foreshortened limbs look odd, and he’s in an unnatural stance.  I also suggest rotating the successive silhouettes, which will give a more “out of control” impression.

Second, you have too many fonts.  Unless there’s a compelling reason, I always advise to use at most two fonts on the cover. What I would suggest is using two-and-a-half fonts, as it were; I know a lot of stencil fonts come in more and less distressed varieties; if this is one of those, use the less distressed version for “First Epiphany of the” and save the more distressed version for the big words.  Then use the tagline font for both the tagline and the byline.

A final word; from the original description (and somewhat from this description, though less so), I have the impression that this is at least partly a humorous story.  If so, then you need to find some way to indicate that on the cover, which is pretty humorless.

Other comments?

Avenge Me My Suicide

The author says:

This is a psycho-drama about the eight (almost nine) year old Aaron, who’s been locked away in a mental asylum for several months now for what he did to his classmate Marissa. His story is told in a series of flashbacks as he gradually gains the sympathies and friendship of his assigned caseworker Dr. Catar explaining how and why he engaged in the rebellious behavior that got him institutionalized. Dr. Catar then faces considerable opposition from his superiors as he comes to believe Aaron does not belong in the asylum and starts campaigning for him to be released.

AMMS

AMMS

Nathan says:

First up, this crowd may be over-sensitive to this kind of thing (thanks to the discussion surrounding previous covers), but the first impression I get is one of the morning after an eight-year-old one-night stand.  I don’t know if child-sex figures in your book, but whether it does or whether it doesn’t, featuring an image indicative of it on the cover will probably drive away a lot more readers than it attracts (and those it attracts will probably be attracted for the wrong reason, because ew).

I don’t mind the childish hand-drawn type because it’s actual hand-drawn type, not a pre-made font that tries to imitate hand-drawn type. However, I would definitely blur or otherwise soften the edges so that it looks less like it was drawn digitally.

Not technically a “cover” comment, but I question whether an eight-year-old would use the arcane grammar of the title (unless the eight-year-old in question were a pre-pubescent H.P. Lovecraft).

Of my three comments, I think the first one is by far the most important.  Unless there’s another shot from that same photoshoot in which the boy is at least wearing a shirt, I would advise you to scrap it and find an unrelated image which doesn’t have that same “ick” factor.

Other comments?

There’s Magic in the Sky!

The author says:

This is a picture book intended for adults to read to young kids, or for older kids to read to themselves. The aim is to present the science behind how an Aurora occurs but without losing the sense of wonder and awe that science can sometimes kill off. This is done by simplifying the scientific explanations, adding some drama, and the use of rhyming language. This book is the first in a series titled ‘Tales of Science and Magic’.

Front_Cover_Preview

Front_Cover_Preview

Nathan says:

A commendable project, and I have no complaints about the art (which is good, since that is the one thing that can’t be changed here). So let’s look at the type.

I was going to point out the mismatch between the whimsical flavor of the supertitle and the simplicity of the rest of the type, but I think we actually need to go back further.  The cover art is obviously hand-done, and while the type tries to match that, it’s just as obviously a computer imitation of hand-drawn lettering.  I think you would end up with a far superior project if you asked one of your contributing artists to hand-letter the cover!

There’s a particular problem with your credits block.  I would (a) separate the “Written by” info a little from the multi-line “Illustrated by” part. I would also make sure that none of your illustrators’ names are split by a line break.

Other comments?

Contact Form Powered By : XYZScripts.com