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Month – October 2017

At Fault

The author says:

The United States is literally tearing apart. Advances in laser drilling technology have made drilling for oil much cheaper, and energy companies are pumping the life out of the earth in Colorado. Peter searches for the cause of the increasingly strong earthquakes. Will he be able to find out what–or who–is responsible before it’s too late?

Nathan says:

Nicely done, and a solid visual concept, except that the starscape dominating the cover may give the impression that it’s set in space (or, conversely, that it’s meant to appeal to readers of The Fault In Our Stars).

Other than that, I have no comments.  Anyone else?


Passion pleasure prejudice & pain.

The author says:

A guide to Chinese ladies, marriage, sex, culture, love, dating and living in China. The book reflects the opinions of the author and has been influenced by the opinions of some of his friends and trusted acquaintances. It is a genuine attempt to inform and help those people preparing for a serious relationship with a Chinese lady. Generalization has been necessary as no one example fits all. There are many underlying messages herein and the purpose of the book is to educate or inform as many people as possible.

Nathan says:

Um… Okay.

First up, whenever you put the words “pleasure” and “pain” in proximity, the inference drawn is overwhelmingly one of masochism.

Second, the dissociated facial features seems an awful lot like objectification — which is a bad thing.

Third, when you’re giving advice to men about saving money with foreign women… that sounds like prostitution.

Fourth, the way you’ve got the title fit in and around the photos makes it seem like an afterthought.

Fifth, having “Passion pleasure” right beside each other without any punctuation is just plain wrong.

Sixth, the two fonts chosen seem to have been whatever was on your computer at the time.

Seventh, half of the facial feature photos are of visibly poor resolution, and one (the nose) also has been stretched out of proportion.

I’m sorry, but there’s no part of this cover that doesn’t fail, and fail hard.  You would be much better off turning this over to a for-real cover designer.

Digital Tart [resubmit]

The author says:

Title: Digital Tart Resubmit – started again from scratch. I re-wrote the description as well.

Genre: Science Fiction/Adventure

Setting: Near future

Clare Farral is in a cushy job, out of her stinking subsistence apartment, coaching the fledgling artificial intelligence of the DigiTart chat service. When she gets a psycho-caller laying the groundwork for the next cyberwar, new opportunities arise – a promotion to troubleshooter, a dodgy employee to check out, the chance at the latest in digital implants, and more trouble than she could have imagined, with only her wits to keep her one step ahead of getting killed. Lianne Medway, an enhanced police officer, investigating the murder of her old partner, is gunned down in what should have been the safety of a police barracks. On light duties, bereft of her powered armour, she pursues a lead and comes up against the ruthless Digital Tart. She knows she’s on the right track – people keep trying to kill her with ever-heavier weapons. The two women converge on the same target, unaware that he is a brutal mercenary employed by the Digital Tart. Their only chance is to decipher the puzzle, avoid getting shot and outsmart a trained killer.

[original submissions and comments here]

Nathan says:

While the specifics of any critique of this cover are different from those on the previous iteration, your reach still exceeds your grasp by a significant degree.  There are things here that are so wrong that an experienced designer would have trouble explaining why they’re wrong, because he would have internalized it to the degree that it becomes unconscious instinct:  the busyness of the background, the way the silhouette becomes absorbed into the skyline at thumbnail size, the too-small font sizes and the type treatment (especially on the byline) that is an impediment to reading…

I think you need to realize that cover design is a specific skill beyond the ability to operate PhotoShop, and that your book will be better off if someone with that specific skill creates your cover.  This is not an admission of failure, but an awareness of the role of expertise.  Just as you would not expect a cover designer to be able to write a compelling novel because of his track record in cover design, you should not expect to be able to design a good cover for your novel just because you wrote the novel.

Sorry, but it’s the truth.

The Seed of Joy

The author says:

A naive young American named Paul Harkin would do just about anything to escape the tedium of his home town, Lafayette, Indiana — including signing up for a stint overseas in the United States Peace Corps. His assignment serves up more than he ever expected. South Korea in 1979 is a hotbed of political turmoil, with student protesters going head-to-head with government riot police. He tries to stay above the fray. But when he falls in love with Han Mi Jin, a troubled pro-democracy activist, all bets are off. He defies the Peace Corps, the US government, and the Korean martial law authorities to take up her cause. When they become embroiled in the bloody Kwangju Uprising of May, 1980, in which nearly 2,000 people were killed by government troops, they risk losing everything.

Nathan says:

I’m sure that this cover will seem fitting to anyone who has read the novel, but that’s attacking it from the wrong end.  What can we put on this cover that will draw in the target reader?  There’s plenty of drama and conflict in your description, so how can we indicate this on the cover?  The silhouette of a couple embracing over a sea of upraised fists, maybe?

I’ll let other commenters do the heavy lifting of providing more suggestions.

Zombieclypse Volume 1 [resubmit]

The author says:

I fiddled some more with the cover and hope I made some improvements using the critique given. 😉

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

You did indeed, and the improvement definitely shows.  There’s still room for more, though.

I was uncertain last time if “Zombieclypse” could easily fit on one line; you’ve demonstrated that it doesn’t, not without compressing the letters to the point that you sacrifice readability. I think one of my suggestions last time just got stronger: put the title on an angle, high on the left and low on the right.  I would also put a slight dark glow or drop shadow around the title; with the font so textured against a background so textured, the text blends dangerously into the background.

Other notes: The spaces between the letters in the series description are so minimal that the words run together.  Especially in all-caps, you need to make sure the words are distinct — if you need to, double-space between them.

And there should be a space after the period in the byline.

I think we’re close to a winner here! Other comments?

Digital Tart

The author says:

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Setting: Near future

Clare Farral answers a call, expecting to talk dirty to another customer, whilst coaching the fledgling artificial intelligence of the DigiTart chat service. Instead, she gets a psychopath laying the groundwork for the next cyberwar, using bullets as well as bytes. Now she has an online stalker. One of the first casualties is Clare’s friend Kyla, a medically-retired ‘cybercop’, an enhanced officer injured in the line of duty. Kyla’s former partner Officer Lianne Medway investigates the murder, herself getting badly injured by someone trying to disrupt the investigation. Clare is sent to challenge her stalker in person; Medway, on light duties, hunts Kyla’s killers. The two converge on the same target, a ruthless mercenary drawing them in to be pawns for his own mission.

Nathan says:

Your reach exceeds your grasp on a lot of fronts here.

  • The overlapping figures: You’ve seen it work on other book covers and (especially) movie posters, but you’re missing the rest of the equation.  It works when the figures depicted form a hierarchy, not just in who’s in front of whom, but who’s higher than whom, so that the size differences convey information about the characters.  Here, it just looks like an awkward overlap.
  • Color scheme: The two figure photographs are presented as photographed, with no modification.  Especially if you have figures who obviously aren’t in the same photo or shown at the same scale, you need to have a unifying color scheme so that they are visually related.  Again, look on movie posters to see how this is done right.  Remember that, in thumbnail size (which is the size at which most potential readers will first encounter it), the color scheme gets noticed before the text, or even before the imagery.  It’s important.
  • The font: Not terribly suspenseful, and it doesn’t have a lot of visual weight.  If you look at the thumbnail, you can see that the title almost seems hesitant, taking up as little space as it can, despite having tons of space beneath it.
  • The less said about the bullet casings thrown in to add to the “danger” quotient, the better.

Back to the drawing board, I’m afraid.

Any other opinions?


The Sacrifice

The author says:

Eira was conceived for one purpose – as a sacrifice for her narcissist mother’s plans. As the time approaches, can she overcome her conditioning and escape to the freedom she desires? Can she then return and put paid to the mother that has kept a land in misery and thrall? Genre: fantasy/horror

Nathan says:

I can’t tell from your synopsis what the setting or milieu is supposed to be… but that’s okay, I guess, because I can’t tell it from your cover, either.  Is this high or second-world fantasy?  Urban fantasy-horror in a modern setting?  I dunno.  There’s certainly nothing that indicates magic or the paranormal in your cover.

The other main problem is that nothing is readable from thumbnail, not even the title.  Glancing at the thumbnail (which is the way most people will first encounter the novel) just gives a monochromatic impression of snow.  It could be suspense, police procedural, or even a slice-of-life or coming-of-age literary novel.  There’s simply nothing there to grab the attention of the target audience and tell them, “This novel is for you!”

Zombieclypse Series, Vol 1

The author says:

This is the cover I made for my book collection. (Release date end October) Three novels about Ralph and Sarah; telling the story of their survival during the zombie apocalypse. They go from being quarantined and escaping their imminent death, to struggling with other survivors to survive and ending in them trying to bring down a corporation up to no good. It’s a young adult zombie series, set in the near future during a zombie apocalypse. The target audience are zombie fans who love horror, carnage, and fast-paced action.


Nathan says:

The problem with “horror” fonts like this is that they now connote a goofy, winking self-awareness.  Unless your novels have a self-deprecating B-movie tone (and it doesn’t sound like it from your description), you’re not giving the right impression with your cover.  Plus, it’s hard to read in two ways: one, the “clypse” doesn’t contrast well with the background behind it, and two, you’ve split “Zombieclypse,” which is a marginally readable neologism at best, leaving “Clypse” to be read as a separate word. Anything you do that makes it harder to instantly comprehend your cover is something that decreases reader interest.

Also: The title, as I gave it above, is my best guess, but it could more easily be read as Vol 1 Zombie Clypse Series,” which is just ungainly.

My advice:

  1. Give the title as “Zombieclypse Volume 1,” on two lines:

    Volume 1

  2. Use a modern, distressed font for “Zombieclypse” instead of something from Nightmare Theater.
  3. For your second font, I would either go with the non-distressed version of the “Zombieclypse” font, or something entirely different, like a handwritten font.  (Remember also this rule of thumb: The smaller the text is, the more readable the font needs to be.)
  4. My instinct is to left-justify all of the text, to balance out the zombie hands on the right (nice image, by the way).  If “Zombieclypse” won’t fit on one line without overlapping the hands, then I’d consider setting it on a cock-eyed angle.

Other comments?

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