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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?


  1. I find all the words difficult to read in the thumbnail. It takes a little effort to read the blue on blue even in the large cover.

    I can’t tell it’s a dragon on either cover and I didn’t even see it for a while. The dragon needs to be bigger and clearer.

  2. You’ve got a decent picture, but the emphasis is all wrong. Beautiful as the scenery is, we’ve all seen stuff like that before in Peter Jackson’s 11-hour New Zealand tourism commercial (a.k.a. his Lord of the Rings trilogy). What we potential readers don’t see so often, since we don’t live in a fantasy world, is dragons. Not only should you make the dragon bigger, you should bring it into the foreground and have it fill the sky. Even if it’s just a symbol and actual dragons aren’t so important to the story, let your symbol loom large.

    Moreover, give us more of that sky to be filled by shifting the background downward. Believe me, nobody will complain at all if you cut off as much as half of the ocean which is currently taking up too much space on the bottom of your cover, and give the whole upper third of the cover to the dragon. Also, while that’s a pretty island, no one’s going to complain if the font covers a fair amount more of it than it does now.

    This brings us to the last point: your font is too spidery-thin and doesn’t contrast with the background as well as it might. It doesn’t have to be especially fancy, but bulk it up! Since the background is all cool colors, use hot colors on the font to make it stand out from the background better; one shade of blue on another is difficult to see. Also, as the man says, “nanowrimo 2014” is no advertisement for the quality of the novel, and might even turn away potential readers, so take it out to make more room for expanding the byline. Don’t be shy with your title or byline; that seems to be a very common mistake around here.

  3. Thank you for your feedback! The author specifically asked for the “nanowrimo 2014” subtitle, but I will defiantly try to persuade them to remove it. I can see what you are saying about the byline in the thumbnail. “The” and “of” were a slightly smaller font size and more spread out for design purposes, but I realize that probably just looks like faulty kerning on a two-letter word. I appreciate your comments, and thank you for taking the time to critic this!

  4. To me it looks as though that dragon has been hit by an anti-dragon missile and now is smoking as it is coming down to crash land.

    I think it is because the dragon is shown behind the clouds so it looks like smoke rather than clouds. It throws the size off, because a dragon that was behind the clouds would be a massive last boss sized dragon continent of a beast that could eat that island in one gulp!

  5. I read a lot of fantasy books, but this thumbnail wouldn’t get me to notice this book as such. I can’t make out the dragon in the thumbnail (I don’t play Where’s Waldo when I’m looking for a book to read), nor can I easily read the title in the thumbnail. Definitely, need a larger, more visible dragon and more readable title.

  6. If it’s not too late to add “me too” comments…

    1) Definitely needs a bigger dragon. When I first glanced at the cover I missed it completely. I thought this might’ve been a “false flag” style cover. However, I’m worried that if it gets too big and doesn’t blend in well with the background photo it’ll look like it’s photobombing the scene.

    2) I like the fact this is a fantasy cover that isn’t like every other fantasy cover.

    3) Dump the “nanowrimo 2014”. It screams amateur.

    4) I agree that the font needs to be more legible. Bump up the contrast. The position of the title doesn’t bother me.

  7. I actually don’t mind the smallish dragon – I’m guessing the thought process behind this size was trying to conceal that it’s computer generated stock art and probably not realistically rendered enough to blend nicely with the photo background. Which is fine if you don’t have a huge budget for cover art, so it goes, you do the best you can with what you have. Since people aren’t seeing it at once, besides enlarging it just slightly and bringing it down and center a bit, you might want to add an element to draw attention to it while still keeping it small enough to disguise its limitations. Since the sun is behind it, you could add rays of diffuse sunlight coming from that direction. Might also want to have it reflecting in the water, although it’s hard to tell if it’s in front of or behind the island.

  8. If you’re still looking for feedback…

    First of all, fantastic design, really unusual treatment of fantasy (which sounds like it fits the book) and something I’d look twice at and admire on the shelf in a bookshop.

    BUT as an ebook I fear it might not quite do the job at present. Though I don’t agree the dragon needs to be the bigger element, it definitely needs to be something readers will see at first glance when this is a thumbnail in order to hook fantasy readers.


    The only thing that actually NEEDS fixing here is a slight issue with leading and kerning in the title: the ‘of’ line is much closer to the line below it than the one above. (I also think the letters in the word ‘of’ are too widely space by a mile, but others have already covered that point).

    Otherwise, I love the treatment of the title. And if this were for a print book that people would only see at actual size, I’d say you could get away with the colour and thinness of the type. However, for an ebook where you need to grab people’s eye at thumbnail size, I think you might need to make it a different colour. This is especially important, since your imagery isn’t working hard to hook fantasy readers – so you need the word ‘dragons’ at least to be nice and immediately legible to grab their attention.


    I agree with the others that the dragon element isn’t quite working yet. I too thought it was a dragon in flames.

    I think the dragon element needs to be brought more onto the page, not clipped by the edge. I don’t think you need to make it bigger necessarily (I can see how that would knock off the balance of the cover, but it needs to be made clearer. The cloud drifting in front does a good job of selling the dragon as incoorperated into the scene, but it’s currently obscuring the dragon’s distinctive silhouette at present. A little less of it, and made a little more transparent, would do it for me.

    If you’re struggling to make the dragon look legitimately part of the scene, maybe make its wings lighter and more transparent? The membrane would be thin letting lots of light through.

    I mocked up what I mean here (minus the title leading/kerning issues since I was tracing over your own text): (you should be able to view with this link, it’s a private Tumblr post).

    My text is less classy-looking in than yours but does stand out more. You might be able to find a happier medium – this is obviously just a quick pass.

    Like Nathan, I think it’s worth experimenting with moving the seascape around so the horizon line isn’t sitting halfway down the page. I don’t hate it where it is, but I’ve an inkling that if the picture was moved so the horizon sat lower on the page, giving you more sky than sea, it might make the design even more striking. Having a big sky will play to the ‘freedom’ and ‘introspection’ points well.

    I don’t agree with Nathan about needing to have the word ‘of’ sit on the horizon myself – I like it exactly where it is (once the word ‘dragons’ has been moved down to even out the leading, as I say).

    I WOULD be tempted to reduce the font size of the word ‘freedom’ a little. It might give it a nice sense of perspective, as if that word is set further back in the scene than the word ‘dragons’.

    Finally, I think you need a slightly heavier version of the font for the author name since it’s sitting in some places over a colour similar to itself.

    I agree that the cover would be much improved by dropping the ‘nanowrimo’ bit. You’ve done a lovely, unusual, professional-looking cover for this author. It;s a shame to have to undermine that.

    1. What about putting only the “Dragons” in green? It would emphasize the fantasy element at thumbnail size where the actual dragon might not be distinguishable enough.

  9. I like it, I would change the bottom font color to more of a contrast and do a little editing of the dragon, it’s really good, don’t hire a professional, you are one! good job.

    1. What the H.R. Pufnstuf?
      I think Yo is broken… That almost made sense.

      However, this is a professional designer, not the author. It says that in the description.

      1. I actually am not a professional designer, just a teenage designer wannabe. Hopefully going to start taking some classes soon! 🙂
        However, though I apreciate AMJ or Yo or whoever-you-are’s compliments, I am quite happy with the other comments that I have received. This site is for constructive criticism, and I really enjoy hearing what others have to say!

        1. I think you’ve made the right career choice, you have a knack for designing covers. After a bit of schooling to learn the dos and don’ts, you’ll make a great designer.

          One of the first things they’ll probably teach you is that splitting an image in thirds is more dynamic and interesting than splitting it in half. The horizon line through the middle of the image is not exactly bad here, I rather like how it looks, but you still might want to try pushing the horizon line down to one third of the image and see how that would look. It would give the dragon more room. I don’t think it needs to be bigger, but it does need to be more noticeable, I completely missed it at first look. And it’s just a blur in thumbnail mode.

          Have you thought of making the island more dreamlike? It would look more fantasy-ish, and the cover can use some more hints at fantasy. Try this tutorial out: . Ignore the anime drawing, the process works nicely with photos too, if you do it right. You can play a bit with opacity and different blending modes. Might not look better in the end, but it’s worth a try.

          If you’re still having trouble in getting the author to drop NaNoWriMo, you can tell her (him?) that she could put a nice “making of” appendix at the end, that’s getting to be a thing among the self published authors, since it’s a great way to let the reader connect directly to the author and not just the book.

  10. I agree with Waffles that the dragon image is not very good. It looks like it’s exploding in the air. I agree with Nathan about the ‘nanowrimo’ (readers are unlikely to know what it means) and the author name being too small. I like the layout and the typeface though.

  11. I hate to come along and just agree, but I usually do totally agree with you Nathan. That “OF” is driving me insane! And the author name is all but invisible. But over all, I like it.

  12. I like this quite a bit. It conveys a peaceful idea of flying that is not usually associated with dragons.

    What occurs to me is that “The Freedom” is land-locked (it’s a neat effect), but the dragon is soaring through the sky; so I think that “The Freedom” should be raised upward into the sky, too, and the dragon made larger (as suggested previously) and positioned to convey the freedom of flying. “OF” could be raised so it is located directly in front the island, and that would help improve the contrast, too. “Dragons” would end up being in about the same place.

    “THE” and “OF” are too skinny. The letters need to be made a little heavier weight by adding an outline of the same color or by using a heavier weight of the font or maybe with smallcaps if the font has them. The same applies to the author name; the name could easily be increased to be about the same width as the title and be a little heavier.

    And send “nanowrimo” to Davy Jones’ Locker.

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