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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.




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?


  1. I really really like the artwork. The people are in proportion and I think the sketchy style only adds to it as a whole. I really like it, it is a different kind of style.

    It is a shame that the main character is looking off the page though. If you have the ability to change the elements at all having him look in the other direction would help significantly. I don’t think you can though judging by the paintwork behind the character. As it stands now the archer looks more important than the character.

    Now to agree with Nathan even more: This needs to be handled appropriately. If you use a somewhat sketchy piece of artwork, the rest of everything must be exceptionally flawless. The title font must be memorable, readable, larger and with beautiful contrast in comparison.

    The title should also probably be before the ‘book 1 of the’.

    This looks like there was a pretty picture and then some text got thrown on it. That will not do.

    Look at some other fantasy book covers and see what works, what doesn’t. research first, then revise! 🙂

    1. The cover was done by someone who doesn’t normally do covers. (He’s moving in to doing them more now, I think.) For the price (and he’s increase his prices dramatically since but agreed to keep the old price for me for the sequels) I can’t really get any changes. The text is mine and can easily be changed.

      So, bigger and shinier? Certainly do able.

      Thanks for the comments.

  2. Um…no. Sorry, but Nathan is being kind. I have to say that, even though I see artistic promise in this piece, it is nowhere near the level it needs to be to catch eyes in this genre.

    In short, find a starving artist and pay them to create your cover art. Use that along with Nathan’s advice for the win.

  3. The artwork looked great in the thumbnail, but up close, it’s not there yet. The composition, palette, etc are all just fine, but it needs detail and polishing. I’d say it’s 80% of the way there.

  4. I don’t find the art all that objectionable. The painterly quality is fine, but there needs to be more refinement in parts that need emphasis—those areas where the eye should focus. Not only the rendering style but the color is too much the same overall, making the picture look bland and adding to the lack of focus. Selective use of bright colors would go a long way to adding emphasis to the right parts of the picture.

    And there are too many places where the looseness obscures what should be clearer. The background figure, for instance, is simply too sketchy and vague to be easily read. (The “M” birds need to be replaced as well.)

    Nathan and the others are right about the typography. The font is ill-chosen. The artist was professional enough to have left plenty of room for type, but this space was not used wisely.

  5. It’s a nice painting but it definitely has the look of awaiting a final layer of detail. I agree with Ron Miller. I like the sketchiness of the style but it needs more refinement in the key areas – the main character generally, and in particular his face, hands, staff, belt and sword-hilt.. Like Ron says, a few touches of more vivid colour to pick out some details would do wonders (e.g. blacker beard shadow, more contrast in eye, really bright green where light catches the trim of the jacket etc).

    Look at the work of Marc Simonetti, who does the French Discworld covers, e.g. He has a brisk, sketchy style on large portions of the painting, but where it matters he refines a LOT (look at these characters’ faces compared to the way the camel is painted, for instance).

    If there’s absolutely no way of getting this illustration edited and improved by the artist, you MIGHT just about be able to get away with it, but in that case you need the rest of the design elements to take the weight of the attention.

    I agree with Nathan’s suggestions for doing this, so you get something a bit like this:

    E.g. (this is a private post – don’t worry I haven’t shared this with the world!)

    The font and decoration I’ve chosen are probably not right for your book – they’re a touch on the fairytail-ish/girly side. This is a quick pass to give you an idea. Having other design elements with this level of detail takes the pressure off the painting to provide contrast and depth a bit.

    This sort of thing not an easy bit of design for a novice designer though – you’re unlikely to find a stock border that is going to fit physically, tonally and in colour without editing. It’s something you’re going to need photoshop of preferably Illustrator skills to adjust. And the title is going to need some texturing and playing around with, even if you find a better font (I used Harrington btw, but as I say it’s likely not quite the right look for a male-led fantasy, and its not free for commercial use anyway).

    But If you had the illustration improved, it wouldn’t need this kind of compensating for in the rest of the design. You could have a nice straight forward title- and byline-treatment.

    The font you’ve currently got isn’t the worst ever, but you could certainly do better, and for me the colour is bad. Black text looks so flat. The font you’ve chosen for the by-line is completely wrong both for the cover and the genre. It looks casual, fun and peppy, not ‘epic fantasy’!

    Also, make sure to use the dead space your artist has provided for you: there’s a nice big patch of sky, no need for your title text to be sitting over the end of the staff there.

    Hope this helps!

    1. It does shelp. Thanks.

      The story isn’t really ‘epic fantasy’ as such. It’s more like ‘Conan the Barbarian’ that doesn’t take itself seriously. (Well, I like to think there’s some humor in there (-: )

      Your covers do definitely look better than mine though. Thanks for the work and the suugestions.

  6. I wouldn’t be discouraged. I read many fantasy books, and while I have passed on many because of the cover, this cover wouldn’t deter my sale. Though it might not attract me amidst other covers (it’s true, there are many others that are much more eye-catching), and for that you may want to consider the helpful comments. Some other touches, like the right border and font, may help to bring it out.

  7. Something I learned in an art criticism class is that the coloring can add perceived depth to a picture as much as the level of detail. This picture looks a little flat; if you sharpen up and articulate everything in the foreground (such as the hero) and increase the color contrast while leaving things in the background (such as the guy behind him with the bow) a bit misty and sketchy, it’ll look far better.

    Also, just because your hero apparently prefers blunt instruments, that doesn’t mean your font should be all blunt and curvy. I recommend finding a good stout font with some hard edges on it. Put some manliness into it!

    1. You must be upset with Andy Warhol and his work for not following rules and “art etiquette.” huh…

      1. 1) Where does “art etiquette” enter into this discussion?

        2) Andy Warhol was not trying to market a product using his art. This is not a site for people trying to earn their MFAs and impress gallery owners; it is for people trying to design a package for their books so that they will appeal to and sell to an appropriate audience.

        1. Isn’t there a way you can check the IP addresses of posts on your websites? This troll certainly does sound like “Yo” from Lousy Book Covers (and I can’t help thinking of the “Yippity Yo” cooking show from YouTube every time I hear that name). A check will probably reveal they are indeed the same person.

          That’s assuming this really is a person. Given the general lack of direct relevance of each post to the subject at hand, I’m thinking we might be dealing with a bot here; some practical joker at a tech university running a Turing field test on a new A.I. program specifically designed for trolling, perhaps.

          1. Yes, there is a way to check, and yes, it is the same IP address. I’m sure Yo thinks here’s terribly, terribly clever — the delusion of competence is such an ugly thing to behold…

        2. “Something I learned in an art criticism class is that”

          ahhhh.. your really need to get to speed when I talk, I didn’t reply to you and if your going to comment on the subject, talk about the subject, if you think art has rules, your not really a artist.

          1. Darned right! Art is just, like, you know, whatever you want! Without any rules or skills or learning or anything like that! And design is a communist plot, just like the difference between “your” and “you’re”!

          2. That made no sense. Yeah, I think we’ve been dealing with a troll-bot here; although I think it’s programed to claim that design is an insidious Nazi plot, since it’s leftists who typically talk about breaking free from the “tyranny of the subject” and claim that art has no rules.

          3. Aw dammit why didn’t someone tell me art had no guiding principles that it was a good idea to know about before I spent all that time and money on an art education? Boy, is my face red.

    2. It’s an old trick in art, colour perspective: fuzzy and pale looks further back, so do cold colours compared to warm. Here, there is an overall faded quality to the colours, and the pink on the face is exactly the same as the pink on the sky; does not add much to depth.
      I do also agree with Nathan that the pic simply looks too much like it was done on Illustrator or similar. A filter could help. The figure is pretty OK otherwise, no usual mismatched legs or arms sprouting backwards – but I would put in a lot bigger, chunkier font to cover as much of the sky as possible, and those plants on the foreground.

  8. I disagree with the main critique in the sense of “don’t put lipstick on a pig.” The artwork *isn’t* good enough, plain and simple. Trying to hide it behind a fancy border, better fonts, and a subtle painterly effect ain’t going to fix the underlying reality that the art is still insufficient.

    Which is not to say that the art is all bad. I think the composition is actually pretty good. The imagery is evocative. But the background is too subtle, the main figure’s posture is too static, and the creature thingie in the background doesn’t look menacing enough.

    What this is, is a great *concept* sketch that you should give to a professional illustrator. Someone you can show this to, say “I can haz kick-ass fantasy cover plz?” and have them say “Yeah, I see where this is going. I got ya covered.”

    Concept sketches are invaluable in the cover design process. Just don’t put a concept sketch on your actual book.

    (If you’re actually looking for someone, try Book Creatives. I’ve had very good experiences with them in the past, and they’re affordable for indie artists.

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