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Diamonds & Quicksilver

The author says:

Silver Tation is on his way to a diamond mine on Titan to exact a little old-fashioned revenge…and a few diamonds for his troubles. Set in a colonized solar system, Diamonds is the first in a series of novellas inspired in part by the “boys’ adventure” pulps of the early twentieth century.




Nathan says:

It’s well-composed, and looks good at a second glance. (That’s not the backhanded insult it sounds like.) Let’s try to get it looking good at first glance.

If you look at the thumbnail you can see that Saturn gets lost entirely in the murk, and the diamonds aren’t recognizable as such.  The only visible cues left to the reader as to genre, etc. are the color scheme and the font — and I don’t think those give enough of an “SF” vibe. One might even assume “Western” at thumbnail size.

My advice would be:

– Add some black/blue to the color scheme.  That’ll help with the “space” vibe, and it will also help the diamonds be seen for what they are.  Heighten the contrast for both the diamonds and Saturn so that they’re instantly recognizable as such from the thumbnail.

– Think about changing the font to something that can’t be mistaken for a Western.

– While you’re at it, make the type bigger — there’s no essential detail in the image elements of the cover that you don’t want to cover up, with the exception of Saturn.

– Play with the diamonds. If you can’t make them instantly recognizable as diamonds, maybe you should move the enlarged title and byline down and let the diamonds be their backdrop.

You’ve got a good start. Let’s bring the awesome now.

(Other ideas?)


  1. I took this into Photoshop.

    Increased the Brightness to +50
    Increased the contrast to +60

    Everything stands out better, The Diamonds look just like Diamonds (well garnets as they are yellow). Saturn is more obvious.
    It doesn’t fix it completely, but it helps a lot.

    I don’t know how to post pictures on here though.

  2. Those “diamonds” are pretty obviously the kind of decorative glass filler beads you can buy in bulk at any big box store from the interior decorating section. I’d recommend getting a shot of some actual rough diamonds from a diamond mine or a bag of loose diamonds from a jeweler for authenticity’s sake.

    As for the background, I take it you’re indicating that Titan hasn’t been terraformed, or is at any rate still a pretty hostile environment. If that’s the effect you intended, fine. You still should go ahead and bump up the contrast a lot so we can see Saturn clearly, however. It’s an exotic landmark and selling point, and you need to show it off to the best advantage, something like the way The Quiet Earth did. I wouldn’t hesitate to put it smack dab in the middle of the sky, just like on that poster.

    Another thing: the title font is fine, but dump the cheesy drop shadows; they never really seem to help. Also, boost the size of your byline until we can see it in the thumbnail, and try to make it something more interesting than a generic serif font. (Is that Times New Roman? Boring…) Your title’s font wouldn’t be too bad in your byline as well, but if you want some variety, I’d recommend a squarish “computer” font to help give it a futuristic feel.

  3. A. It’s evidently a science fiction novel and, except for the vague hint of Saturn (incorrectly depicted, I might add: one of the dangers of picking up found art willy nilly) in the upper right corner, no one would know this.

    B. It would appear to have no suggestion whatsoever that it is trying to emulate any of the boys’ adventure books—those of Roy Rockwood, for instance (who was just about the only one doing interplanetary adventures in the early 20th century). In fact there is no sense of “adventure,” adult, young adult or otherwise.

    In short, the cover completely fails in getting across any sense of what the book is about or even what genre (or age group, for that matter) it might belong to.

  4. Just to be pedantically correct, I should have said that Roy Rockwood was just about the only author publishing interplanetary adventures for boys at the turn of the last century.

    While I’m at it, I might make mention of the unrelenting monochrome of the cover art.

  5. Saturn can be such a striking image. I can imagine living on Titan, looking up at this grand view of Saturn in the sky. In my mind’s eye, it would be incredible. Of course, the view wouldn’t be clear and crisp like we see from space, and the dusty surface of the moon shown makes this a challenge. As a sci-fi reader, if I see a striking image of Saturn from Titan, yet in a way that seems plausible, I’d be immediately drawn to the book. I want Saturn to stand out clearly, I want color to attract my attention, I want the heavens to look glorious.

    The brown landscape, the dusty image, the brown gems, the dirty view of Saturn. I don’t like it. The desert look suggests western, not sci-fi. The glory of Saturn is lost. The sci-fi element is subtle.

    Even Robert A. Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky suffers from these challenges. There the setting is Ganymede, with a view of Jupiter in the sky. The glorious view of Jupiter is hazy. The beautiful swirls are hard to discern. But if you put that name HEINLEIN on the cover, I don’t care if the cover looks like a roll of toilet paper, I’ll read it.

    Here’s a thought. How about trying to show a view of Saturn from Titan at night (or twilight). That might help Saturn shine brightly in the sky with contrast, lose the dusty features of the moonscape, add stars and blackness for a higher-contrast color scheme and clearer sci-fi depiction. You’d have to lose the gems, but to me, it would be so worth it. Get a glorious, high-contrast view of Saturn from Ttian at night, and it would be worth tossing the gems.

    1. Huh. Bizarre. I don’t know what to tell you, except to make up an address to fill in the blank. (I won’t send anything there, I swear.)

  6. GP raises some interesting points. How far from reality do you want to stray on a cover? This illustration I did shows realistically about as much of Saturn as you’d ever expect to see from the surface of Titan…and that would be on a pretty good day:–nEozNkCj–/c_fit,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/188w330ha4jhpjpg.jpg

    Now…all that being said—

    A cover needs to attract readers, not educate them. On the other hand, this book is science fiction and presumably its intended readers are science fiction readers—which means they may likely have some familiarity with science and especially space science. If the depiction of a known world is egregiously wrong (Mars with a blue sky and canals, for example), this might put potential readers off. Strict astronomical accuracy is hardly necessary on a book cover…but you don’t want to get silly, either. One might imagine that vanishingly rare day when Titan’s clouds part momentarily, leaving the planet looming in the sky ten times larger than a full moon here on the earth. The sky might be blue or purplish with contrasting orange clouds. The landscape would be in browns, yellows, oranges and reds….with Saturn perhaps reflected in a lake of liquid methane. This could be a very striking background for a cover—especially if the foreground suggested the existence of a working colony or mine.

    1. Moreover, as one reviewer noted at the IMDB page for The Quiet Earth to which I linked, Saturn doesn’t actually “rise” and “set” on the horizon of its moons the way the Sun does on Earth; the moons of other planets keep one face turned toward them at all times the way Luna does toward us. (That was one good reason for the protagonist of The Quiet Earth to be so surprised to see Saturn rising on Earth’s horizon as shown on the cover: either physics works differently wherever he is, or the planets are in some completely different arrangement there and Earth isn’t actually orbiting Saturn, just in some position from which one can watch Saturn cruise past on its own crazy orbit.)

      Your particular picture, I presume, would be taken from near one of the poles of Titan, and Saturn would never change its position from that view. Also, not only would the air there be unbreathable, but the whole place would be bitterly cold and a lot darker than Earth most of the time. (The Sun is much farther away, and any part of Titan from which you can see Saturn probably gets a lot less sunlight than the rest of it anyway.)

      The question that occurs to me about Titan is not so much why anybody might be interested in exploiting Titan for its resources, but why there would be any interest in diamonds when we can make plenty of them from all the carbon we have right here on Earth. I would think any commercial venture out there would be after Titan’s methane instead: all that fuel could power a lot of Earth’s machinery for eons to come if we could only bring it back here, while the machinery brought to Titan would need a steady supply of oxygen from Earth in order to burn the methane as fuel. Trading oxygen for methane would be where all the real money is in such a futuristic interplanetary commerce scenario.

  7. Saturn is such a gorgeous image element, but like everyone else said its getting lost in the murk. Seconding the comments on color choices – sepia usually indicates Western or historical.

    I’m guessing this takes place on a terraformed Titan or something like that? If you put Saturn in a blue sky with clouds, that would immediately tell the reader that this is sci-fi and give some clues about the setting.

    But then, what about the adventure? Right now the cover looks sedate and not at all pulpy. Looking to old sci-fi magazine covers, they almost always have a human figure in an action pose to draw the eye. The submitter doesn’t say much about the characters so I can’t speculate what would suit the book best, but I think even a fairly generic or staid human figure would liven it up.

    The diamonds are a bit on the literal side – they’re right there in the title, they don’t need to be shown on the cover.

    1. A Blue sky isn’t a certainty. It is Titan after all. No one knows that Terraformed Titan has a blue sky.

      Terraformed Titan might have a purple sky. Which certainly would make Saturn pop!

        1. It should be blue in our minds, but in fact it likely wouldn’t be.

          In a yellow sun High density atmosphere the sky would probably be blue due to how light scatters in different wavelengths and how our eyes perceive colour.

          The further away something is, the less the shorter wavelength colours can make it to our eyes. You can see this effect in mountains, the further away the mountain is, the less we can see the light, and they change from green, to blue, finally to violet.

          The sky outside should be violet to the eyes, since that is the shortest wavelength of visible light we can perceive, but our heavy atmosphere tends to absorb violet light and thus makes the sky appear blue… (even though it is really yellow sunlight).

          Back to Titan.
          If there was less atmosphere to go around than on earth, possibly due to there being much less of it, say for example on a planet 1/3 the size of earth like Titan, then there would be less light lost in the atmosphere. Additionally, Titan is further away, making the light even more effected by distance. So the sky on Titan is probably violet.

          Sorry Viergacht, had to geek out there. Next time a little kid asks you why the sky is blue, you can tell them that it isn’t blue. it is yellow, and mess with them!

          Side Note: The best colour to absorb yellow light is green. That is why plants are green!

  8. Took me a few moments to realize the thing in the top left was a planet. I don’t think simply changing the contact will solve the problem, there needs to be more of the planet inside the cover, or it should be from a different angle, the way the rings overlap is confusing. The diamonds are too large, I sort of have to zoom out mentally when I look at them. As for what the others said about sepia not working, I would like to see some non-monochrome versions of this, to see how it would look.

  9. One kind of free-form artistic way to analyze a picture is to run it through a reverse image search and see what’s considered “similar” to it. It’ll give you some idea what associations people have with the various colors and arrangements on your cover. Here is what Google considered to be visually similar to this book’s cover. All at once, this cover is making me hungry, with a slight inclination toward Tex-Mex food in particular.

    If this book is a space opera in the style of an old Western serial, that might actually be somewhat appropriate. Space is the final frontier, after all (as Star Trek likes to remind us). Still, your readers would likely prefer some variation from the monotony of everything being brown and yellow on a dusty and windswept landscape. Give us a purple sky with an orange Saturn in it, and some sign of civilization. (A domed city or outpost is always popular.) Even if the characters in the story have to suffer through seeing nothing but a big brown blur like this on Titan day after day, that doesn’t mean your readers should have to.

  10. Thank you all so very much for your time and attention!

    All my Titan colonists live underground, and I do address in-story why they are exploiting the “wrong” resources (there are refineries, just not the focus of this particular story); I appreciate someone considering that, since I was fair careful in my world building. (Ron Miller – I understand the sky is a light tangerine, though it would appear much darker to our eyes due to the distance from the sun.)

    Thank you all again, so very much, for not sugar coating anything, I am deeply appreciative!

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