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Capitol Kidnap

The author says:

Paranormal mystery. Geared towards readers of Kim Harrison. It’s set in modern day Sacramento, CA. Naomi’s living a normal life and trying to keep being a werewolf secret, when her brother’s kidnapped. His kidnappers threaten to kill him and reveal he’s a werewolf to the world.




Nathan says:

I’m going to assume this is the “sketch” version and not hammer you on mechanics like the bad “magic wand” cut-and-paste edges around each of the elements. Let’s look at the big picture.

First: The font has to go.  There’s nothing evocative about it.  I would recommend you use a maximum of two fonts — one for the title and byline, the other for the series title.

Second:  Give that your name is not a household name, I think you should reserve the place of prominence for the title and put the byline at the bottom.  Or maybe put all three at the top, and shift all of the images down, getting rid of that black block at the bottom that screams “I couldn’t think of how to fill this space!”

On to the images themselves:

I understand what you’re trying to do, but it seems like the image elements are working against each other instead of with each other  — the silhouette vs. the bridge vs. the moon vs. the pawprints. Silhouettes, in particular, work a lot less frequently than they’re used.  I think you need to decide: Which will be the focal element of the cover?  (It doesn’t necessarily have to be dead center, as long as it’s very clearly the main point of the cover.) Then work with the other elements to have them help and add to that main element — and feel free to toss the elements (whether you replace them or not) that don’t play well with others.

More suggestions?


  1. I’m with Nathan on the font, and beyond just the font, it needs more of a right and left of the type that is currently your name. The text looks jammed on the page.

    As for the elements, unlike Nathan, I have no clue what you’re trying to convey, but I don’t think I’m getting it. The title includes the word capitol but if the bridge is one in DC or other capitol, I can’t place it. I recommend the tried and true capitol dome, or the Washington Monument or something unmistakeably “capitol”. I find the paw prints on the moon rather confusing. I know they are there to represent the werewolf thing, but I think you could use more powerful imagery, for example bloody tracks or wolf eyes looking out from the darkness or something. Finally, the silhouette. When using a silhouette the figure needs to be compelling and this one is not. If you want to keep the silhouette, I’d recommend some type of action stance denoting movement. Running, jumping, something besides sitting.

    I think Nathan covered everything else I had. I’m looking forward to seeing the redesign on this one.

    Good Luck!

    1. I just did an image search. The bridge is in Sacramento, so it does fit… although I suspect you’d have to be from central California to recognize it.

      Which brings up another question — in the story, does the kidnapping happen in or near the state capitol building? If it doesn’t, the title should be “CAPITAL,” not “CAPITOL.” (I try not to be a nitpicker. I fail, but I try.)

  2. The first thing I notice is that you do not have enough margin space around your name. While the position of it is likely going to change do not make the same mistake with your Title when it switches places as Nathan suggests (because it should). Shoot for 1/8″ at least around all the edges of your cover to prevent the text from running off the page (as it almost does here with the ‘M’). On that note, another 1/8″ bleed space is useful when designing. Sure, this may never get physically printed, but it it does, do you really want to make the cover all over again?

    Next, that moon is gigantic. It looks like it is crashing into the world! The paws of the creature that made those are equally huge due to this. If the moon was regular size, the paw prints would be less obtrusive, and you could probably get away with just one, if any at all.

    I do like the blue and gold colour contrast, but I think it needs a bit more blue to help it stand out (reducing the moon).

    Lastly, silhouettes. I love them when they are used right. They are al sorts of mysterious and let people fill in the blanks. However, They are very tricky to pull off correctly. Designers that are learning often past them onto things and it doesn’t work, which makes the entire piece look more amateur than it would if there was not one on there.

    This cover having one doesn’t make sense as there are several light sources where the figure is and everything else is very well lit. It gives the impression that this figure absorbs light.

    It turns this into being a mixed media piece, which is nearly always why covers (and other images) with pasted on silhouettes don’t work. If you look at the Dover Park previous cover, you can see a silhouette there as well. That one fits the cover because there is back lighting and the other elements are also in silhouette.

    I also don’t like this particular silhouette, I’ve seen that pose way too many times done in silhouette, and the bangs and making it look like she doesn’t have a defined face, more like a sack face.

    So much good luck Mel, we are here for you!

    1. Dover Park also works because it’s a silhouetted person, not a drawing of a silhouette. It’s not artificial like pseudohumans and clipart, but a naturally occurring silhouetting due to light. Doesn’t look like a cardboard cutout of a person.

  3. Hoo boy… where to begin. Well, for starters, let’s have a look at this Kim Harrison whose readers you’re looking to attract. Notice something about her covers? Nearly every one of them has a detailed person prominently featured in the foreground; sometimes facing us, sometimes facing away from us, but a person.

    What you have in your foreground is a silhouette of a person, and not a very detailed one at that, facing sideways. Judging by the feminine heels on the boots, I’m guessing that’s supposed to be your protagonist Naomi. Maybe, as with the cover by the author for “Irreversibility” a few weeks back, you’re hiding her looks from us so as to leave most of her physical appearance to the readers’ imaginations. Fair enough, but it still needs more detail.

    Her head in particular looks like an amorphous blob, as does all the rest of her body except for the legs. Stand her up straight, and give her some flowing hair or a prominent pair of ears, and maybe fancy dress or a trench coat flapping in the breeze. Give us a full view of her from either the back or the front the way Kim Harrison does, even if it’s still just in silhouette. Show us all of her, not just a side shot with nearly all of her features melting into each other that makes it look like you’re trying to hide her down in an obscure corner of your cover.

    Next, let’s look at the background. The bridge is more or less all right, but that’s awfully minimal for a city landscape. Also, I can see what you’re trying to do with the Moon, but it’s far too large. As with a cover which showed up on Lousy Book Covers a couple months ago, it looks like it’s about to crash into the Earth! A little exaggeration is fine, but not a sky-hogging absurdity like this one.

    Again, take a lesson from your target audience’s author. Kim Harrison’s The Hollows Insider looks like the particular kind of cover you want for this book. Notice the modestly exaggerated moon behind her character, and the detailed cityscape all around her. If you’re going to imitate someone else, always imitate their best stuff.

    Finally, while I see from your page that actually you have published this book with this cover already, so far it’s only in e-book form. This is good, as this cover is truly not ready for prime time. Whereas e-book readers will soon forgive and forget an obvious beta cover like this if you replace it with a better one, an amateurish cover on a printed book isn’t going to change, and can be an old shame that will haunt you to the end of your days at your book signings and other public appearances if you ever get to be a successful author.

    My advice: get yourself a new everything for this cover. The elements are right, but their quality is sorely lacking. You need a cityscape in your background, not just a bridge, and a smaller moon and your character standing directly in front of that moon just like on the Kim Harrison cover. Also, when editing pictures together, learn to use transparency effects to blend things more smoothly into the picture. One free graphics program I use for editing stuff, GIMP, has a “Color to Alpha” transparency effect which I would use in conjunction with the “magic wand” selection tool (and “expand selection” command) to turn all the dark edges of the Moon in this shot transparent, ensuring a much smoother blending between it and the sky. Place the Moon up over the cityscape, put Naomi on top of something high so she can stand in front of that Moon above the horizon, and then you’ll have the kind of cover that will draw those Kim Harrison fans to your book.

  4. The gold stands out nicely for my eye and contrasts well with the bright blue. Though these bright contrasting colors catch my eye nicely, I don’t know what they have to do with werewolves, if anything. But the moon gives that away, so I suppose this eye-catching element is fine as long as something else continues to signify werewolf.

    The cover is too busy. Get rid of (at least) one element. The silhouette girl isn’t doing anything for me. It doesn’t seem to belong, it doesn’t catch my eye, it doesn’t signify werewolf, it looks out of place.

  5. Having grown up around the Sacramento area, I recognize the Tower Bridge but if you’re trying to convey “Sacramento” and/or “California State Capitol” then there are many better images. Maybe something along the lines of this this – At the very least, something where the elements haven’t been so obviously cut and pasted.

    Get rid of the silhouette girl as she does nothing, and swap the positioning of the title and the author name.

  6. I have a prejudice against silhouettes. Unless done with a sure hand they almost never work. That’s the case here. Not only is the figure obscure to start with, since most of it is against a dark background, at thumbnail size all you are left with is a leg and a foot.

    I think you’ve also fallen into the trap most authors have a hard time avoiding: being too familiar with your own book. The relevance of the bridge eludes me. I presume it plays some important role in the story…but I’d have to read the book to learn what that is. And that’s putting the cart before the horse.

    You need to simplify the cover and only include those elements that get across best in a single glance what your story is about. And the only thing I see that is really relevant is the moon with the paw prints…and that is a hackneyed image that has been done to death.

    I’m afraid I will have to second those commentators who have suggested that you go back to square one and start over.

  7. As I say, not quite square one, but this cover needs a total overhaul. I mean, have you seen the cover of that Kim Harrison novel against which this book is basically competing? It’s no contest. Doubtless, Harper Voyager got its in-house professional cover artists to do the artwork (photography?) for that cover.

    If anything, this cover is far, far too simple compared to that one. The level of detail on Harrison’s cover allows me to make out the logos for the PNC and 5th Third Bank (both the names of actual banks, which is what makes me think it’s actually a professional photograph of the city, mildly filtered), every rivet in the high steel girders on which the novel’s main character is standing, and every last fold of the protagonist’s black leather trench coat and stud on her fingerless leather gloves. This cover? I can make out the moon with the paw prints, a distinctive bridge, and an extremely inarticulate silhouette, and that’s it; nothing that would make my eye linger lovingly over the protagonist and her city the way Harrison’s cover would.

    Granted, not everybody can have an awesome multi-mega-pixel photograph of a city taken from atop a tall building with a studio-quality shot of the protagonist to superimpose over it. However, Tia has directed us to a site for a photographer who specializes in night shots of Sacramento and seems to know his stuff, and even a large cheap stock photo of an appropriately dressed woman would provide a sufficiently articulated silhouette for the protagonist. As for the Moon? A simple search on Google Images yields dozens of professional shots of it, including a ginormous photograph somebody made of it (9688*8262 pixels; warning: that’s enough to choke my old laptop on which I’m writing this), probably taken from an observatory’s telescope, and available absolutely free.

    In short, even if this cover might never quite achieve Harper Voyager-level quality, there’s really no reason why anything on this cover has to be at all low-quality.

    1. Here’s a quick example: I slapped this cover together using a large photo of downtown Sacramento, a stock photo of a woman in a pantsuit, a color gradient, and that ginormous moon picture. It probably won’t give you the edge on Harper Voyager’s cover designers, but I think it demonstrates much of the kind of improvement this cover needs.

  8. What they said. I don’t want to repeat all of that, I just wanted to add that this cover doesn’t really say paranormal to me. I understood the moon only after I’ve read the description and I’ve completely missed the paws, didn’t even notice them. Those Kim Harrison covers linked up there, along with most other paranormal book covers, they all have a certain dark, gloomy, misty atmosphere about them. The most relevant one doesn’t have that much elements that would suggest paranormal. Yes, there’s the full moon, but that doesn’t automatically mean werewolves. The girl looks pretty normal, no fangs, glowing eyes, fur, pointy ears or whatever. And yet the cover is so obviously paranormal, because of that atmosphere. The figures on Harrison’s covers are not only standing, they’re tense. Even the hand on the hip pose that might look relaxed has more of a “just try me” attitude, rather than “I’m so bored standing here on this cover”. The figures look dangerous, and so does the overall atmosphere. Your silhouette, on the other hand, is sitting there all nice and relaxed, nothing threatening about it. The whole atmosphere is more like a casual night on the town than kidnappings, werewolves and bad guys. It’s too bright because of that giant moon and it doesn’t have a unifying color like The Hollows Insider has. If you look at that one, you’ll notice that the unifying color is green: the moon has a greenish glow, the girl’s clothing is probably black leather but it too has a greenish tint, the thing she’s standing on is also green, the tallest building, even the sky, it’s all green. None of these things is actually green in the daylight, the green is just chosen as the color that would unify the picture. I’ve made some quick examples with your cover in GIMP just by putting an orange and blue layer with a very low opacity and various blending modes over it. It’s nothing special, but even that little touch can subtly unify a picture to make it look like the pieces actually fit together, and it also sets the mood: the orange one is very warm, while the blue one is cold. It’s just a quick demonstration, for the real thing you’d have to take it a step further than this. But it’s a neat trick that does so much by doing so little.

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