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The Queen’s Viper

The author says:

Hatred prowls the streets of London, and her name is Viper. Ancient and wicked, Viper feeds on human aeir, the magical energy that connects people to everything. She discovered the unique power of Princess Elizabeth’s aeir by accident. Viper put Elizabeth on the English throne to sustain herself and find her past. When Viper uncovered her kin, she discovered an enemy with enough power to trap her for 400 years. In 2012, something releases her from her bonds. Aided by her Foundling, Mouse, and a group of humans selected by him, Viper seeks revenge on her foe and the descendants of those who imprisoned her…starting with Queen Elizabeth II. Lesley Donaldson’s re-imagines Celtic mythology into an urban fantasy unlike any fairy tale you’ve read before.

Queen's Viper first draft cover

Queen's Viper first draft cover

Nathan says:

I like the file name of the image you sent me: “Queen’s Viper first draft cover.jpg.”  First drafts are great for throwing ideas out and seeing how they stick.

My first observation is that the art is a little shaky — not terrible, but definitely less than confident. (I’m speaking here from experience — I can turn out a sketch that looks great, but when I go back to finish the details, I get stuck on the nostrils and the lips and having the two eyes match, all the same trouble areas I see here.)  Unfortunately, the white space around it means that the face has to carry the entire cover, and it’s just not up to it.

White space is its own problem.  A lot of books, especially “grimdark” fantasy novels, have put it to good use recently, but it does bring its own particular problems. You’ll notice that most of the books using a white background (a) have high-contrast, almost chiaroscuro artwork, and (a) use asymmetrical layout to keep it visually interesting. Unfortunately, yours does neither — the white space comes across as simply unused, rather than an intentional part of the design.

My suggestion, if you’re going to stick with the same artwork (even if it’s refined): Put the face to one side, making it less symmetrical, and let the type carry more of the weight of communication: make it not only bigger, but more evocative.

Other ideas?


  1. Since this is a first draft, I’m assuming stuff like the gray background color of the paper will get fixed in a later draft. Other than that, the main problem with the artwork is her left eye, which is too small and on the wrong plane. I’d also like much darker darks; I want the black areas of the drawing to actually be black.

    Aside from the technical aspects, the artwork (and the font) gives me no sense of who, what, or when. I have no sense that this has to do with Celtic mythology, for instance, or even that it’s set in the present day.

    How about filling that white space with a Celtic knot border to help give us a sense of what it’s about?

  2. First: The border

    If a cover is white you must make sure that you have an outline around the entire image, or it will drift off the page when it is shown for sale on the web. Sale on the web does give designers a unique method of design now for covers though, they don’t have to have conventional borders.

    If you use Katz’s idea for an interesting border then that can be the outline of the book that keeps it drifting off. A non-conventional shape to your cover could help it stand out from the crowd.

    Next: The font

    It is a nice font, I would maybe keep your name in it. However remove the title case on just the first letter there, it looks odd. Kern the text out a lot on it (At least 100% kerning) to give it a movie poster / other book cover feel.

    For a title though, that font lacks any oomph. Not enough personality! Pick something that matches the feel of the book, something that isn’t installed on your computer by default or downloaded a million times. (check the usage rights of either –

    Lastly: The art.

    It is a great start. I am going to talk about the blood cross flower. I think this is a great thing. It can be a logo symbol. It needs to be refined though for it to be all it could be. It needs to be immaculate. The cross needs to be symmetrical and the petal things need to be more distinct from one another but not symmetrical.

    1. Actually, Derek Murphy of CreativIndie Covers is of the opinion that book covers that are white don’t need borders, because Amazon puts a border around all of their books anyway. He has a lot of opinions like that. 🙂

      I have also seen the suggestion of off-white or light gray instead of white, because the human mind still interprets it as white, but the color is different enough for the book to stand out against a white background.

      1. True… Derek is a smart cookie after all.

        Amazon isn’t the only place the cover might end up though. I would (personally) put an outline on there if there isn’t a fancy board just in case. Even on Derek’s own website I see covers that are white, and they gets just lost enough for them to confuse my mind as to what it is while scrolling past quickly.

        The off white is also a good idea! It just needs something for when it is against a stark white background so that it doesn’t fade into the background :D!

  3. I like the idea for this.

    Since the story has a basis in Queen Elizabeth I, the white background (or a background that says white) seems fitting to me. Some detail that indicates QE I would provide that clue to someone who hadn’t read the description.

    The typography seems a bit weak. I think I recall (if not, I’ll just make it up) that the official font of British royalty is Perpetua. Perpetua Titling Light, large, would be effective with “THE QUEEN’S” on one line at the top, and “VIPER” in Charlemagne on the second line, with the ‘V’ large and fanglike (maybe a ‘V’ from something lighter weight like Classic Roman to balance the larger size, might need to use a thin outline to reduce the weight of “IPER” a little, too, to match). Author name flush left, all caps, two lines.

    The layout is kind of static and not what I might expect of a viper. As noted above, the artwork could be shifted to the right of center (which gives a sense that something is about to happen on the left) and perhaps be made a little larger to be more imposing. The eyes could be more predatory; not necessarily obviously reptilian, but with a laser focus on something off the cover. The curve between the ornament and the neck might be shaped in a more “striking” fashion, like a cobra (which the shape of the hair evokes).

    The aspect ratio of the file is rather wide for a novel. You are probably taking that into account, though, because the width of the title just fits a 1.5:1 ratio.

  4. Yes… I can see the potential. Am I right in assuming from the synopsis that this is a villain protagonist we have here? If so, the expression on that face is just about right. Apart from the necessary refinements others have mentioned, that cruel “Mind your Ps and Qs or I’ll kill you!” look should serve nicely for a villain. In addition to adjusting the eyes and shrinking the nostrils slightly, is the shadow line on her cheekbone supposed to look all jagged like that from a scar or something? If not, I’d smooth out that line just a bit to make it look as smooth and sharp as the line on the other cheek.

    As long as you’re doing a grim n’ gritty modern update of an old Celtic tale, maybe you could put something modern and urban-looking on your cover to indicate it’s an urban tale? A background with some urban architecture might do the job, or if a background makes the cover too cluttered, how about some modern item in her hand or on her clothes? Any little plot-relevant item will do, whether it’s a handgun, a cell phone, a hand-held computing device, a debit card, or maybe a modern purse over her shoulder. Combine that with any of the suggestions of my fellow critics, and you have enough on the cover to establish both the story’s roots in the mythical past and its setting in the urban concrete-and-steel of now.

    This picture brings to my mind Galadriel from the Lord of the Rings, if she were a bad guy and had some reptilian green to her eyes and a touch of purple to her skin. Now all you have to establish is both that this is indeed some fantasy creature from the past, and that she’s currently in a modern urban setting. “Evil Galadriel with a gun” is my idea of the effect you want here. (Again, the item doesn’t necessarily have to be a gun, just something modern and urban; though a gun would make her just a little more obviously menacing than she already is.) Get that juxtaposition of past and present established, and you’ll have a working cover.

  5. The portrait is a pretty concept, but that’s all there is to it. Your artwork communicates that she is serious, she has something to do with that red symbol, and that this is a fantasy story. With nothing else for the audience to connect with, she becomes an aesthetic piece. Your Viper is now a bland decoration for her own story. If you are really attached to this artwork, you’d get more mileage by following Nathan’s advice and making that title more prominent. Honestly, I think you can do your story far better justice with a different cover.

    You should scrap this portrait because it doesn’t give you any idea that Viper is powerful. This is a woman who eats the magic that ties people together and was controlling the monarchy. That ain’t no easy feat! Now she’s seeking revenge!? What kind of warpath is she going on? What kind of civil/social/magical/physical destruction is she causing? And now she has henchmen to command, so what kind of organization is she leading? Based on your description, these are things I want to know. Your cover conveys none of the interesting ideas from your description. And while you may not be able to convey all of these unanswered questions directly, you can make a cover that expresses the notion of anger, magic power struggles in the modern age, and revenge plotting.

    Consider a different cover that embodies the attitude of your book. Viper and her story do not sound passive, so she deserves more than a passive cover!

  6. The twee hat seems out of place, and the weird wound / British flag thing doesn’t do it for me either. I am not sure how to change the latter: either make it more like wounds and blood, or less? Either more stylized or more realistic.

    The white on white makes it to me look like she is missing the top of her head. I would put a dark or coloured background to make her stand out, maybe blue. The white hair I think would then work well. Of course you could just make her hair a different colour, or make the white hair stand out by outlining it, if you prefer.
    The face would be fine with a little tweaking, the expression is good, even if one eye is a bit wrong, and for graphic impact you might want stronger lines and colour contrasts. I would suggest that black eyes would make her look more menacing, if you want to emphasize that she is something of an evil entity.
    And yes, previous suggestions about the font I think are good, so I am not adding my own. Also the point that full symmetry is a bit dull. Generally with half-profile faces, people like more space to the side the eyes are looking at.

  7. I stumbled upon this while doing an image search and thought of your cover.

    Her outfit had an old-timey yet modern feel to it, and her facial structure and hair sort of match your existing artwork. I could imagine her as being an ancient viper, she sort of has a timeless look.

    There was a few other photos in the series as well as colour versions, but the black and white invoke the mood of your story to me more.

  8. Thanks everyone for your feedback! I made some changes for the fan convention I recently attended, Ad Astra, where I needed promotional material. I used a version of this cover and a very simple graphic design to try and get some interactive feedback on my author blog. I haven’t settled on a final version yet. You’ve been very helpful!

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