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Patchwork Brothers: Bandits in Burlap

The author says:

This is a super early draft cover, but I’m drawing a complete blank. It’s for a kids chapter book about a mysterious quilt that takes a pair of brothers back to the wild west. They have to face off with outlaws and skeptical lawmen to find a way back home. I’m drawing a blank at balancing the handmade “quilty” elements with the rough and tumble nature of the two protagonists. I ended up with a fantastic cover from last book’s critique so bring it on, I can take it.

Patchwork Roughest Draft.JPG

Patchwork Roughest Draft.JPG


Nathan says:

Yowch. I’m glad you said you can take it, because you’re gonna get it with this one. But at least you admit that you’re drawing a blank.

I think you need to go to the bookstore or library and take a good look at the popular chapter books.  Here are the things I see as being common elements:

  • Colorful artwork with semi-cartoony exaggeration.
  • Characters that young readers can instantly identify as relatable protagonists.
  • Type that’s bold and sometimes fancy, but always readable for people who haven’t mastered (and may never HAVE to master) cursive script.

Now, what I’m about to suggest may be beyond your skillset, but you do what’s necessary to market the book:

If you want to keep the quilt motif, let it be the WHOLE cover. Make the individual quilt squares big enough that you can show the protagonists themselves in the squares in a scene from the book, or at least a situation indicative of the story (maybe have two or three squares which are all part of the same image, even though they’re separated).  Render the quilt in deep enough colors that you can use bordered light type for the title and byline and have it stand out.

Marketing to young readers is a specialized skill, in your target audience isn’t going to “get” subtleties of typeface, color scheme, etc., which designers for adult books can often rely on in place of a full illustration.  You very well might need to partner with a professional illustrator to get it how you want it.  (I actually know someone with reasonable rates who might just be the person for you — let me know if you’re interested.)

Other insights?


  1. It could be cool to have characters stepping out from the quilted world into the real world or vice versa. You definitely need some action on the cover, especially if your target audience is boy readers. Like Nathan said, bite the bullet and hire a professional illustrator who can bring your idea to life. Stock images probably aren’t going to work here.

  2. I also agree with Nathan. The quilt needs to be the entire cover. It needs to have characters, it needs to be catchy and obviously a quilt.

    I have some general pointers as well, I hope they help.

    1) The size.
    This cover is almost square, as it is a novel that makes the sizing odd. A 2-3 ration (6″ x 9″ usually) is the generally accepted size to design book covers in. That would help make this look more like a novel.

    2) White backgrounds.
    White tends to vanish on the screen because most websites have white backgrounds. When I look at this I feel like the quilt is a cover, and the rest of the information is sitting beside it somewhere off the cover.

    3) The font ‘Bandit’ is written in.
    Viner Hand is a font that comes standard with Windows and it is very distinctive. So when regular customers see it, they subconsciously think it is too familiar to be interesting. When I as a graphic designer look at it I wince. Sure, it isn’t Papyrus, but it is close. Try to avoid any fonts that come standard with Windows or Apple products. has many free fonts that are not standard.

    4) Pacthwork Brothers font.
    Please, don’t ever do that to a font again. 🙂
    It is hard to read and confusing. Your title should never be confusing or a gimmick. Don’t put patchwork or anything else in the font, and don’t distort it unless there is a very good graphical reason. That is written in Cooper Font, a standard Windows font that not only is absolutely everywhere and should be avoided at all cost, it also hasn’t been hip since about 1950.

    5) The art.
    This will be my harshest criticism, sorry.

    Buy a ruler. If you are going to draw or plan a quilt, you can’t cut corners, it needs to be flawless.
    None of the art is centred in the squares, and none of the lines are straight. the thickness of borders and lines are not consistent and there isn’t stitches in all the places that should have stitches.
    No one that makes quilts could have made that, it simply would not have gone together.
    Honestly, I have never seen a quilt that has random patches of the same sky scene in it. Those squares all feel unfinished, and as a viewer I can just see the artist saying “Meh, I don’t know what to put there, so a sky works”.
    I see the needle and my mind instantly knows that isn’t how needles and thread works. It also confuses everything, either that needle is bigger than my arm, or that quilt is napkin sized.

    Many of my points are moot though, as I really feel that this cover needs to be completely overhauled. Probably with about 6 squares, 2 that show a protagonist each.

    1. Thanks, before I take anything to an illustrator, I usually create a starting point for them to work with and I couldn’t even figure it out for this one. I like everyone’s feedback, it’s incredibly useful.

  3. Nathan feel free to contact me re: illustrator recommendation.

    For my adult books, I typically have a cover image in mind. I’m at a loss for this one, which is disappointing, because I think the book itself is a lot of fun.

  4. Actually, the concept here seems like a very good idea. It’s the execution that’s killing it. Here’s how I’d make the concept work for this cover.

    1) The quilt:
    As others have already said, it should fill the cover. I’d also like to add that if you can, you should have the squares be horizontal and vertical perpendicular instead of diagonal; while it may not be the most exciting layout, this is actually the way most old patchwork quilts are made, and more importantly, this will allow you to lay out a lot more of the significant pictures or portrayals of certain events in the story on the squares like panels from an old comic book.

    2) The background:
    There shouldn’t be any. Again, fill the whole cover with the quilt. From checking the cover in isolation on my browser, I can see that it’s not nearly so square as Waffles said, but I can see how he made that mistake: with the white space making it sink into the webpage, any picture on a white background would look square.

    3) The size:
    By my estimate, your 493 X 617 pixel cover is very nearly at a ratio of 4 X 5, which is about as far as you can squash the cover ratio before it starts looking too squat. Unless you want to do twenty quilt squares, I recommend changing to at least a 3 X 4 ratio and doing just twelve. (2 X 3 is also acceptable, but then you only get six squares for your cover; so unless you want your quilt to be a baby blanket, go for 3 X 4.) Also, as I told another poster, publishers like multiples of ten, since it’s easier for their printers to calculate how many dots-per-inch to use; so go with multiples of 100, or at least 50. Make it 600 X 800 pixels at the very least, and 750 X 1000 or 900 X 1200 is not out of the question. In fact, if you’re feeling really bold and want to allow for lots of detail, no one would complain if you boost it to 1800 X 2400 or even 3600 X 4800 pixels.

    4) The fonts:
    Ditch the fonts altogether, and make the title and any other text on this cover look like it’s sewn directly into the quilt. As long as you’re on the theme of a quilt, you might as well make everything look like some kind of needle work, so either make the lettering look like some kind of stitching, or use some kind of patchwork such as varsity lettering or old leather cut-outs. Stylize the lettering to match the rest of your stylized cover.

    5) Overall theme:
    Again, since the entire cover should be a quilt, use the squares like panels in a comic to express some major theme or plot point from the story. The Western-themed symbols you’re showing right now tell us something about the setting, but if this is a kids’ book as you say, you should either arrange them in some order that reflects the central theme of each of the chapters in the book (twelve symbols for twelve chapters?) or copies the flow of the story. (“First, here’s where we got that cowboy hat. Next, here’s the story of the first time we ever saw a human skull. Then, this is how we learned to use that lariat.” etc.)

    This is all for your cartoon-style artwork, which is acceptable if it’s on the cover of a kids’ book. If you go for the professional illustrator, however, you can also have him or her draw it closer to photo-realistic, which is to say not only make each picture look stitched onto a square on the quilt, but draw out the cloth textures and needle-work on the quilt as well to make it look like a photograph of something your knitting granny might have crocheted using a knitting kit and a design from one of her books. That’ll really dazzle your prospective customers!

  5. Everyone’s comments are pretty much spot-on. Let me just add that you are trying to do too many things in the cover. The first is a very common problem with authors designing their own covers: they are too familiar with the story. This leads to including imagery that makes perfect sense to them but does nothing but confuse and mystify the uninitiated.

    The second is trying to include everything pertinent to the story in one image…with the result that no one will be able to really tell what the story is actually about. Indeed, looking at the artwork objectively, there is absolutely nothing that suggests the story you describe. I think you are probably overfocusing on the quilt (to the extent of including a needle and thread and making the series title in a patchwork font) to the exclusion of the main characters and the story they are involved in.

    1. Agreed. I’ve contacted a couple illustrators at this point and I think I was taking a kitchen sink approach with the concept. I now have a better sense of a design that hints more at the content than cramming every idea from the book on the cover.

  6. It just doesn’t look like a book cover.

    Who will read this book? Boys interested in the wild west? If so, do you think they will be attracted to a picture of a quilt? I’d forget the quilt all together when designing the cover, and make a kids-oriented image of the wild west appropriate to the target age group. When I was a boy, I might have been interested in this story, but not if the cover looked anything like a quilt.

    1. True. Quilt isn’t a big draw for boys. Funny, that it’s an actual argument the boys have in the story itself and I didn’t consider it in thinking through the design.

      I’m thinking that a quilt at it’s core is a series of squares and I might better hint at that with a more abstract concept of squares on the cover.

  7. What everyone said, no need to repeat all that. Just wanted to add that you should lose the “by”. It makes it look unprofessional.

    I do hope you’ll link us to the designer’s finished product, this looks like it could grow into a really fun cover.

  8. I agree with Brady. For me, this cover does not work at all, and I’m not a fan of the concept itself. What I’d expect on the cover of a kid’s chapter book on the Wild West is stuff like the protagonists in cowboy hats, horses, Western landscape vistas/sunsets (not just the sky though. The blue sky by itself doesn’t say anything to me). A quilt does not suggest a Western to me, and I didn’t realize the book was a Western until I scrolled down and read the blurb. If anything, at a glance this looks like a book on quiltmaking. It sounds like the quilt itself is not actually a very important theme of your book, so I don’t think you should emphasize it so much in the cover and the title. I would instead think about other fun and appealing elements of the book, like action scenes that could provide suitable imagery for the cover. Obviously, if you’re working with a professional designer you should leave it up to them, but I don’t even find the idea of small square images in a quilt-reminiscent pattern that appealing. I think a single, larger image would look better and less confused, and would show up more in the thumbnail.

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