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Trial by Fire

The author says:

Trial by Fire is the first of three contemporary fantasy novels, also known as the Road Trilogy. In a world of swords, steam and sorcery, powerful individuals known as adventurers roam the lands. Some of these have become stone-hearted mercenaries, holding nothing more sacred than the gold in their pockets. Some adventurers have taken a darker path, sowing pain, strife and discord for their own nefarious ends. Amidst these are the adventurers of heroic renown, giving their all to make their world a better place. This is the story of one of the greatest adventurers ever to walk the Road.


With the soil atop his father’s grave still fresh, Virgil Irons now stands alone, preparing to step out on the Road. Intending to be an adventurer like his father – the famous and revered fist-fighter Rufus Irons – he must deal with the pressures of his lineage, the expectations of his peers, and somehow carve out a life for himself. Virgil is a deadly foe, but it will take more than a quick fist to survive on the Road. First he must hone his skills at the secretive Duskshield Academy, a training ground for adventurers, under the expert tutelage of those who have walked the Road and lived to tell the tale. Virgil and his companions, Monty and Ari, are hurled into a dangerous world that they are not ready for, and that none of them fully understand. Fear and mistrust are rife and the three young initiates will need every ounce of training – and each other – if they are to survive.


The story should hopefully appeal to anyone who loves JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, as well as the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, and is also inspired by D&D and traditional fantasy, with a gritty edge. I’d like to think it’d appeal to those in the young adult category and upwards, though writing for an audience is something I’m yet to master – I kinda just write what I want to write. Thanks in advance for the critiques!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00042]

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00042]


Nathan says:

You’ve got a good, strong fantasy-appropriate color scheme. A lot of people don’t understand how important that is, but color is the FIRST thing people will see — before text, before any specifics in the images.

Now, after we get past the colors, I see a couple of problems (or, if you prefer, “opportunities”).

First: As colorful as the flame texture to the title is, it’s still hard to read because of lack of contrast.  Look at the thumbnail: The byline is more easily read, despite being at a smaller character size.

Second: The bracers are… well, bracers.  They’re just kind of there.  Even if bracers figure in the story prominently, they’re just a thing on the cover.  They don’t tell the reader anything except “yup, medieval stuff.”  They’re nice and all, but…

Anyone think otherwise?


  1. My first thought: “Those bracers look leather, I don’t think they will survive the Trial By Fire. I don’t think those trees will fair much better.”

    That is really my main concern. You have this grand sweeping book blurb about all the exciting things in your book. It sounds jam packed with adventure, excitement, schooling, and Virgils! But this is a cover about a set of concerned leather bracers lost in the forest that is about to have a fire. While admittedly, that could be an amazing book premise, it isn’t really what you are going for.

    As this is a fantasy book you have a road ahead of you I am afraid. Along with the Sci-Fi crowd you have the toughest audience to design covers for. The vast majority of covers in your genre are either a superbly neat symbol, a really nice solo item on a very nicely done background (like Game of Thrones), or most likely hand painted professional artwork. It is not an easy genre to design for!

    Finally, stop stretching your fonts! You can go to Graphic Designer prison for that. They have been stretched to death and it shows. There are three different usages of the same font on this cover, and they are all stretched differently. Never, never, never stretch or skew a font. Unskew it and you have a nice font for the series name and your author name, but find something else for Trial By Fire.

    1. Oh, and tighten up the kerning. The space between the ‘R’ and the ‘oad’ is far too large, while other letters like the ‘oo’s are touching.

  2. Waffles said it best: “But this is a cover about a set of concerned leather bracers lost in the forest that is about to have a fire. While admittedly, that could be an amazing book premise, it isn’t really what you are going for.”

    Someone needs to be wearing those bracers, perhaps in a pose suggesting they’re about to do battle.

  3. To be honest, when I first saw the thumbnail, I thought maybe someone was doing a Wonder Woman novel for a DC franchise or something. Now that I see those bracers up close, I can see that this is a medieval-style fantasy and the cover is rather well-drawn, but the picture tells me nothing else about what’s actually in the novel. Maybe those details aren’t necessary in the picture; maybe you can get away with being a little abstract, as long as your cover draws a potential customer to come look at the description.

    However, unless those bracers are some absolutely central and essential element of the story, I wouldn’t recommend making them the main focus. If “The Road” is the common thread running through these stories, shouldn’t that be what’s on the cover instead? If you want a main focus, show that road; as a side-benefit, if you establish the road as the main focus on this cover, you can show that same road on the next two covers as well, just changing the scenery around it a bit each time to indicate the hero’s progress. Even if (as sounds like it might be the case) that “road” is just figurative, it should work as an instantly recognizable visual symbol of the hero’s quest.

    You may or may not want to show the hero walking on that road too, depending on your intentions. A person on the cover makes it more accessible to readers who like to know what the protagonist looks like, but not having a person on the cover makes it easier for readers to imagine him looking the way they want him to look. Which appeal is more suited to your book is your call to make.

  4. The title text, background, and focal image, I don’t mind any by itself, but they don’t seem to fit together. The title font needs to be easier to read in the thumbnail. If you really want the fire, make it larger, thicker, more prominent. But it will be too busy with a fiery font and a busy background and a main image. But if you tone the other things down to favor the title font, well, a fiery font probably isn’t the best indicator of what your book is about. So maybe I’d go with a different form of title font, focusing on what will make the title really easy to read in a tiny thumbnail. The problem then becomes how to make a central image work together with a background image.

  5. OK, For me its not bad… the colour scheme as has been said works, Reds, golds and such suggests fire, but the image upon closer inspection if a golden sunset filtering through trees, which could be more akin to romance (for me anyway) and the bracers look like a pair of McDonalds Fries containers floating in air. … To me it looks like a case of, ‘that’ll do’ stock images, rather than ‘I’ve put a lot of thought into this’

    Someone else mentioned the condensing of the font. But also the colour scheme of the font make it very hard to read Combine the condensing and the colour scheme of the font and you’re looking at illegibility. (especially at smaller sizes) … I know I’m just echoing what the others have said, but i feel it would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t say it again – (no hard feelings meant)

    So what can one do … what would happen if … Ok look at the symbology which is engraved into the branders … its got that lovely felting, fantasy feel. Take the symbol, set it on fire and then place that centred into the page with the title reversed out. Use something like a Trajan Pro, but have a play with the positioning and sizing to create a logotype of sorts.

    I had a very quick play as sometime words can’t convey what I’m trying to say … A mockup does a much better job … (maybe not my mockups, but you get the point)

    anyway, this was kinda what i was trying to get at

  6. Other than the typo (Trail, Trial), I like Al’s treatment–it’s channeling that whole Hunger Games vibe. That, GOT, etc., are all using that logo idea, essentially.

    If you could, perhaps, keep the bracers (if they are important), cross them, use a symbol on them..or across them–that might work. But I concur that while the colors are right, the leaves/trees are really not working for me. The colors are, absolutely, great. Now, if you can incorporate that a little bit better, stronger, less ambiguously, I think you’ll be there.

    I’m not going to harangue you about using the fire in the letters; you’ve already heard about that, but it’s good advice.

  7. So those are bracers are they? Well, that’s news to me. I had no idea what they were. Even now that I do, I don’t see any relevance to the story. I strongly suspect that this is one of those instances where something is significant to the author…who, of course, is intimately familiar with the story…but a complete mystery to the uninitiated. Even if the bracers are central to the novel, they still would not work since the potential reader would have to already know that.

    What you are left with is a book that, by its description, is full of action and adventure but is completely betrayed by a lifeless, boring, uninformative and, ultimately, uninteresting cover.

  8. Hello! I’m the writer of Trial by Fire, and also the unfortunate Dr. Frankenstein for the cover. Thank you very much for the critiques so far. In a way they’ve affirmed what I thought the problems were, but a bit of explanation will hopefully clarify my decision process and position.

    Someone needs to be wearing those bracers, perhaps in a pose suggesting they’re about to do battle.

    This premise was EXACTLY what I wanted from the get-go. I had an illustrator lined up for this very image, but after a crazy long time it fell through (the illustrator is a relative and was doing it for free, but due to a multitude of things this didn’t materialise). In the end I had to continue on and do as best I could alone. It should be noted that most peoples’ bum wipes look better than my finest artistic scribbles. I can write but I can’t draw to save my life, so I’m restricted by my admittedly
    meagre Photoshop skills. For that reason I had to abandon the look I wanted and seek another (easier) option.

    If “The Road” is the common thread running through these stories, shouldn’t that be what’s on the cover instead? If you want a main focus, show that road; as a side-benefit, if you establish the road as the main focus on this cover, you can show that same road on the next two covers as well, just changing the scenery around it a bit each time to indicate the hero’s progress.

    Now this I liked. I read it and immediately thought “Why the hell didn’t this occur to me?” It’s very much like the covers for Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, featuring the tower as the focal point but with the surroundings changed in each cover. The Road itself is a metaphor, but you’re right, I think it’d work well in the way you describe. If I could then I’d probably put the three main characters on that road, heading away so as not to show their faces. I like readers to fill in those blanks themselves.

    Al, thanks very much for your input, and especially the mock-up you did. Frankly, it looks great. I’ll admit that it threw me for a loop when I considered how long I spent mucking about with my cover and then I looked at your example, which you probably knocked up in a fraction of the time, and I liked it better than mine. I think, all things being considered, this is likely the approach I will take if I decide to do the redesign myself. Thank you for the inspiration! Ps. nice use of Narsil in the image 🙂

    Couple of things I better address before I close. Okay, those bracers. What I was aiming for was the same sort of thing that you see on the GoT covers, and especially the adult hardcover editions of Harry Potter (symbol / image of something from the novel centralised as a focal point). However, I aimed for the bullseye and shot the judge. The bracers do feature in the story but they’re not central to it. I intended to have a featured item from each book as the focal point on the cover for each one. It’s obvious that it’s not working as intended, so I think they’ll go in the bin. They’ve been a crutch from the start, kinda helping me get SOMETHING done, but from the advice posted up here it’s evident to me that I can get the whole package across better without them, I think.

    Also, the fire effect on the title. I can get shot of that too. It never turned out as sharp or as detailed as I wanted on proof copies, and it’s not working right in thumbnail. It was an idea I liked in theory, but never translated to practice very well. I was having the same issue with the second cover I’m working on, but thankfully the problem has been highlighted so I can change it and get on with something more suitable.

    I tend to fight against verbosity but I sometimes fail, as is evident from my huge tract of text. Sorry! Thanks very much for the critiques so far – it’s been brilliant to get some honest, unbiased feedback (even if some of it is brutally honest). My work is restricted by my lack of finances and my flimsy grasp of Photoshop, so in the end if I can’t get something I’m happy with myself, perhaps I’ll need to look at a designer / artist, and start saving some pennies. I’ll sign off now and get to work. Thanks!

    1. I think the thing you need to remember about those GoT and Harry Potter covers is that those weren’t the original covers, those were the reissue covers for an audience which already knew what was in the books. The original GoT covers are full fantasy-themed paintings; the original Harry Potter covers were, well, you’ve probably seen them. Once the books were already bestsellers, and those who were buying them had either already bought them before or were seeking them out because of the movies or TV show, the only important elements on the new covers were the text that told them, “Yup, this is the book you were looking for,” but when they were unknown books, the covers had to take the weight of selling the concept.

      Hmm. This might become a “Design 101” post — I haven’t done one of those in a while…

      1. That’s quite handy to know. It’s strange, you just see a design, think “Ooo that’s good”, and kinda run with it. It didn’t occur to me that those covers I loved wouldn’t be the originals, or to even check whether they were or not. As it stands, I think I’ll be scrapping that kind of design and take a look at something different. I liked what Al cooked up, and it got me thinking.

        Incidentally, I’d love to see a “Design 101” post!

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