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Locksmith’s Journeys

The author says:

“Locksmith’s Journeys” is the sequel to the YA science fiction novel “Locksmith’s Closet.” Lachlan Smith and his immediate circle of family and friends continue their search of the future through the time portal to learn the secret of what happened to the human race. Back in the present, they learn who made the portal and why. (This isn’t quite the final design. I plan to add some flocks of birds silhouetted against the sky. But that will be a lot of work, so before I do it I want to know if it’s worth improving.)

LJ cover version

LJ cover version

[For those who don’t recall, Locksmith’s Closet already received the CoverCritics treatment; final version is here.]

Nathan says:

You’ve hit a good balance between maintaining a series look or “brand” and making this cover original and different. (I hate when the differences between series volumes are so subtle that I can’t tell them apart.)

My problem with this cover is that it’s so… plain.  The silhouette of the Washington Monument (I sure hope that’s supposed to be the Washington Monument, because that’s what 100% of people will immediately think) could be from one of a billion tourist snapshots, and the paragliding figure is similarly just there.  Even just a different color to the sky could make a big difference — I took the cover you sent, slapped on a cloudy sunset from Google Image Search, and got this:

LJ cover version b

That was thirty seconds of work; image how much better it could be if you fine-tuned the light/dark dynamics from one corner to another, etc.

Two other comments:

-If I divine correctly, your intent was to make the blur on the Washington Monument look like the camera was focusing past it toward the paraglider.  Unfortunately, looks less like it’s out of focus and more like it’s a poor resolution image.

-The paraglider itself is so small as to be ignorable, and in the thumbnail it might as well not be there.  I’m not saying that every image element needs to be clearly discernible from the thumbnail, but since your image really only has two parts — the monument and the paraglider — they really ought to be easily seen.  It’s only going to get worse once you add the flock of birds, and even worse if you go with a more dynamic sky like I suggested.

Other thoughts?


  1. You do have some advantages here: since it’s a sequel, readers of the previous book won’t need much introduction to your characters/setting/plot/etc. The Washington Monument is indeed instantly recognizable, and in isolation with it, your readers’ eyes will be drawn to that glider. That said, the cover does still need some tweaks.

    1) That is an awfully featureless sky. If you’re trying to show that this is a bleak future (certainly, not having the human race around anymore sounds awfully bleak), it’s fine to have the sky be bleak; the vivid colors in Nathan Shumate’s example would detract from that effect. However, it shouldn’t just be a near-blank sky like that. For better effect, go for something in the brownish-sepia dusk range, and show just a few more clouds over the sunlight (unless the big secret of the human race’s extinction lies in there being no clouds anymore, in which case just show the sunlight).

    2) More than being blurred, what makes the Washington Monument look like it was taken from a poorly blown-up picture is that it’s blurred inconsistently. To your advantage, a silhouette of the Washington Monument isn’t all that difficult to fix. In my mockup below, I simply blew the cover up to about sixteen times its size, traced the outlines of the silhouette with my editing program’s line-drawing feature, and then shrank it back down to its regular size and softened the silhouette slightly to take the hardness off its edges. You won’t need any particularly advanced skills in artistry to do the same.

    3) Having that glider be the only other object in the picture does give you the advantage of drawing the reader’s eye to it immediately after it’s drawn to the Washington Monument. At its current size, however, that glider looks no bigger than a mosquito. The isolation is fine, but you really need to boost the size. In fact, if you want to emphasize that this is your character floating over whatever’s left of Washington D.C., you might want to switch the picture to a first-person perspective; maybe just a shot of the character’s hand gripping the glider overlaid on this shot to indicate he’s viewing this monument from up there. If not that, you might at least want to make that glider bigger, and maybe shift the angle of its approach to justify showing it from closer than we’re seeing it now.

    Here’s my ten-minute mockup. It doesn’t fix the glider’s size, but I’ve applied every other fix mentioned to it:

    1. So much for my attempts to embed an image in the comments. I think your blog’s settings are automatically eliminating the html img tags when we try to post something using them, Mr. Shumate.

  2. Even with Nathan’s improvement I still don’t get it.

    What in the world does a hang glider and the Washington Monument (shown as a black silhouette for some reason) have to do with science fiction, time travel or any of the plot elements you’ve mentioned? Actually, let’s not even mention the hang glider since it is all but invisible.

    I don’t think that anyone in the world seeing this cover cold would have the slightest clue what sort of book this is or what it is about.

    I understand that it’s a sequel and that readers of the first book won’t need any introduction…but you cannot design a cover for the already initiated. There are going to be potential readers who will be seeing this book on its own…and maybe giving it a pass because they think it’s a different kind of book than they are looking for.

    The only suggestion I can think of making is that you start over entirely from scratch and rethink this.

  3. I don’t like it. This design screams political nonfiction to me. If we’re talking a “save the world” novel, you need graphics that scream “world at risk” or something along those lines. It think that, unless someone has read the earlier book, they aren’t going to get anything about the subject from this cover. Based on the summary supplied I would have expected a more dynamic cover. Something gripping, dystopian even, I don’t know. I do know that this cover seems wrong for the story being told unless I’m missing something. Absolutely no offense intended, but I’d like to see an alternate design.

  4. If I read this right, that’s two votes for “get new design” and two votes for “improve existing design.” I think I’ll do both. I need more than one idea anyway. (And considering how far the book is from being finished, I have time.)

    1. If you want to add something more, I’d suggest that since you’re obviously placing your character over Washington D.C. in this shot, why not spring for a shot of the city below that monument? Deserted ruins would instantly clue anyone who hasn’t read the first book on the basic plot to this one. Think of how the movie Logan’s Run showed the ruined city of Washington D.C. in its dystopian future, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to proceed on that for your cover.

    2. Make that three votes for ‘start again’. I also find this quite dull, and sort of disjointed.

      I presume handglider has something to do with the plot? Not that the elements in the cover have to do with the plot, necessarily, many times you see this argument, eg.’but the potato is central to the story!´ OK, but it does not have to be in the centre of the cover as well. If it was possible to show the main characters on a handglider, that might work well, but also difficult to do, either you need a very good artist or a very apt stock photo (I presume happy models handgliding is not in the story).
      I am biased towards showing people, but it seems to be a tried and tested theme: look at book covers in general, and how many show people or animals vs. inanimate objects. Even elsewhere, art, posters, record sleeves – people like people or some creatures to empathise with, like cute animals, so this has been found to be eyecatching for centuries. Often the people are implied, a silhouette, a part of a person, but it is there nevertheless. Monuments and machinery tend to be more common in non-fiction. In this case, yes, for Americans I guess it does say Washington Monument, to me it says ‘some sort of obelisk’ since those tend to be everywhere: if you want to show Washington, something else could be more visually interesting.
      Or just toss out both elements and make the cover something completely different.

  5. Personally I don’t know if this looks enough like the first cover to be easily recognized as the next book in the series.
    That is what I think you should shoot for! Branding.

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