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Becoming Bearserk

The author says:

Stressed-out lawyer Ellie dreads having another nervous breakdown. When she passes out in a museum after touching an ancient artifact, Ellie finds herself in Viking-age Iceland, certain that she’s just dreaming while her over-worked body lies in a hospital bed somewhere. But after meeting sexy berserker Aron Hrossbjorn, she is thrust into a war that is more real than she could imagine. Sparks fly, but can their relationship withstand the powerful forces pulling them apart?

This is a full-length novel with paranormal elements (including shifters), based loosely on a story from the Icelandic Sagas. A sweeping romance for fans of Outlander with a Viking twist. (I have not decided on a subtitle yet, but I will be adding one to the cover.)



Nathan says:

Again, we’re running into the fact that I’m not a fan of the genre, so everything I say must be received with that in mind.

That said: How did “man looking at his own junk” become a cover pose?  I’ve seen it on a dozen books, and I’m still puzzled.  My own inclination would be to have a man looking straight out, or off to the side like a catalog model, but if genre conventions mean that he has to check to be sure he’s still packing, I guess run with it.

All right, useful comments:

  1. One too many fonts.
  2. No Viking fonts.  Couldn’t one of them look at least a little bit runic?
  3. The tattoo doesn’t look like a tattoo. (If it’s supposed to be a brand instead of a tattoo, that’s another whole problem — I don’t think brands that cover so much skin leave the skin looking so smooth.)
  4. I have no idea what that thing is behind him, and if it takes up so much real estate it really ought to be something identifiable.
  5. From the thumbnail, you can see that it’s a little murky. I know that ancient Northern Europe was a cold, bleak place, but maybe adding some bronze highlights to his skin would help it pop.

I’ll leave it to the other commenters to tell how on the mark I am with my suggestions.


  1. I think the man looking down pose might be becoming a thing because more inexpensive models have abs than have sellable faces. Just a guess though. Regarding the thing behind him, I think it’s supposed to be a runestone, but designed by one who doesn’t know what real runestones tend to look like.

  2. Hi!

    Thanks so much for the suggestions already. It is truly weird that this man is looking at his own junk.

    The runestone is taken from a picture of a Viking monument that I took in Iceland. It figures into the story (it is the time-travel device). It is real. It just must not be reading that way.

    The reason I added it in the first place is that every book in the top 20 of time travel romance has a castle, manor, or some other building from a different time period on it. Viking longhouses aren’t terribly impressive (they look like grass huts, basically)…so I didn’t know what to add and settled on this. Maybe I should darken it? Put it further off?

    And, totally gotcha on the tattoo/brand. I hadn’t quite settled on which it was supposed to be, but right now it looks like a stupid stamp. (Verified bear shifter! Get your verified bear shifter here!) Definitely gonna have to do something about that…

    1. Get rid of it? I could not find any info on it, but it is clearly a modern piece of art, in other pictures of it in the web it is clear it is made of concrete. It would thus be anachronistic even if the place is right. On another note, Iceland has no forest, and did not have any in the middle ages either. There probably were some trees, but those would not have been backlit by floodlights? I’m sure most people don’t consciously mind, but it all lends to a contemporary rather than historical vibe.

      Actual runestones look quite different, and vikings (or, ancient Scandinavians, since the word ‘viking’ meant roughly the same as ‘pirate’) were not big on monuments otherwise, no statues etc. exist.

      While the bashful man would otherwise be fine as a cover – or, to me he seems to be fascinated on how incredibly airbrushed his abs look like, but maybe it is just me and no-one else notices it – he also does not look like a viking, with his short hair and no beard. So, all in all, while it is in generic terms not a bad cover, I would reject all of it and start over.

  3. First off, I do think the general concept here is spot-on and I like your design elements and general layout. But it’s all in the details.

    The tattoo is definitely the thing that jumps out at me. Now, “shirtless dude with animal tattoo” is a great cover image for a PNR, but it’s got to look like a real tattoo, and unfortunately I don’t know how to make that look convincing.

    The runestone: If you say that’s a photo I believe you, but I would have sworn in a court of law that it was rendered. Maybe we have a “reality is unrealistic” situation here, I don’t know, but replace it with a runestone that reads as real to a viewer.

    The background: A higher-resolution image would look better at full size, but more importantly, that image is conspicuously backlit while the man is front lit.

    The two fuzzy yellow spots: I have no idea what those are or why they’re there.

    The trim lines: Too sharp and jaggy on the runestone, too soft on the man. Could be better.

    The typography: I could also go for something more Viking-looking, but what you have is perfectly good for category romance. But I’m not going for the color and texture of “Berserk;” it looks like plastic to me, and blue makes me think of sci-fi rather than anything set in the past.

    Good luck!

  4. I agree with everyone above. I’m also with Nathan on this one and don’t understand the romance standard book cover, displaying a shirtless man doing Lord knows what, but they do seem to be the norm.

  5. Nathan’s comments are spot on, especially regarding the choice of typefaces.

    The tattoo is especially egregious: it simply looks pasted-on.

    The figure also looks much, much too modern. He doesn’t suggest Viking at all.

    I realize that the mysterious rune stone is based on a real one that figures in the story…but you cannot rely on someone having read your story in order for your cover to make sense. That is putting the cart before the horse. You know what the object is and what its significance is…the potential reader does not.

    By the way, the stone is not a Viking artifact—it is a modern monument. The photo also looks as though it has been retouched—making it look more like a computer generated image—since the actual monument is pretty weathered.

    1. Thanks for this–I might take the stone out completely and replace the font with a more “Runic” one, hoping that gets across the right vibe. Then I don’t need to mess with the runestones at all, and a closer crop on the man would be in keeping with category romance guidelines.

      Man, I really should be shelling out for (even more) stock photos–the whole thing with the runestone started because it is an image that I have copyright access too, but there are many on the internet that would be waaaay better (if only they were not licensed under a share-alike Creative Commons license!)

      Thanks for your thoughts

      1. I’ve done several PNR covers (I take commissions!) – mind if I add a few suggestions?

        If you desaturate the man and make the background duotone, it would look a lot more coherent even if the lighting directions don’t match. Or rather than a generic forest, how about a Viking longboat? THose are rather visually striking and identifiable. has several runic style fonts: – I’d put the “bearserk” in runes and the rest in something classy like Constantine. You could even add a line of actual runes, there are some dingbat fonts of those.

  6. Count me in as another guy who could’ve sworn that rune-stone monument was computer-generated. Even if it really is a photo, though, that stone is conspicuously out of place for a story that’s supposed to be set centuries ago. As Brad Bird noted in his commentary track on the Incredibles DVD, the computers his animators were using to render the movie were always trying to make everything clean, smooth, and weightless where the animators were trying to make so much of what they were rendering dirty, rough, and heavy-looking.

    Your monument and handsome muscular guy with a six-pack likewise are too clean, smooth, and light-weight for the effect you’re trying to achieve. Even assuming you’re trying to idealize the guy a bit by making him look like he bathes a little more often than actual Vikings and other Nordic people did, he really is a little too clean and smooth (even with the hair) to be the old-time unreconstructed savage hunk of man-meat you probably want your readers to have in mind while reading your story. Between the far-too-modern hairstyle, the far-too-smooth tattoo, and the far-too-artificial rune-stone, your piece of eye candy just looks like a cosplaying poser on a not-very-convincing reenactment stage set.

    Really, if you want a muscular Nordic savage hairy guy on your cover, get yourself a model who looks something more like John Rhys Davies to pose for you. Also get a more genuinely ancient stone sculpture to be the time-travel-inducing rune-stone, and take out the trees in the background; if you need a background at all, we should be seeing Iceland’s grassy or stony terrain, not forests.

    In short, you’ve got more or less the right elements for selling this kind of story on your cover, but they need to look more genuinely old-fashioned Nordic, and not like some cheap contemporary imitations of the artifacts and people from the time and place they’re supposed to be representing.

    1. All more or less true…but there should be something about the character that at least suggests “Viking.” Imagine the book without its title or description…would the potential reader have any clue at all that the book is largely set in Viking times with paranormal elements? I suspect not.

    2. Well, I was thinking John Rhys-Davies in particular because his part as Gimli in Lord of the Rings was kind of my idea of how a Viking should look, albeit as a dwarf. Put Gimli’s face on the body of a big hairy muscle man (like Beorn from the Hobbit movies?), and you’ve got as decent a template for a bear-shifting Viking as any. The mythology from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was heavily based on old Nordic myths with a smattering of Arthurian legends, after all.

      The more I look at it, though, the more I think just about any of the handsome hairy guys in Peter Jackson’s movies would make a good template for a Viking were-bear: Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir… even Theoden or Gandalf, if the gals in the target audience are into slightly more sage and seasoned guys. They all have that unkempt medieval Nordic style to them, even if they’re a lot more fastidious with their hygiene than just about anybody in the Medieval Age was. Throw in some authentic-looking Viking artifact and/or piece of clothing, and the author’s got a good working cover.

        1. Bear in mind, we do have some flexibility concerning the Vikings’ actual appearance. Also, the guy’s supposed to be some kind of were-bear, so… maybe a bit more bearish in general appearance than the other Vikings? Some women do like bears too, you know.

          1. Alas, not if you want to sell to the ginormous market for M/F shifter romances. The animal the hero shifts into (bear, lion or other large predator) represents a fantasy of protective masculinity and fierce caring, not animality.

            Not to say that there isn’t a market for bears in the sense you mean, but the author above appears to be aiming for the (rather larger) shifter-rom audience and needs to aim at those particular tropes.

            It’s walking a fine line in this particular genre to create a cover that hits the tropes yet stands out in a way that does not subvert them. Link to Amazon shifter romance category to show you the general drift for covers in the genre.

  7. Nathan stole my thunder — again. I do like the overall concept, but Nathan gave you some good advice. If you produced this piece, I suggest lowering the opacity on the tattoo layer. This will allow the countries of his shoulder to be viable and make the tattoo look more like a tattoo. By rights you would want to play with the perspective as well, but just lowering the opacity will help.

  8. I do a lot of PNR covers as a sideline so am reasonably familiar with the genre, and these are my thoughts that haven’t been fully addressed above:

    –For the other commenters: manscaping and clean-shaven is A-OK because the conventions of the genre are for well-trimmed if not hairless guys. The readers of these particular kinds of books aren’t looking for historicity, they’re looking for a particular fantasy of protective masculinity paired with modern aesthetics. If she puts a hairy, bearded dude up there, it’s a signal to a very different audience and misrepresents the novel’s genre.

    –I tend to cut guys’ heads off partially or wholly just so the reader can imagine their own particular version of good-looking, but that’s up to your personal tastes. I haven’t noticed face vs. no face making much of a difference in sales for the books I have data on.

    –For the tattoo, lower the opacity as Adrian suggested above, and also play with layer blending modes to merge the image realistically. It look like you might have ventured into the Liquify filter to make some adjustments to suggest it’s conforming to the contours of the body beneath it, but it doesn’t quite seem to work–try looking up displacement maps, or using the Warp adjustment to poke it a little bit more. That being said, don’t go overboard. Readers understand that it’s a composite cover and that the tattoo is meant to signal that he’s a shifter. (I have composited way too many scales into the covers of dragon shifter novels to think that readers care that much about realism!)

    –It’s a romance. I think it should signal passion and action, instead of passivity and coolness. I’d try to look for a pose that had a bit more dynamicism to it–a slight twist to his shoulders and pelvis, instead of standing like a block–because that tends to signal “sexy” a bit more than “powerful”. (But it’s sometimes hard to find that, I know!) The entire cover is in cool tones right now–if you’re fond of the blue, I’d punch it up with oranges or yellows in spots–the teal/orange movie poster thing (Google it) is a huge cliche but the combo works.

    –You’re looking at time travel covers for ideas, but I’d suggest looking at “Viking romance” as well.

    –As it’s a shifter novel, you could slap a bear up there if you want, if you can find a non-goofy-looking bear. But given that you’ve got “bear” in the title and need to signal that it’s a historical, it’s probably worth it to leave it off. I’d take out the monument, which doesn’t signal “Viking” unless someone knows what it is, and put up a sword or axe instead. Remember–your cover is not meant to illustrate the novel, it’s meant to tell the readers “If you like this sort of thing, this is what you’re looking for.” Looking through the Viking romances on Amazon, most use a sword and a dude with leather pants or bracers on to signal the genre, but I think the leather is optional if you’ve got the weapon. There’s also one that has a dude in a terribly silly horned helmet, but I’d avoid that on aesthetic grounds! You could also put a helmet or a longship in the background behind him if you don’t find a sword or axe you like.

    –Increase the kerning between the letters of your name. The larger the font, the more space between the letters to make it readable. You want people to immediately notice your name and remember it!

    –I also note that you’re using a different font for your name than the cover on Amazon that I assume is from the first in the series–once you settle on something for this one, I’d suggest going back and redoing the first cover to make it look consistent, so you get the series recognition.

    And for everyone–readers find the covers hilarious, too, in an affectionate way, and are forgiving. They mostly use the cover to decide if this is the sort of book they’re looking for. (They’re less forgiving of names changing partway through the book and other internal inconsistencies!)

    1. Thanks so much! These are really helpful suggestions. I find the cover hilarious, and basically want to make it as good as it can be while not going overboard (hence my attempt at slap-a-bear-on-there and slap-a-historical-thing-on-too.) I think the point about a sword/axe reading better is well taken–I was looking for a castle substitute but I hadn’t thought as much about weaponry (although it would be fine, it would suit the book too!)

      Thanks so much for the helpful advice.

      1. You know, I keep coming back to this one, and while I know that we are supposed to only be commenting about design, may I ask–are you really married to that title? I wish I loved it, but I really don’t.

        I confess, I’m not the target market. I read urban PN, like Dresden Files, but I don’t do “romance.” I know that the exposed abs, yadda, is all part of the genre. But the title feels like it’s a send-up to me. A satire, rather than a sweeping saga.

        Again: I know that’s not our job here, but before this sailed off into the annals of history and archives, I wanted to say that to you.


  9. I really have nothing to add, but I just have to say, I’ve enjoyed reading this critique. And kudos to Mia for being such a good sport about the comments. Good luck with your project!

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