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Paradox: The Alien Genome

The author says:

The stunning love child born of a human and an alien holds the cure to a pandemic on Earth in her genome. While the humans await a rescue ship 25 light years from home, they must also keep the xenophobic aliens from exterminating the ‘abomination’.

This is classic science fiction genre of adventures in space centered on the characters. I designed this cover entirely myself using Word, Live Photo Gallery, and Paint layering three images which I credit in the front matter. I’m not sure about the pod, lower right. It seemed boring without it. Thanks for your opinions!



Nathan says:

The problem here is that while the main image says “SF,” it doesn’t say “SF adventure.” If I were to look at the cover and guess about the story, I’d probably think that it’s a tale of exploration and isolation like The Martian.  Take a look at how classic SF adventure novels marketed themselves; there was action, usually involving characters, not just spaceships.

That’s aside from the technical problems here: The spacing on the subtitle just looks weird, the font for the byline looks like it was chosen at random, the main landscape image is artifacted, and the pod is pretty clearly added to the image.

My advice to you is a common bit of advice around here:  Pick the books that you expect your readers to compare your book to, and look at how those books are marketed.  (Also look at how they were marketed originally, if they’re classics.) Covers like that are how your target readers are used to being marketed to.

Other thoughts?



  1. I agree with Nathan here- you need to do some more research on the covers of the genre. Choosing inspiration covers that are well done and of the same genre as your book is a great way to help you identify what are the essential elements that make up that cover genre. Make a Pinterest board or create a collage and collect a whole bunch of good covers, then start analyzing them to see what are common features between them, and what elements you like and want to adapt and adopt on your own cover.
    It seems like you put a lot of work into this cover, but word, paint, and live photo gallery can only get you so far. If you are using a non-mac computer, you should be able to download Photoshop CS2 for free. If you are using mac, I’d search ebay for an early version of photoshop for cheap, or bite the bullet and sign up for creative cloud. (Or, honestly, you could find a professional, who could do it for cheaper then the cost of purchasing adobe products. I do ebook covers for only $100, and I know some others have similar prices) If you really can’t afford to pay a penny, Gimp is a usable free alternative, though it defiantly falls short of photoshop’s standards.

  2. When you say “three images which I credit in the front matter”, where did you get those images? Are they free to use?

    1. Yes exactly, because crediting images you take doesn’t mean that you are actually allowed to use them. It is still stealing if the images are not for free!


  3. I’m going to depart from Nathan this time. I like the layout and the palette and I think the general design is just fine for adventure, and if you wanted to make it more adventurey, adding some alien fauna, zooming spaceships, etc would do just fine. I like your font choice for title and subtitle (I’d change the byline font to match the subtitle).

    That was the good news. The bad news is that, on a technical level, this is no good. I won’t drag you through the problems point by point, but you just can’t create a professional cover out of the programs preinstalled on your PC. You need a real design program. (I differ from Emma; I prefer Gimp to Photoshop because of its superior brush dynamics options. But that’s personal preference.) Even a simple tool like Canva will hold you in better stead.

    You also need to start with better images. The main image is too low-res and looks more like Monument Valley than an alien planet, the planets in the sky are just blurry smudges, and the pod is a clumsy digital render. It’s not hard to find nice renders of alien planets; pick one you like, buy rights to it, and work from there.

  4. Hmmm. I don’t often disagree with Katz, but I shall today. I just don’t think it’s doing anything for you. It’s too tame, to my way of thinking.

    I also think that you really can score MUCH better backgrounds, for free. I just posted some other pics/images from Pixabay, to someone else, and here are a few more, just to demonstrate that there is good stuff out there: or or (that one has a nice blast of red–always good.) I like this one, too–wish I could find a use: . Very alien.

    Obviously, you know your book better than any of us, but if you want to sell “adventure,” then you do need something that looks like adventure. I won’t say more on that, as everyone already gave you perfectly excellent and solid ideas.

    The title font is okay, if not inspired. I don’t like the subtitle font, even were it placed properly, and I am not at all loving the byline font–and why is the byline larger than the title? While that’s typical if your name is “Stephen King,” it’s very unusual for new authors. I agree, though, that if your background won’t change, you do need a heavier font, like the one you used, for the title, so that instinct was good.

    I concur with Emma–it’s awfully hard to muddle along in Word and that sort of thing. Try Canva, if you can’t manage the other options. That’s quite cheap, and it works fairly well. No, it’s not Photoshop or Gimp or Inkscape, but, it works better than Word, IMHO.

    I think once you round up some covers that you love, and stare at them for a while, you’ll do a good job in translating what you started into something pretty terrific.

    Good luck.

  5. I agree with most of the criticisms.

    There is nothing dominant on the cover that really reads “science fiction.” The elements that do—the planets, double star and probe—look like afterthoughts. Indeed, you even admit yourself that the addition of the probe was exactly that: a kind of afterthought.

    And while the cover might suggest science fiction, there is nothing to suggest that it is in fact a science fiction adventure.

    I also agree with those that suggested you use better photomanipulation software. As it is, the cut-and-paste is too obvious. (And while it is good that you credit your image sources, I hope you got permission where needed. Simply crediting a source is not always enough.)

  6. Like Nathan Shumate, I am seeing the science fiction here, but I’m not seeing the science fiction adventure at all. Starting from first impressions, you’ve got the story’ssetting pretty well established, but nothing else. Unless the story is about the milieu (as your synopsis pretty clearly indicates it isn’t), the artwork just isn’t going to do much for your prospective readers.

    That’s even before considering the picture’s quality, which I can already see from here is not very good; and the closer I look, the more obvious the pixelation and poor integration of cut-and-pasted items becomes. If you’re going to do any picture manipulation, it’s best to be an expert or near-expert who knows where to find all the highest-resolution images and how to blend elements into the background seamlessly; clearly, that’s not you. While it does make some sense to pick out the imagery you want people to see, you really should let someone more experienced and talented with image manipulation put it together for you.

    Above all, for what sounds like a very character-oriented and personality-driven story, your cover’s imagery is all very impersonal and emotionally distant; not the impression you want your cover to give at all. Where’s the “stunning” human-alien hybrid gal you mentioned? Shouldn’t she be on this cover? You know, for all the disgusting political correctness of our time, having any kind of pretty lady on the cover is still as big a selling point for the predominantly male audience for science fiction as it ever was in the early days of trashy pulp novels; and besides, if you want your readers to know this is a character story, we need to see at least one character on the cover, which might as well be her.

    If you’re not quite sure how the said pretty hybrid lady is supposed to look, or you want your readers to imagine her looks for themselves, you could still at least give us a pretty feminine silhouette of her in the foreground to indicate that a beautiful woman is going to be the focus of this story. (If you want people to realize she’s only half-human, of course, you can also add antennas or whiskers or tusks or whatever other non-human features she might have to such a silhouette without much difficulty.) Whatever else you do, make sure we’ve got somebody prominently visible in the foreground to establish what kind of story this is.

    As the others have pointed out, pay attention to what your target audience is used to seeing. From my perspective, the story you’re selling brings to mind another story in roughly the same genre: Larry Niven’s The Patchwork Girl, in which a beautiful young woman in a moon colony is in danger of being used as an organ bank after being convicted of a murder she didn’t commit. Notice how prominently said girl features on the cover (which is turned sideways for some reason; sorry about that) at the link provided, with almost nothing else on it; and here is an alternate cover for the same book featuring the male protagonist narrator who spends the story trying to clear her name. See how much more the characters matter than the setting?

    In short, you can fuss around all you want with the background, but even if this were a dazzling 6000×9000 original $10,000 painting of an extraterrestrial landscape drawn by Alex Ross himself or some other such artistic genius, it wouldn’t be the right cover for your book. You need people, or at least a person, and you need them front and center. If you can’t afford to hire a custom cosplayer and professional photographer to provide you with an original picture of your protagonist for your cover, at least see if you can find an artist on Deviant Art or some such site to draw one up for you for a few bucks. Don’t worry about the background until you’ve got a foreground.

    1. Y’know…I was remembering, from…gosh, 20+ years ago, the original cover of McCaffrey’s “The Rowan,” which you can see here: . Granted, it’s old style, now, and the newer covers are like so: .

      And some folks argue that McCaffrey writes fantasy–but the Rowan is sci-fi adventure. “Crystal Singer” is another; here’s the 20+ year old cover: . It’s another sci-fi “adventure” featuring a female lead.

      Just saying: if you look at the genre, the characters are featured prominently.

      Offered solely FWIW.

      1. I’m going to ignore the dumb tangent about who’s being targeted by sexy women on the cover (and RK’s even dumber idea that the only reason a woman would be turned off by a sex-appeal cover is if she feels “threatened” by it!) and instead look at something I found interesting between those two editions of The Rowan: The description.

        As someone who hasn’t read this book, the old version’s description is truly compelling; it describes an alien civilization where a small number of people have incredible powers, and a race against time to find a child with these powers who was buried in a mud slide. To go with this description, the cover shows a woman in regal alien garb, in a setting that is undeniably sci-fi.

        The new edition’s description is… very different. And a lot more boring. “The Rowan was destined to become the greatest Prime Talent in human history, facing a lonely existence of servitude. Until she receives a telepathic plea from across the stars from a Prime named Jeff Raven-and falls in love with him.” Yawn. Yet another bland SFF romance story. And the cover matches the description: A close-up of a generic pretty girl against a vaguely nebulaic background.

        What a difference in marketing!

        1. I’m fine with argument, provided you back up your case. I’m not fine with simple name-calling. Please tone it down.

    2. Bear in mind that putting a sexualized woman on the cover of your book also signals to half your potential audience that this book isn’t for them.

      1. Hunh? @Katz, do you think that women don’t read books with those types of covers, or…is it men you think don’t read those books? AFAIK, McCaffrey’s appeal–to use her as a perfect example–is largely women. Certainly, she doesn’t skew as much to “male only” as many other writers.

        I wouldn’t consider the McCaffrey covers that I pointed out as “highly sexualized.” Some of the covers we all see–yes. If I see some scantily-clad female, with more boobage and other parts than face…sure…I’ll start to think that perhaps, it’s not aimed at me. But I think that’s a long way from what everyone, thus far, has been suggesting. It’s certainly not what I was suggesting.

        To me, a cover like The Rowan isn’t highly-sexualized.

        Did I understand what you meant?

          1. AH. I was wondering! I mean, the covers I’d linked to all did feature women, all of them rather pretty or “hot” and all that…:-)

            Thanks, @katz.

      2. The female readers’ reaction to seeing a beautiful woman on the cover depends, I suppose, on whether they’re that scared of the competition. Male readers (and moviegoers) certainly don’t generally let seeing some beefcake on book covers and movie posters scare them away; note the muscular guy with a six-pack getting shot with the laser on both covers. (By the way, I made a little mistake in my description: that guy’s actually the murder victim in this whodunnit, not the male protagonist, though both guys are indicated throughout the story to be quite the womanizers.)

        Also, like beauty in general, sex appeal is in the eye of the beholder: the gal on the cover of The Patchwork Girl might have had guys drooling over her and gals steaming with envy back in the day, but all I could think when I first saw the cover (and this was back when I was a callow youth) was “Wow, how sixties can you get!?” Should we survive so long, we’ll probably look back on all the “bewbs and mewbs” covers we’re seeing now the same way. The gal’s face on that cover is the only part of her beauty that stands the test of time from my point of view, and only when one can look past how garishly painted her eyes are; that hilariously dated outfit she’s wearing in the background with the neckline plunging down to her navel just looks ridiculous at this point.

        In any case, a beautiful woman on the cover still sells books, as does letting readers know there’s a “stunning” half-human-half-extraterrestrial hybrid gal at the center of the story. As with the gals in mildly form-fitting clothes on the covers Hitch provided as examples for comparison, said exotic lady doesn’t really need to show any skin to appeal to this audience, just her face. Particularly if this story is also intended to appeal to the Star Trek and Babylon 5 crowd, you might want to feature her along with several other “talking heads” on this book’s cover the way the covers for those books typically do.

        1. For whatever it’s worth, I think I can say that not once in my lifetime have I ever seen or known a woman who didn’t buy a passed on buying a book because the babe on the cover was more beautiful than she. If that actually existed, what would happen to romance and chick-flick movies and books? The monolith juggernaut that is “chick-flick” would fade into nothingness. What would have happened to Charlize Theron’s career? Or, given the general male reaction to the youthful Angelina Jolie, her career?

          Most women aren’t as attractive as Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts–yet somehow, those two have dined out in style, from legions of female fans. LEGIONS.

          It’s one thing for a person–male or female–to encounter a much-better looking individual in the flesh. I don’t think anyone shies clear of reading material OR movies or TV, just because their idealized avatars are better-looking or handsome or beautiful, on the screen or the cover or the small screen.

          As the protagonist in this book is supposed to be a gorgeous Alien-Human Hybrid, I’m all for putting a hot babe on the cover. Now, having said that, the Twifright chick showed everyone that allowing readers to imagine themselves as the “road map” for the heroine also had legs. I’d extend that thinking to the cover, so perhaps as suggested earlier, a silhouette, or something equally vague would be a better idea.

          1. Nathan: URGh, please edit this:

            a woman who didn’t buy a passed on buying a book

            to say:

            a woman who passed on buying a book

            I thought I’d edited it, but apparently…not. Thanks.

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