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The author says:

Book Micro blurb: ‘When two young fisher sons dare each other to visit the forbidden island of Traakenholt their destinies become entwined in the curse of the ’First and Final Dragon’. Now they must sacrifice everything as they battle the terrible force they have unleashed.’

This book is intended to be part of a hard sci-fi/hard fantasy series. The series is very wide ranging in plots and settings. Nevertheless, I wanted to try and find a graphical style that is simplistic and flexible enough to retain a certain level of commonality across the whole series.



Nathan says:

Here’s the problem: Nothing I see could be interpreted as signifying a hard SF novel.  You want to take the long view with series branding, and that’s fine, but you’ve got to get readers to open the first book in the series first, and there’s nothing here to tell hard SF readers, “This is a book aimed at you.” (While there’s also nothing that’s “hard fantasy” about this either, at least it doesn’t have the vibe of “definitely not hard fantasy” like is has with hard SF.)

There are other design tweaks we could go into, but until we correct the problem of the initial visual concept not being aimed at your target audience, it’s all straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.

(I will point out, though, that your pseudonym is unbearably twee.  Hard SF readers are not a readership known for their endearment to such things.)


  1. The “flat” style with its somewhat minimalist approach is not a bad thing, but as the man says, this looks like dark fantasy rather than any kind of science fiction. In fact, the sight of an ominous shadow falling over what might be a small fishing village brings to mind some of H.P. Lovecraft’s more mystical mythology, such as The Shadow Over Innsmouth. This cover would be perfect if the story were about something like that… but this is hard sci-fi, right?

    Either you’ve misidentified your genre (for which you need not feel too embarrassed; the famous Orson Scott Card made the same mistake with one of the stories he submitted to Ben Bova back when he was just starting out as a writer), or you’ve misidentified how to portray it. As a general rule, science fiction can portray any kind of impossible event occurring that fantasy can as long as it does so using technology. Take J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and substitute space aliens for the orcs and trolls, a multi-purpose cloaking device for the Ring of Power, genetic sensors for the glowing orc-detecting swords, and satellite surveillance for Sauron’s Eye, and you’ve pretty much got a science fiction story.

    Now it might be that this island your protagonists (from the fishing village on the cover?) are visiting is some hi-tech repository of machinery some mad scientist used for his unholy experiments or the like, but unless you’re going to show some of that machinery right up front (both here on the cover, and in the early chapters of your story), it’s not going to count as any kind of science fiction in anyone’s eyes. If you’ve got boys from a low-tech fishing village sailing out to a forbidden island over against their elders’ warnings about some ancient mystical “curse” involving dragons, that’s fantasy first and foremost. Even if it later turns out the dragons are actually giant flying spaceships staffed with extraterrestrial lizards and the “curse” is just a local superstition spread by the reptilian space aliens to keep those puny ignorant humans from messing around with all the advanced machinery in the aliens’ base on that island, your story has the feel of a fantasy from the start and therefore is a fantasy. Never mind what perfectly natural high-tech explanations your story gives for all of this later; your protagonists are dealing with magic in their eyes, which makes this a story about magic, and therefore a fantasy.

    If that’s the kind of story you’ve got, then this cover might be just fine for it; you just need to re-categorize your story as fantasy. If, on the other hand, this is a science fiction novel and everybody in your story knows the “curse” on that island is just the grownups’ shorthand way of warning their children not to mess with the forbidden technology beyond their ken to be found on that island, then you need a new cover. Again, your “flat” vector-art style can work every bit as well for science fiction as for fantasy, but we need to see some metal plating with rivets or some fancy-looking circuitry or just some kind of machinery on your cover, not a low-tech-looking fishing village amid beach palms (or whatever kind of seashore plants those are supposed to be.

    At the very least, let’s see that shadow falling over a city with skyscrapers and traffic lights and telephone poles, or let’s see a nice big shot of Mecha-Godzilla come to stomp on these simple-living rural villagers’ backward little village. Let’s see a plane or a jet or a star ship looming overhead, or even just a bunch of modern-day pirates wearing body armor and armed with sub-machine guns while crewing an enormous stolen cruise liner; anything to hint that this is the high-tech present or near future or distant future, rather than the low-tech past your cover currently suggests. Give us metal and rivets or circuits and blinking lights; give us something that unambiguously says “This is science fiction, people!”

    As to your om-nom-nom de plume (as we say on Lousy Book Covers), here’s hoping that’s just a placeholder until you can think of a real pen name. Having such a groaner of a pun for a pseudonym is something you should never attempt unless you’re trying to be funny, which you should never be doing for any kind of hardcore fantasy or science fiction in any event. Pick something serious and ponderous-sounding that would roll easily off the tongue if you ever became a famous scientist yourself; anything that would sounds good with the prefix “Doctor” appended to it should suffice. (Just don’t actually use that prefix unless you actually are a doctor, or a doctorate in some actual scientific field.)

  2. Seconding the comments about genre, but for me, the flat vector illustration is a no go even if it’s fantasy. While it is theoretically a valid artistic choice and yours seems executed with some design skill, simple vectors have become more and more the choice of those who have no budget or art skills and want to easily bang out something that looks decent. Perhaps that’s unfair to you, but the well has been poisoned.

    Fantasy doesn’t really use either vector art or landscapes, let alone the combination; either photographs or photorealistic paintings of dramatically posed characters in fantasy garb are the rule (and series branding is usually just the same character in similar poses). That’s the direction you probably want to go, too.

    1. On that I beg to differ: Mandy Webster’s cover for Echoes in the Cavern pretty well demonstrated how professional and sophisticated vector art can look. That said, you do have to go for broke on those things the way her artist did; no slapping a bit of clip art on a bit of other clip art and calling that a cover. If you go for vector art, you want something at least as expensive-looking as what she got for her money.

  3. Ditto on the genre miss. However, I applaud the author for taking a stab at giving the font something other than flat colour. Kudo’s for that. The rest of the fonts are very… ho, hum.

    And unfortunately, everything else falls flat. (pun intended) I’m really not a fan of flat design either. To me it looks too amateurish. Like something you might do in primary school. And that’s the LAST thing you want your potential readers to think when they are searching for a Sci-Fi book.

    Having said that, the looming shadow as a concept works. It just doesn’t look Sci-Fi. At all. (sorry for beating that dead horse)

  4. The others have done the heavy lifting, and as someone who has read a fair amount of sci-fi, I have to agree with them.

    The pseudonym alone ruins this cover. I seriously hope it’s just a placeholder as RK suggested. I can attest to the fact that you will have no traction with the hard sci-fi crowd. Maybe with the humor crowd, but I think even that would be a hard sell.

    With regards to genre, you should especially pay attention to RK’s second paragraph.

  5. Taken just by itself, the cover art is excellent…

    But as has already been pointed out, there seems to be a real disconnect between the cover and the description of the story. There really is little point in dissecting the artwork since I agree with Nathan that it needs to be replaced entirely. (I should add, though, that I have absolutely no problem with the style of the art at all.)

    And in creating new art, I would take a little more care in planning for the placement of the type. As it is, the title and credit look like afterthoughts, crowded into the top and bottom of the cover. They would have been better if they had been incorporated into the overall design. If you will look at the book cover art created by professionals, you will see that they will either allow plenty of space for the later addition of type or include it as part of their design from the outset.

    Ditto the remarks about your pseudonym

  6. To every single one of you lovely people who have graced me with your honest and valuable opinions in such a gentle and constructive manner,

    1. YES, The Pen Name is just a place holder that is on temporary loan from a VERY different activity.

    2. YES, The Genre thing is quite a mess. The series OVERALL borrows from both the Sci-Fi and Fantasy houses. However, this book in particular leans more towards the Fantasy side.

    3. YES, Vector graphics are my ‘Go Safe’ as I create a lot of them in the business setting of my day job. I find them easy to employ for the purposes of rapid communication. Nevertheless, the clear consensus I’m picking up here is that I am communicating the wrong message!!

    1. This is just a “me, too.” I’ve read a LOT of both–sci-fi and fantasy-and in both, ranging from hard to dark to softish (say, softish=McCaffrey, from Pern to the Rowan series, which to me is as soft as sci-fi should get). I was a commercial book reviewer in both genres, and for the life of me, I do not recall seeing a cover like this.

      It’s nice artwork, but to me, it kind of looks like a literary novel, perhaps humorous. (e.g., “The Giant Bonehead that Ate Minnetonka,” or some such.) That, I dare say, is not where you’re going.

      Good luck. Were I you, I’d spend a few hours going through all the best-seller lists at Amazon, and get a feel for what is selling. After all, that’s the job of the cover–getting you sales.

      Good luck.

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