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Steve’s Web

The author says:

Steve’s Web is a book of short stories with a strong Internet Safety theme. The protagonist, Steve, tells his stories in his own words and relates how his online gaming account was hacked, how he convinced his English class (and himself) that Martians have already landed and how a virtual monster put him in hospital! The book is designed to appeal to primarily boys aged between about 9 and 14.

stevefrontsmall

stevefrontsmall

Nathan says:

Cute, but… YOU HAVE MARTIANS* IN THE STORY AND THEY’RE NOT MENTIONED OR DEPICTED ON THE COVER???

*or the possibility of Martians

Look at how middle-grade books are marketed.  They are not sold with text-heavy covers than don’t really tell you about the story or stories.  They are sold with clear, grab-your-attention titles, and clear, grab-your-attention artwork.

Here’s the top row of books Amazon is featuring for that age range:

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Clear, interesting text, and an interesting central image. This is how the target audience for your book expects books aimed at them to look.  Will they know that your book is also aimed at them?  Learn from your competition.

Other comments?

Comments

  1. I think the list is charming, but I totally agree it’s back cover material.

    It could work at least a bit if your little shadow guy had alien eyes.

    I get the camo concept appealing to your target audience. Not sure that the stars and stripes are strictly necessary. Seems like they’re just taking up space. What if you got rid of the striped areas and just put the folder on the camo background. The title font is strong enough to hold it’s own against that busyness but it needs the leading (the space between the lines) tightened up.

    Once you got rid of the blue stripes, you could make the title bigger to fill the space. Then, use Operation: Stay Safe as your sub title at the top of the folder and TOP SECRET as a “stamp” in the center of the folder. Then, I’d put your byline at the bottom of the folder, and your alien eye’d shadow guy lifting up the camo at the bottom… Done.

    Oh, and it’d probably help if the title and the folder were at the same angle.

    Hope that was helpful.

  2. Hmph. I dunno. It’s dull, in terms of colors. If you look at your competitors, as Nathan mentioned, you’ll see a lot of brighter colors. Your blue is bright, but it’s small in comparison to the rest, which is camo green, camo beige, and sepia-tinted paper.

    I think that popping some color would help. A lot.

    I agree that the border could go–the stripes. No purpose for them, and it makes the cover busier. I’m also not sure that a kid would have “Operation: Stay Safe Online.” That sounds like MOM or DAD’s idea to me–not the pre-teen’s idea. Wouldn’t his Op name be WAY COOLER? I’d think that a list item about Martians–as if they are REAL–would be pretty good. Something like…”Land the Martians,” or “Find landing site for Martians.” I like the list–on the rear cover–but if it’s going to stay on the front, it needs some major amperage.

    Even if you changed the paper–from sepia to a yellow legal pad, to create a pop of color–it would be better. OR, if the front cover were an image of your protagonist, with your basic idea/dream bubble over his head, percolating ideas…

    To me, this cover looks like a cover that you created for the kids’ parents, not the kid. So, if that’s your target demo, the parents, you’ve probably succeeded. If your target is their precocious offspring, however, I think you have some distance to go. The concept is good, for the book, and all that, but it needs something. A bit more, to make it stand out.

    I like the idea of the faux military operation, created by the boy. That works. I feel that the execution is not living up to the cleverness of the idea.

    I wish I had some better or more solid ideas for you, but I don’t. Just not feeling it yet. This is FAR from awful–so good on that, believe me–and the world won’t end if you use it as-is. (I would, though, absolutely fix the angle of the journal or the title, so that they conform in angularity.) I feel that with a bit of tweaking, it could be much, much better, and more likely to appeal to both the kids, and their parents.

    HTH.

  3. I’m afraid the cover falls in the Kitchen Sink School of cover design: the urge of the author to put on the front of the book everything he or she thinks is relevant. One of the problems with this approach, other than for making an impossibly cluttered cover, is that all too often most of those elements are meaningful only to the author or to someone who has already read the book.

    For instance, what is that blob with the eyes at the bottom? (Oh…I see now…it’s supposed be someone looking out from under a blue curtain.) What is the significance of the three stars? Why the camouflage border? Why the green and white border?

    There is just too much going on…and too much that really signifies nothing to the uninitiated. Nor should a cover be a puzzle for the potential reader to figure out.

    There is also a disconcerting mismatch in styles throughout the cover art. For instance, the file folder and note are photorealistic, the thing peering from the bottom is a cartoon.

    The list isn’t a bad idea—I’d fill the cover with it. I’d eliminate the “Top Secret, Mission: Stay Safe Online” and replace that with the title of the book. I would eliminate every other visual element than those.

    All of that being said, I still don’t think your cover would really work. It looks like a non-fiction how-to book now and I think it still would even with the changes I suggested. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the book is in reality a collection of short stories.

    Try to simply your message—potential readers are only going to give your cover a glance and it has to convey the idea of the book in that split second—and to focus better on getting across what kind of book you have.

  4. Ron pointed out the big thing that jumps out at me: Part of it is vector and part of it is photo/photorealistic. Middle grade is one of the few genres where vector is widely acceptable, but you’ve got to pick one or the other.

    And, yes, all the clutter. There’s a manila folder. In a blue frame. In a green frame. In a cammo frame. Any of those might be fine, but we definitely don’t need all of them.

    I also agree that this looks more like back cover copy than a front cover. Lose the title and byline and just make it the back cover, then make a matching front cover with big, arresting typography and a nice eye-catching central graphic.

  5. All these criticisms so far deal with many of your cover’s problems, but one point doesn’t seem to have come to anyone’s attention yet: isn’t this kids’ book supposed to be promoting safety on the internet? In view of this worthy cause, why is everything on your cover seemingly using paper as its medium for communication? I don’t despise the old physical media as such—printed works are lovingly termed “hard copies” for a good reason—but shouldn’t whatever you’re using to frame your picture be something electronic, like the personal computer monitors and/or handheld device screens all the kids in your target audience are using?

    Had you been publishing this book twenty years ago, I could see some sense in showing an old-fashioned filing folder on the cover, but the vast majority of your preteen target audience these days cannot remember a time they’ve ever not kept their records electronically. Physical records are backups at best, and most kids these days don’t think to keep such hard copies unless their parents make them. With something as personal as your protagonist’s “Top Secret” file, of course, it’s highly unlikely he would be letting his parents dictate that he keep a hard copy of something they’re not even supposed to know exists. (If they do know this file exists, it can’t really be “Top Secret” according to any child’s logic, can it?)

    The other critics’ points about your cover being overloaded with text that ought to be relocated to the back cover are valid as they stand, but I would also point out that if your aesthetics require some kind of frame for your front cover, why not use the screen of a smart phone or touch pad as a literal framing device? That’s what nearly all of the kids in your target audience are using to browse the internet these days, you know. Add some fancy vector graphics that look something you might actually see on the screen of a kid’s handheld device (with a little artistic license, such as using some of Hollywood’s Viewer-Friendly Interface fonts on the screen as your title and byline), and you’ve got most of the makings of a cover right there. If you show Steve’s top secret file as a file icon with the mouse pointer on it and maybe a big 47%-finished progress bar across the top of the screen with several asterisks in a password entry box and the word “Decrypting” prominently displayed on it, you’ve got a lock on your target audience; and if you can find the right kind of wallpaper graphic to put on the “desktop” behind all these things (something that hints at your protagonist Steve’s personality), your job is done.

    In short, this is the twenty-first century; your book is probably doomed to be obsolete within another decade anyway, but why start with outdated graphics when the latest technology is so easy to use as a frame on your book’s cover? (It is as long as the screen is held vertically, anyway.) Now is no time to go for a “retro” look; it’s not the attention of the children’s parents you’re seeking. Show your target audience something attractive they’ll instantly recognize, and they should have little difficulty convincing their parents that your book is a good thing for them to have.

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