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The Robin Hood Thief

The author says:

The Robin Hood Thief is a futuristic thriller.

(tagline) The opposite of death is courage.

A middle-aged mom and nonprofit employee in 2050s America, Helen M. Dawson suddenly finds out she has 45 days left to live. But she’s not ready to go. Helen decides to become a hero, the Robin Hood Thief, in hopes of righting the wrongs of her increasingly dystopian society. If she can pull it off, perhaps she can cheat death of its final sting. But can she do all the good she wants in the time she has… and can she keep her daughter safe while she throws her own life away?



Nathan says:

Hmm.  I don’t think having this face dominate the cover is successful, because there’s nothing about this face that clues the prospective audience in that this book is for them — there’s no distinct expression, no dramatic light… It’s just a face, and not a particularly attractive or distinctive one. I would bet that half the people who glance at this cover at thumbnail would assume that it’s a biography of someone they don’t recognize.

The type is underwhelming. At full size, you can see the binary numbers and understand that this is either futuristic or computer-related, but that detail is lost at thumbnail size; the only thing left to indicate the genre is the typeface, which isn’t equal to the task.  Even something that is slightly more mechanical would work better.

Finally, I think your byline looks awkward.  Three initials and a last name is odd, and with the periods in between, the initials end up taking up more space than the surname! I would suggest rejiggering the layout so that the initials are above the surname in a smaller point size.

Other suggestions?


  1. I have to agree with Nathan. This is another example of a cover that is essentially irrelevant. It would be easy to imagine this book as a techno-thriller, a spy novel, a cyberpunk novel….or even a non-fiction book about computer hackers or a biography of a Silicon Valley CEO. It could be a different cover with every change in title. The fact that the cover is so amorphous simply shows how much more focused it needs to be.

    I realize that the face may seem especially significant to you…but you know the story and you know the character. The potential reader, however, is not privy to any of that information.

    You need cover art that zeroes in on the themes you mention in your description. At the moment there is nothing that gets across the ideas of “futuristic thriller” or “dystopian society.” Or even “thriller” at all, for that matter.

    I think you probably need to address the issue of the artwork before you worry about the typography.

  2. Hmmm. Usually, as the resident non-designer, I limit my comments to general impressions and typography. I’m not sure that addressing the typography will help, although–certainly–it wouldn’t hurt.

    I am hesitant to comment on the face, because I worry that it’s someone you know. However…I find her face really offputting. I certainly thought, when I saw this, that it was a memoir, or something similar. And for whatever reason, that woman’s face, so overblown on that cover, makes me want to walk past that book. Not to pick it up, or even flip it over to read the back.

    One of the guys here uses a quick trick, to convey an idea to the author/publisher/designer–imagine that all the text on the cover is in another language (that you don’t speak), and then try to tell what the genre is. If you can’t, then your cover isn’t doing its job. (Sorry, whomever I lifted that from. Didn’t mean to steal it, just wanted to make sure that this author saw it.)

    I think that you might consider bracketing only her EYES. If you hold up your hands, above/below her eyes, THAT has good impact. Doing that would give you some space to include dystopian elements to provide more here, here. PLUS, doing that allows your prospective reader/buyer to envision herself as the heroine. (The one really clever thing that Stephenie Meyer did; basically never describing her protagonist, letting all the little romance readers imagine themselves as same.)

    The pale mint green/lavender color scheme is not floating my boat. It’s awfully Easter-y for a dystopian novel.

    I don’t think that the binary is visible enough to be effective. I’m in total agreement with Nathan there.

    Fonts. Well…the challenge is, it’s true that by and large, Dystopian leans heavily on sans serif. However, you’re using a really bland sans-serif. Also, the kerning/spacing on the “Author Of…” line, and the byline, is out of whack. A LOT. The Author of…is spread out way too much and unevenly. The initials in the byline are badly kerned. (FWIW, I’m personally inclined to pass up bookcovers with 3 initials and a last name. Other than old JRR, that’s just the way that they come across, to me.) You might want to indulge in a commercial, professional font, so that you can kern those 3 initials a bit better. I strongly second Nathan’s suggestion about reducing the emphasis on the periods; they are far too prevalent. (For good kerning examples, look at the “poster” cover for The Walking Dead. A simple Sans-serif font, condensed, beautifully kerned.) I don’t think that Steelfish condensed would work for this, but something in that vein, I suspect, would be just right. Another good example, for spacing letters/words, is Elysium. The poster with Matt Damon, with that blue sky/clouds behind him.

    So: I’d nuke her forehead and everything from the middle of her nose, down. Keep the eyes–those work. Come up with some other imagery that’s a boatload more dystopian or at least sci-fi-ish, than the greeny/lavender background, and you should forget the binary. Can’t be seen until you’re nose-to-nose with the model. Change the color scheme up entirely. Go to Amazon, and shop “Dystopian fiction,” and look at those cover colors. BLEAK. Greys. Or browns (to convey post-apocalyptic dustbowls). Or even reds/oranges (war, chaos). Not Easter-y colors. Amp up your font, and reset the byline, the plug (Author of…) and the Title. (I don’t know how much Sci-Fi is in your book. Sui Generis is one of those fonts that always imparts that “sci-fi” feel to a book. If your sci-fi elements are negligible, then it may be all wrong. It’s also a VERY wide font, so it might suit the feel, but be unusable due to your title length.) I’d also make sure that the title font and byline font are more distinct from the other.

    Hope that helps. The other designers here will have more specific commentary than I do.

      1. I do, Ron. I have now deployed that–often–at our shop, when our clients ask us “what do you think…?” I try to get them to come here, to be honest, because I think they’ll get good feedback. I’m obviously very careful about how I say things, although I am honest. But…a “soft” honest. Your suggestion is really useful. Thanks for being gracious about it. My only excuse is that I did think it was important for this author/cover designer. 🙂


    1. I am not so sure that the prospective reader should have to know what the genre is. People DO buy and read books from different genres. So what is the purpose of designing a “genre-specific” book cover?

  3. The middle-aged mom protagonist is a neat angle, and I’d like to see her stay on the cover. But it needs to be in some context that shows us what’s cool about her, because right now the cover tells me “middle-aged lady has a face,” and that’s not much of a selling point.

  4. This cover is rather highly reminiscent of what TV Tropes calls Just a Face and a Caption. What you’ve got here is just a face and titles; that’s not a bad picture of your protagonist, but what does your cover tell them about anything else in the book? My first impression, from seeing the thumbnail over on the sidebar of Lousy Book Covers, was that this was some kind of Matrix-style cyberpunk novel or maybe something in the same little-known “financial thriller” genre as Rollover (1981). (Yes, I could see the “data string” background, though I couldn’t tell until looking at it from close up that these were binary strings specifically.)

    Now if your futuristic Robin-Hood-wannabe protagonist is going to be doing all her plundering and wealth redistribution via computer hacking or some such, this binary data string background does actually make a certain kind of sense, but you’ve still got only your protagonist and part of the setting established on your cover. You still need to establish the part about the setting being a dystopian society, and your protagonist aspiring to be that society’s contemporary version of Robin Hood. If her relationship with her (grownup?) daughter is important, it might be good to have her on the cover in some capacity as well.

    On the whole, I think what your protagonist mainly needs is more of her on display, and in costume; even if she (quite understandably) doesn’t actually use medieval gear like the original Robin Hood, dressing her up in a green outlaw suit and having her carry a bow and a quiver of arrows would help symbolically underscore her aspirations to be another charitable thief in the tradition of his archetype. This is the same kind of symbolism political cartoonists apply when portraying computer pirates as being dressed like Blackbeard: obviously, actual computer pirates would never dress like the salty sea buccaneers of old except maybe on occasion as a gimmick for a Halloween masquerade ball or something, but the symbolism comparing computer pirates to sea pirates is just too gripping for any artists to pass up. You likewise shouldn’t pass up a chance to portray your protagonist in the style of Robin Hood’s forest-dwelling outlaws, regardless of how she actually does her heroic deeds in the context of her hi-tech futuristic settings.

    As to the coloring and layout, I’d specifically recommend that instead of the pale-green-and-lavender scheme you’ve got now, you go for a starker green-and-white-on-black color scheme, and switch from binary to hexadecimal code. Pale green and lavender do contrast well, but they’re also rather ugly, which is why almost nobody uses them on anything. The stark contrasts of green and white, in addition to bringing to mind Matrix associations and the old green-screen monochrome days of computing, can also be synchronized handsomely with the stark contrasts of gray-scale to give your cover a bit more of that properly hard-edged dystopian “feel” the covers for certain dystopian novels such as Lois Lowry’s The Giver have had on them.

    Minor points: I’d also recommend experimenting with somewhat splashier and more futuristic-looking fonts (the current one being rather boring) and swapping the placement of your title and byline with each other (because unless your name is already famous and therefore a major selling point, your title should always precede your byline). At least your title and byline are nicely large and legible at present; just be careful, if you redo the art as I suggest, to ensure that we still have a clear view of the protagonist’s face from behind them. While a full-body shot might be effective at showing off a Robin Hood costume, just showing the upper half of your protagonist’s body might be the best compromise to allow us to see both her costume and her face clearly.

    As katz says, “middle-aged lady has a face” is about all your cover says right now. “This middle-aged lady in a bleak (and therefore possibly dystopian) setting is a cyber-Robin-Hood” is more the kind of message you want it to send your prospective readers.

  5. Thank you guys so much for the extremely detailed feedback. I will see what I can do.

    The major issue is that I’m having trouble thinking of what kind of art to use – what pictures.

    The setting is only 30 years out, and there aren’t flying cars or cities inside bubbles or anything else particularly visibly futuristic that I can put on the cover. There are drones that figure into the plot, but I don’t have an appropriate picture.

    It’s dystopian-lite. Sea rise has eaten away the edges of the country, but there are no scenes that take place at those seaside ruins and that point is not really plot-central. There aren’t any other ruins or cities aflame or whatnot. Just a whole lot of people in urban poverty.

    The book is social (soft) science fiction with hacking very prominent in the second half.

    So how do I convey “kinda sci-fi… kinda dystopian… kinda futuristic” with images?

    A lot of books in this space don’t really have visible/prominent pictures. The title takes up almost all the real estate. I know that design falls into the “generic cover” trap and fails the “foreign language” test, but I’m tempted to go that route because I don’t know what other images to use.

    1. The good news is that font style and color scheme can do a lot of the heavy lifting. Even a cover dominated by a title can pass the foreign language test, if the typeface is well chosen.

    2. HRI:

      What about just the hat? The ubiquitous Robin Hood hat, with a dystopian font (I like Urban Jungle, which always conveys “city” due to the skyline in the font’s baseline), the code running in the background and some grittier colors?

      Just a thought. Make the binary larger, the colors grittier…use a Robin Hood hat, maybe faded…might fly.

      Guys? Whatcha think?

    3. Maybe this cover for the new edition of Trouble and her Friends could provide some inspiration? The woman doesn’t have anything notably sci-fi about her, but she’s got an active, combative pose, and the digital imagery is incorporated holistically and prominently, while in your image it’s hidden in the background.

  6. Thanks for the additional help, guys! Love the “Trouble” cover. I will need to do a crash course in typography and see what other images I can find. Back to the drawing board, I think. Thank you again so very much! This was really valuable.

  7. Hi guys – I wanted to show you my revised cover – I submitted it as a new submission through the site but it seems not to have made it through, so here’s a link to it on my website. I’m confident the typo is better and that it better signals genre, at the least – otherwise, I know it’s not particularly strong. Thanks in advance for any feedback: The Robin Hood Thief

  8. This is my first comment. I think this box should be at the top of the page, not the bottom. (That is a mere aside.)

    Anyway, I liked this face very much, although I agree with another commenter that it could probably work with just the eyes, which are phenomenal. You notice I said “face” rather than page, because that is the most important part to me.

    I would follow Hitch’s advice about the kerning and the type (because she knows more about it than me). I do, however, like the garish, and rather off-putting, color scheme. Definitely spooky and intense. Don’t change it.

    You definitely don’t need the tag line at the top, “Author of . . . ” Your pen name is odd enough that it will be recognized more easily than the name of your other book. Actually, I like the name, but I think you should decide on a font that will go well with your other book covers, once your mss. are done.

    Other than that, I think the cover is pretty effective. Especially those eyes.

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