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Glory on Mars

The author says:

A one-way journey to Mars may be a mistake. Colonization of Mars is in trouble when the colony psychologist, one of the first eight settlers, commits suicide. Four more settlers are now on their way, bringing renewed hope – and a cat. Emma volunteered so she could explore Mars in her robotic walkabout suit. Even if she gets the chance, that may not make up for everything she left behind. Mars is a hostile planet, danger follows from Earth, and an inexplicable sense of desolation cripples the settlers’ efforts. Would you go?

Science fiction set in the near-future, at the first colony on Mars. Hopefully will appeal to readers of scifi with an emphasis on the science. Some violence and a little romance, but mostly the struggle to survive, explore, and figure out what’s going wrong with the settlement.

Nathan says:

There is no single major problem here, but there are a lot of little issues that, added together, may tip the scales away from you in the eyes of potential buyers.

  • The inconsistency of the black border around the title is confusing.
  • There’s an overabundance of mid-range orange tones, mushing everything together.
  • Mars taking up the perfectly round porthole gives us a crescent of black which ends up being the most eye-catching part of the cover.  You could easily solve this by having the porthole be a different shape.
  • Shadows are inconsistent; the rock face is lit from the left, but the cat is lit from the right.
  • Problems with your cut-and-pasting: the front of the cylinder pedestal is obviously flat instead of rounded, the edges of the cylinder don’t line up with the top, the borders of the porthole are completely texture-less in contrast to the stone wall, the black space in the porthole overlaps onto foreground elements.
  • The cover may make perfect sense once you’ve read the novel, but it doesn’t make sense when seen fresh: If we’re seeing Mars through that porthole, what red rocky place could we be in?  Why aren’t we in a spaceship with riveted, steel-blue bulkheads instead?

Like I say: No single big problem. But it definitely needs a thorough tweaking before it’s ready to compete for eyeballs on Amazon.

Other observations?



  1. I agree with Nathan about the title border, the lighting, and the cut-and-pasting. And I also wondered where we’re supposed to be looking out from – is the spacecraft a hollowed-out asteroid or something? Even then it seems unlikely there would be a porthole directly between the outside and the living quarters, since it seems like a main advantage of such a craft would be to use miles of rock to shield your crew from radiation and other dangerous space stuff. Also the realism of the rock kind of clashes with the renderedness of the porthole, it might be better to find and tweak a photo of a porthole.

    The prominence of the cat would work if the cat is a major character/focus of the book – but if not, I’d worry that he would attract readers who want the sf equivalent of those mystery novels where a cat is the detective, who might then be disappointed, and turn off readers who don’t want that.

    His neon yellow eyes are very piercing, but look kind of unnatural – are they supposed to signify that he’s genetically engineered/cybernetic/etc.? If so, then great. If not this should probably be changed to look more normal.

  2. This is a pretty rough photomanip overall, from the oversaturated cat (and whatever is going on with its eyes) to the obviously computer-drawn porthole to the top of the cylinder not lining up with the base. And while I like the general idea (kitty!), the precise composition doesn’t appeal to me enough to really be worth improving the quality.

    So I’m down with a cat sitting by a porthole on a Mars base, but I’m with Nathan: I’d like to see a nice futuristic base with lots of white and clean metal, and a Mars landscape would make a more logical view than a photo of Mars.

  3. I fear this would only appeal to cat people, is that enough? Why is there a cat on Mars? Makes sense there might eventually be, but would you really bring a cat among the first colonists when there is nothing for them to eat on Mars… I would almost expect this to be a children’s book about Mars-colonising cats. Also why is the cat sitting at the edge of the pedestal and not the middle, bad kitty!

    And yes the observation on the quality of the graphics I agree to. The porthole seems exceptionally unnatural, especially as it is contrasted with the rock and photo of Mars. The fat cat is also an odd colour, the white parts look pink because of the colour tweaking – yet it is clear they are not meant to be pink.

    I would scrap this and start again.

    1. Tuula: do you think that possibly, the cover creator deliberately pinked up the cat? Like, the light of Mars tinged his white parts that color, or …something like that? Otherwise, I don’t see why the cat’s coat would tinge that way. Perhaps, unaltered, IT was the biggest focal point on the cover–the neck, chest, and belly parts of the cat. You think?

      The font used is okay. It conveys “sci fi” well enough. IF the cat is truly integral or central to the plot, I might consider a black background (bar?) for the lettering, and I might consider putting wee cat paw prints passing through, for the byline. (Just an idea, as I was myself using an animal paw/hoof/footprint font today.)

      I kinda like the cat, but I agree that being in a rock environment, peering out an open porthole, at Mars, is confusing.

      Lastly, this cover has a desperate, screaming need for CONTRAST. It’s missing and it’s noticeable. Regular buyers may not know what is wrong with the cover, or just don’t notice it, but that’s a big part of it not working, the utter lack of Contrast. If you look at the posts I made on the last book up here, I strongly recommended a blog post by Derek Murphy, about book covers–see if you can find that, because it’s required book-cover design-process reading.


      1. Obviously they altered the color balance to make the cat redder in order to look like Mars lighting…except a) it’s way too bright pink for a planet that would actually have more of a dull rust orange hue, and b) nothing else in the picture is lit that way.

  4. Nathan’s last comment regarding seeing Mars through the window of what-are-we-in-exactly? was the first thing that caught my eye. If we’re already on Mars, why do we see Mars as viewed from space? The Martian landscape would be the logical choice. And conversely, if we’re in space looking at Mars, we should be seeing the interior of the spaceship, unless the spaceship is a hollowed out asteroid that’s being used as a spaceship (unlikely given the blurb).

    If the former, maybe a picture of Mars hanging from the wall instead?

    Tuula also makes some good points about the cat being on the cover. Is the cat the focus or an important element of the story? I’m not saying the cat can’t be on the cover (I have two cats), but its prominence suggests that it is very important* to the story, but I didn’t get that from the blurb.

    *Yeah, anyone who lives with cats knows that their response would be, “Duh, he’s a cat. Of course, he’s important.”

  5. While did rather infer from seeing the thumbnail that this was to be some kind of science fiction story featuring space travel, all of the rather rusty tones had me thinking it was likely to be something in the Steam Punk genre. That still seems something of a possibility after reading your description and having a closer look, but I get the distinct impression that Steam Punk wasn’t quite what you had in mind. From your description, the story sounds like it’ll be mostly a slice-of-life tale concerning fairly ordinary people trying to make a living in the somewhat exotic settings of Earth’s first Martian colony in much the same way our European ancestors had to figure out how to make a living here in the Americas (or the “New World” as they referred to it back then); the central conflict then arises from this not being as easy to do as it might initially seem.

    Oddly enough, your story’s basic premise and its plot elements remind me more than a little of the Japanese animated movie Lily C.A.T. from the 1980s, which also featured an isolated band of people (with a cat, no less) out in space trying to make a living. Although that story soon veered more into mystery and horror than slice-of-life when something started picking off the crew, the premise of heading out to other planets being mostly a one-way trip with everyone having to learn to adapt to the new circumstances or die features prominently in that story too, as one of the subplots deals with how a criminal “jumper” looking to beat the statute of limitations on his crimes by getting on one of these long-range flights might find being some decades’ travel away from everyone he’s ever known and loved to be no better than being incarcerated back home. As implied by the title, the cat traveling with them also turns out to be more than it seems, albeit (perhaps this needs a spoiler alert?) not directly involved with the mysterious thing that’s picking them off one by one.

    Of course, I know the resemblance is only in passing and that a lot about how stories are advertised has changed since the 1980s,, but a viewing of a couple of the posters advertising that movie might be instructive. Note how in each poster, the emphasis is on the people, with the cat receiving only a vague and mysterious appearance in the one and no appearance at all in the other. Even if the cat in your story ultimately turns out to be more than it seems, giving it more of a background mystique like that than a prominent foreground role like the one it has one your cover here might work in your favor.

    Likewise, even if you’re deliberately leaving everyone’s appearance a bit vague in your story for some reason, it would be good to have some of the colonists on your cover to remind us that this story is about them. A group photograph with the original eight colonists posing in front of a space ship or the agency sponsoring their colony, whether an informal “selfie” or a professional shot, would go much further in establishing what kind of story you’re peddling from the get-go. It would also allow for a fair amount of symbolism: the shrink who went mad from the isolation and committed suicide (or is that just what someone wants us to think he did?) could be deliberately crossed out, or someone could accidentally have spilled a drink on it the picture and the splash just happens to obscure his face, or maybe the cat’s paw happens to be covering him for some reason…

    Of course, this (presumably) not being a murder mystery, you might prefer to work with a happier shot of the four colonists in the next group on their way to the colony instead. Maybe a group photo of the four happy new settlers (those poor suckers being as yet blissfully ignorant of the challenges they’re about to face) posing with each other on the ship, with Emma in particular holding the cat in her lap, right before they’re due to disembark? In any event, whether this is to be a sad or cheerful or heartwarming triumph-of-the-human-spirit story, let’s see some people! A cat’s not really going to be able to carry the whole cover by itself.

    Concerning the background, I did entertain the possibility (particularly when initially viewing it as a thumbnail) that we might be seeing rusty metal rather than stone, but that definitely looks like reddish stone from up close. Regardless of your intentions, don’t you suppose that even if the ship really is made from a hollowed-out asteroid, people would tend either to smooth out the walls with sanders or (if their budget wasn’t sufficient for that) cover them over with metal partitions or some such? Certainly, anyone who’d make a porthole window that smooth (too smooth, really, betraying its being computer-generated) would tend to prefer smooth walls to go with it; either those walls should look like smooth red marble with a clean and shiny finish, or the porthole window should be a lot rougher and more used-looking to match its rough-hewed grungy surroundings.

    You’ve got a very workable starting concept, but your book’s cover needs a lot more personality; and it’s exceedingly difficult for it to have personality without persons on it. Even if the cat’s significance is that it helps the colonists learn to be more empathetic and take better care of each other by being their team pet and mascot, we still need to see more of the people on that team. So let’s see some humans on the cover… please?

  6. Frankly, I don’t get the cover. It certainly seems to have little to do with the book as described…and that’s probably the main issue. Evidently there is a cat somewhere in the story, but unless it’s the main character I don’t see the point of emphasizing the animal to the extant you have.

    There are, as others have pointed out, issues with the rendering of the art but these I think are moot since I would suggest replacing the artwork entirely with something that does a better job of conveying what your book is about.

  7. Thanks everyone – my next attempt will be better thanks to your thoughtful and specific comments. As a matter of fact, it won’t have the cat or this layout at all. (The cat provides a clue to survival but isn’t a main character. I mostly used him because I thought the eyes would grab attention.) I’m going to try a real Martian landscape instead (thank you NASA) with some colonists on the surface. I’m thinking maybe blue font to contrast with a fairly reddish Martian view. Thanks again 🙂

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