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RJ: The Age of Innocence

The author says:

RJ: The Age of Innocence is a young adult romance set in present day America with a part in Italy. I am attempting to appeal to a similar audience as John Green. An agnostic teenager’s world views forever change after his new stepsister comes into his life and breaks down after an unexpected and disastrous trip to Verona.

Nathan says:

I’m not the target demographic, but you certainly seem to have nailed one of my most common pieces of advice: Figure out how the audience for your book is used to being marketed to.  This has certainly got the same vibe as the cover for The Fault in Out Stars.

The only head-scratcher for me is “RJ” — it’s not a part of the title you gave in your description, so what is it?  Why is it bigger than the title?

Other comments?

[01/18/17 Edit: Due to the way my submission form frontloads the message I get with extra data, I missed that “RJ” is indeed the first part of the title, so all comments expressing confusion at that are my fault.]


  1. Not a lot to add; for once, it seems we’ve got a first draft cover here that looks good enough to be the final draft. I am wondering who or what “RJ” is supposed to be just as much as our host Nathan Shumate is; the name of the slightly loopy stepsister in this story, perhaps? If so, a simple colon integrating the initials into the title would help clarify that point.

    Since I don’t see much of anything else that needs adjusting, how about I give a simple rundown of what kind of book I’d expect this to be just from looking at the cover, and see if it matches your intentions? The target audience, by the look of things, is any Romance reader over the age of puberty (whenever that may be; individual readers’ ages of understanding may vary, especially in our time). The general tone is intended to be heartwarming with maybe just a touch of humor. The gal on the cover is probably pretty much the main focus of the story.

    So, is that general impression right? If so, then I’d say you’re ready to publish.

  2. I think the cover is nice, though I wish the drawing had been a wee tad better.

    I have to agree with the confusion regarding “RJ,” which appears to be the title of the book. If so, fine. “The Age of Innocence” might be made a little more readable—the word “innocence” itself, especially.

  3. It’s a very striking cover: My congrats to the artist. Here is my take, upon examining it:

    It’s a book about a Christian. She is modern. She dyes her hair (black roots). She shaves her armpits, so she is aware of her body. (Frankly, I am not one to look at armpits and am a put off by this.) There is an upside down male figure in the sky who is mimicking her posture, but in reverse: Both she and the figure are cradling each other’s head. Her downcast eyes indicate that she is innocent and unaware of her own sexiness. (Yet she very carefully has applied eyebrow pencil and nice red lipstick: Go figure.)

    The fact that the top of the cover is in darkness (where the male figure looms) and the bottom is in bright sunlight indicates the two figures are on opposite sides of the planet. The comet, or star, in the upper figure’s arm indicates some kind of movement toward the girl.

    Lots of messages there, but I am not sure that these are the ones that will be fulfilled in the book.

    That’s what the cover tells me.

    I don’t care for the title, although you probably have a pretty good reason for choosing it. I think it would be hard for the prospective reader to recall, if asked.

    1. I had not noticed the male figure at all until I read this post. I like it, it adds something to the composition, but the fact that I missed it may be a bit worrying. I think that the white text inside the figure’s bounds may be responsible, drawing the eye away from its silhouette.
      If “RJ” can be dropped and the title moved to the blank space in the upper right that may make the art clearer, though pushing the text into the corners presents its own problems. If you were to try that, I would actually suggest moving the byline into the upper right then moving the title into its place over her hair in the lower left (reversing the colors of course). There is more available area within the bounds of her hair, so the title could then be enlarged significantly.

  4. The composition is dead-on for the genre. The palette, type treatment, and imagery are all just right for a John Green-esque YA contemp.

    Unfortunately, the execution is just not there. I see a lot of common proportion problems that are typical of beginning artists: Neck too small, head too big, breasts too high, chin off center, etc. Get a nice free photo reference of a similar pose (syccas-stock might suit you) and go ahead and trace it to get the proportions right.

    Your linework is also a little too unsteady. If you’re using GIMP, turn on the line smoothing to fix this. (No equivalent setting in Photoshop, unfortunately.) I’m not telling you to make it less fast and loose–fast and loose is good–but it also needs to be technically precise.

    I agree with the others about the RJ and the need to make the word “innocence” a bit more readable.

    1. Should you re-draw, as katz has suggested, you could angle the center-line formed by her figure and that of the silhouette. This would divide the cover into 4 quadrants, the upper left and lower right occupied by the art. This would leave the upper right and lower left almost completely open (excepting the spread of her hair) for use in positioning your text.

    2. Actually, I rather assumed, based on the description, that the artwork is deliberately a bit amateurish. This is a story about pubescent kids, after all; this is likely a picture of the focal character the way the viewpoint character might draw her. (The author doesn’t mention which one’s the protagonist, but that doesn’t much matter for our purposes anyway.) Presumably, he and she are probably either about to graduate middle school or just entering high school, so we’re talking about kids maybe 13-15 years old here; how good were your drawing skills at that age?

      In fact, the girl’s head and neck and bosom are pretty well-proportioned to, say, a late-blooming 14-year-old gal with an A-cup. (Until she gets into at least the B-cup range, she’s just not going to “hang” very low, if you know what I mean.) It’s her hair that’s been exaggerated to heroic proportions (a feature that looms large in both male and female imaginations at that age) and her arms that are suffering from disproportion (also a rather common perspective error of young teen artists). The mild sloppiness leading to some of the coloring of her hair and arms slipping outside the lines is yet another common fault in young teen artwork.

      It’s basically those amateurish qualities that identify this as being a book for readers in roughly that age range; draw it too professionally, and that identification is lost. About the only part I’d recommending correcting therefore would be those arm proportions: some teens at that age would surely be able to get those proportions right, and prospective readers will find this cover more aesthetically attractive if the particular drawing on this cover does. Everything else should be left as is.

      I hadn’t exactly noticed the male form in that background doodle either until Kristopher Grows pointed it out, but that kind of subtle Rorschach Effect works pretty well whether you notice it on a conscious level or not. The title could perhaps be a bit more legible (making the “E”s taller and the “C”s shorter would help with the word “INNOCENCE” in particular), but part of the measure of a cover’s quality is whether the image can convey what’s in the book without the title’s help. If the title were in e.g. Farsi, I could still deduce from the picture that this is a book for readers aged 13+ featuring a pubescent girl; and that’s about all I’d need to know when deciding whether to take a closer look at its sales page.

      1. I rather like the “notebook art” of high school ambiance of the art myself. But unless the existing art is cropped from a larger image that can fill in the new empty space created from a rotation the idea of angling the characters’ center line may require re-drawing. That is the only reason I mention it.

        Good point about the cover art being able to convey meaning in the absence of the title. That’s a good litmus test to keep in mind for these things.

  5. I’m not the target audience, but fwiw I like the artwork/style a lot, and can see how it might easily be recognized by and attract the target demographic.

    Two things though (apart from the puzzling ‘RJ’) — first I’m not sure what she’s doing (cf Katz’s ‘typically drawn realistically’ examples, where the subject’s attitude and intentions are clear). Also, even after the presence of the upside-down silhouette has been pointed out (on my own I failed to recognize what it was), I still don’t know what the relationship is between them. Best guess: she’s carrying him as some kind of [comforting?] metaphorical baggage. But even if that’s correct, I think it’s too obscure. Does the silhouette even need to be there?

    Second, the title (which I originally took to be RJ and the Age of Innocence) — Isn’t putting out a novel with the exact same title as a well-known classic going to cause some confusion?

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