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The author says:

“Charybda” is set in a fantasy world in a semi-medieval time period. The target audience is high school to adult, so more of a New Adult book than a Young Adult book. The main character, Nivin, is a seventeen-year-old blind girl living in a society where all physical imperfections are met with a death sentence. After she is discovered, she flees, only to stumble across mysterious portals called “Charybda” that pass between two worlds.

Nathan says:

Were I to guess from the cover alone, I’d say that the book is maybe an urban fantasy or possibly a suspense-thriller… but mostly I just wouldn’t be able to tell.  The clues as to its genre and content are too sparse.

From your description, it looks like there are two fantasy settings involved (or at least two imaginary settings).  How do they differ in technology, society, etc?  How could you portray that on the cover?  You’ve got a natural opportunity with a human figure in the center; could the side of the portal she’s leaving be behind her, and the other side in front of her?  Is one technological or urban, and the other agrarian?  At the very least, could they be different (but complementary) color schemes?

If the protagonist’s blindness is a major part of the story, could you indicate that on the cover?  Could she be wearing a blindfold or hood?

Even with all that, the fact that the title is a word that doesn’t have a concrete meaning for the audience is a problem.  Even a subtitle like “A Saga of Two Worlds” could help immensely.

Other comments?


  1. It looks nice but I think there’s room for improvement to make it more effective. Without reading the blurb I guessed it was either a book about a witch or a pop star. I don’t think the main themes you mention (medieval-world, blindness, portals) are strong enough. How about creating an ethereal image with your MC stepping through a portal? I see a carved stone portal – cathedral-like, heavy and crumbling. Perhaps her clothing could be more obviously medieval in style. Make her eyes shine to get across the idea that she’s blind but sees everything.

    The title is a little awkward for me because I’m not sure how to pronounce it. I guess it’s the name of the MC so it’s important to you. Perhaps choose a title that better captures something about the story or use a subtitle.

    Hope this is helpful.

  2. Your cover’s rather confusing: in thumbnail, it looked like the gal was spraying some kind of burning plasma, so I was half-expecting the plot to be “girl with a flamethrower becomes a vigilante” with maybe a cliched her-whole-family-dies-and-needs-to-be-avenged background. Instead, your description sounds a bit like Logan’s Run meets Time Bandits, and the spray of brightness off to her right (our left) is apparently something in the background. From either perspective, I’m not seeing much of what’s in your description up there on the cover.

    From reading the classics in my college days (something not everyone’s done, I might remind you), my guess would also have been that the “Charybda” title was some kind of obscure reference to Scylla and Charybdis from Greek mythology. You’re hinting, perhaps, that the world on the other side of those gates isn’t a lot better than the one on Nivin’s side? Whatever your intention, the title scores a point or two for originality, but you can’t count on the vast majority of your target audience to “get” the reference or extrapolate what’s in the book from it.

    You can keep the title, therefore, but that means the picture’s got to do more of the heavy lifting. Maybe you should try studying other stories involving portals between worlds? One piece your basic plot brings to mind is the indie movie Ink (2009), in which the characters do a lot of traveling between different parts of a dream world through a series of portals; maybe the visual designs from that story could give you some idea how to draw a portal on your cover.

    Regardless of design, however, you definitely need something that will immediately clue your prospective readers to two aspects of this story: that it has inter-dimensional portals in it, and that the protagonist is blind. Whether you go with this female model or another, I recommend fitting her with milky eyes or opaque sunglasses or a blindfold or something like that to indicate she’s blind. As for the portals, you need only to give us a “window” of some kind into each of the worlds in this story on either side in the darkness behind her for people to realize that this story will involve travel between alternate realities. (How these portal “windows” should look is entirely up to you to decide; your protagonist Nivin is blind, so how would she know how they’re supposed to look, right?)

    Yes, a subtitle or a tagline might help, but work on clarifying your story in the picture first. With book covers, as with the stories inside, “Show, don’t tell” is the rule. The less you have to explain in subtitles and taglines, the better.

  3. I think this is another example of a cover that fails to convey what the book is about to the uninformed reader. What, you should ask yourself, about the art suggests that the book concerns itself with a “blind girl living in a society where all physical imperfections are met with a death sentence”? Other than the vague sense of unease the girl in the photo is expressing, there is nothing that suggests any of the themes you describe. The model certainly doesn’t appear to blind. Moreover, if the portals are so important as to have inspired the title of the book, some unambiguous suggestion of them might also be in order.

    While there are some issues regarding the typography, I think the artwork itself needs to be addressed first.

  4. Hi, everyone! I’m the author of Charybda as well the cover designer. This is the part where I follow to fail Nathan’s instructions of not saying anything…but I feel like I may have provided inadequate information in my initial description of the book, and I’m doing this to get clarification on what I could do to improve the cover.

    First of all, your suggestions are all great. Unfortunately,

    1) I have no skill in image compositing and this cover is pretty much the height of my ability, and

    2) The portals are invisible to everyone except the blind girl, who perceives them as ribbons of light. Any attempt at showing a physical portal would give, I believe, a false impression as to what is inside the book, and I’d hate to lead anyone on. Furthermore,

    3) The protagonist has successfully passed for a sighted person for most of her life (by avoiding situations where people could notice it, and in the book her eyes are described as dark in color. In other words, they aren’t milky. She doesn’t wear blindfolds or glasses or anything. So, once again, I feel that implementing those suggestions would create a false impression of what is behind the book cover.

    Now, I know I’m not going to be standing next to the reader explaining all of this, but if I’m to do anything beyond this cover, it would have to be a professionally done. I have done several mock-ups of this cover trying to do image compositing and I SUCK at it. So I was going for the simplest thing I could do using this best image that worked for me on Shutterstock as I could. I was going with Derek Murphy’s advice about how it’s more important for a book cover to evoke emotion than to be totally representational of what is inside the book.

    Here’s what I AM capable of doing:
    a)playing with filters
    b)changing the color scheme
    c)changing the typography

    My questions are:

    1) Is there anything I can do to fix this and make it a passable cover that will at least not land it on Lousy Book Covers? Like, if I changed the color scheme, would it look less like fire? And what are the problems with the typography? I could totally try to fix that.

    2) Should I completely forego any attempts to do my own cover and immediately hire a cover designer? I’m hesitant to do this because this is my first book and, and because I read a lot of Derek Murphy who suggests not spending a ton of money on one’s first book. But don’t get me wrong–I’m not above hiring a cover designer, and I’m completely willing to accept my limitations. I just wanted to see if I could get by with making my own book cover that would at least work temporarily and, if it didn’t tremendously boost my sales, at least wouldn’t hurt sales by being ugly.

    TL; DR:

    The suggestions are good and valid and thank you SO MUCH for helping me out with this. I’m not a cover designer by trade or training. Is this salvageable or should I go straight to a cover designer? Thanks again, and I appreciate that you are taking the time to help me out. 🙂

    (P.S. Yes, Charybda is reference to Charybdis and Scylla. The other world actually has a dragon named Scylla in it.)

    1. Filters, colors, and text can actually buy you a lot with this cover concept. Others are addressing that well and tweaking the details could definitely pay dividends, but consider a more ground-up rerun of the same concept. The most systemic problem isn’t that the picture evokes fantasy poorly, but that it evokes urban or modern somewhat too well. For this I have a recommendation, folk dancers. Do a Google image search for Gypsy Dancer and you will find dozens of images of twirling women very similar to this one with more dated clothing. Renessance fair will do the same thing. It would take digging, but get a base image with cloths that nobody would wear in a modern setting an the rest of what you do with filters, colors, and text gets much more effective (avoid the belly dancer versions though, you’d evoke other genres you aren’t aiming for).

      Keep in mind, with all the suggestions that have been forthcoming, that your cover need not be an absolutely final decision. Making and using something good enough for now will not doom the book. The best you can do yourself will, at worst, help inform your choice of designer and make you better able to tell them what to make should it comes to that.


  5. Modern fantasy covers don’t need to be all that indicative; they usually signal the tone more than the content (it’s a crown covered in roses!). But this really does look like urban fantasy more than epic fantasy; it’s the modern outfit and the high-contrast monochrome lens-flare-ish lighting. If you want to do a person on a modern fantasy cover, you’re looking for something like Empire of Storms, A Court of Thorns and Roses, or Truthwitch: A distinctly old-timey-or-magical-looking person and preferably a background with a fantasy feel.

    As for the question of “is it salvageable?”, it’s good that you’re approaching this question with a realistic assessment of your own skills. I think you have a good sense of colors and composition and nothing about this looks obviously amateurish (and if you hang around here, you know that’s a real compliment), but if you’re limited to Shutterstock + filters + text, then it’s always going to look like something that was thrown together with a minimum of effort.

  6. If that’s what you have to work with, I don’t think it’s all that bad. The character is striking, and the hair gives it some dynamic/dramatic movement, and her outfit seems semi-medieval. Emphasis on semi. Though, were it me, I’d probably try to remove the hair from across her nose… It’s tickling my nose just looking at it! but that’s just me. I’d be happy to do a 5 min fix on that if it bugs you as much as it does me.)

    I really think it’s the font that’s killing it. I hate to suggest you find something more medieval, ’cause that can go soooo kitchy/cheezy so easily. But getting closer to something medieval might help it come together. And I, FOR SURE, think a sub title would bring it home.

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