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Hell of a Deal

The author says:

Paul is a dealer in demonic contracts, a middle-man selling safe deals, deluded that he is a master of the dark arts. A seriously hot uber-witch tries to kill him as the start of a hostile management restructuring from the demons who need to replenish their human livestock. Paul is caught in the battle between the demons, an obscure Church sect (led by the uber-witch’s crazed and violent sister), and the other demon traders in town who think he’s playing for the wrong side. It’s not a good time, but Paul also wants a date with the psycho witch. Paul is just trying to survive – he’s already died once and come back, but you only get one do-over like that. As his friends are drawn into the fight there is no way out, and once the demons complete their planned acquisition, his sacrifice is needed to get everyone home again.

Genre: Urban Fantasy with a touch of dark humour

Target: Adult – a lighter tone for fans of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series, or Richard Cadrey’s Sandman Slim, with a hint of Pratchett and Gaiman’s “Good Omens”

Nathan says:

I can see what you were going for here, but too many little problems add up for a big problem.

  1. The title is too small (there’s nothing in the background that shouldn’t be covered up), and the gradient through it makes it harder to read in thumbnail.  It also clashes with the background.
  2. The filter effect for the main photo muddies the contrast instead of heightening it. It looks like you rebooted your computer in safe mode.
  3. The glowing Greek letters on the wall end up being the only part of the image aside from the title and byline that draw the eye — but the photo is arranged so that there’s a human figure dead center.  The result is that nothing is dominant in the image; it becomes focus-less.
  4. The human figure… It’s not clear, but it’s not a mysterious silhouette; it’s just indistinct.  The pose doesn’t convey dynamism, or strength, or humor; it’s boring.
  5. The edges between the midground (with the strongly filtered effect) and the background (rendered in an entirely different visual style) are distinct and artificial.
  6. The fonts you chose are all different sans serif fonts — not close enough to be unified in their effect, not far enough to contrast effectively.  They seem like fonts that just happened, instead of fonts that were deliberately chosen.

Take a look at your cover in thumbnail, and compare it to the thumbnails for covers from Mike Carey and Jim Butcher: stark and bold typography, strong contrasts, narrow color schemes.  This is how readers of books like yours understand that the book is for them. Go and do likewise.

Other comments?


  1. I agree with all of Nathan’s comments, especially regarding the human figure. This guy is just some random dude who happens to be standing on some steps.
    Also, always resist the urge to use built-in Photoshop filters on your images. They’ll give you away as an amateur designer sooner than anything.

    1. Newbie question here – Photoshop filters – are you saying a designer would create their own filters, or no designer would use filters?

      1. I’ll modify my previous statement about not using built-in PS filters.
        No doubt: Effects and filters are awesome. However, in my experience as a graphic designer (although Photoshop is my secondary medium) I’ve found some great PS filters/effects and actions via, and tutorials via youtube. Whether using the built-in filters in creative combinations or finding and using new ones, the main thing is to use a subtle hand.

      2. I think the general principle is you don’t want people to look at your design and immediately associate it with the tool used to create it–the same reason (well, one of the reasons) you don’t use WordArt, for instance.

  2. Mainly, the problem I’m seeing with this cover is just that it’s not very distinct in its thumbnail; on first viewing, it looked like one of those abstract paintings with no subject. The title with its flaming gradient was distinct… just barely; but I remember thinking the title would have been a lot more legible and the entire cover more interesting if the rest of the cover were covered with bright red-to-yellow flames and the title looked more like the abstract dark and smeary background of this cover. Up close, everything’s more legible and distinct, but some guy in an alley with (vaguely) occult-looking symbols in neon green lighting on the nearby wall suggests urban fantasy no more than it does a standard crime story or a detective novel.

    If your story is about a setting in which deals with devils have gone corporate (as your description suggests), it seems to me you ought to be using the kind of imagery one associates with big corporations rather than the “Mom & Pop underground shop” back-alley small business setting this cover’s imagery suggests. Have you considered maybe something like a shot of a stock market exchange scoreboard, a corporation’s board of directors having a meeting, or maybe a corner office or cubicle farm in a skyscraper? Considering how vilified big corporations are getting to be these days, it shouldn’t be that difficult to make any such corporate imagery look positively diabolical by giving it some of that red-to-yellow gradient as part of its color scheme.

    Basically, even if your protagonist is rather low on the corporate ladder (as your description suggests), don’t show us the back alley where he brokers his deals like some petty drug-dealing lowlife. Show us the halls of power where these corporate raiders you’ve mentioned are hatching their schemes. Show us the kind of vast metropolitan expanse where big corporate overlords do their shady business, not what might be just a quaint little neighborhood somewhere in the ghetto; as corporate big shots these days like to say, go big or go home.

  3. I simply don’t see anything in this cover that would suggest to the potential reader what the nature of this book is. This is a perfect cover to apply a test I have often suggested: imagine the title in an unfamiliar language…would you, from the imagery and style alone be able to tell what this book is about or what kind of book it might be? I would say that the answer would be “no.”

    The cryptic glyphs that seem to have been added as an afterthought to the right hand side of the image are no doubt meant to suggest a connection with magic…but I think this is only really apparent to someone who already has some knowledge of the book—which is putting the cart before the horse.

    I think that before you worry about the typography you should reconsider the imagery.

  4. I was going to say it was a fine design for a Dresden Files-style urban fantasy/thriller…but then I saw dark humor. Where’s the dark humor on this cover?

    Anyway, the execution has a lot of problems. Aside from the filter, the cut-and-pasting isn’t very tidy; the castle is darker than the alley and it gets in the way of the guy’s silhouette. The runes don’t match the perspective of the wall–they should be keystoned, not just skewed–and they cast light on the ground but not on the man. The darker parts of the orange text are the same value as the background, so even though they’re saturated, they don’t pop (and orange and green is not a great choice of palette). “A” should be centered below “Of”. There’s a white outline around three sides of the image that should be removed.

    So I’d classify this as a nice concept image to take to a professional designer.

  5. I’ll try not to repeat quite the same stuff as has been said (all comments were on point).

    I think the base idea of a mysterious guy looking down in front of a contrasting bright sky is cool, but sadly the execution is lacking. Changing the image completely might be the best thing to do to show more of what the story is about.

    Regardless, one possibility would be to have the guy closer up and have some sort of point of interest on the guy himself to hint at the nature of his work (pentagram, perhaps?). At which point it’s fine that the guy seems normal, as long as there is some point of interest somewhere on him. Having the character fairly dark is fine, it can look really cool with the bright sky behind, but right now the shades overall are very grey and, particularly from thumbnail, not eye-catching at all.

    I also found the green symbols to be more of a distraction than a plus. Their style doesn’t match, and they contrast in hue and value so much from the background that they don’t seem to belong on the same image. They could be removed or at least toned down a lot.

    The general coloring of the mid-ground and background is very different. The alley doesn’t have to be as yellow, but some of that yellow background has to “bleed” a bit into the alley scene.

  6. Well, as everyone else has already mentioned, what they said. ^

    PLUS, two things–for some reason, the white pants seemed so wholly incongruous that it was actually hard for me to see anything else, once I noticed them. They seemed utterly out of place–a guy is selling Demon Contracts,, and, what, he’s wearing a pair of middle-aged-man-white-Dockers? Seriously? I’m sitting here, from your description, seeing someone that should be wearing Boss, at least–or, trying to get people to believe he’s wearing Boss, right? Not that outfit. Not a damned thing devilish or demonic or snappy or…?, about it. I mean, really–if that yoyo showed up, with a “sell your soul” deal, would you sign with him? Damn, if I’m going to sell my soul, I’d like to think that the sweettalker I’m selling it to at least looks like a successful guy. Not a middle-aged guy trying to get lucky at a fern bar.

    And then, the FONTS. They are just not helping you, at all. As Ron said, what we now call “The Miller Test,” at my office, is the Killer App test–can you tell what this book is about, if the cover was in Greek? And I say, “not a chance.” You need more devilish/demonic/evil fonts. And you should distinguish between the title and the byline.

    If you can’t find something that blows your skirt up, you can always do the old fallback, which is use something like Exocet Light or Diablo font, which channels the Exorcist–and instantly gets the first idea across (DEMONS!). Some folks like MB Demonic–it’s not my fave, but it’s okay.

    Metal macabre might work. Demons & Darlings has some nice features.

    But you can get a LOOOOOOONG way toward where you want to go–being noticed by your target audience–simply through the use of fonts. Just think how much easier your design job is, if you nail the font. Right? Right.

    Oh, one last thing–sorry, but I think that your color scheme is all wrong. Reds, oranges, etc. Not dim and greeny-grey.

    Good luck.

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