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Man & Horse: The Long Ride Across America

The author says:

In 1974 a disenfranchised young man from a broken home set out to do the impossible. John Egenes saddled his young horse Gizmo and started down the trail on a seven month journey that took them across 11 states, from ocean to ocean. It is a tale that’s as big as the America they crossed, an America that no longer exists. It was a journey that could only have been experienced step by step, mile by mile, and viewed between a horse’s ears.

Nathan says:

The faux sepia tone, and the lack of anything visual which immediately places this in the 1970s, leads to the instant error that it’s a tale of a much, much older time.  (Yes, a few seconds’ examination of the rider’s garb shows that it’s very likely a photo from the ’60s or ’70s, but you will have lost the attention of those potential readers turned away by the initial impression.)

In addition, both title and byline get lost — the title because of size and color, and the byline because of size, color and the busy background behind it.  There would be no downside to putting the title across the horse and lower — ain’t nobody going to complain about the horse’s face being obscured.

My advice would be to take the sepia filter off the photo, and then add an element or two to show that the photograph itself is a document of the journey: a white border with black mounting corners, perhaps, or a couple of fold lines across the print.  Then seek out a period-specific (or at least appropriate) typeface — not something as gaudy as the “Mary Tyler Moore” font, but still something with a connection to the time period — and make sure that it’s readable, or at least visible, at thumbnail size.

Other comments?


  1. The sepia tone reads a weird yellow/green on my computer and the color across the top is unattractive AND clashes with the “sepia”. If nothing else, the colors are jarring.
    I opt for the photo in full color, which probably in itself would date the time period of the book in the 70’s.

  2. As Tracy said, this is one particularly bright, yellow-green tone that is blinding and doesn’t match with the red tone. True sepia is less saturated and more orange, but as was suggested, sepia might not be ideal for this time period at all. Desaturating the original photo a little bit would be a good idea but not all the way to monochrome.

    The photo itself seems appropriate for the theme and genre, although the brightness might be a tad too high (if the photo was taken like that, not much can be done). The text should probably be bigger and centered.

  3. Yeah, I’m not gonna lie–trying to find a nice 70’s font is right up there with a snipe hunt. Everything is either all Peter Max, or MTM, or Electric KoolAid Acid Test, you know? Kimberley isn’t bad (I swaerr, it’s a coincidence), but I can’t see it working. Boecklin isn’t terrible, though..and it might work, for this particular book. Peignot isn’t bad, but it might be too light. Honestly, it would help if I had a better feel for the underlying theme of the story, I could give better font. I get that it’s patriotic. And the 70’s, and a disenfranchised guy (and an overworked horse), but I’m not clear on the theme.

    Steak, maybe? Yes, it’s a bit western, but not wildly so, like Tuscan Caps. Hmmm.

    I’m with the rest of the group, on that color wash. On mine–and I say this to be descriptive, not hypercritical–the color literally looks like a jar of urine. That’s the color. It’s really bad. And it’s dreadful against the brownish-orange tone.

    If you have the image in color, I’d strongly encourage you to try that out, and see if that gives you a jumping-off point. If not, then consider using it just B&W, and find strong contrasts to use around it. That yellow, I would stay away from.

    If the author/publisher can elaborate a bit on the theme, I really would be happy to do further font kibitzing. However, right now, I feel like I’m flailing, due to no comprehension of the thematic elements of the book.

  4. It’s not often I disagree with what Nathan says but here I have a different take. I don’t see why it’s particularly important to signal that this book is specifically about events in the 70s. I can’t see that it’s a point about the book that’s going to massively affect whether browsers are interested or not.

    I don’t think the book’s time setting is totally irrelevant as the ‘look at an America now lost’ sounds like a big part of the book.

    But I think giving the cover that quality is less about finding 70s fonts etc and more about making sure it has a feel of general timelessness, reflection or nostalgia (but not in a cheesy way!)

    Which ties into my other point. This book sounds epic. The hook here is the incredible scope and unusual nature of this journey. The photo you’ve used is, presumably, yourself on that very journey and it’s a nice shot but it could also be ANY man on a horse in any situation. It doesn’t speak to me of the really fascinating story in this book – the journey, the landscapes, the urge to escape and adventure.

    Ideally, if you have such an image or can source a stock one, I think the image needs to be long-distance, a horse and rider in the (middle) distance in the American landscape. This story evokes some real American founding myths, the lone rider and the Western and all that. I immediately think of the old Marlboro ads too, which tapped into that imagery and are very period-appropriate.

    Here’s one cover that manages to evoke grandeur with its horse imagery:

    And here’s one without the horse but for a similarly themed book to yours:

    Another reference point is Into the wild. Obviously your story has a happier ending but it too is the story of a journey into America in response to the challenges and disappointments of the modern world. I think this was the film poster but the point is the same: the image evokes lonely adventure and Americana.,320_.jpg

    Covers for books of this nature are best when they highlight a. the landscape through which the journey moves, b. any uniqueness about how the journey is made (motorbie, walking, hitchhiking etc), c. the smallness of the figure against that scenery and relatedly d. how adventurous it looks to see this figure heading out into that great wide world.

    It’s imagery that pricks at the browser’s wanderlust and sense of adventure. There’s part of us that wants to be hitting that road, so we want to buy the book and experience it through that way.

    It’s very literal really. The book is interesting because it’s about a traveller looking out at an interesting landscape, from a unique POV (the horse’s back). So the cover should be a traveller looking out over an interesting landscape from that unique POV.

  5. So… kind of Easy Rider, but with a guy on a horse instead of a motorcycle? Now that I look at one of the movie posters for Easy Rider, I’m noticing a remarkable passing resemblance between the bright yellow (“jar of urine” as Hitch puts it) color wash on it and the one on your cover’s picture, though it’s only passing. Considering what a bleak and depressing movie that was meant to be, it’s not exactly what I’d recommend as a model for your cover.

    On the whole, seeing your cover in thumbnail gave me the right general impression: that this was some kind of biography or documentary or a fictional story dressed up to be like one. While your description doesn’t specify whether the story you’re telling is fiction or nonfiction, the photograph of a mustachioed guy on a horse certainly suggests a story of events that either actually happened or could actually have happened. Your imagery, at least, is appropriate for the subject at hand.

    The main flaws we’re all seeing here are the garish color scheme and the rather bland fonts in your title and byline. As others have mentioned, that urine-covered wash on your picture is utterly hideous; if you were going for sepia tones, you’ve over-saturated it by far too much, and there’s not enough red in the blend to give it the proper yellowish-tan tones of sepia. If you’re actually trying to make the picture ugly in going for the bleak and depressing look of Easy Rider, though, you’re still off the mark: as you can see if you look at that movie’s poster, the picture is actually a rotoscoped sketch, such that the whole poster consists of black-and-yellow contrast and nothing else.

    If you actually do want to follow that poster’s example, obviously you just have to put the original picture through one of those fancy “sketch” filters that makes it look like you drew it with a pencil, and then run the picture’s contrast all the way up to 100% before applying your color wash to get the desired “bleak” effect. In keeping with the style, your title and byline should also be the same black-against-yellow or yellow-against black; no other colors permitted. Then you run a mild softening filter to make the whole thing look more traditionally printed (as anything from the 1970s would be) and less computer-generated.

    If you’re going for a somewhat more upbeat “road trip” theme, on the other hand, the examples Kata showed you (particularly that Life On Foot cover) should be your guide. If you want the visuals to offer a subtle hint that this story is from the 1970s, however, I’d also recommend over-saturating the image and maybe adding some specks and scratches to make it look like a frame from one of the old 8-millimeter or 16-millimeter reel-to-reel home movies people were making at the time. This particular “retro” style captures very well the colorful and glitzy but also rather cheap and tacky appearance a lot of that decade’s memorabilia had.

    If you go for that look, your font should be something either in white, or off-white-stained-slightly-yellow-with-age, and should be directly overlaid on the picture rather than on a title bar. For best results, also be sure to darken the picture as necessary so that the white or “aged” off-white title and byline will contrast with it enough to stand out. Going all-caps with some slender font (Placard Condensed, perhaps?) as with Kata’s Life On Foot example should also help improve legibility.

    Basically, your cover’s concept is on track, but its execution still leaves much to be desired. You either need to go grim n’ gritty or bright n’ sunny; right now, it’s stuck somewhere in the middle, where it won’t attract patrons of either style. Choose whichever one best matches the direction and tone of your story, and run with it.

  6. This cover scream “self-published” to me. I’m with Nathan re: the sepia. I think the image suits the story well, but give it some color. You may even want to try some filters to give it a drawn or painted look. As for the text, I usually defer to Nathan on that because of his expertise.

  7. Hello, All,
    This is John Egenes, the culprit here. I didn’t realize this thread had any comments, and only just now stumbled into it. I must say, thank you all for your insights and opinions. Though I have mostly stuck to my guns (no pun intended) and kept the cover the way it was for the most part, I did share your opinions that it was far too yellow. And wow! It REALLY looks yellow on this page! The actual book is far more toward the brown end of things and is a lot softer, overall. And during the course of all of this, I took more of the yellow out.

    Someone pointed out that they didn’t know if it was me who rode Gizmo across America. It was, and I do say that in my blurb on the back of the book (the one here is not complete).

    As for a 1970s look… Not sure if I agree with that one. I know what you’re trying to get at, but the book itself is written firmly in today’s environment, looking back. I never tried to put the reader back into the ’70s, though I did attempt to put them on the trail with me at times, by using quotes from my logbook.

    I did change the fonts to a simpler format, and got rid of the italics on the subtitle, because I couldn’t read it as a thumbnail.

    Now, the reason for the sepia: I wasn’t trying to be old fashioned or clever. It was more a matter of necessity. I have piles of photos–some taken by me, and many taken by news media and people Gizmo and I met along the way. Some are in terrible condition, some are still good. Some are negatives, some slides, some scanned photos. Some are black and white, some color–of various shades (brighter Kodachrome, blueish Ektachrome, etc).

    I tried using the photos as is, but it resulted in a hodgepodge of photos that seemed piled together as an afterthought. So, I reduced them to sepia (not nearly as yellow as the cover image here is). I did it for 2 reasons: 1) the interior of the book now has a lot more continuity and 2) when rendered in greyscale, they all work better.

    The printed version of the book is in B&W, because of cost. The Kindle version is in color, but they photos get rendered in greyscale on older eBooks like Kindle Keyboard and Touch, etc. The sepia pics worked A LOT better than when I tried combinations (some color, some B&W…).

    So, the choice of sepia was a sort of compromise on my part…partly about continuity and partly about pricing the printed book.

    Thanks again for the comments. All the best, –john

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