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Digital Tart

The author says:

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Setting: Near future

Clare Farral answers a call, expecting to talk dirty to another customer, whilst coaching the fledgling artificial intelligence of the DigiTart chat service. Instead, she gets a psychopath laying the groundwork for the next cyberwar, using bullets as well as bytes. Now she has an online stalker. One of the first casualties is Clare’s friend Kyla, a medically-retired ‘cybercop’, an enhanced officer injured in the line of duty. Kyla’s former partner Officer Lianne Medway investigates the murder, herself getting badly injured by someone trying to disrupt the investigation. Clare is sent to challenge her stalker in person; Medway, on light duties, hunts Kyla’s killers. The two converge on the same target, a ruthless mercenary drawing them in to be pawns for his own mission.

Nathan says:

Your reach exceeds your grasp on a lot of fronts here.

  • The overlapping figures: You’ve seen it work on other book covers and (especially) movie posters, but you’re missing the rest of the equation.  It works when the figures depicted form a hierarchy, not just in who’s in front of whom, but who’s higher than whom, so that the size differences convey information about the characters.  Here, it just looks like an awkward overlap.
  • Color scheme: The two figure photographs are presented as photographed, with no modification.  Especially if you have figures who obviously aren’t in the same photo or shown at the same scale, you need to have a unifying color scheme so that they are visually related.  Again, look on movie posters to see how this is done right.  Remember that, in thumbnail size (which is the size at which most potential readers will first encounter it), the color scheme gets noticed before the text, or even before the imagery.  It’s important.
  • The font: Not terribly suspenseful, and it doesn’t have a lot of visual weight.  If you look at the thumbnail, you can see that the title almost seems hesitant, taking up as little space as it can, despite having tons of space beneath it.
  • The less said about the bullet casings thrown in to add to the “danger” quotient, the better.

Back to the drawing board, I’m afraid.

Any other opinions?



  1. If you’re committed to this type of picture look for a woman facing sideways, not 2 straight ahead and make the size difference bigger and fade the background character a bit.
    your woman in the foreground has horrid hair–sorry– I know hair is a bitch to cut out but this looks really rough. Maybe try to hide her hair with a fade to black and repositioning?
    Your colors are a bit all over the place, that background is too busy- hard to make out- it has no clear reference. I’m not sure if thats supposed to be computers or a lair for bad guys. The shadows make it even more confusing.
    maybe choose a serif font a tall thin one and add some spacing in it for the author name. You’re fonts are competing a bit. And title font could use some drama, maybe a chrome effect or even a slight grey gradient, but really, I think another one would be better, one that sets the tone clearer. If you’re having trouble executing an idea try a site like where they can walk you through the steps of how to then bring it back here to see if the idea is right.

  2. I’m not going to lie, the title would make this a flat no for me in any case. But moving past that…

    Nathan is being nice about the layers, so I’ll be the bad cop who says “no overlapping layers, ever.” All they do is create a muddy, confusing, low-contrast image. The background is a hexagonal…window? In front of a bunch of tall…skyscrapers? Mainframes? I can’t even tell how many images are in the background.

    You need to make the cover image one coherent scene with no transparency. Girl walking away from mainframes, girl and cop standing back to back in front of hexagonal window, or whatever. Something that the viewer can make visual sense of.

    The other thing: That is one goofy cover model. She’s just strolling around in underwear and a frilly-sleeved longcoat that manages to expose her midriff and cleavage, with a gun strapped to her thigh. Like you do. If this book is softcore porn with a thriller conceit, then that’s fine, but if it’s supposed to be a serious…anything, then you need a cover model dressed like a real human being.

  3. From the thumbnail and title, I was half-expecting to see “pseudohumans” being used properly for once (since an obviously simulated scantily-clad girl would be appropriate on the cover for a book about the adventures of a “digital” i.e. simulated hooker), but once again my expectations were dashed on all counts. For all the vaguely computer-related stuff in your description, the plot seems to suggest most of the actual conflict takes place here in good ol’ “meatspace” rather than cyberspace. For that kind of conflict, you really ought to be trying for a somewhat more traditional cover of the kind one typically sees on thrillers and police procedural stories.

    As katz notes, that cover model is pretty obviously dressed up for playing to somebody’s fetishes, not for conducting a serious investigation; that’s “mail-order” clothing, as one of the characters in Michael Bay’s The Island put it. Again, that would be fitting for a simulated hooker, but not for a gal on a mission here in the real world, even if she does work for a slightly higher-tech version of the phone sex industry. While you’re certainly at liberty to have her be better-looking than most actual phone sex line workers (who it’s worth remembering are hired for the quality of their voices and not their looks), she should definitely be wearing something more practical than that.

    As for all the confusion in the background, that would perhaps have been somewhat relevant as an effort to make a concrete portrayal of otherwise purely abstract cyberspace if this were a tale of a simulated hooker (though it would still need some serious simplification), but in this context it’s just a big mess of blended images that doesn’t really add up to anything. As for the overlapping… well, in certain contexts, image overlapping is fine; it’s image blending that I’ve never yet seen work on any kind of book cover. In this context, neither method is really doing you any favors; if anything, it seems to me you’d gain a lot more clarity if you just dropped the secondary character of the policewoman from the cover and focused on your protagonist.

    Really, none of this cover quite matches the concept of the story you’re trying to advertise; as the others are saying, you’re basically going to have to start over from scratch. For this story, the cover ought to show something more directly related to the character’s employment as a phone sex operator; a sleazy-and-yet-slightly-futuristic looking call center in the background, for instance, with her talking on the phone in the foreground would be a good start. Since cyberspace does play some role in this story, having some nice sleek-looking computer monitors in the background portraying something vaguely plot-relevant (such as the antagonist’s face) would be a nice touch.

    Finally, concerning your title and byline, the font you’re using does look a bit futuristic when capitalized, but the lower-case letters look vaguely runic like something you’d tend to see more on a bodice-ripper set in medieval times. I’d recommend getting a font something more like whatever the original Blade Runner movie posters used: block lettering with diagonals and some streaks to add some energy to its appearance. Also, considering that your title is obviously a spelling out of the words from which the corporation employing the protagonist derives its name, why not just name the book directly after her employer, and use the DigiTart company logo as the title? For bonus points, you could have an “inc.” or “LLC” or some kind of trademark symbol after it.

    What you’ve got right now would tend to land your book’s cover on Lousy Book Covers for bringing sexy back, photobombing, layout woes, layers upon layers, and busybusybusy. For book covers, as with doctoring, first do no harm: try to avoid these mistakes on the next iteration of your book’s cover.

  4. Well…okay. As someone else said, the title alone would be a massive turnoff for me. But, it’s your title and your book.

    The cover model–even better dressed, etc.–would be the nail in the coffin for me. She’s not even really average-looking–and books are about fantasy, not reality. If you want a book about two babes hunting down a stalker, etc., you’re talking BABES, not refugees from Eastern Europe that have lost their looks if they ever had them. The black corporal, in the back–she’s not even there. She’s instantly forgettable.

    If you want mega-hot babe, then you need a professional model, wearing whatever your cosplay-hot-clothing thing is supposed to be, or modify the book descriptions so that you can match the clothing to a hot-babe -model. Better yet, honestly, get past the whole pseudo-dominatrix hot-chick thing, and get a woman that looks like she can kick ass–not a woman that has a soft flabby-ish stomach and legs w/o any definition. Sure, your heroine is a phone-sex operator, but if you’re trying to sell the idea that she can physically confront someone, then she has to look the part.

    I think the suggestion to use a phone-sex room, to convey that idea, is probably better than trying to do what you’ve done here. (Let us not forget that Twifright did quite well never discussing the actual physical appearance of the so-called heroine, for the first 1/3rd of the first book, so fantasy is alive and well.)

    I just think you’re really headed in the wrong direction here. I don’t see any really solid path to salvaging this. The server farm background is too busy; and how many people will know what that is, anyway? The two models aren’t what you need. If nothing else, you certainly need to replace the one in front, and rethink how you want her to appear.

    Good luck. I wish I had better positive, forward-moving ideas, but RK’s put forth some decent concepts. Those might get you going in the right direction.

    1. Yeahhhh…I read those comments (“not even really average-looking”, which I would argue that she is anywhere except NYC, L.A., or Paris; “refugees from Eastern Europe that have lost their looks if they ever had them”; “a soft flabby-ish stomach and legs w/o any definition”) and was like, “Whoa! MEOW! Hissssss!”

      What’s wrong with just saying, “The cover model looks like a random friend of the author’s they paid $20 for the shoot, not the sort of superhuman fantasy babe whose image could sell a story like this”?

      1. If the cover model is a friend or relative of the author, probably better that s/he gets the feedback now than later when it counts for sales, don’t you think? And before it’s all over the Net?

        And sorry, no, I don’t agree that I’m applying heavily metropolitan, beauty/fashion-oriented standards here. If you think I’m wrong in what I said, then you can tell the author that she was a good choice for the job, but I don’t think you’re saying that, either.

        I don’t believe that the model can carry a cover in which two females are the protags, and are supposed to be hunting down a stalker. (“Clare is sent to challenge her stalker in person.” That hardly implies that she’s going to go have a battle of wits with her stalker, right? She’s supposed to fight him? That screams a young Angelina Jolie type, fitness-wise, or a hardened Charlize Theron-type, or even that MMA fighter that’s making movies now. Not a woman that’s not in shape.)

        Books/Novels are fantasy. The covers are, too. Whether the author is writing for a gay/lesbian audience, or straight, attracting them to the heroine is all about appearances/looks. Otherwise–why put the heroine, dressed like that, and her friend on the cover, at all? Why not side shots, or from the back, or, or, or? There are thousands of headshots of beautiful girls out there; hundreds of Cosplay-ish, dressed up women in stock photos that are far more suitable for this cover than those that were used. If that’s a friend, or someone that he got to pose, dressed like that–or a cosplayer–he should address the issue now. She can be the greatest person on earth, but the job of a cover is fairly shallow–it’s clickbait.

        Hopefully, people don’t do things like put relatives or wives, etc., on a book cover, and then submit it for critiquing. Honestly, I’m kinda gobsmacked at the idea that anyone would put a family member or relative or friend on a cover, anyway–who would do that to someone?–but if you’re right, and it is a relative, I think it’s better to air critique now, than later, about the suitability of the model for the work.

        1. But there’s a LOT of territory between “beautiful and buff enough to pose in lingerie on a book cover” (i.e., 98-99th percentile of attractiveness) and “sub-average for a woman in middle America” (i.e., below 50th percentile). If you seriously think this chick is below average, try going to Walmart sometime.

          1. Hell, I’ve been in Walmart. {shrug}. There’s also a world of difference between people ruining their looks via obesity, and just not having fabulous facial features to begin with.

            So, I’ll rephrase what I said: in my opinion, the cover model is not the stuff of fantasy, for the typical reader. Therefore, I think that the designer should use a commercial model better-suited for the purpose.

            OK? Everybody satisfied now?

            1. If you’d phrased it like that to begin with, rather than throwing over-the-top insults that point to some rather deep shallowness and internalized misogyny, it would have been totally reasonable.

              1. Wow. “Deep shallowness” and “internalized Misogyny.” Nice. Not everyone can be deep and shallow at the same time, and I am far, far, from a misogynist. Would you care so much were the woman clearly a professional model? What if she were painted? Or is this all about the possibility that maybe, I inadvertently insulted someone that the cover creator knows–personally? And what if he doesn’t? What if she’s a stranger to him?

                Sorry–I don’t think using someone that isn’t fantasy-worthy, on the cover of a book that is clearly intended to appeal to people who will be attracted to the heroine–witness the clothing–is a smart idea. It’s akin to casting some ordinary-looking woman or man on a show, whilst at the same time having other characters go on and on and on about how “hot” that person is. That’s telling–not showing. On a TV show, (or movie), maybe you can find a way, over time, to get the audience to believe it, even with a less-than-gorgeous actor/actress. On a book cover, you have 5 seconds.

                Bookcovers are clickbait, period. Making the character gorgeous or hot or sexy in the book won’t fix what’s wrong on the cover. If the heroine isn’t supposed to be a hot babe, then she’s dressed incorrectly for the part. Can’t have it both ways. If her appearance isn’t supposed to matter, then put some clothes on.

                Most female movie stars are close to beautiful. (Which isn’t something that’s subject to opinion; very few people are actually “beautiful.”
                Very attractive, sure, lots. Beautiful? Very few.) I’m not saying that she needs that type of looks, but for a book cover, just being average-appearing, or even, in your eyes, pretty or better than average, isn’t enough. She should be at least as attractive as the typical “hot babe” on a TV show, even a cable show with second-tier available actors/actresses.

                As far as “deep shallowness,” what, knowing whether someone is attractive, or not, is shallow? I’m not naive enough to think that pretending that everyone is created equal, looks-wise, is real. It’s not, and innumerable studies have proven it. Not a damn thing shallow about it.

                /done here with this thread on this cover.

                1. EVERYBODY CHILL.

                  This is a site with good-natured snark aplenty. Suddenly throwing a hissyfit because someone went afield and hit one of YOUR sore spots, and then suddenly everything’s “internalized misogyny” and every other 25-cent word you picked up from your Professional Victims curriculum?


  5. Too much and not enough.

    As I’ve suggested many times in the past to others, imagine this cover without the title or with the title in a language you do not understand. Would it convey a real sense of the nature or subject of this book as you’ve described it?

    You may also have fallen into the trap of being too familiar with your own book to be wholly objective. All of the visual elements have meaning for you—because you are already familiar with the story. A potential reader does not have this advantage.

    The montage technique simply does not work for all the reasons listed by the others here. Among these is that the images are all too obviously from disparate sources—the color, lighting, scale, etc are all inconsistent—and that little attempt was made to disguise the fact that the foreground figure is cut-and-paste.

    Using layers is in itself not a problem, but the technique has to be used carefully and serve some purpose. Here it is little more than a background pattern that is not at all integrated with the figures.

    Likewise, the shell casings serve no real purpose other than visual overkill: an application of the “kitchen sink school” of cover design where someone indulges in the urge to include everything they think might be important.

    The choice of type and its placement is also problematical, but since the image itself needs to be rethought from scratch there is little point in offering any specific suggestions.

  6. Thanks all – time to start over. I was too close to it and, I think, adding extra bits to fix ‘problems’ which just made it worse.
    I also clearly need to work on how I describe it – another round of being too close and needing to figure out how to take a step back.
    That’s my weekend settled!

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