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Totem (Book 1: Scars)

The author says:

Totem (Book 1: Scars) is set in 1978 in a small Massachusetts city at the beginning of a blizzard. A Passage has been opened on Wachusett Mountain that connects an ancient Native American tribe with those now living in 1978. A brother and sister come through the Passage, one seeking revenge for a past massacre, the other trying to stop the impending carnage. Mystical powers are used by each, including skinwalking and manipulating nature. The genre is urban/dark fantasy and its audience would be readers of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, Terry Brooks.




Nathan says:

First up, you’re probably going to get some grief from this crowd, most of whom also comment over at, because of the inclusion of that wolf; so many paranormal and historical romances feature a wolf on the cover that it’s become a cliche. I don’t see any specific mention of wolves in your description (it probably falls under skinwalking); if it isn’t essential, you might consider removing that element of the cover.  (The oversized planet-thing is also something you’d expect to see on a paranormal romance cover — don’t ask me why.)

On the other hand, the wolf is the only part that even obliquely references the Native American angle, and nothing in this cover anchors it to the modern day (or 1978, which is close enough). Is there anything you could add — maybe in the fonts, or as a border around other graphics — that lends a Native American flavor to it? I assume that we’re talking about a New England tribe here, so you wouldn’t want Navajo blankets or Pacific Northwest totem poles, but…

From a strict design standpoint, I like the color scheme and layout. I’d suggest you change the font for “Totem” (leave it as is for the byline and volume title) just for a little more variety — possibly something sans-serif to contrast with the serif font. Also, as you can see in the thumbnail, the title text intersects with the edge of the moon; it’s a bit distracting. If you keep the moon element, you might want to either move things around or make the title text stronger so it doesn’t get “beat up” in the thumbnail.

In summary: Pretty good design, but I’m not sure it advertises your book accurately.

Other thoughts?


  1. I agree with most of what Nathan says. A silhouette of a howling wolf is a vastly over-used cliche, so I’d say get rid of it with extreme prejudice. And that moon-that-isn’t-the-moon: It appears to be both an alien planet and some kind of translucent bubble that’s positioned somewhere between the wolf and the tree in the left background. And it also seems to be trailing streamers of mist that flow downward(!) relative to the local horizon. All in all it’s a very puzzling object. And lastly, what is the vertical maroon bar? It doesn’t bear any relationship to the rest of the cover that I can see.

    1. My thoughts about the not-Moon are similar. And it’s very big. If the Moon were ever that big in our sky, we’d be doomed. I realize that creative license allows one to get away with that sort of thing, and most readers won’t care, but I have to point it out.

      As for the howling wolf at the moon cliche being over used, there was one submitted here back in April.

      I’ll second the vote for a more New England-ish style city skyline along the bottom.

      Your terrain is a bit flat for that part of New England (assuming you’re going with the real Wachusett Mountain), but again, creative license.

      Having said that, I think this is a decent cover.

  2. Not to pile on poor wolfie, but in the thumbnail he’s a black splotch–so that may be another reason to send him back to the forest.

    Overall this cover just seems an also-ran–another wolf, moon-ish thing, silhouettes, etc. Kinda meh.

    I’d suggest researching symbolism and craft designs of relevant tribes from the area, other things that say “Massachusetts” (maybe a church spire bird’s-eye view of rooftops of quaint houses or another aspect of small-town Mass. life–and maybe even something about the snow/blizzard [although I’d say the snow would be a secondary consideration]). An while considering those things, consider how 1978 differs from today. What would a town scene have that we don’t? TV antennas? Older style stop lights? What subtle ways could you find to bring in the 1970s without leisure suits and crappy cars. On the other hand, I’d use the KISS principle whatever elements you decide to use. Too many items or too many conflicting images will muddy the message.

    I like the quality of the artwork you’ve produced and but for a few issues it shows you’ve put thought and care into bringing it together. I happen to think that it doesn’t say enough about the story though.

  3. That purple rectangle behind the “a” is driving me crazy. I like the image. The font colors create great contrast, yet I don’t like the red, yellow, and background combination. I see black, little blue, white, red, yellow, orange, purple. Three colors work well together (with accents as needed). The red and yellow at the top, while contrasting well enough to read (though there are some strong opponents for red text on black), don’t seem to coordinate well with the rest of the color scheme. Just my humble opinion, though. As I said, I like the image, and it’s easy to read, those are the main parts.

  4. Hello. I’m the author of Totem. Thank you all for the constructive comments. I published my book through Amazon for their Kindle platform, didn’t have the funds to pay a professional for a cover, so I used Kindle Direct Publishing to do it. I’ve never really been 100% happy with it, but couldn’t afford anything else. I know, I know, not an excuse. I tried for hours to get rid of that pesky maroon bar behind the ‘a’, to no avail (obviously). The wolf does play a prominent part in the story, but I’m not married to it.

    I love the ideas of showing a New England small town skyline, especially with TV antennas (never would have thought of that) and a church steeple.

    Glad I found this site, you guys provided some much needed comments from outside eyes (all my family and friends said they love the cover), validating my true feelings about the cover.

    Thanks! I may now have enough funds to hire a professional, and I’ll provide all the suggestions you gave me. I’ll post a new cover when I get one done for your approval!

    1. Actually, there are several sites that offer affordable covers (less than $100). I’ve used one of them myself.

      Good luck, Chad.

        1. Here’s another one: They have more than 5000 covers to choose from all reasonably priced.

          (Disclosure: I have covers for sale there. Don’t think any of them suit your book though. 🙁 )

          Also, see the top of this site for the page (Designers for Hire) thoughtfully included by Nathan with a list of designers.

          1. Sirona,

            Thank you for that website. Looking over all the covers now. Maybe you should contact me about creating a cover for my book.

            Everyone, thank you so much for the helpful suggestions. I expected a critique of my book cover, but did not expect the thoughtful, insightful suggestions. Thanks! I’ll be sure to spread the word as much as I can about

          2. Sirona,

            When you go to my website, you’ll find the same theme there as on the book cover, which, apparently, I need to change. If you’re looking for the mood I’m looking for for my book cover, go by the blurb I wrote above for the book. Look forward to hearing back from you.

  5. I think the cover fails one of the main tests for a cover: Without any preknowledge about the book, could a potential reader get an idea of what the book is about just by looking at the cover art? In this case I think the answer is “no.”

    I understand that it is difficult for an author to be wholly subjective about the art that appears on the cover of their book. For instance, I am sure that the wolf plays an important part in the story…but only you know what that role is. To anyone looking at the art it is just a wolf and nothing more.

    Design-wise, there is no dominant element: everything is pretty much equal which means nothing pops out to attract the reader’s eye.

    And I have no idea what purpose the vertical red bar serves.

    Sirona’s suggestions for new imagery are excellent and I’m glad to see that you are considering them!

  6. Thank you for the insight, Ron. That pesky vertical bar came from the template I used in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. I liked the template I chose because of where it placed the text, but I could not, for the life of me, get rid of that stupid bar.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my cover. All the comments and suggestions will make Totem a better book.

  7. Maybe the title would work better if it was white with a black outline. The colours works well together otherwise but the red title jars me. I don’t know the story but I’m assuming a wolf is prominent in it. If so, I have no problem with the wolf.

  8. Bonnie, thank you for your input. I know what you mean about the red font.

    Everyone, I’m uploading a new cover, opening myself up once again, so let the flaying begin!

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