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Among Us

The author says:

This is a low fantasy book set in the early 2000s (think cell phones but not smart phones if that helps). The target audience is currently set at Young Adult, but that might change. This is simply a concept mock up, not anywhere near the final draft. Beyond that, I’d really like to know what specifically you love or hate or feel ambivalent about it, because it could be that the reason you hate it is because it accomplishes what I’m going for. Thank you!

Nathan says:

Well, if the reasons we hate it might be what you’re going for, then you’re deliberately going for low reader appeal and low sales.  A bit counterintuitive, no?

Here’s what I see as problems:

  • Can’t read the font at thumbnail size, and it’s still not easy at full size — the combination of ornate type and high contrast bright colors behind it work against readability.
  • I can’t see “fantasy” in this image.  Could be fantasy, could be a contemporary coming-of-age story or coping-with-divorce story, could be a fictionalized chronicle of mental illness.  Nothing in what I see tells me who the story is for.

Other comments?

Resurgence: Embers of Teleev

The author says:

Sci-fi novel and series debut. In a galaxy struggling to rebuild after an interplanetary war that ended with the destruction of the neutral world of Teleev, a task force is formed to apprehend the vengeful survivors of the shattered planet. This is the final draft of the cover.

Nathan says:

Aw, don’t tell us that it’s the “final draft,” because that means all you want to hear from us is, “Good job, don’t change a thing.”

I think it’s a solid foundation, but it looks awfully murky thanks to the color scheme.  Giving a deep navy tone to the non-explody parts would lend some much-needed color contrast.

I don’t understand why both the title and byline are so small — there’s so much space to play with (see what I did there?), and it’s not like you’re in danger of covering up an important detail like a character’s face.  And that would help with readability; a relentlessly square font like this is in danger of causing eyes to skip across the letters.  Not that you have to change to something with upper and lowercase, but even some space between letters might help slow down those skipping eyes.

So the byline is “Fen and Frances Ixx”?  That’s… an awfully hard surname to read, and the size doesn’t help.  You might want to change that font to something that (a) has upper and lower case, and/or (b) looks less like a Roman numeral.  Unless that’s supposed to be a Roman numeral, in which case I’m hopelessly confused.

Other advice?

Construction: Guide to Health and Wellbeing

The author says:

This is a text/reference book and is the 5th book in the series on health and safety – this time focussing on the construction industry in the UK. I have recently had this template made which I will use for rebranding the other 4 books that have gone before – and selling them as a boxed set – so the design is for each book. The book includes law references, case studies, best practice and my experiences of advising the construction industry at a senior strategic level. My other books haven’t sold very well so wonder if I can make the book series more appealing. Do you think I should add an image of a crane or digger in silhouette somewhere on the page? Any comments gratefully received.

Nathan says:

This subject matter isn’t really one that depends on “curb appeal” for book sales (it’s definitely not recreational reading, nor is the field as super-saturated as, say, paranormal shifter romances); the only thing that the cover needs to convey is professionalism, which I think is covered well.

That said, couldn’t the template designer have included something that connoted construction?  A blueprint or schematic, a photograph of heavy equipment or workers in hardhats… It just seems to me that the template was constructed with the conscious intent of avoiding any portrayal of the subject matter.

But still.  A professional reference manual is not one which depends on cover design to attract potential buyers, so you’ll get a lot less mileage out of cover redesign.  If covers have been slow, you might do well to concentrate on other marketing efforts: direct mail to contractors, industry association endorsements, etc.  Best of luck.

Other comments?

A Way Out

The author says:

This is a memoir about a woman (me) facing and overcoming depression and social anxiety. There are very dark points in the book but I also want to show a message of hope. It’s for those experiencing their own mental health difficulties, those who have overcome them, and those who would like a better understanding. The current cover is a concept demo as I still need to purchase images to replace the current ones and make all parts of the main teardrop fixed/complete.

Nathan says:

I think the first thing to note is that, until one reads your description and sees the words “teardrop,” one assumes that he’s seeing raindrops.  That’s not as big as it seems — rain certainly is an image that relates to depression — but you should know that what you think you’re putting out there isn’t necessarily what’s understood.

Other notes:

  • Setting the background as a cool gray will not only temper the “bright” feel of the color scheme, but it will also define the edges of the cover.
  • Something about the way “severe depression” and “social anxiety” are separated into their own areas bothers me, and I definitely think that they shouldn’t be in smaller type than the line above.
  • Using Trajan font for the byline definitely clashes.  I’d recommend just using the same font as the subtitle.

Other comments?

How I Survive a Brain Tumor

The author says:

It’s an autobiography on how I survived a brain tumor in the year of 2014. Would love to get some feed back on my cover. I already know that the Paragraph that is on the back needs work on.

Nathan says:

Congratulations on your victory!  Book publishing and any other activity pales next to that.

I think the biggest question for you is who your audience is.  If you expect that most of your readers will be family, friends and acquaintances that already know you, then the cover is fine.  If, however, you expect it to be read outside that circle, you need to look at it like a marketer.  An advertiser.  A filthy capitalist. 🙂

Think of someone who doesn’t know anything about you coming across this cover in a bookstore or on Amazon.  What do they see? A generic picture of someone they don’t know.  Where’s the appeal?  Where’s the hook?  What catches their eye?  Answer: nothing.  They would already have to know you and your story to be interested in the cover, which is opposite to the way it needs to work.

The generic but dramatic images you see on motivational posters (the real ones, not the snarky “demotivational” posters) are actually what you want here.  Sunlight peaking through heavy cloud over mountains, flowers springing from a log in an old-growth forest…  These images are common but popular because they portray the universal theme of blessings through adversity.  There are plenty of those images available for free (try or for starters).  Remember, your cover needs to appeal to readers before it can inform readers.

Good luck.

Riven Calyx

The author says:

Mordrak has been commissioned to find a wizard to enlist his help. The wizard he finds is not quite as expected and has his own agendas which cross over with the personal ambitions of Mordrak. The tower here is the abode of the wizard he finds. Thank you for your time!

Nathan says:

Oh, dear.

I hope you want me to be brutally honest, because that’s the only flavor I come in:  This looks completely amateurish.

The painting itself, while adequate in a “My aunt Bernice did it and I’m hanging it in my living room” sense, lacks the technical skill to appear on the front of a book.  On top of that, you’ve missed every opportunity to make the tower — the only distinguishable feature in the painting — eye-catching or dramatic. (See any of these covers for how to do it right.)

You also having a boring typeface that doesn’t communicate “fantasy setting” or stand out in any way from the background.

And to top it off, the square proportions don’t look like a book cover.  CD cover? Audiobook? Maybe.

Listen: THIS IS IMPORTANT. Readers will see this and not only think, “The author obviously isn’t much of an artist”; they’ll also think, “The author is completely unaware of his inadequacies and shortcomings, and that probably applies to the book itself.” YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF IF YOU USE THIS COVER.

There are plenty of accomplished semi-professional artists out there, and fantasy towers are common subject matter.  Do a search on DeviantArt, pay the artist $25 or $50 to license his/her artwork, and throw in some extra to have him/her design your type.

Don’t give potential readers any reason to skip over you and concentrate on the next book on the page or in their feed.


RE:Play [resubmit]

The author says:

Colden Frost, nineteen years old gaming genius has always day dreams of ‘better’ worlds, like the ones in his games he plays – and wins. When he finds himself transported to a different world in a different persona, he is elated. But is it the world he has always dreampt of or a dark reflection of his own world encased in ice. A reflection that holds something much darker, much deeper? Will Colden be able to clear this game? Or will he be consumed by his own personal Ragnarok?

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

I like it — it builds on the strengths of the original cover. The only thing I would recommend is to brighten the “up” side of the wolf so that it shows up better in thumbnail.

Other comments?

Angel of Death

The author says:

Genre: Urban fantasy

Short blurb: Aria Cooper… High School student, Angel, Reaper, and apparently, a magnet for supernatural creatures. Ones that want to eat her. Aria is one month from her eighteenth birthday, on which she will finally become a Reaper. Her life has always been about one thing; death. As a Reaper, she will lead souls to their resting place. But someone seems determined to stop that from happening…

Target readers would be a mix between those that like the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare and Deadly Beauties by C.M. Owens.

Nathan says:

Really, this hits the bullseye for the target market.

I would play up the wisps of smoke so they’re more visible in the thumbnail; they’re the clearest marker of magic/spirit/otherworldliness here.

Other than that, I’d just play with tweaks like the upper edge of her hair (which seems to clash strangely with the background) or the straight quote in the one-liner.

Good job! Other comments?

No Quarter

The designer says:

This is the cover I designed for my husband’s first book. No Quarter is a chase thriller set in LA in present time. People who like the Reacher novels or Bourne Identity might like No Quarter.

Nathan says:

Is this the final or a mockup?  I’ll assume the latter, so I won’t dwell on things like odd resolution and inconsistent edges.

Obviously, the problem with designing a cover meant to appeal to fans of blockbuster authors like Lee Child and Robert Ludlum is that the most important cover elements for either of them are the names “Lee Child” and “Robert Ludlum.” However, their current covers are also firmly in the current tradition of covers for thriller novels: Bold type that fills the cover, with anything else as a secondary feature.

Here’s my five-minute redo, which also changes the proportion a bit (since Ludlum’s and Child’s books always seem to come as tall paperbacks). I also added the “Series Character” placeholder — since both of those authors are famous for their series characters, that’s probably the same thing you want to promote.


Now, this still has plenty of problems — I think the original gray-dominant color scheme probably causes more problems than it solves — but I think this gives you a good starting point.

(Also: Lose the map texture.  It doesn’t really add anything, and it actually adds confusion.)

Other comments?

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?

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