As July’s Book Cover of the Month comes to a close, I started thinking about what to do for this week’s blog, and decided to share a few insights regarding what to think about when anyone commissions a cover. I’ll probably sprinkle a few of these posts in as the more I think about it, the more I realize there is to talk about. So for this installment, I want to talk about the things that can devastate a cover or make a cover try special.
Text: This is simply critical. I’ve seen so many well drawn illustrations completely ruined by poor typeface, font, and color choices. Most just lump this all into the term font.
What is font? Font is a specific style of characters. This is the complete set of characters for one typeface at one particular type size. Usually, people mix this up or toss it in with typeface and family, which are different things. Arial 12 is a font. Arial is a typeface. Whatever you want to call it, when designers just slap text onto a design, it can destroy a cover. However, when someone puts a bit of thought into how text can become a visual element, the results can be stunning.
What to think about: Your designer should either be sure to leave negative space to use or consider how to integrate text into the design. As long as they do one of these things, the design should come together.
This designer was brilliant. The title of the book wasn’t just something the designer threw on the cover, but it became the central design element of the cover. By doing this, you create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The negative space (the space left after the raven) left the designer a location to place text that seemed logical. The designer took it a step further by placing the letter “A” in the gap between the tail feathers and feet. This term (called grouping) makes several elements (like letters in a word) feel like a single visual uint.
Color/Legibility: These two go together in a lot of ways. When it comes to text the typeface you choose and the color you use are the difference between a visual element that stands out and words people can’t see, let alone read. I won’t call out bad covers. I’m not here to belittle anyone. What I will do is say a few things:
I want to say, “red font never works,” but that absolute (while I tend to lean that way) isn’t denotatively true. What is true is, “dark colors on dark backgrounds are impossible to see.” The characters in the text needs contrast to be seen. Mose designers address this by selecting a color that contrasts with the background in some way. For the love of Gestalt, please don’t:
Ever use drop shadows. Ever use stroke that’s nearly as thick as the width of your text.
Designers (professional designers) see that and immediately recognize the technique as lazy. It looks like the designer choose to just take a ham-handed shortcut rather than simply plan his/her design effectively.
This text isn’t particularly flashy. Placed in the lower negative space, the letters are distinct. The black text is well chosen against a bright background.
This typeface is a bit more eye-catching, but notice how it’s embossed and brighter than the dark background. Notice how neither have drop shadows or glowing edges? There’s a reason for that.
I really could go on forever. This post (as I was writing it) has gone from one post, to a few posts, to a series that I’ll play with, probably during BCOTM tournaments. But I think this is enough information for one post. When you higher a cover designer, make text the first thing you talk about. Most illustrators are worth more than you pay them. Placing text poorly or making it distracting feels like an insult to the artists who work so hard to create interesting imagery.
Spoiler Free Summary: The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning takes place 2,000 years after Betrayer’s Bane, which was December Book Cover of the Month, which I reviewed and you can find here. I started this series up right away via Audible because I loved Embers so much. Mordecai was raised as a humble son of a blacksmith with some rather affluent friends. Just as he learns the truth of his birth, he also discovers his magical ability and makes a powerful enemy. When everything in his life should start looking up, it all takes a turn, and Mort must figure it all out before the secrets that led to his unusual upbringing come back to haunt the kingdom of Lothion.
Character: Mordecai is a fun character. He’s clever and proactive. Some may think he’s too good at too many things, but I like a skilled character. He’s not a Mary Sue by any stretch of the imagination, but some might argue how quickly he learns. What I like about him is his emotions. He’s a passionate person (meaning he cares deeply). A lot of his conflict starts with how he reacts to certain people or events. That emotion (I’ve actually finished the whole series and will post reviews in time) is what draws me to him and helps me connect to him. Dorian is someone I want to highlight. I like him. He’s my favorite character in the series. He’s a solid, stand-up, white-hat kind of guy. He’s honest, fair, and truthful to a fault. These traits make him a charming character to meet.
Exposition: Manning breaks the fourth wall quite freely here, and that reduces the impact of any exposition. Told (mostly) in first person, the story does have a touch or two moments of exposition, but Manning does something here that I don’t see often. He switches perspective. Most of the story is told by Mort, but the story switches to third-person omniscient and back. It’s actually a bit jarring for a reader the first few times it happens. That said, the technique allows Manning to get around some of the info dumps first person usually forces. There are also excerpts from an in-world book that are pretty heavy. They serve to tease the chapter, but also tend to slow things down just a touch.
Worldbuilding: For me, the big reward of the book (and this series) was seeing the world evolve from Betrayer’s Bane. This book feels sort of more like a prequel than an actual first book. It’s a ton of setup, which bogs this first book down. Most of this book either tells us how things got to this point or set us up for the overall conflict. It doesn’t make it a boring story by any stretch, but I won’t lie. I found myself wanting to get into it. It may be unfair though coming right off of Embers. Seeing the world as it’s progressed since then was one of the major reasons I kept with it. Mageborn is a great series, but this book is more of a warmup to a great saga.
Dialogue: A lot of the exposition for this story comes through dialogue (but most authors (including me) do that). It’s noticed here because Mort is either conversing with another character about what he means to do, what’s going on with his friends, or what happened in his past. The best conversations are those between him and Penny (which are charming). His conversations with Rose (who’s honestly more like a Mary Sue than any other of these characters) are also endearing.
Description: This was pretty natural for Manning. The scenes were visceral without being overly detailed. This is the highest compliment I could offer any book.
Overall: With a charming cast and a ridiculously compelling prequel trilogy, The Blacksmith’s Son sets the stage for a new saga in Manning’s world. While not remotely Manning’s strongest book, it teases at great stories to come while it also provides clever intrigue and deep world building. Fans of large worlds and complex magic systems would enjoy this story.
Happy first everyone! The shorter time for brackets means a longer wait for me, and I sort of miss the pace of the longer brackets. Then again, the additional time to write is much needed. It’s time for a new bracket though. If you’re curious or new, check out the Book Covers for December,January,February,March,April,May, and June.
July’s bracket has 31 plus The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson which gets a second shot at the title.
We’re doing another “vote all the way through” bracket. I put it back up to two weeks because I think the summer months are slow in a lot of ways. This gives people time to vote. I like to make sure people get the credit they deserve, so please show your support. Please vote and share as much as possible to get people a chance to pick their favorite.
As always, I’d appreciate it if you tag the authors and artists if you know them. I try to tag or friend every author I can, but sometimes it’s hard to track someone down. Max participation is a huge deal to me. The more people who vote, the more recognition these authors and artists receive, and I want this to be as legitimate as possible.
If you are the author, let’s remember to be good sports! 1) Please feel free to message or contact me at any time. 2) Please feel free to like, share, text, ask for support, and call everyone you know. I absolutely want max participation. However, if you’re going to offer giveaways or prizes, please offer them for voting, not just voting for you.
Also, while your summoning your army of voting soldiers, please make sure you ask them to vote in every match. Part of the idea of this is to get exposure to as many artists and authors as possible. By all means, if you can get 1,000 people to vote for your book, do it. Just please also send some eyeballs to the other matches.
A final note to authors and artists: I currently have links to the books’ Amazon pages. If you’d prefer I switch that link to sign up for your newsletter or like your social media page or whatever, just send me the link and let me know. I want this to help you. I want this to be as helpful as possible, so whatever you need me to do to facilitate that, just let me know.
I hope you keep having fun. Please, vote, share, and discuss as much as possible.
One wonderful thing about being an independent author is that it gives you creative control. I like control. (Mayhaps a little too much) That control allows me to share what I love with people I love. I’ve mentioned a few times that Collin, the artist who did the cover art for all versions of The Journals of Bob Drifter, was my best friend in junior high. He’s still a dear friend to this day. My brother in law did the chapter icons for Bob.
That’s why the art I’m going to show you is particularly special to me. As and instructor, I see a lot of talent come and go through the course. Some want to be artists. Some want to make movies. Others even want to be writers, and I pride myself on looking for opportunities to help them.
Not too long ago, I met a young man who I thought well of. He’d been posting art on his social media page, and I knew I needed chapter icons, and I can only work my brother in law so hard. I could have asked Jessica, who did the chapter icons for Caught, but I want to share opportunities with people.
Matt Reynolds is a motivated young man, and a former student of mine, I was all too happy to talk about my idea with. He was happy for the challenge. I paid him the same fee I paid Jessica per image, and now I’m proud to present the chapter icon for Elele, the main character from Sojourn in Captivity.
I first approached Matt in March of this year. As I said, I noticed he’d been posting some sort of new art on his social media page every day. I gave him two source images to use as inspiration, and he went to work. Three versions (and a total of five drafts) later, I have the image above to accompany the beginning of each chapter featuring Elele.
Elele is a Seferam, an alien race of the planet Orolon. To a human eye, Seferam all look pretty similar (if not identical). They’re black-skinned, with course black hair and large oval eyes. The thing is Seferam eyes are attuned differently to the electromagnetic spectrum (the same way Deer eyes are). They can see ultraviolet light. I came up with the idea while looking at some cool images of butterflies shot under UV light. That gave me the idea to have these creatures see that part of the spectrum. It’s how they identify one another.
Each Seferam has a unique pattern, called a Faline, on the front and back of their torso. The outer-most pattern (in this case the four teardrops you see) identifies one’s pod (or family). The inner-most pattern is unique to each Seferam. In this case, Elele has a seven-pedaled flower. Older Seferam (parents and grandparents) have more patterns between their family pattern and their individual pattern. Elele is a daughter, and she has no children, so she only has the two patterns. These patterns are based on fractal patterns I searched for and found visually appealing. I won’t share them because I found them online and was inspired by them, but I don’t own them or know who holds the rights.
Matt took those images and ran with them. I honestly love this image. I can’t thank him enough for putting in the work to create this, and I’m glad to give him credit as a work-for-hire artist.
Sojourn is finished by the way. The deadline for the other authors in the Slush Brain Anthology is Jan. 1, 2018. So you can expect Elele’s story to be out pretty soon that year. Please tell Matt what you think of the image. Young artists are amazing, and sometimes they just need a bit of exposure to get them the recognition they deserve.
Spoiler Free Summary: Loveless by Marissa Howard was the January Book Cover of the Month. I’ve already reviewed the December Book Cover of the Month, which you can find here. Laney is a young woman raised in a underground community that has put a ban on love in order to keep the hate and violence that destroyed the world from returning. She’s ordinary until someone convinces her to petition for the right to journey back to the surface to find love and bring it back. She and six other teens strike out to find out what’s become of the world since it’s destruction 74 years ago.
Character: Laney is a nice character. Her motivations and actions are honest, genuine. Given her circumstances and the setting, I found her the most compelling aspect of the book. Her observations and journey are what drive this story.
Exposition: Since this book was told in first person, exposition is a bit more expected, but I’d say this book gets a tad carried away. The first ten or 15 pages felt (it was a while since I read it, and I may not be remembering clearly) like a narrated backstory and info dump as to how the story got to this point. Once the plot gets moving, this problem clears up.
Worldbuilding: I’ll admit (once more) my dislike for YA books in general. Anyone reading a review from me regarding a YA book should make sure to take what I say with a grain of salt (or a pound). That said, my biggest issue with this novel was how unable I was to suspend disbelief. This world and story are built on a premise that I simply can’t call feasible, at least not without some sort of chemical assistance (of which there is none in this plot). The characters are solid. The plot is well thought, but I felt like I was reading a bad premise that was well executed. I don’t want to reveal more than I already have about the plot. Otherwise, I’d got into more detail. Still, what I feel most needs to be said is that the test of this book is deciding whether or not you can believe in the world and history of this story. If you can, you’ll probably be okay with it. If not, I ask you to at least look at the characters, who are compelling.
Dialogue: The dialogue was effective. It wasn’t stilted, nor was it particularly special (for reference, I think Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz is the standard for charming, snappy dialogue). This book had believable dialogue that didn’t drag the story down.
Description: This was one of the stronger qualities of the book, especially once the characters go topside. Howard has a knack for providing the right sensory information in the right spots.
Overall: Like I said, the test is, “can you believe a world or society like this would actually exist?” I couldn’t, and that frustrated me. But even I’ll acknowledge that if a reader can “go with it” and read the story for what it is, they’ll enjoy it.
I’ve mentioned I’m about to do a 2nd edition of The Journals of Bob Drifter. That means I’m trying to run my inventory of the 1st edition out. For that reason, I’m selling autographed hard-cover copies of The Journals of Bob Drifter on my store for $25 (You’ll have to select the “hardcover” option). I have 12 copies left. The original cover price is $43.75, and I was previously selling it for $37. Since I had a few left over after Shore Leave, I thought I’d spread the word. Head over here to order.
Hello everyone! It’s actually been an incredibly busy few weeks. I’m happy to say I’ve been eager to post this interview I had with Gabriel Rodriguez. As most of you know, I’ve been interview each month’s winners. Click on each month to see those interviews. December. January. February. I wasn’t able to reach the artist for March, but here’s the announcement for it.
Hello Gabriel! I just wanted to say congrats one more time!
My name is Gabe Rodriguez. I’m a creative handyman living in Seattle with my beautiful wife and three rad kids. You can see more of my work at http://radriguezinc.com/
When did you get in to art?
I gained more of an appreciation for art after I married an artist. At the time we married she was studying art in college and she helped open my eyes to museums, the theatre, we even sat in the nose-bleed seats watching an Opera performance. To this day (almost 14 years later) we still love going to museums and are very much inspired by the art of others.
How long have you been creating covers?
Believe it or not, Singular is actually my first book cover design.
What got you started in creating covers?
Designing book covers has been a long time coming. I spent over 10 years as a freelance photographer. It was only in the last two years that I started to focus on design. I was fortunate to work with a good friend and talented designer who brought me under his wing and taught me a lot about design.
One of the ways I learned design was studying book covers with him. He encouraged me to keep a file of screenshots and iPhone pics of inspiring covers. So when I was approached by Zack to design the cover for Singular it was fun to go to my inspiration files and study what others have done and fuse that with the story and meaning behind the book.
Do you prefer one medium over another?
I still love photography and I think in pictures a lot. I’m very much intrigued by digital illustration. It keeps me up at night. Either working on drawings of my own or going down rabbit trails of various artist portfolios and Instagram feeds.
Do you have someone who inspired your own work? If so, who? Why?
I love the creativity of folks like Brad Montague (Montague Workshop) whose work makes me feel that art and creativity can change the world.
In terms of book covers, I’m a big fan of Peter Mendelsund and Daniel Gray. I’m in awe of their seemingly effortless designs that pique interest, convey meaning, and make you think.
In illustration I love the work of Don & Ryan Clark of Invisible Creature and artist Jean Jullien. They create characters and build worlds that blow my mind. In a similar way I’m inspired by authors like Zack in their ability to create a world of their own.
What makes you choose to work with an author or not? What do you look for in a great client?
I haven’t had to make this choice with authors yet, but in photography and design it usually comes down to looking for clients that are passionate about their work, can bring some good ideas to the table, and then trust me to execute a concept that will serve them well. Obviously it would be amazing if every project had an endless budget and a deadline that would allow for research and experimentation. But in the end, creatives love to create. Let us do that for you and we’ll love you.
What are some of your pet peeves about clients?
I’m a pretty easy going guy so not a lot comes to mind. I don’t love having to educate clients on importance and realistic costs of particular things, but I feel it’s an important part of the job. If I could pass anything on, it would be to value the work of others in the same way you want others to value your work.
What would an author need to do to work with you? Do you have a link to your standard rates, or do you negotiate fees by author?
Being relatively new to (book cover) design, I don’t have a standard rates page. I’d love to work with talented authors both new and old. The only requirement for me is passion and ideas, I can take it from there. I understand that there are a range of budgets and projects so rates depend on complexity and vary from project to project.
How did you come to be chosen to create the cover for Singular?
I’d like to say it was destiny because that sounds more romantic but in actuality Zack is long time friend of mine. He’s been a supporter of my work in the past and I appreciate that he took a flyer hiring me to design his book cover as it was my first one. I’d also like to think that we’re just getting started together and that this is the first of many.
Artistically, what were your goals for the cover?
We wanted something that would catch your eye and draw you in as well as a design that had some meaning and gave insight into what the book is about. The cover needs to help sell the book but also compliment the story.
How was Zack to work with?
Zack was great to work with. He brought a lot of good ideas to the table and was able to point me in the direction of art and covers that have inspired him.
Singular was such a clean, simple concept. What inspired the idea?
I visited a lot of used book stores looking at old covers and artwork to pull ideas from. Zack also gathered a collection of book covers he liked and we those served as a mood board. I tend towards clean design so I think I was looking for a clean design solution from the start.
Can you walk me through the whole process of that cover? From commissioning to final product? How did you feel about it once it was finished?
Zack asked me about designing the cover as he was nearing the completion of writing the book and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit with the story for about two weeks before starting in on the design. I started with a handful of loose design concepts. The concepts varied in style but all paid homage to the book and tried to go beyond clever idea or just looking good and convey some sort of meaning as to the themes of the book. It was nice to work with a great story that had solid themes I could work into the cover design.
We agreed on a concept that would work well and then I got to work on giving it a spit shine in Photoshop. The final design ended up combining a few elements from other concepts which we both really liked. Along the way Zack had great feedback of what he liked and I was up front with my opinions as well. We worked great together to produce a final cover that I’m very proud of.
Is it your favorite cover? If so, why?
This is definitely my favorite book cover. But I’m optimistic that my next cover will be just as good! 🙂
What can we expect to see from you next?
Currently I’m working on writing and illustrating a short story book about a fat chicken. I’m excited to share it with the world soon.
Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?
I’m very inspired by authors like Zack biting off a huge project like writing a book. The discipline to sit down everyday in the face of resistance is amazing. I would add a bit of encouragement to your readers. If you are interested in design or writing books (or something equally as cool), sit your butt in a chair and do it! A little everyday. It’s something I’m trying to live out in my creative endeavors. Cheers!
Once more Gabriel, I just want to thank you for spending time to do this interview. You’re an amazing designer, and I, for one, am glad I’ve gotten to know you.
For all you out there in the blog land, thanks for another great month of voting! The June BCOTM tournament is pretty much set up and will kick off July 1!