Fantasy Cover Art: Again with the Cliches…

A rather amusing post on this subject was recommended to me this week, (seeing that I’m thinking hard about covers). The blogger, in this case the clever Nicola Alter, sat down and put together all the well-known cliches that should appear in the Next Great Fantasy Book Cover….and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry on seeing the final product:

Click on the photo or below to read the article and see her process.

How to Make a Clichéd High Fantasy Cover

 

 

I am still pursuing my quest to learn how to make covers and graphics, and so I’ve started up a sample cover.  Not the above, but…it does have some similarities:

Part 1: The image

(Image via Deposit Photos)

My next step was to edit the photo some, toning down her collarbones, getting rid of her hair clip, and cleaning up her dress. I used Paint.net (with a little help from Paint) to do all that. I toyed with some options (like subbing in a closed-front version of the dress from another photo), but ended up creating a fichu to make her less…exposed.)

Ta-Da!  Now on to the next big step!

 

Part 2: The Words

In order to make an actual book cover, I had to have a title, an author, and some sort of fantasy element.

  1. Emily Wilde and the Greenleaf School of Magic
  2. Cordelia Ellsmere
  3. letters flying around the book.

I gave myself 1 hour to do this, on the same photo editing software…that I’ve never used for text before. This was a BIG MISTAKE.

I ended up with this monstrosity:

Unfortunately, this software turns out to be one where you can’t go back and alter the text once you’ve put it down. That means that I could either delete it all, or stick it out.  In this case, I decided to stick it out, but…it’s pretty bad.

So today’s hour will be spent redoing this whole thing in a layout software rather than an image editing software.

(Image Editor is good for the change between version 1 and 2, but lousy for what I needed for version 3.)

 

Live and learn.

 

Will Emily ever get the book cover she deserves?

Stay tuned next week to see what Layout Software can do for poor Emily!

SpecFic Book Covers: Mostly Words. Is this the New Thing?

I’ve been looking at book covers a LOT lately, and I have thoughts. So many thoughts.

And one of them is this: A lot of book covers are mostly title now.

Not all. A percentage, of course. But in this post, I’ll include a bunch that I found solely in looking at my ‘Also Boughts’ on Amazon.  I didn’t really go hunting for these…they were just there.

Now the most extreme example I ran across was this: 

(All of these covers today came VIA Amazon.)

The above book (YA SF) takes this to an extreme, but it does seem to be out there a lot.  Let me stick in another image:

Ah, there we are.  Now all of these (as noted above) came out of my also boughts, so these are covers that people who’ve purchased books somewhat similar to mine have bought. While most of them have some sort of fantastic elements (crowns, skulls, swords), these covers are really about the titles.

(FWIW, I didn’t check these to be sure, but I think most of them are from major publishers. Also, some are YA, some not.)

So I toyed very briefly with coming up with a cover that’s words: 

 

Meh. For a fast job, I shouldn’t expect much. (That took me about fifteen minutes to assemble online, using elements I’d previous uploaded. If I were serious about it, I would agonize over the elements and fonts for days.)

But it does make me wonder whether this is a tack I should pursue. It’s a decent enough idea, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of book covers head this direction (instead of the main character cover).

We shall see, I suppose…

 

 

Fantasy Book Cover Design: What’s Going On???

Last week I started talking about how fantasy book covers seem to be changing. Not all of them, but a certain percentage have been, and that’s most notably the biggest sellers.

Have you seen the new Harry Potter Covers?

This image comes from Pottermore: Click on it to read about Olly Moss’ new covers!

Yes, they’re clearly still fantasy, but…not the wild and colorful covers of our youth.  (Okay, early middle age, not youth.) Each still has a clear fantasy element, but they’re not what we’re used to. They’re different.

How about this: the UK covers of GOT

 

This photo is via Fantasy Faction, who have a great article about the evolution of the GOT covers from 2014. Click on the picture to read it!

The point being, these are not your old 1980s fantasy novel covers, done by an illustrator with the main character in some action pose on the front. I suspect these covers cost a lot less money to produce, and took far less time. (I think the article quotes 4 months for the whole set.)

But these writers are big enough names that readers don’t need to be ‘told’ it’s fantasy.

So I’m putting this down as…

POSSIBLE REASON NUMBER 1:

Big Name Authors don’t need the traditional covers

Not only do their readers know their names already, but the non-traditional cover also gives the books a chance to attract a reader who might be leery about being caught with a book with a Frank Frazetta* cover on it. (Yes, that reader is out there.)

So could there be any other reason?

Well, another possibility cropped up immediately after last week’s post.  Someone on another forum looked at my splash of covers, and commented that one of them looked like an indie cover.

…AN INDIE COVER.  ::delicate shudder::

Interestingly, it was a cover from one of the Big Five? Big Four? publishers on what I suspect is an excellent book. (I’ve read this author’s work, which never fails to hit it out of the park.)

But the publisher had taken three photo images and worked them together into a cover, and that particular method has been used so much by indie publishers (of which I’m one, I’ll remind you), that there’s a certain look that one associates with indie covers. I knew exactly what that person meant. And…I agreed with them a little bit.

Publishers have been cutting corners lately. It’s an expensive world out there, and they’ve been experimenting with using stock photos just like the little guys. It’s cheaper.

What’s the drawback? Well, it could pass for an indie cover, and that carries the stigma of looking ‘less professional.’ But using stock photos also has a danger:

Again, this one’s via Fantasy Faction “Books Do Not Sell without Covers” from earlier this year. Click on the pick to read the AWESOME article.

Here’s another humorous link, via a romance writer whose publisher used a stock photo…that was used by everyone else, too. 

The truth is, there’s a limited number of stock photos and models out there, and getting the right photo is pretty tough. Sometimes it turns out to be the right photo for everyone else as well.  ARGH!

So publishers are struggling to find was to both A) Make covers less expensive and B) Differentiate them from Indie Covers.

In my eye, that would mean getting away from stock photos if at all possible.

 

POSSIBLE REASON NUMBER 2:

Differentiating the covers from Indie Covers

You want to look different.  

A couple of recent genre covers that I find particularly smashing:

Now, these are absolutely amazing books, but the covers don’t quite have the traditional ‘fantasy/scifi’ look either. (A friend of mine felt that the coloration of the Jemisin cover made it fantasy, while another said it was the font. I am willing to accept either as accurate since I don’t know.)

I’m still working my way through this, and looking at forthcoming covers at a lot of publishers has shown me that this is only a small part of what’s out there. (Angry Robot, for example, has a bunch of awesome covers coming out that don’t fall under this umbrella.) So I’ll keep looking and see whether this is an ongoing trend…or a flash in the pan.

 

Added bit:

Here are a couple more articles that I’m still parsing my way through:

23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Covers That are Out of this World

Judging a Book by It’s Cover

*Don’t get me wrong. Frank Frazetta did some amazing covers, but they were a bit…over the top.

 

 

Fantasy Cover Art: Is it Changing?

Over on one of the forums I’m on, a few of us were discussing (at my instigation) whether or not fantasy/sci-fi cover art is changing.

Here’s one of the things that makes this seem the case for me:  these are the covers of the books for Kirkus Reviews’ “Best Bets for Fascinating Fantasy SciFi Horror reads in July.” 

No space ship, no alien, no elves or swords, no men in hoods or glowy sparkles. These are alternate history, future dystopia, superpowers…and yet nothing about these covers says that. These covers look pretty…well, mainstream. Literary.

What was more interesting? These are the covers from the same list that Kirkus DIDN’T SHOW.

Tentacles? Alien life forms? Fantasy worlds? Space city?

Why were these the covers left out?

Frankly, I don’t know the answer, but I thought it was a very interesting thing to have a page recommending genre fiction…with covers that did not really look like ‘genre fiction.’

(Now, for full disclosure, I should say that a) there is one more novel cover (at the top), but it also doesn’t look ‘genre’. b) there is a horror short story collection at the bottom, which DOES look like a horror cover. and c) Sand has more than one cover, and the other one I’ve seen looks slightly less genre, but still fairly dystopia.)

The whole reason that I’m discussing this at all because I’m considering what I want for my next three book covers, and I want to go to my artist with some firm ideas.  These books will be sequels to Dreaming Death, and maybe instead of a clearly ‘fantasy’ cover:

Maybe I should go with something more mainstream:

I’m not really serious with these…I just threw them together using Canva templates…but is there something here?

I can put in some glowy magic (like the first), but I have to admit, I actually like the clean ‘literary’ covers a bit better. They’re not as fussy. They’re simple.

The question then becomes, how do readers find them? How would using covers like this affect my ‘brand’?  Will they know it’s a fantasy-ish novel?

In fact, how does that work for the five authors at the top? Can one look at the cover of the new Carrie Vaughn novel and know that it’s a dystopian mystery?

I suspect I’ll be rattling on about this for  a while, a debate that I’m having mainly with myself.  But I have some theories:

Possible influences for this:

  1. Indie books (and thus their covers) are becoming more prevalent.*
  2. Customers are relying more on category and ‘also boughts’ to tell them what to look at. (Not the same as browsing at a book store.)
  3. Publishers are trying to reach out to non-fantasy readers by having more ‘mainstream’ covers.

So over the next few Wednesdays, I’ll be looking at the trends of cover art in F&SF. If you know of a pertinent (RECENT) article, I’d love it if you would leave me a link. I’m curious to see what people are saying out there.

 

*I’ll talk about why that matters at all, later.

July: Upcoming Story, and Free Story

While I’m working on Overseer, the final book in The Horn trilogy, I’m also working on several other things, so I thought I’d give a rundown very quickly on what’s going on:

  1. The Horn trilogy is almost finished, and I’m aiming for a release in August.
  2. I am still trying to update The King’s Daughter at least twice a month.
  3. My Patreon story set in the Golden City setting, The Truth Undiscovered, is being updated once a month. This is a story about the initial case handled by Inspectors Gaspar and Anjos, the Lady, and Miss Vladimirova. If you’re interested in following along, you can join my Patreon group for as little as $1 a month!
  4. I am working to make all my old short stories available as ebooks. To that end, I’m trying to publish one per month (except August, since I have Overseer coming out.)  Next month I’ll be putting out The Stains of the Past.(This is only a tentative cover). This was my very first published story (2006!) and it ties into The King’s Daughter. Although this story takes place a few years later, it involves some of the same characters.
  5.  In that vein, Fleurs du Mal is now FREE at most etailers….except Amazon.  I have not been successful in getting Amazon to lower the price to free, but I’ll keep trying!  Click on the picture to see a list of retailers:

6. And if that’s not enough to keep me busy, I’m also putting together a plan for the next three Dreaming Death stories, with Shironne and Mikael returning. The first of those, tentatively called “Bound in Dreams” should be out late this year.   I will have to have titles and cover ideas worked out for all three before I hit up my cover artist, Kate Marshall…

So I’m really really busy these days, and hope that I can get everything out on time!!!

 

Harry Potter, 6 years on…

This week I’ve been re-watching all the Harry Potter movies. I hadn’t watched them in a while, and since I had some time, I decided to do all 8.

Most notably, the films hold up pretty well. Despite The Sorcerer’s Stone (’01) approaching it’s second decade, it doesn’t look dated. The young stars seemed a bit ill-formed, but they were pretty young….and became more sophisticated as they went along.

This time around–possibly because of the rosy glow of time passing–some of the things that bothered me in the past weren’t as bad.  

I started having problems reading the books at around Book 5, (Order of the Phoenix).  Harry annoyed me to death with his constant whining about how bad his life was, and that colored the next two books for me.  I was SO done with Harry.

(Sorry, in OotP, Harry had just turned 16, and it was hard for me to relate to a kid being so whiny at that age.   A)I taught HS, and most kids that age are past the whiny stage, and B)I was a sophomore in college at 16, so I wasn’t -in- HS at that age, and therefore struggle to relate to that whole environment anyway. And yes, I know Harry had worse-than-average teenage issues, but…)

Anyhow, one perq of watching the movies instead or rereading the books is that you perceive less of the whiny-ness. The first time I saw that movie, I had recently read the book, so the book experience tainted the movie. This time, I actually liked OotP much more.

The same lack of “recently-read-the-book” taint also made the last three movies better for me, as did being able to watch them in quick succession. In those two books, my main beef was the extraneous subplots and gazillion unnecessary characters…many of which the movies skipped over.

Therefore, this time around it was a much better viewing experience.  I have a greater admiration for JKR as a story teller at this distance, and hope to watch these again in another 6 years.

New Story Coming Out in Ebook

Later this month (6/22?), I’ll be putting out one of my short stories in ebook format. The Bear Girl originally appeared in WolfSongs, Volume 1, an anthology choice which makes sense only to when one had read the story!

The cover is one I created myself, depicting the first scene in the story, and I hope it looks enticing enough to draw readers in!

GUD Magazine (in their review of the anthology) called this story a ‘gentle coming-of-age story’, which I thought was particularly apt description.

 

In addition, I wanted to let people know that I’m on track for a August release of Overseer, the final book in the Horn trilogy, after which I’ll tackle the first sequel to Dreaming Death.

I still don’t have a name for that book, but I’ve got about 70K of it written now, and I’m excited to get it out there!

For those who are unsure how the two series relate to each other, it’s easiest to see it as a dichotomy. Most of the people inhabiting the world of the Dreaming Death (and Shared Dreams) stories are living in a world with magic and mystery. The Horn is populated by people–the Oathbreakers–who know the true origins of their peoples, what the Fortresses actually are, and what capabilities they have.  In essence, they live in a world that’s closer to science fiction….

The two halves sometimes cross, but social pressures generally keep the knowledge of the Oathbreakers under wraps.

Whether or not that will change may come into play when the king has to choose his heir, the person who will one day decide how much of the Oathbreakers’ science has to be used to keep Larossa safe from the Cince…but those stories are fairly far down the line at this point (2019ish!)

 

 

 

New Covers…

I’ve been working for the last week or so to learn photo-editing, and have done that primarily by working on new covers for some of my previously published short stories. To that effect, I’ve made new covers for Fleurs du Mal and Whatever Else. I’ve repeated some of the elements, hoping to tie my republished stories together in appearance.

This ties me into using certain elements for the remainder of the shorts I’m hoping to republish this year (starting with The Bear Girl next month.)

If you already have these books, there’s nothing new inside the covers…I’ve just prettied up the outside. So there’s no need to purchase a new copy.

I’d like to think that both of them are improvements on the old covers. We’ll have to see as time goes on, I suppose.

The Bear Girl will be my first composite cover, where I’m putting together images from different photos to get everything I need into the shot.  It will not look similar to either of these, save for (most likely) the placement of the text elements.

So sometime next month, I’ll be putting that one up here.  Stay tuned ;o)

 

 

 

Update on the Dreaming Death sequels…

Last week, I had someone over at Goodreads ask when the sequel for Dreaming Death would be coming out.

As is probably evident by now, my publisher isn’t putting out the sequel. First week sales weren’t good enough to consider continuing the series, and therefore I’m no longer with them. Which leaves me with an incomplete story, something that rarely makes people happy!

Therefore, I thought I’d let people know I DO have a plan.

Due to some niggling contract issues, I could not immediately launch into producing the sequel. (If you run into me sometime, I’ll explain that, but otherwise it’s too complicated.)

I had the old sequel that I produced after I originally wrote Dreaming Death…but that was no longer valid*. And as I didn’t want to rewrite the whole thing with no guarantee that my publisher would even look at it, I worked instead on outlining and producing The Horn series. Those novels are set in the same world, but in a very different province, one that holds more knowledge about that world itself.

The first two books of that series are out now, and I’m hoping to finish up Book Three by the end of the summer.

THEN I’ll be working on the first of the Dreaming Death sequels.  Now, admittedly, I have a bunch done. I’ve been working on that intermittently this year, so I’m hoping to get the first sequel out by the end of 2017 or early 2018.

I have not yet decided on the titles for the three books*, but as soon as I do, I’ll be getting with my cover artist and working on the covers.

I will probably not use the series title that the publisher did (Palace of Dreams Novels) because it doesn’t quite work for me, so I may have a new series title. I’ve actually been calling these the Dreaming Death World online, and may stick with that, or I may call it something totally different. Titles aren’t my thing, so it will be a struggle to decide what’s best.

(FWIW, the original short version of The Golden City was called “Of Ambergris, Blood, and Brandy“.  The publisher bought the book with that name, but later changed it to Of Blood and Brandy and then finally to The Golden City.)

But back to the topic…as soon as I have made decisions on that, I will post about it here, and will definitely let you guys see the covers as soon as my artist (Kate Marshall) can grind them out.

So don’t give up! I’m typing as fast as I can…

*Because of changes that my editor asked for in Dreaming Death, the original sequel that I wrote long ago (2005?), is no longer valid. Its name was The Sins of the Fathers, mostly because it dealt with the lingering death of Shironne’s father.

 

 

99 Cent Sale!

Hi! I’m running a sale on all my indie ebooks through the end of April, 99 cents each!

(This includes the pre-order for Original  for Kindle)

Kindle: AUTHOR PAGE

Barnes & Noble: NOOK PAGE

Kobo: AUTHOR PAGE

(This sale does not, sadly, include my books from Penguin, as the publisher controls those prices. I wish I could put them on sale, but it’s just not possible.)