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Covers

More Obsessing about Fantasy Book Covers

I’m still going back through and rereading posts on Nicola’s blog Thoughts on Fantasy, and working through what works for me for my future covers. (There are some wonderful posts there.)

I find that I share a lot of tastes with her, so going back and looking, I see this post: 5 Features that Make Me Fall in Love with a Book Cover.

Now, without putting in all the pictures she did, here’s the list.

  1. Glowing Magic or Fire
  2. Texture
  3. Patterns or Patterned Borders
  4. Silhouettes
  5. Rich Contrasting Colors

Nothing on that list is particularly unusual, but it’s how they’re applied that makes them interesting.  I will likely drop one of them…I’m not big on the silhouette thing. And for the Dreaming Death series, fire probably wouldn’t apply since it’s winter in the stories. The glowing part came in in the first book, as do the texture, the border, and the rich colors:

However…however….

I frankly don’t know how well this cover actually served this novel. Don’t get me wrong, this is a gorgeous cover and I really love it, however…I know the book struggled to sell. (The cover was done in glossy, and I think it would look far better in matte.) But I also think people might think this is a YA book.

This is where it gets awkward.

I’m writing a series that is not YA, but one of the POV characters is 17.  It’s not YA.  It might be better to call it NA (New Adult), because POV2 is 23. (POV3 is 44, which is far too ancient for a YA reader to read about, right?)

So, in contemplating what I want for the next 3 books, I’m working on a list.

  1. Striking Titles that would work with Dreaming Death
  2. A bolder, less busy cover.

There are three titles to come.

  1. The first book is mostly about how Shironne and Mikael are exploring the binding between them. I’ve been toying with either Bound in Dreams or In Dreaming Bound (hat tip to Michelle Muenzler).
  2. Book 2 is about Mikael going back and, with Shironne’s help, solving the ten years past murder of his father. So potential titles need to cover that it’s a combination of memory and dreaming, so either In Dreams Remembered or Recalled in Dreams. Neither is particularly awesome.
  3. Book 3 is about Mikael and Shironne being dragged back to Lee Province, and getting separated, so I was considering In Dreaming Found or Hunted in Dreams. Again, I’m not wild about these.

 

FWIW, the “____________ in Dreams” trio sounds a bit like Urban Fantasy titles to me, which might give the reader a wrong impression. In Dreaming Found sounds weird to me as well. Meh.

I’m about at the point of crowdsourcing these titles, in hopes that someone can come up with something better.

And what about the covers? What do I want the covers to show?

Here’s the list I’ve come up with:

  1. Snow
  2. An isolated image–just one. Not the buildings AND the hands.
  3. Easier to read script…something that looks ‘exotic’, but larger and bolder.
  4. Lighter colors
  5. Maybe a fancy design or border, but I want most of the noise to come from snow

Will my artist be able to do all these things AND make me happy? Well, that remains to be seen.

 

So if you have better titles than:

1. In Dreaming Bound / In Dreams Remembered / In Dreaming Found

or

2. Bound in Dreams / Recalled in Dreams / Hunted in Dreams

Let me know.  ;o)

 

 

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.

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)

 

 

 

Adventures in Indie, #4: Canva

There’s a last category of cover that I’m using. Self-made covers, more or less.

I only use these on books that I’m planning to use as a giveaway book: giveaway for joining my newsletter, giveaway for my Patreon patrons, or publicity giveaway.  If I’m planning to make money off of it, I’ll pay someone to make a professional cover for me.

Now, I don’t have any talent for visual design, so I’ve actually been relying on a graphics design service called Canva that has a lot of templates for bookcovers in its memory.

Here’s an example:

The cover on the left is their template.

I’ve long struggled with this cover because it’s very hard to find a decent looking illustration of an Asian dragon…that’s white (like the one in my stories).  But I ran across this picture of a stone dragon in Canva’s files, purchased it for use for a minimal charge (1$), and swapped it out for the old template. Then I changed the words, moved them a bit, and voila I had a decent looking cover.

It’s not an award winning cover, by any means, but it does give me a cover that I’m not ashamed of putting on my ‘giveaway books’.

I’ve actually got a couple more of those in the pipe, including Fleurs du Mal (a short story that I will be giving out to my newsletter subscribers and my Patreon patrons) next week, and Shared Dreams which I’ll be giving out in March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(By the way, readers of this post can click over to the “Extras” tab and download/read a PDF version of Fleurs du Mal free.)

The point being that since I’m not rolling in writer dough (still in the red, admittedly), I need to make some concessions to wise funding. So in this case, self-made covers (with a design company’s help) fit the bill of looking moderately professional without being an instance of throwing money into the wind.

I’m trying to approach books as a business investment, but the promotional ones must be less expensive!

 

Next Week: Editing and Formatting

Adventures in Indie #4: PreMade Covers

One way in which a writer can cut costs is to purchase a premade cover. These are bountiful on the internet–all you have to do is type ‘premade book cover’ into your search engine, and you’ll find dozens of sites offering these.

I had been in the habit of perusing these for some time, basically because I like to use the covers as references for what I DO like. If a designer asks me what I’m looking for, I can use those as examples, making it easier for the designer to know what I expect.

I’m sure you’ll hear this…that a large percentage of those online covers are terrible. I do think that’s true. But sometimes when you’re looking at the  dross, you’ll find a sparkly in there, too.

So here’s a few hints that might help:

  1. If you’re looking at a site that aggregates covers from many different artists and you find one you like, look to see whether you can search that artist’s covers separately. It makes sense that if you like one of their covers, you’ll like others.
  2. Remember that you cannot fine-tune these covers. That’s why they’re sold as premade and at a lower cost. So don’t purchase one thinking that you’ll get to change hair color or have the artist change the clothing.
  3. Look for a statement that says they won’t re-sell the cover to someone else. While there’s a good chance that you’ll see the basic cover IMAGE elsewhere, design should be unique.
  4. If you want to know whether a certain image has already appeared on book covers, try plugging the image into an image search engine, like TinEye. Simply right click on the image, copy the image address, and paste it in the search function. When I was looking at covers for Iron Shoes, I did this and found that some images of women with horses have appeared on a gazillion books already. (This won’t work if they’ve altered the image for the cover.)

And here’s what I did:

I published 2 books with premade covers this year (but purchased 3 covers).

I hadn’t planned on publishing this one. But in those random searches, I ran across a cover that caught my eye, and I thought, “Hey, that cover would go well with Whatever Else.”

The main thing I wanted was mood. The cover itself is a bit generic, doesn’t have any quotes from other authors, no tag line. It’s very basic, but it’s good enough.

“Whatever Else” is actually a short story, so I knew I would never price it higher than 99 cents. I couldn’t spend a lot of money on a cover for it.  But this one cost me $40…and that meant 120 sales at 33 cents (royalty) each. I figured that over its lifetime, the short story could sell that many copies….

I bought the cover. I purchased it from the online site, BookCoverDesigner.com, and within a day the cover artist got back to me and made the changes to reflect the proper title and author name. In a case like this, there’s no room for big changes, so don’t expect them. If you want something more or something different, you’ll have to go with a custom design.

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I also purchased this cover from SelfPubBookCovers.com. This one cost twice as much as the one above ($80), but SPBC gives me a few more options.

Because I do the changes myself.

However, because I’m the one who puts in the title and author name, plus tagline, I can fiddle with it pretty endlessly. So this cover will be on my dashboard there forever.

If I decide to change the story’s name, I can. (Which I did, by the way…so it was a good thing that I opted for this rather than the maker above.) I can change the fonts and placement of the words. I can change their color and size.

For the most part, I’ve decided not to do so. I don’t trust that my eye for design is any better than this designer’s (FrinaArt), so I stuck with her decisions.

But here’s where it gets weird…

I also bought this cover. 

No, I don’t have a book to go with it. I have an idea, just one that I haven’t written yet.

But I watched this cover on SPBC for months before deciding the pull the trigger and purchase it. They won’t sell a cover twice, so if someone else bought it first, I would lose it.

And it goes too well with the one above to not take the chance.

Oddly enough, this is NOT by the same designer.

I’m considering this the companion novella to go with Sparrow, but instead of summer 1815 in St. Petersburg, I think this one will be winter 1815 outside Moscow. And the woman on the cover? I’m pretty sure that’s Natalya Vladimirova, one of a long line of powerful healers and protector of a dragon named Long who has slumbered for centuries…

I think it’s worth it, and having purchase this will give me extra impetus to get the story done!

So…..

All in all, I’m happy with the premade covers I’ve purchased and the balance of cost to use.

NEXT WEEK: Canva

 

Adventures in Indie #3: More Cover Choices

I’ve been talking about my indie publishing experience so far, and last week I talked about a cover I had made in 2015. But that takes me into 2016, wherein I published 6 ebooks.  SIX.

Publishing books costs money, and publishing six of them costs…more money.

As an indie publisher, I had to plan for that. I knew that much of 2016 would happen at a loss because I was paying artists for covers and an editor/formatter for their services.

Today I’m going to talk a bit about the other cover designs I had custom made. The covers I purchased ran the gamut from inexpensive to pricey. In each case, I had specific reasons for that choice.  So let me talk briefly about each one:

CUSTOM DESIGN COVERS:

I had previously published the three novellas here separately, but wanted to package them together and create a print edition. So I removed the old versions from sale, did an editing pass, and handed it off to my editing/format guy (EQP Books) while I was arranging for a cover.

For this book, finding stock photos was problematic. My main character has white hair, and that’s actually an important part of the story, so unlike other covers where I changed small things in the story to match the cover, I wanted the cover to match the story instead. And since Iron Shoes had been my most financially successful tale, I decided to go with Holly Heisey on this one.

Their covers are more expensive, but worth it since I was going for something very specific. Holly sent me an extensive questionnaire, and I sent it back to them. They sent me back suggested pictures based on that, and I picked one out and sent it back to them. Then the magic started.

Holly changed clothing color, hair color, and added -magical- touches that did a good job of conveying that this was a fantasy story (but also a romance). They also created a paperback cover for me (which ups the charge for any cover package.) All in all, I got what I wanted for this book.

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After the War was created by Rachel A. Marks. Once again, I wanted to somewhat-match the style of the Golden City novels, since this is a related novella. Rachel worked with me on this one much the same way as the previous cover (The Seer’s Choice) we did together.

Because I was working with her far in advance of the publication (I hadn’t even finished the novella when I contacted her) I was able to work in the opposite direction from the above experience. For example…when I first started the novella, Serafina had short hair. It was easy to change that, though. In addition, since Rachel and I had decided on a model for the cover, I could write that costume into the first scene….

(I did that on the last book with her, too.)

Rachel’s prices were not exorbitant (you can click over to her website to look at her cover designs) and I’ve really liked the work I’ve gotten from her.

 

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Now the cover of Oathbreaker is different, in that I was looking for a different ‘feel’ than any of my previous books.  I have to admit, I may have referred to the CW network at some point during the quest for these covers.

Since I’d been in the habit of surfing photo sites for a while by then, I went to the artist–Kate Marshall–with some pictures already in hand. I had seen Kate’s designs for Rhiannon Held’s work, and thought that would fit this series of novels well, so I actually booked Kate to produce the covers for -all three- novels in this series.

That makes it a lot easier, by the way, if you’re trying for cohesiveness in your covers. 

I gave Kate my pictures and my answers to her questions, and she got back to me with several proposed designs. She gave me a set of covers without people (mood covers, basically), a set with the setting that I suggested behind the characters, and a set with a different backdrop.

As it turned out, the setting that I suggested…did not work. It was way too busy and distracted from the character on the cover and from the title and wording as well.

What did work was the setting backdrop that she picked out. It captured the mood of the stories…and it turned out that it was no problem to tweak the writing to fit it in!.  So I went with what she picked and am far happier with her results. She made changes to the clothing and characters to make them work better with the story.

So the next handful of covers that you’ll see for novels will be from Kate. (She’s penciled me in to do the Dreaming Death sequels, too.)

 

Some final points about engaging a cover designer:

  1. Have some idea what you want before you go to them. It never hurts to look through websites of cover designers to know what kinds of covers will match your books. Provide links for your designer to look at.
  2. Be open-minded about what the designer suggests. Even though I thought I knew what I wanted on the Oathbreaker cover, it turned out that my pick looked awful, and what my designer suggested looked far far better.
  3. Remember that you can change small details in your story. That’s always worked well for me to make the cover match better.
  4.  If the cover isn’t coming out the way you want it to, try to figure out where you’re not communicating properly. When working on the Iron Shoes cover, I told Holly that the character had white hair. What I failed to communicate was that I meant WHITE…like magically white. Holly and I went back and forth several times on hair color until I finally realized I could send them a picture of what I wanted…and they got it right away. So make sure you’re communicating with your cover artist.
  5. Don’t be a jerk. Your cover artist has other commitments. Book your covers with plenty of time in advance to tweak them. It’s like the saying, You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

 

NEXT WEEK: PRE-MADE Covers and the writers who love them…