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CathleenT
08-03-2017, 09:56 AM
Hi, everyone. Thanks in advance for taking a look at this.

I've got five possibilities for covers. Some of them are going to need a lot of work, so I made some mock-ups to see which ones people like best.

Note: All font is a merely a placeholder. I've learned that not everybody can see something that's not already there like I can, so I put some font in as a general idea of how it could be used with this image. The final result will be a heavy serif font, all caps for title and author name. Deranged Doctor will actually do the font for me, better than I can do it for myself. (Learned that lesson with Dragon Hoard.)

ETA: Given the amount of Photoshop work for every option but #2 and #5, if one of the other options is chosen, it'll just be used as a visual reference for a painting. It will probably take less time and be better branding, since I've painted all my other covers.

1. Swan boat
http://i1032.photobucket.com/albums/a402/sureclean3/christmas%20collection%20swan%20boat%20cover--AW%20thumbnail_zps9zed0xye.jpg

This one will need some work done to the image. The cross will go from the top of the Christmas tree, the back oars will go from both sides, and there's an oval shadow on the left margin that I'll need to get rid of. The boat needs a cast shadow.

Advantage: It clearly promises both fantasy and Christmas.

Disadvantages: I don't have a story with a swan boat in it for this collection, but I don't think that's a big deal. The main drawback is that the contrast on this one isn't as bold as some of the others.

2. Gold star tree
http://i1032.photobucket.com/albums/a402/sureclean3/christmas%20collection%20cover%20gold%20star%20tre e--AW%20thumbnail_zpstmenfyh0.jpg

This was the first image I picked, which I mention because sometimes I can overthink things when I should've gone with my first impulse.

Advantages: It has the wonderful quality that the image needs no work whatsoever that I can see to use it. Also, the contrast is very strong, making it compelling in thumbnail.

Disadvantage: It hints of magic to me, but it doesn't overtly promise fantasy in the way the swan boat does.

3. Christmas gnome

http://i1032.photobucket.com/albums/a402/sureclean3/christmas%20collection%20red%20santa%20cover--AW%20thumbnail_zpsyovuwyuo.jpg

This one will also need some image work. I'll have to add snow and ice to the branch to eliminate any dark spots, making a decent canvas for the font. Also the red foot peeking out at lower right will need to be embedded in snow and given a cast shadow.

Advantages: It has red, which helps draw the eye, and it clearly promises fantasy.

Disadvantages: The contrast isn't awesome, although I suppose that could be partially remediated with font. My biggest reservation is that it's a photo of an ornament, and I don't know if that's classy enough for a cover.

4. Wizard/Santa (kind of a viewer's choice on this one)

http://i1032.photobucket.com/albums/a402/sureclean3/Christmas%20collection%20blue%20santa%20cover%20co py--AW%20thumbnail_zpsjwnaqvz9.jpg

This one is going to need a lot of work. The rubber stamp tool will be my very best friend for a while, since I'll have to take out many white strands--mostly beard hairs, but there's some visual clutter in the blue puffballs on the right that needs to go, too. I'll have to blend in transitions--where the beard, mustache, eyebrows, etc. meet the face to make it look less like a doll.

ETA: Never mind, Photoshop is a lost cause with this image. But I could use it as a model to paint a very similar cover.

Advantages: This cover clearly promises fantasy, and the contrast is awesome. It pulls at the eye in thumbnail.

Disadvantage: Maybe even if I paint this image, it might not promise light-hearted fantasy.

5. Snowflake background

http://i1032.photobucket.com/albums/a402/sureclean3/christmas%20collection%20cover10--AW%20thumbnail_zpswucwdofy.jpg

I didn't bother to put font on this because it'll basically be all font, and mine is pretty tame.

Advantages: It requires no image work, and the contrast should be good. Also, I have a snowflake story in the collection.

Disadvantages: I have a cordial dislike of all-font covers, especially for fantasy. They lack a compelling image to make a promise. I'd be completely relying on title to draw readers, and I'm not sure that's wise.

So, which cover(s) do you like best? :)

chompers
08-03-2017, 11:47 AM
#1 or #2.

#3 is cute and my favorite image, but it doesn't match the genre and looks more fitting for a children's book or something.
#4 is too dark and not enough contrast.
#5 wouldn't match the genre as much as #1 or #2. But this would be my third choice after #1 and #2.

gtbun
08-03-2017, 01:40 PM
Okay, so firstly: "a cordial dislike" for typographic covers? Typographic covers, especially in fantasy which is rife with the same cover over and over, are some of the most effective. Think how much Tolkien's typographic covers stand out next to the plethora of illustrated, samey fantasy covers next to him.

I have a few questions:
I'm guessing these are stock images? Like, you didn't have them commissioned. I found the swan-boat image on Pixabay easy enough, so I'm guessing that's the case for all of them?
When you say someone will do the font for you, are they arranging the type or literally making you some lettering?
If you've only got placeholder type, how can you know exactly what type arrangement you want?

Placeholder text is fine, common, placeholder type is pretty bizarre. Sure you can show the layout, but often the type will dictate the layout. Further, type should be experimented with, not prescribed. You've also done what everyone else does as a default and just centred all the text - though I can't work out whether that matters because it's placeholder... it's confusing.

As for the images, well, they're all pretty hideous. The idea that any of them "promise fantasy" is a bit redundant, as you have the word FANTASY in big capital letters on every cover so far. Given that the type is placeholder or non-existent, I'm guessing you want the images judged and I would advise getting rid of all of them. None of them lend themselves particularly to laying type around them and they all look really really ugly. Whoever you have doing your type - if that's actually what they're doing - has to be AMAZING, like, better than some of the greats of book design, to arrange type in a way that will make any of those covers look good. And no amount of Photoshop is going to save them.

The image is not, and never is, the most important thing on the cover of a novel/story. The only time I can think it would be is if you're trying to sell the book using the artist - i.e., look at this beautiful Alan Lee drawing on this Tolkien cover. By giving undue prominence to the image and what you believe the image promotes, you're really hampering your covers. A reliance on "the title" is an admission of "I don't know how to lay out type and neither does the person helping me" because if type is arranged well, you rely on the illustrative and informational qualities of the type - well-designed type - to entice the reader. It's got nothing do with communicating or "promising" anything. It's what looks good and gives the content the space it needs to be seen.

It just feels like your whole process is a mess and you're rushing ahead for opinions on something that doesn't exist, based on some really really hideous imagery.

Bufty
08-03-2017, 03:32 PM
#1 is the only one my eye briefly hovers on but it doesn't really give me any urge to pick it up - I don't know how to change that.

CathleenT
08-03-2017, 05:11 PM
Thanks so much, everyone. :)

There is actually another option. I'm going to blog these choices, too, and if there's a clear consensus, it might just be faster (unless it's image #2) to paint the image by hand (my normal process). These all came from pixabay.

gtbun, we'll just have to agree to disagree. My favorite Tolkien covers are those that feature the author's illustrations. Those are the ones that drew me to his work originally.

ETA: The results from my blog seem to indicate that painting the cover might help with branding, since I've painted all my other covers, and the style is reasonably consistent with that of Dragon Hoard. (I know, I've only published one so far, but I'm working to change that.)

gtbun
08-03-2017, 08:32 PM
It's all well and good to disagree on a matter of opinion, I too prefer illustrated Tolkien covers - especially those with John Howe's art. However, when it comes to designing a book cover it's not about what you like but what will draw the reader in and keep them there. This isn't nearly as subjective as you might think, it is a measurable and repeatable concept, and the fact is that covers that employ strong, well laid-out typography are those that readers react best to. Image-based covers are a fairly new concept in cover design, with most books preceding the 60s typographic. When imagery is used, it's covers that make typography the main element that sell better than heavily illustrated covers. Not least, because illustrated covers look very dated.

If you're doing this as a personal art project, then go ahead and art it up. But if you mean to self-publish these books and mean to sell them then you would do well to pay attention to what work. When it comes to selling a book, your personal preference doesn't mean a thing, I'm afraid.

CathleenT
08-03-2017, 10:12 PM
... and the fact is that covers that employ strong, well laid-out typography are those that readers react best to. Image-based covers are a fairly new concept in cover design, with most books preceding the 60s typographic. When imagery is used, it's covers that make typography the main element that sell better than heavily illustrated covers. Not least, because illustrated covers look very dated.



I don't argue that the art of typography is important. That's why I don't do it myself--I hire it out. I know just enough to realize it's a subject that I'm not interested in enough to become an expert. I don't believe we have any argument there.

But I do understand principles of composition. I'm an artist, and I've studied art for decades.

I also understand fantasy. I've been an avid reader for forty years, longer than that if you count fairy tales. I've spent a lot of money on books.

As far as an illustration or graphic making your covers look dated (as opposed to a cover that's all font), I went to the major publishers to see what they're publishing. These are people with major skin in the game. I'm going to assume they know what they're doing and are up on principles of cover design.

On Penguin's cover page, all the fiction but one had an image: http://www.penguin.com/.

All of Macmillan's new Tor fantasy releases featured an image: https://us.macmillan.com/search?collection=new-releases&publisher=torforge&imprint=tor-fantasy .

All of HarperCollins's new releases featured images on their covers: https://www.harpercollins.com/.

I can't believe Simon and Schuster had no fantasy category, but their sci-fi covers all featured images: http://www.simonandschuster.com/search/books/Category-Fiction-Science-Fiction/Available-For-Sale-Now/_/N-g2oZpgz/Ne-ffk. This also held true when searching in fiction.

All featured covers by Hachette displayed images, except for one nonfiction: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/.

And all of Baen's books use highly illustrated covers: http://www.baen.com/baenebooks.

I've actually studied this stuff. I'm not just rushing out, willy-nilly, with barely a thought in my head.

Any art-based endeavor will involve opinion. Thanks for sharing yours. :)

shortstorymachinist
08-04-2017, 02:40 AM
Hey Cathleen! I like #1 best, without a doubt, but like Bufty said I didn't find it super compelling? Although I think a painted cover and a different font might help with that.



It's all well and good to disagree on a matter of opinion, I too prefer illustrated Tolkien covers - especially those with John Howe's art. However, when it comes to designing a book cover it's not about what you like but what will draw the reader in and keep them there. This isn't nearly as subjective as you might think, it is a measurable and repeatable concept, and the fact is that covers that employ strong, well laid-out typography are those that readers react best to. Image-based covers are a fairly new concept in cover design, with most books preceding the 60s typographic. When imagery is used, it's covers that make typography the main element that sell better than heavily illustrated covers. Not least, because illustrated covers look very dated.

If you're doing this as a personal art project, then go ahead and art it up. But if you mean to self-publish these books and mean to sell them then you would do well to pay attention to what work. When it comes to selling a book, your personal preference doesn't mean a thing, I'm afraid.

Really? There's so much out there being self-pubbed that I've always thought both good cover art and smart typography were indispensable. I'd be surprised if it turned out that books with good typography but minimal cover art did the best, especially in sci-fi/fantasy.

tiddlywinks
08-04-2017, 03:29 AM
#1 is the only one my eye briefly hovers on but it doesn't really give me any urge to pick it up - I don't know how to change that.

Hey Cathleen, I'm also with Bufty, but I'd add that I'd be bummed that there wasn't a story involving some element of that cover art because it seems rather specific to have a swan boat? Might just be me so take with salt.

CathleenT
08-04-2017, 04:33 AM
Thanks, winks and shortstory. So far, the swan boat seems to be the winner. I'm thinking of it as a metaphor for the book, conveying stories. The more I study the image, the more I think I can turn it into a better, more compelling visual if I paint it.

Also, Deranged Doctor Design said they'd look at it and give me image feedback from the technical standpoint of adding font, so I'll be able to take that into account when I paint my image.

PastyAlien
08-04-2017, 04:45 AM
Hey Cathleen,

I've gotta say that it's almost impossible for me to judge the cover image without the font being near-finalized. The two need to mesh together, so I can't really judge each separately. That said, I'm going to contradict myself and say I don't think any of these images work. The first would make for a great Christmas card, but for a book cover? Not so much. It's too busy and too . . . all over the place. There's no single focal point to grab and draw me in. The gold-star tree is way too much in your face and would steal the show instead of meld with it. Number three is another Christmas card, and number four is kinda creeping me the hell out, plus I can't figure out what those blue things are on the side, which is distracting. I can't really comment on the snowflakes without seeing them in cover form.

If you can wrangle the funds, it might be worth it to hire a cover designer (if you're already paying for typography, maybe it's worth it to go all out?). Because it can make the difference between meh and wow! Take a look at this thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?299195-Cover-opinions). Even with a really nice custom painting, the cover in post #1 screams self-published and unprofessional. Compare it to the one in post #12. That one's a socks knocker offer. I would never buy the book in post #1, because I would assume amateur hour, fair or not. But I sure would buy the book in #12, because that professionalism makes me think the writing is going to be at a pro level, plus I'm a completely shallow alien who's a sucker for a gorgeous cover.

I'm an artist and have even worked in graphic design, but cover design is pretty specialized, so I wouldn't trust myself to design a book cover. Not saying that's the case with you, but something to think about. I really do think it takes a certain skill set and tonnes of experience, and that time might be better spent writing. Your call, of course. :) I've subscribed to this thread and will continue to give you my honest opinion on any further offerings! Good luck!

CathleenT
08-04-2017, 07:14 AM
Thanks, Pasty. I remember that thread, and yes, the difference between the first cover and the one in post 12 was amazing. I checked out the website of the designer (it's JH Illustration, btw) and she has some pretty amazing stuff. Definitely food for thought. :)

tiddlywinks
08-04-2017, 07:52 AM
Oooh. Good reference thread, Pasty.

Cathleen, the more I noodled, the more I'm kinda back at wanting to tell you to scrap and find a new cover idea. (I was going to say that in my original post. Then deleted.) None of these are really clicking for me, TBH. Sorry, lady. :/

CathleenT
08-04-2017, 08:16 AM
No problem, winks. I did ask your opinion. :)

gtbun
08-04-2017, 01:27 PM
I didn't suggest you hadn't done research - though very few of the covers you've linked to are image-based.

Rather, this is why you need designers, and not just to lay out your type, but due to a basic misunderstanding of how covers are fashioned. This isn't on you, all self-publishers do it, and you shouldn't need to know it because you should be engaging professional services. Seeing other books in a genre doesn't educate you in how they're developed, it just teaches you how to copy - another thing all self-publishers do: copy - and it misleads you into thinking that certain facets are vital to covers. There is a stark difference between image-based covers and covers that employ images. We're actually heading back towards the trend of predominantly using type, as your examples showed, in the industry away from heavily illustrated covers. Similarly, there is a stark difference between artist and book designer - heck, there's even a stark difference between a graphic designer and a book designer. Unfortunately, many graphic designers and photoshoppers slip into the book design industry, so it can be hard to recognise real professionals and jobbing sites - of which DDD are: passable, do good job within trends, but with little variation in the elements and layouts they employ, and dirt cheap. Good for them, they're succeeding in a difficult market. At the very least, engage them properly, rather than splitting the project up for the sake of your art.

The aim of self-published books should be to keep level with the quality of traditional publishing, both in writing and design, not perpetuate the same lack of quality that pervades it now. Self-publishing should be a wonderful tool for writers that represents a kind of second team of writers, just below the level of published writers, but instead it is used for vanity and to make a quick buck. The problem with sci-fi and fantasy covers, outside of a few big names, is that they are often just as bad as self-published covers. No one really wants to design them and no one really wants to sell them. The vast majority of agents won't take horror, sci-fi, or fantasy, similarly presses won't have many titles in those genres and, when they do, they send cover projects out to freelancers whose quality isn't really important to them.

By all means, ignore professional advice. But as a self-published you have a duty, a duty that most ignore, to try and improve the self-publishing industry and your covers aren't doing that.

Twick
08-04-2017, 08:37 PM
Number 1, the swan boat, is by far the best. It says Christmas, it says fantasy, and the text is easy to read.

cornflake
08-04-2017, 09:02 PM
I like the second one best, definitely.

The first is pretty meh to me; the colours/hues are too close. It's not particularly striking. It's not bad or offputting or anything; it just doesn't grab me.

The third I think is adorable and fairly striking. Like I might pick it up or click to see what it was because it's so bold, clear, cute, but I definitely wouldn't think fantasy, personally. Not that I'd be surprised if it were, but I dunno, I get Christmas, but that's all from it.

The last two, heavily meh.

The second has such contrast, it reads both Christmas and fantasy or magic to me. It's striking, and I like that it's not a physical tree.

Lavern08
08-04-2017, 09:20 PM
I like #3

The red is eye-catching and attention-grabbing (at least for me), the gnome is adorable, and overall, it just looks wintery (is that a word?), inviting and "Christmas-y." :)

Curlz
08-04-2017, 09:45 PM
The swan boat looks most "fantasy". The starry tree would be most visible as a thumb image on websites, it's very attractive, although it looks a bit rough as a larger image (bad photoshop job). The gnome is perfect as an image for a book but it also makes it look like a craft book or a cook book (which often have similar type of photography job on them). I didn't like the Wizard/Santa at all, it looks like a cheap toy advertising a shop, just all the wrong vibes.

veinglory
08-04-2017, 09:47 PM
Huh, to my eyes the Swan Boat is by far the best image, it just needs some better typography.

CathleenT
08-04-2017, 10:44 PM
Twick, Curlz, and veinglory--you're definitely in the majority. Including my blog, the votes are running swan boat: 20, gold star tree: 5, Christmas gnome: 4. No votes for the other options. Okay, it's a small sample, but I'm grateful for it. I have a deadline with Deranged Doctor in a month's time, so I need to get started on an image now. There's a certain magic in having enough time, so I can look at the piece in differing light, pigeonhole enough people for feedback as the painting progresses, and just generally feel comfortable with the thing as my best work.

Laverne, you're in agreement with my husband. I do like the little guy--I might write a story about him.

cornflake, I like the gold star best in thumbnail, too. I'm going to try and paint the swan boat with a lot more contrast, to try and make it as compelling in thumbnail as the gold tree.

Thanks so much, everyone who voted.

And a special thanks to you, gtbun. You've been very generous with your advice, and I want you to know I value it.

I get that the purpose of a cover is to sell a book, not please the author, and I agree with that to a point.

You've actually given me a fair amount of advice in this thread that I've taken, and I'm grateful for it. I mention this, not just because of manners, but also because you made a comment on one of your threads that nobody seems to be listening, and as a former teacher, I know how frustrating that can be.

1. You stated that no amount of Photoshopping was going to save any of the images I posted for voting. I was already thinking along these lines, but that comment really gelled those thoughts. If I'm going to paint the rest of my covers, I shouldn't use a Photoshop image or photo for my Christmas collection. Branding seems to be super-important in fantasy, so I need to approach all my covers with that awareness. The swan boat image is way too cluttered for my taste anyway. I love the S-curve on the swan figurehead's neck and the framing and general composition, but I can do a much better job with a paintbrush. The image will be simpler and have more contrast. And the shadows will definitely be more consistent.

2. You also commented that a good cover didn't have the text merely superimposed on the image--it had the image and the text interacting with each other more organically. (That's a summary of what you said rather than your exact words, so I hope I'm getting the gist of it accurately.) So I contacted Kim at DDD and asked her if the swan boat image would work with some modifications, which I listed, and I asked her if she wanted to make some more, and she did. Before, I painted my other images with an awareness of where the font would work, but I'm only one mind, and font is really not an area of strength for me. And I think, like writing, images can only be improved by collaboration of people with differing strengths (that's why I paint covers in class, usually, for critique feedback). I need beta readers for my writing. It only makes sense that getting my cover designer involved before the image is finalized would result in a stronger image. I wouldn't have thought of involving the designer at an earlier stage if you hadn't spoken, so I'm grateful for that, too.

It might not be quite the victory you were hoping for, but I wanted you to know your advice was listened to and heeded, at least in part. And I do remember things that people tell me, plus I'll always be able to go back and review this thread if I need to. So I may end up taking more of your advice over the course of time.

I like Dragon Hoard (the only cover I have that's finished thus far--all the rest in my sig are from trade publications, and I had zero input on them). But I would like my covers to improve, just like I hope for my writing, so thanks for helping with that.

And thanks again, everyone who voted, even if you didn't like any of the choices. :)

Undercover
08-05-2017, 02:06 AM
I like #1 the best.

CathleenT
08-05-2017, 02:21 AM
Another vote for the swan boat. It's sprinted ahead to become the clear winner. Thanks, Lisa. :)

Tazlima
08-05-2017, 02:57 AM
I vote swan boat too... but I think you should whip up a swan boat story to go with it. :)

eqb
08-05-2017, 03:33 AM
fwiw, I bounced off all your covers. #1 is too busy and the rest are too...cutsey, imo.

Filigree
08-05-2017, 05:35 AM
I like the swan boat, but I kinda want to do a completely different piece of art for it. Something similar, in profile, showing the swan's cuved neck/prow, Christmas tree, wizard, and some restrained reflections on a dark, simple background. That way the type will carry the weight.

CathleenT
08-05-2017, 06:49 AM
I agree, Filigree, although I'm not sure about the wizard. Kinda like the empty boat, but I could try a quick thumbnail with a wizard in it. I'm working on sketches now anyway. Thanks!

And Tazlima, you can be evil, you know that? I'll wrack my brain to see if I can come up with something, but I need a cover with a page count in a month. That is not a happy deadline for a new story. :)