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message 1: by James (new)

James Womack (jrw-dbm) | 13 comments Hello, people. I’m a newling guy who thinks he can write short story sci-fi. Two years or so ago, I presumed to design my own covers. The results were beyond horrible, to be frank. But neither then nor now does my budget allow me dishing out major expenses for a cover. Being a bit on the stubborn side, I managed to learn a little more about my graphics editor than I did before. So, I made several covers meant for future stories. Crazy way to do things, I agree but I never claimed sanity. Here are two of them. Mainly, I’d like to know what experienced people think of the covers. Blunt responses are welcome as nobody really learns anything healthy from sugarcoated stuff.

message 2: by OldBird (new)

OldBird | 13 comments Hi James. If you learn by doing and making visuals helps your writing, then that's great. Experimenting is usually the best way with anything visual whether what you're making makes sense or not!

"You Rang?" is defiantly the stronger of the two. While I'm normally an advocate of white space, you could make the title bigger and more central to the sky part of the image - just thinking about clarity when people see your cover at Amazon thumbnail size. I do like how the type color has been taken from the tank/fire. That's a nice visual link even though I'm not sure how well the bottom image attaches to the top. Is it supposed to be separate, or in front of the telescopes in the foreground? Could you get away without the tank, keeping it simply to the telescopes and UFO? That way, with maybe a little added vignette, the title/UFO combo could be the star elements that sell the story. I know this example is an illustration, but the same idea of central title and one major image (with little hints of detail at the edges) still stands: The Humans by Matt Haig

"The Night I Met Giz'Ren" is very busy. I usually think it's best to avoid squashing imagery as it tends to look a bit off. It's also a little flat without much light/dark contrast. Which image do you feel is the most important one to sell your story on? Is the the obvious man-meets-alien, or the more cryptic chessboard? Simplifying it and adding contrast would really up the drama and focus the viewer's attention. It'd also help to increase the size of the title, breaking it up over two (or more) lines, as it'll likely be hard to read at smaller sizes in a dark color.

A point on both of them: the font. It just doesn't say alien encounter sci-fi to me. There are a load of free fonts out there (but check they're commercially usable for free - many will tell you this if they're under a Creative Commons license). Anything that makes you think Roswell/military secrets/X-Files would be a good place to start
Unacknowledged An Expose Of The World's Greatest Secret by Steven M. Greer UFO UK UPDATED by Peter Paget

Just my two cents. I mean no disrespect (if anything it's the opposite - it can be hard putting yourself out there for critique), and I hope it might be in some way helpful.

message 3: by James (last edited Jul 14, 2018 03:29AM) (new)

James Womack (jrw-dbm) | 13 comments I appreciate every word you took the time to write and will work on incorporating your advice. Thank you very much. As someone who obviously doesn't really know what he's doing, you can believe I'll listen to the folks who clearly do know how to design covers. Really appreciate the input. I will be uploading 2 more covers shortly in case you feel like commenting on those as well. I got a sneaking suspicion they have the same defects you have already mentioned. All the more reason for me to learn what I'm not doing right and correct it.

message 4: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 409 comments Mod
Hello James! Thanks for the postings of your work-in-progress (and the use of the cool term "newling" — new to me).

I agree almost 100% with what Emma says here. And especially important to view/judge your cover art in small thumbnail size. You'll notice how Emma's first example ("The Humans") is very readable at tiny size. In your case, see your strip of thumbnails at bottom of your web page? That's your key guide. And you'll notice that "You Rang?" is the most readable.

Speaking of "You Rang?"... yeah, I would lose the bottom image entirely and focus on the top image, letting it fill the cover (if you can).

I see you've now added three more designs. The main thing that jumps out at me is this: I can't really see/make out the main titles. Make these stronger, bolder, simpler, contrastier. Again, just look at the thumbnail strip at the bottom of your web page. Can you read the main titles? Work on making that happen. What you want is "Instant Simplicity."

Keep at it!

message 5: by James (new)

James Womack (jrw-dbm) | 13 comments Thank you Harald, greatly appreciate your taking the time to comment on my efforts. I'll start applying your and Emma's advice shortly.

message 6: by Paul (new)

Paul | 76 comments James –

The advice by Emma and Harald are definitely sound: clarity of the cover, and readability at thumbnail size, are very important. Just as it is difficult to edit your own writing, it is a challenge for an author to also be designer: you want to make as clear and concise of a (visual) statement as you can. Every element in your cover design should be there for a good reason.

You have some very interesting and compelling artwork. However, to my eye there is too much detail, making the images too busy.

But the real problem area that I see is in your typography. Emma mentioned about finding some good fonts. And by "good," generally we mean easily legible, with good contrast.

Let me get into some details that I noticed.

Starting with "Hidden Cavern," the typography—using the sort of handwritten font written across the cave ceiling—is going to be difficult to read even on a clean background, but here it ends up too small and distorted. Those white areas in the type shouldn't be there—I'm guessing artifacts of whatever you used to distort it. Another huge problem with handwritten fonts (especially the free ones) is the identical nature of repeated characters, such as the "dd" in "Hidden" and the "n" characters in "Cavern Giants" and "Kenya." They are identical, which means they aren't really handwritten.

The eye is very good at spotting fakes. Odd distortion is another problem.

Then your name, set in the "inline" font… the inline isn't necessary, and doesn't help, given the background. While the letters in your name are smaller than the title, see how they actually take dominance because they are brighter and more regular? You probably would be better to have the title stronger.

As for the image in "Hidden…" look at how many things you have going on: the woman, face in shadow and facing down and away, is in a clear action pose. Then there is the silhouetted guy, facing away. And the cave itself. And the window, with the odd light (moon?). Pick one of those, and you'll be in a much stronger place.

And watch those margins—generally you want to keep your type safely inside the edges of the cover.

In "The YesterMorrow Man," other than feeling distorted (vertically squished?), the image is certainly interesting. Its unfortunate you cut off her toes—watch for crops along human joints, because it is subliminally painful to look at.

The type here is a real problem, though. The vertical setting you your name uses characters which are far too wide (did you stretch it? That is a no-no) and uneven in width to pull this off. Consider all caps if you must do this. We talked about titles being larger already, but I don't understand your decided to change the type color where you did. Between "Yester" and "Morrow" I could see. But "ow Man" doesn't make sense.

Last, the "DNA project" line… general if you are setting in small caps, you shouldn't use capital letters (Unless you were typesetting a 17th century manuscript…). I see what you are trying here, aligning the swirly pattern to the base of the tank… but I'd suggest not doing that. Unless you make it match the shape of the tank, it just looks even more artificial. And it it was suppose to look like it is part of the tank, then distort it to match the curvature and tone down the white and god to match the shading of the tank.

In "Nommo," why is there a couch in the foreground? The shadows don't make sense, either… is that intentional? And the type, too wide in your name, too narrow (and far too small) in the title. Generally, if the texts crossing a visual element (such as your name touching the upper right corner of the frame), then you should make the intersection more pronounced and intentional. Watch those margins, too—both the picture frame and the text are too tight on the left.

"The Night I Met" is interesting, and again busy. And strangely distorted (squished horizontally this time?). Let's count: chess board, mirrored surface not reflecting the moon, guy and alien sitting apart from the board, road in field, impossible moon… again, pick something and go with it. See you the thumbnail even looks like something completely different? And your use of red and green is interesting; they are complementary colors, so use with caution. But watch out for the lighting on the guys shirt (it is probably too bright). If you are going to use this font, in addition to making the title larger you might consider letterspacing a bit—or turning off the outlining. Or both—even your name feels squished together.

Finally in "You Rang?" besides making the title larger, you need to fine tune the kerning (Y-o too far apart, o-u to close). I feel like the image is stretched horizontally again. And is that a silhouetted person by a campfire in the bottom of the image? If so, it is a lucky guess—it is really hard to tell. Again, a lot going on here.

Remember, the cover is there as one piece of marketing for your book. It doesn't have to tell the entire story. Or even an entire sentence. It just needs to give some sense of the book, a little mood, a hint at the subject. In my mind, especially with your titles, the image should leave more questions than answers.

But you have imagination and vision in these works. As Harald said, keep working on it. Pick your favorite, and try a couple of ideas on us. I'm eager to see where you take these!


message 7: by James (new)

James Womack (jrw-dbm) | 13 comments Thank you, Paul. I will take all the input you, Emma, and Harald provided and put it use. I knew my inexperience would show and was more than likely making errors. So I'm excited to be learning from people who know what they're doing because obviously, I don't. I also appreciate your compliments.

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