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message 1: by Harald, The Swimmer (last edited Dec 26, 2019 07:59AM) (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Hello All! Well, it’s time for the cover of my new book. I’m still in the historical fiction arena but with a couple of twists: (A) I’m now going WAY back in time, i.e., 40,000 years, and (B) it’s Split Timeline or Time Slip novel, i.e., both present-day and the past connect with each other.

Because I’m thinking about the Genre, Tone, and Subject Matter of the book, here are some factors to consider before I let you loose on my ROUGH layout options for which I’m asking your feedback:

Genres (all of them, in rough order of importance):
(AA) Fiction > Historical > Ancient (BISAC)
(A) Time Travel Fiction (e.g.: 11/22/63 by Stephen King)
(B) Time Travel Science Fiction (e.g.: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch)
(C) Historical Fantasy Fiction (e.g.: Timeline by Michael Crichton)
(E) Alternate History Science Fiction (e.g.: The Man in the High Castle by P.K. Dick)
(D) Time Travel Romance (e.g.: Time & Again by Albert Finney)

— surprise (“I didn’t know that” or “What is this?”)
— curiosity (“I want to know more”)
— intrigue / fascination (about Neanderthals)

Subject Matter:
1. Time Travel (both time periods: 2019 and 40 kya)
2. Neanderthals / Ancient History (prehistory)
3. Gibraltar & caves (now and then)
4. Human tendency toward violence (now and then)

A troubled science reporter travels back in time to the age of Neanderthals and changes the course of human history.

So with all that buildup, here are seven *rough* layouts of my initial cover concepts (only showing limited font options at this stage):

Any feedback from you about which of these rough ideas is working (if any) is HIGHLY appreciated. Thanks.

-- Harald

message 2: by David (new)

David | 7 comments Hi Harald, Sounds like a very interesting book. I wish you well. Here's my two cents worth:

A. Has a primal appeal but doesn't communicate the time split.
B. The half face loses the primal feel for me. Looks less dangerous to me.
C. The 3/4 face regains some of the primal feeling.
D. The Neanderthal looks like he's smiling and appears too friendly.
E. The hand seems to be an attempt to connect with the past and convey a sense of danger, but it seems a little overboard to me. It also becomes too complicated.
F. This is my favorite cover. It communicates the split time. I feel the plain background behind the Neanderthal in F is better than the background in G. I would hope you can negotiate the rights without too much cost.
G. If you can't get the rights to F, then this would work.

I hope this helps as I respond on a gut level. Good luck!

message 3: by Paul (new)

Paul | 76 comments Harald –

Exciting new project. I'm really curious to see where this goes!

Historical fiction or science fiction? And the nature of the relationship between our two main character? That seems to be the conundrum here.

With historical fiction on top, as you say with your list of subject codes, the the first cover (A) is a clear choice. With the right type, this checks off all the boxes of surprise, curiosity, and intrigue. Assuming the image works at print sizes. It is simple, clean and compelling.

But this assumes that your science reporter is just the vehicle, a glorified narrator, important to move the story along, but not personally integral otherwise. More "Clan of the Cave Bear."

Given that he appears in your six other covers, I'd be willing to wager that the reporter is actually more important to your story. If that is the case, as strong as it is, we have to set #1 aside.

Next question is the nature of the relationship. To me B/C shows a benevolent visitor, and implies a kindly relationship is about to form. Our neanderthal has a calm expression. Of the two, I prefer (C) because it is more clearly non-homo sapien. David is spot on about the 3/4 face. The only thing bugging me here is that we're inside a cave, but seem to have very good lighting on his face, which is physically at odds with the silhouetted figure. Photoshop it for a weaker fire light perhaps.

F/G, the last pair, where the image is split, suggests a more literal parallel story, without direct interaction between the two. (F) is a more aggressive, or at least guarded, expression. (G) is more a reaction of cautious curiosity, and I prefer it of the two for that reason. David's point about the background is valid, but perhaps not important given the positioning of the type.

D/E on the other hand do have a clear eye contact connection, but it is harder to determine the nature. Our neanderthal is older than in the other versions, presumably wiser. Is that a smile? Maybe, but neither his eyes or mouth imply any sort of positive or negative reaction to this visitor—which is disturbing, because there should be some sort of reaction. A little photoshop work to imply and emotion might make the silhouetted one (D) usable, but as is I would reject it. And the hand in (E) is compositionally messed up—if the guy were standing that close to the neanderthal, why would he be looking to his right?

In summary, (C) or (G), depending on their relationship; or (A) if the story really is only about the neanderthal.

Now, regarding the font. I realize you're just working with the composition here, but I would strongly suggest an extra-condensed font instead of squeezing "Neander" in.

The asymmetry of the title case seems to work well for the F/G, although perhaps with an all cap subtitle. (Moved a bit to the right, maybe? Hard to see ever getting a good alignment with the "r", so centering might be best.)

But I think you're going to be stronger with all caps title in A/B/C, balancing the asymmetric image composition in B/C, and reinforcing the strength of A.

Hope that helps!


message 4: by OldBird (new)

OldBird | 13 comments If it helps, my gut reaction is C. It balances the mysteriousness of the neanderthal looking at us by being semi-obscured but obviously not modern man with the silhouette in the cave that makes me think adventure novel. To me, the split-screen options look more factual/non-fiction.

I'm in agreement with Paul that it's a little too bright. Toning down the face to appear more natural/fireside lighting, and also darkening the cave wall with the paintings with more of a gradient (I know they're part of the premise, but I see them as option extras people might notice and go "Oh!" rather than vitally important to getting the message of the book across)

message 5: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Wow. These are excellent comments for me to digest. Thank you. Let me quickly respond to a few before I dive back into it on my side for revisions...

* The Neanderthal face—and I’m pleased that you all recognize it as a Neanderthal—showing in A, B, C, F, G is of the same historical reconstruction sculpture by a top forensic team in the Netherlands. But photographed by three different photographers. The one in G is stock with an awful flat-color background that I would have to isolate and remove (only did a rough, quick version here). I put in that tree-like background and could put in something else. The one in D/E is from a painting I found on DeviantArt and am now communicating with the artist in Poland.

* The rights negotiations (for the A/B/C/F/G Neander face) are tricky and could ultimately force my hand in the decision-making. I prefer the one in A/F but may be forced to go with the G one if B/C doesn’t come through.

— I like your gut-level summary. Well-said in few words. I address some of your points below...

— As usual, you have some solid observations. I agree with you that if it’s not pure HF (“be all there in the past” à la “Clan of the Cave Bear”) then A doesn’t really work (although it’s very powerful and clean). But the story really is more “split time” with both timelines in play (although with more time spent in the past).
— On B/C, I’m not too worried about the “being inside the cave” disunity as I see the cover as more conceptual. But I take your point and will balance the tones more with the final layout.
— On F/G, I’m intrigued about your preferring the G face more. It’s not my preference but may end up there.
— On D/E, I’m leaning away from using that profile face for the reasons you list (and another comment I’ve received that it could be a modern man).
— On Fonts: Yes, these are only FPOs, although I like the current author name one. For the main title, I’m looking at several condensed fonts, including some distressed ones. And I may try some “styled embellishments,” too. Will be presenting those in a next round.
— I’m currently finding an all-caps main title a little hard to read, especially with a non-common word (“NEANDER”). But I’ll be playing with this more. And also for the subhead/subtitle.

— I like your take on it and also your comment about “adventure.” That’s also one of my subgenre/keyword paths that I didn’t include in my list.
— I also worry that F/G have a nonfiction/factual feel to them with the vertical split-screen, although I may be forced into this format in the end.
— And I can definitely darken/tone things down if going with B/C.

Feel free to make additional comments to what I’m saying here. It all helps!

message 6: by Harald, The Swimmer (last edited Sep 09, 2019 11:06AM) (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
UPDATE 9/9/19: Still in LoRes rough stage. See this new Google Doc:

1. Well, my two hoped-for headshots are OUT. And also moved past that bearded profile image. Leaving the Alamy stock one shown (on a green background, only roughly outlined here). So I’ve tried some variations with this image. In two basic layouts: A and B.

2. I’ve also added a couple of variations using Photoshop filters on the main headshot. Not sure if these abstractions work with the photorealistic cave images but I’m drawn to them. (And there’s another factor: the Hero draws Neanderthal faces in his notebook in the story. This could link to that if I adjust the text slightly.)

3. I’ve added a feather element. Feathers play a role in the story. Tried a few locations.

4. FONTS: I like a new condensed font I found but it’s $29 per style so using it in all instances is beyond my budget, although if I combine it with other [free] fonts, then that could work. And many of the best extra-condensed fonts I found come only in ALL CAPS (one is also free), so I’m trying out some here.

Would appreciate any feedback on what you see here. THANKS!

P.S. VARIATION NOTES for ease of viewing:
* Except for feathers, all images on C2-C7 are the same; I'm only changing the main title font.
* C8-C9: only differences are with the main headshot treatment.
* All fonts are the same for G2-G5; only changing the top headshot and its background treatments.

message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul | 76 comments Harald – I wasn't able to access the Google Doc folder you referenced.


message 8: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Hmmm... it says: "Anyone with link can view..." Here is the link again:

Does it work? Should I "Share" via email? Let me know...

message 9: by Paul (new)

Paul | 76 comments Yep, that new link worked!

message 10: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Paul wrote: "Yep, that new link worked!"

Excellent. Look forward to your—and anyone else's—thoughts.

message 11: by Paul (new)

Paul | 76 comments Harald –

Nice variety of options here. I think you'll be just fine with the stock face you're limited to using.

Compositionally, I'm still partial to the more dynamic nature of the askew/imbalance of the C2–C9 series, it feels more intimate, more personal. But I understand that a strong case (parallel timelines) can be made for the divided look of the G2–G4, which does convey more classic sci-fi. If you do go that route, the lighter background of G3 is preferable, in my eye, to the blue-grey of G2.

While I don't care for the photoshop filters in the G's, C9 actually could almost be compelling. There are two cautionary notes: first, plastic—the smoothing of details makes the face too plastic, i.e. fakey cheap illustration. C9 might be extreme enough to go beyond plastic to "artful," but G4 and G5 definitely not. In print and at full size this will really matter. Adding some gritty texture might help.

Second issue is the shadow. Especially int he Cave scene (C's) and especially C9, the shadow feels like it is on the wrong side. You might try flipping the face and see what happens to all of the C variants.

You might also consider blending C8 and the C2–C7 face—the highlights of the filtered version are nice (getting back to that "fire illuminated" idea we mentioned earlier), but retain more of the original texture and shading. Maybe?

The feather is interesting in its subtly. Its one of those things that you don't see until you do, and then once you do, you cannot unsee. Which is good! In the C's, the upper feather almost has the look of a cave painting on the wall above the cave entrance. If that makes sense, then this is a good addition. The lower feather (C's and G's) is a bit more distracting in that it points "out" of the scene, leading the eye astray. It might need to be resized and moved up so as to not interfere with your name, but I wonder about flipping it so it runs (C's) from the upper right to the lower left. Essentially creating an arc connecting the title and your name. So long as it is subtle, this might be really cool.

My gut tells me that in the C's, use one or the other feather, but not both. One—either one—will then give you a triangle of three visual elements, which is one of those good gestalt things.

The uppercase titles definitely are stronger, in both compositions. It helps reinforce the scientific-fi genre, and provides a good point of tension. The title case subtitle gives you just enough softening to allow you to switch back to all caps for your name. The danger I see is confusing the made-up word "Neander" with the more recognizable "Meander." That was something the title case version had going for it, less ambiguity. But on the whole, you're better off with all caps, and definitely not a "squeezed" all caps!

As much as I like to support Proxima Nova (the type designer, Mark Simonson, is local here to Minnesota, and I know him and support his work whenever I can), the strength and solidity of the Kapra Neue (C5) is a winner in my mind. Outlining the free Built Titling might get you there, but the "R" of Kapra is especially nice, very confident.

In the G versions, I feel the tracking is too wide on the title—in this case, it might be just a bit too condensed for the space you have to work with. And Kapra would likely make this worse. But Proxima Nova might be the ticket if you decide to go this route.

So, in summary, for me of the covers presented, C5 is the winner, possibly with the face mirrored, and with only one feather.

Like I said, nice variants, Harald. It is really interesting to see where you are going with this cover.


message 12: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Paul wrote: "Harald – Nice variety of options here. I think you'll be just fine with the stock face you're limited to using. ..."

Wow... lots to digest here! Before I respond, anyone else have any comments??? Emma? David?

message 13: by OldBird (new)

OldBird | 13 comments Hi Harald,

Layouts: I'm once again going to agree with Paul's very detailed assessment! The one feather as a cave painting styled element works nicely on the C series, although it might need to blend a tiny bit more with the rocky background for the effect. If you still liked the split-screen style of G, it looks a little lost floating in the darkness as it takes the eye away from the other main elements.

I find Photoshop filters a little bit awkward as often they take out a lot of the definition of an image when used without further blending/layer modes/painting. The coloring on the brush strokes variation does bring to mind the fire-lit idea on the C variants, though maybe a bit too red? The Diffuse Glow gives an impression of bright sunlight, which would work better as a base for G than the inside a cave lighting of C.

Fonts: There's something about the all caps Built/D-Din combination that strikes me as quite cinematic. With the wide tracking it brings to mind sci-fi movie posters. If budget's an issue, I don't see why those two wouldn't work together.

From a completely unscientific glance at the thumbnails section, I was drawn to C5 and G3.

I hope that helps in some way!

message 14: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Emma wrote: "Hi Harald,... I'm once again going to agree with Paul's very detailed assessment! The one feather as a cave painting styled element works nicely on the C series, although it might need to bl..."

Excellent inputs, Emma. Am going to try out some of these (and Paul's) in the next round. Thank you.

message 15: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
OK! Here’s a new, refined round (still lowres) based on your excellent comments/suggestions:

— I’m still bouncing between the Dynamic and the Split layouts. Both shown at the link.
— Have blended the main photo and filter versions of same. And ended up not changing the shadows on or orientation of the face.
— The single feather has been simplified. Better?
— Main Title Case: am all-in on ALL CAPS now.
— Interesting that you mention a possible confusion with “MEANDER.” It turns out that “NEANDER” is an actual term of art in the Neanderthal world, or at least by some who write about it. I don’t think it’s a problem, and there’s the added benefit of it containing part of the important keyword of the subject. And all versions are now NOT squeezed; all are “pure” (100/100) in Width and Height. And I reduced the Tracking on the Built main title; not a lot but some. But kept the same Tracking on Kapra.
— Who knew that you know Mark Simonson! I love his fonts, including Proxima Nova, but I think the two I have now (Kapra Neue or Built Titling) work.

In addition to the comments to Paul above...
— The feather over the cave paintings seemed confusing so I kept only the one at the bottom.
— Have done some face blending as you can see. And darkened a bit more of the cave.
— Very interesting comment about the fonts being “cinematic” (and sci-fi poster). That’s one of my goals.
— So I’m focusing in on the C5 and G3 variations. What do you think?

Continued thanks for all! It’s all super helpful. Look forward to more comments.


message 16: by John (new)

John (johnbyrnebarry) | 7 comments Original C5 is better, though I might make the the silhouette of the man in the cave smaller. The split level cover looks like two different books.

message 17: by Harald, The Swimmer (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
John wrote: "Original C5 is better, though I might make the the silhouette of the man in the cave smaller. The split level cover looks like two different books."

Thank you for this feedback, John. I've played around with the size of the "man in the cave" but will take another look. Also interesting is your "two different books" comment.

message 18: by Harald, The Swimmer (last edited Oct 16, 2019 04:29PM) (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Hello all!

Finally resolved my image-licensing issues and have a close-to-final cover draft (this is the ebk format; print is 5.25x8). And am also including the latest version of the Amazon Book Description text below it. I appreciate hearing any feedback about either or both. THANKS!


"Then it hit me. They really were Neanderthals."

Science reporter Tom Cook is on an archeological dig in Gibraltar when personal disaster hurls him through a time portal and into the strange and dangerous world of 30,000 years ago. The world of the last Neanderthals.

Tom must call on long-buried memories, overcome his own demons, and use his modern-day wits to survive. And ultimately face a crucial decision that will alter the course of human history. A history he has the power to change. But can he change his own?

If you’re a fan of the time-travel fantasy novels of Jack Finney (Time and Again), Stephen King (11/22/63), or Blake Crouch (Dark Matter), you'll savor this fast-moving, action-packed book from historical-fiction author Harald Johnson.

Neander is a science-fiction, time-travel adventure that builds on current anthropological research about our Neanderthal "cousins."

# # #

message 19: by Paul (last edited Oct 17, 2019 06:49AM) (new)

Paul | 76 comments Looks great Harald! I think it really came together well. Great description as well!

Be sure to let us know when it goes live.


message 20: by Harald, The Swimmer (last edited Oct 17, 2019 07:58AM) (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Thanks, Paul! Short and sweet; not at all like you ;-))).

Any others? Emma? John?

BTW: Checking for Brightness Contrast, here’s what a (very dark) Grayscale looks like (this site is upping the contrast). It does show the cave opening as very bright, but I think the full-color face (and eyes) counteract that (although the more I look at it, I'm thinking I may darken that cave opening more). I was most concerned about the separation of the 3 text lines and had to play around with that “sunset” behind the main title text to get the best balance.

message 21: by Harald, The Swimmer (last edited Oct 17, 2019 10:04AM) (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
So I darkened the cave opening. Check it out:





You can really see the difference in the Grayscales.

Additional comments welcome.

message 22: by OldBird (new)

OldBird | 13 comments Hi Harald,

Nice composition; along with the blurb I think it gives the right feel for what you're doing. Strangely on my monitor I'm not seeing much difference in the before and after images. I do get the idea though, and darkening the cave probably would help make the text and the neanderthal's face really stand out.

A little side opinion about the blurb (which you are more than welcome to discard as you are the master wordsmith here!): the fragmented sentence using "and" at the beginning.

"...and use his modern-day wits to survive. And ultimately face a crucial decision that will alter the course of human history. A history he has the power to change."

Completely personal preference, but I wouldn't break up the list sentence. The final "and ultimately..." could be linked up without losing it's drama, and would emphasis that short sentence about changing history more.

Regardless, nice work. Good luck for the launch!

message 23: by Harald, The Swimmer (last edited Oct 19, 2019 05:53AM) (new)

Harald | 398 comments Mod
Thanks, Emma! Naturally, I’ve already revised the blurb several times since ;-)).

Regarding the image differences (and thanks for the kind words), I think it’s a problem with this (or my) site's crunching the images. With my two versions of the grayscale and color versions side-by-side on my color-calibrated monitor, the differences are quite obvious. And it’s the background (sky and water) of the cave opening that I worked on. I was worried that it was pulling the attention away. Now it's much better. Onward, and thanks again!

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