The Failings of Experts

I didn’t want to write this post, mostly because I had planned to do a different post on the panic going on from people of inelastic minds (not their fault, most of them were indoctrinated that way) in the face of tech that seems inoccuous but is changing things in ways we can’t figure out. Ah, well, will do that tomorrow.

Today I need to talk about experts.

Look, I love experts – real ones which doesn’t necessarily mean credentialed ones – and having one give an opinion on something I’m trying to master is wonderful.

Right?

Well… waggles hand. If you get the right expert, at the right time, in the right mood.

I first learned this when I was a green as grass writer. ALL my group were green as grass writers.

Unfortunately, I was the green as grass writer who did all the work. If the group were a sled, I was the one pulling the sled. I’d come up with a new technique, (new to me, okay? Pipe down) such as starting a story with dialogue. Next thing you knew, everyone in the group was using it. Other things I discovered that are wonderful and startling to newbies, like not having dialogue tags, but tagging dialog with action also disseminated through the group. (It’s amazing. You can read a million books, but you never apply it till a fellow newby does it in group and then you go “oooh.”)

Writers groups are usually like that, though there’s usually more than one innovator. But there’s usually the innovators and the followers.

Not disparaging the followers, they could learn from seeing, which I’m unable to do. (More on that later.)

In our case, because it was so lopsided, I used to get awfully tired. So when we had a writer join the group who had published a book, (remember, guys, we hadn’t even SOLD a short story. Any of us) I not only happily relinquished leadership to her, I learned at her feet, too.

I did say I was green, right? I couldn’t read the signs. This author had published one book ten years before with a very distinctive house. (Yes, it was Baen. No. I’m not going to tell you who it was.) Since then she hadn’t sold ANYTHING. If it were now I’d know that she either had had only one book in her, or only one specific type of book, and that her book hadn’t sold well enough to buy a second or third.

But I didn’t. Green as grass, remember?

She, OTOH had no doubts of her status. Yes, she hadn’t published again, but that was because the publishing industry was wrong. And the public who hadn’t bought her book were wrong. She knew the One Right Way To Write A Novel.

That too, a few years later, would have been an awful warning.

You know those “learning styles” that we (well, I) always assumed were cover for “we don’t know how to teach kids”? Well, turns out they’re real. There is a reason for instance I can’t watch instructional videos and REMEMBER but if I read instructions I’m fine. This has been brought home to be by a son who is an extreme visual learner. I’m actually a kinetic learner. I learn better by touching and feeling something (shut up.) Which is why I can learn better if I’m crocheting while listening to a lecture BUT learn best of all if you make me do it, and correct along the way. (This is difficult with books, which is why I’m largely self-taught.)

Unfortunately, the same way that there are different types of learning, there are different types of writer. The two seem to be correlated.

I can for instance write a novel from outline, but it will be flat. I can do it, because I was taught linear learning, and had it pounded home with a ruler. What I mean is, to an extent (but only to an extent) my suspicions of the “learning styles” thing is right, because learning styles can be ignored, if you’re willing to use force and discard about 30% of the pupils as “too dumb to learn.” (This is a luxury we had when we had kids by the dozen and when there were a lot of GOOD manual professions.)

My best way of writing a novel is to tinker with it, until it coalesces. Which is why I get stopped by illness. However, it gives the richer, deeper substratum. A Few Good Men I could only see one chapter ahead. I understand Pratchett writes like that too (well, wrote) which was a relief finding out. I thought I was broken.

And I usually get the novel from the character who is in trouble.

This was a problem because the woman who came into our group wrote a novel from the plot out. So when I brought in a first chapter about this woman being followed by a mysterious stranger, she told me it was wrong. I didn’t have the setup for the whole plot in the first chapter.   Into the trunk the story went.

Over the two years she was with us, she nixed many stories, both mine and others by telling us things like “it doesn’t have a motor.”

It wasn’t till my first fantasy series was bought and I sent it to her (she had left the group by then) that I realized what the problem was. I sent it to her electronic. She told me I’d never sell it because it was a romance with fantasy elements, not fantasy (she missed the part where I’d sold it already) and that my characters had too much interior monologue.

Now, think what you will of Ill Met By Moonlight. I know I do. Geesh, if I ever go down the rabbit hole of beautiful language again, shoot me. It’s more merciful.

But it didn’t have “too much interior monologue.” It had what it needed to for that sort of story.

And that’s when I realized she ONLY knew how to write adventure SF. (Her book is pretty good, even if it didn’t sell wonderfully.) In her mind this was so much “the one right way to write a book” that she couldn’t even cross sidewise into Fantasy, let alone literary fantasy, and heaven forbid she even considered other genres, because she didn’t read them. (For instance, Ill Met is many things. It is NOT romance.)

She WAS trying to guide us as best she knew, but the only road she knew was the one she could see through her blinders, and she imagined it was ALL roads.

And this is why you should be afraid of self-proclaimed experts, particularly in fields where some of you learn in an intuitive and non-linear manner.

An argument has developed in the comments of the post two posts ago. Only I’m not sure it’s a real argument, because it’s Fail Burton against everyone else. He thinks you should leave covers for experts, or do them as flat and boring as possible, because you’d do less harm. The rest of us think he should shut up and try to understand he’s out of his competence.

I’m not going to address his claims except to say that I read a LOT of sf in the sixties. The cover mockup he put up fairly screams “Ace Double.” If you put that up, you’d get everyone assuming it was not only the reissue of an old book but that the person putting it up was dumb enough to scan in his old cover.

What I’m going to tell you is how I came by doing cover design.

First of all, I do have some artistic credentials, in that I’ve taken about three years of training. This was done to keep from going insane while writing six books a year, because while doing art the words SHUT UP.

Where am I? I’d say better than many people selling their drawings, but definitely not professional. Given time – a lot of time – I can produce something that both my teachers and a leading artist in the field said was about 2 years from ‘cover level’ level. The problem is not just those two years – though once the kids are out I intend to resume training – but the time. For instance what I did for the cover of ConVent, back when I THOUGHT you had to do all your own art (long story) took me about two hours. If I’d taken a month, instead, it would have been pretty good art. (Still sucky for a cover, particularly in the digital age, though.)

I’d like to return to drawing, but if I do it will be to do things like draw something for my husband for his birthday or draw some of my friends as pixies. (You know who you are.) And each of the drawings will take six months or so, in the background of what is going on with writing/life.

But that’s neither here nor there. Suffice to say I had training in art. It’s time for the execution I’m lacking and the time to finish learning to “pro level.” I can do that or I can write. I choose to write.

In most cases that’s immaterial. There is always Dreamstime. The covers for my Shakespeare series cost me a grand total of $50 for all of them, and only because I bought big for eventual print.

The one thorn on my side art wise has been the Musketeer books. There simply are no non-photograph musketeers, and most of the photographs are unsuitable, as there is something in the male brain that turns the possessor into a raving idiot the minute he has a sword in his hands.

The expressions on most of the people posing are variations of “Sword, how cool is that?”

Also, historic mysteries NEVER have photographs on the cover.

Most of the historical mysteries have either full paintings or something “iconic” on the cover, like a piece of architecture from the time period. The problem is that the iconic ones take A LOT of push.

I first tried a contrivance of having the landscape in woodcut, with a figure from one of the many out-of-copyright-because-old musketeer paintings. This didn’t work because it signaled “literary.”

BUT for a while I thought it was the best I could do, so I ran with it.

I did a post on covers at MGC in which I put up that cover.

In the next six hours I got emails from TWENTY experts, offering to do my covers for free. Lettering, etc. Also, I got people coming to the site to tell me that the whole painting would look better. Yes, of course it would. It also signaled “reissue of classic” which you don’t want unless the book is… reissue of classic. (My plan for art involves learning DAZ 3-d which is pretty sucky and stiff without post-render work, and then do post-render work, for which my art training is MORE than sufficient.)

The lettering samples they sent me had… the same issue. Look, a lot of them looked very pretty, very balanced, very professional. No argument on that.

The problem was looking at them I got the feeling of “literary and little” tables at cons.

There were also the “it came from the sixties” look of some of them.

I tried to talk about it to a couple of the more reasonable sounding designers, and got the “there’s one right way to do it.”

Which made me run screaming into the night, to learn myself.

I took the Kris and Dean workshop (which is actually taught by a professional cover designer, one who works in many genres.) And I’ve been trying to implement it ever since, hampered by the fact that I learn by doing. Which means my covers are changing every month or so so drastically that the old ones make me cringe.

However, books do sell better with these covers, and not just my books.

Part of what I do is look at the top 100 paper bestsellers, to see what the houses are doing. I don’t have to like them. For instance, the ones for Urban Fantasy and paranormal romance hit me as tawdry and trashy. But that’s what I want to look like to sell those books.

As for the cover of Witchfinder, well, when I asked the vendors at the con about it, they were iffy until I showed them the book, and then they said, “We’ll send you an email about stocking them.” So I know the cover is okay.

Is it brilliant?

What you have to remember is that you don’t have to be brilliant. You have to be as good as an untrained assistant editor in NYC.

What? Oh, sure, that’s who ends up designing most covers – beginner and midlist. The designers do the high falluting covers for the people they intend to push. You and I get English major who knows some photoshop and gets some guidance “That sucks, try again.” And “use minion pro for fantasy.”

This is for cover design, not art, of course. For art…I’m seeing more and more pro covers which come from dreamstime. From the big houses. Okay, mostly romance, but…

But here’s the thing – almost everyone – Dorothy Grant aside, because the designer is excellent and beyond the risk of most of us – NOT doing literary who pays for covers ends up paying $500 or more for “literary and little.”

Also, as you develop an eye for the art that works for covers, you find you need less and less complex art, because thumbnail. Take your favorite painting and view it from across a conference room. It tells you how it works. Our own Mary Catelli in comments has a lovely drawing of a woman as an icon, but for months I thought it was a blown dandelion. Because, small.

Dorothy tells me the K boards are full of designers coming rapidly up to speed and in a year this might have changed, but right now most designers out there are either retired and stuck on the “good design” of their time, which will make your book seem like a reissue. OR they are people my age who’ve been making a living in small press which has its own style.

So… roll your own. Run it by friends to make sure it’s not atrocious. Take comfort in the knowledge that most of what is out there is OBJECTIVELY atrocious. All you’re trying to do is signal “I’m main stream big publisher published” and your genre. You’re not trying to signal “I’m DaVinci.” None of the people working for big houses are that. And you probably have as much training as they have.

Go look at some covers. See what they do with typography. Read Cedar and Dorothy and people who blog on covers. If you can take the Kris and Dean class. It will help.

But most of all, let it go.

Unless your covers are at the extreme of inappropriate (the most common for this being pictures of a landscape as covers for mystery, which requires a drawn cover) or Science Fiction (drawn and with something having to do with science fiction) it’s not going to STOP you selling. It might make your climb slower. But I know at least one indie bestseller with really bad, no good, scary ugly covers. (But they do signal genre and subgenre well.)

And at some time – as with books – you’ve messed with them enough.

Now excuse me. I have to do the litter boxes and go do a third pass on the novella.

 

UPDATE: I am aware that this post has grammatical subject/verb issues and a couple of huge typos.  Deal.  I don’t have the TIME to fix it, and I’m on Benadryl, which means likely I’d “fix” it wrong.

 

 

 

261 thoughts on “The Failings of Experts

  1. Dating books by cover design is a fun game. And it’s sad when people have such a narrow selection of books on their shelves that they only see one style out there.

    Mind you, there are certain design *principles* which should always hold—limiting the number of fonts, for example. And actually shooting for legibility. But 1980s fantasy is not 1990s fantasy is not the fantasy covers of the last decade and a half, and the stuff that’s come out in the last few years is different from that as well.

    Anyway. I’ve had to do a lot of graphic design in self-defense (for my job, the defense being that of my sanity.) So much of it is looking around and seeing what’s going on now and not what’s been done for the last ten years, because resting on the designs of even last year is a way to fail. (I work for a photography studio that works with schools, and the amount of change in the last ten years is truly staggering. The studio—with a sixty-year history—almost went down at one point in consequence.) Adapt or die. And never stop learning.

    1. Oh, yes. Some of my older covers are now bad because parameters have changed in the last year.
      And yeah, I learned font and legibility the hard way.
      Legibility is the BIG one. I swear most of the fancy fonts SUCK in legibility.

      1. I think this strikes to the core of Fail Burton’s original point: stay away from “neat typography”. Bevels, gradients and shadows in an inexperienced designer’s hand quickly become illegible. Avoiding these effects until you have a stronger grasp of the fundamentals is at least advisable. There is no genre convention that excuses being unable to read the title.

        1. I took broadcast studies courses right about the time that digital was becoming mainstream—and yet, the equipment we had to work on was older than most if not all of us. Our professor—a wise and sarcastic man—was actually in favor of this, because “if you learn with the latest and greatest, you will ignore the fundamentals and get distracted by the flashy stuff.” And because of this, I know it’s possible to build something amazing using no more than cuts and fades, and if you can’t do that, you need to work on your technique.

          I’ve also had people say, I just got my kid thus-and-so amazing camera, what photo editing program should I get? The answer? Nothing, if possible. Maybe something to crop and color-correct. But if you can’t learn to take pictures before you start futzing around with Photoshop, you’ll always be distracted. (I wish I had thus-and-so amazing camera. My point-and-click 2005 model is something I’ve pushed as far as I can go, especially as some folk have asked me to take their actor headshots and I’ve had to decline. You don’t need the latest and greatest model, but initial image quality counts for *something*.)

          1. “Knowing what I know now, any photographer worth his salt could make some beautiful things with pinhole cameras.” Ansel Adams

          2. If you learn to shoot without edits, you are much better off. Especially if you learn to spot the truly amazing stuff as it comes. Good shooting is hard work and some planning.

            1. The interesting thing is that while the studio will use me for photography (principally yearbook shots and dance photography), I’m actually a back-of-house person. But this means that thousands upon thousands of images have passed through my hands, and I’ve gotten some interesting skills thereby. I learned how to pose couples at dances through seeing which poses were successful and which ones were awful more often than not. I have the interesting skill of being able to look at two near-identical images and tell almost instantly which one is better.

              And most of all, I have the deep-seated longing to shake some photographers by the throat and say, “You’re making my job much harder than it needs to be!” Though I *can* fix the team photo that was taken three stops under the proper exposure and far too small (true story), it’s much better when we don’t have to spend that time…

        2. Except you have to realize that the rankest amateur newbie indie is competing for eyeballs with New Yawk and Connecticut pros, who’ll EAT YOUR LUNCH and leave you crying in the boy’s room with your shorts around your ankles. And they WILL use all the tricks in the paintbox, including hot software you can’t afford, so you’d better learn how do to what they do and damned quick, or you’re not selling squat in THIS store, bunky.

          M

      2. It’s amazing how busy an apparently stretch of neutral space can become when you plop a title on it.

          1. Cut and paste is also your friend, if there’s a stretch of neutral space that can be slithered over all that business. Sometimes doesn’t work, of course.

            Selectively adjusting “exposure” and color saturation can also help.

            1. Add noise. Not just using the filter. Texture, color variations. All needing to be tested at-size for legibility of course. But flat and lifeless won’t sell squat.

              1. *points upthread* that, there, is a wise man. Listen to him. He’s forgotten more about design on small spaces than I’m likely to ever learn.

                1. It helps to be reminded of the basics, on occasion. I loved your series on composition recently. I’d forgotten (since high school) about the hourglass comp. I use it all the time, but think of it as a circle with a cross.

          2. Oh — and another — enlarge can be your friend! Yes, it will reduce the amount of the image you get, but it can also increase neutral space size.

    2. I’ve farmed out the covers to my print books to my brother, the professional graphics artist – he does his magic with my photographs, and I think he has come up with some very nifty visualizations. (BTW, B. Durbin provided the photo that was used for my first novel – thanks, B – always grateful!)

      I would love to be able buy something from a local artist, though – the next book is about Gold Rush adventures, and I have seen some scenic paintings at local art shows that would work beautifully. And I am thinking about our Gracious Hostess’ use of historic paintings, the rights to which can be gotten fairly inexpensively…

      1. And the typefaces he uses are simple, legible… and a bit old-fashioned, which is PERFECT for historical fiction.

    3. Dating books by cover design is a fun game.

      The “Thorin Oakenshield” page on Facebook (official push for the Hobbit) has done a couple of really fun posts with a picture of five or ten different copies of the Hobbit with different designs, and a call for folks to share what theirs looks like.

  2. I pay attention to two sorts of “expert” statements:
    I work in that discipline and these are the industry standards…
    Always followed by references to those standards either in published manuals or official websites.
    And, I have worked professionally in that field for x years and here is how I did it.
    Anything else is simply opinion and worth about as much value as I put on the person making the remarks.

    1. I also appreciate “I tried [this] under similar conditions and a disaster ensued. I don’t recommend [this], but you might get different results.”

      1. As we used to say in my line of work: “failure is not an option, it’s our purpose.” When you test something to destruction it’s supposed to fail. That’s where all the important data lies, at the point of failure.

        1. Very true. I’d rather work with (or for, or hire) a guy who has made the mistakes already, and knows them when he sees them. I tend to learn a lot more from my failures. I get something right, my first reaction is usually “What the heck? How did that happen?” *grin*

          1. When checking computer programs I wrote, I worried if it was a clean compile the first time. [Grin]

            Of course, I also wondered if I used a large enough test file when the test worked perfectly. [Grin]

        2. I really like that observation; thanks for passing it along. A while back, when I mentioned the Oneida Community, a fellow commenter dismissed them on the grounds that they’d failed after their founder died. Even if that had been true (it’s not; Noyes lived for years after the group marriage transformed into a corporation), my sense is that it’s the period of transition that has the most to teach us. As one who’s fascinated by the challenge of seeing how far Heinlein’s vision can be implemented, I want to know about the things that worked for them, but I _really_ want to know about the things that didn’t.

          1. A fellow commenter dismissed them AS AN EXAMPLE OF GROUP MARRIAGE because they had failed as such a group marriage.

    2. I find myself rather embarrassed at people considering me a pro at covers. I’m good at research, at correlation, at learning principles and applying terms, and finding ways to talk to subject matter experts in order to communicate clearly what I want, and to solve problems that are often caused by miscommunication of standards, expectations, or abilities (or the limits of the programmer’s experience with the production floor.). That’s what I get paid to do by the Day Job, and that’s what I apply to design and marketing for Calmer Half’s books.

      For covers, I’m only five covers in, and one of those (the nonfiction) I need to get Oleg to redo, now that I have a better understanding of that genre. It’ll probably be a loss in time and money, but I’ll do it because it bugs me to have it signalling politically touchy topic instead of non-fiction odd work experience. (Not that it’s not both categories, but the market for politically touchy books with no push that say things feel-good types don’t want to hear is small. Odd work experience is much larger for less push.)

      The advice I gave is not The One True Way, it’s what I understand is the basis for current design principles on the ebook fiction market. But other than 25,000 sales in a year, I don’t have credentials to hold up and proclaim, and I chalk that up to all the aspects of marketing combined with good stories… and that’s why covers only got a couple of posts, stuck in with mailing lists, social media, keywords, and such.

      1. Be more confident. Swagger a little. There is no one-true way to anything. When I set out to learn how to strip film for photo-offset platemaking, I asked the guy who drew the short straw and got stuck teaching me, “How do you do this?” And he looked uncomfortable for a minute and said, “However it works for you.” I think any field of endeavor, but most especially creative ones, has to be founded on that principle.It’s about the results. You have to get the right answer, but you don’t have to show your work. You’ve done good so far, quite with the modest thing.

        M

  3. I think your characterization of Fail Burton’s argument is inaccurate and unfair. When I read the exchange it seemed his initial point was that a first time cover designer should avoid making “neat typography” and keep it simple. Put more effort into the graphics and layout.
    This is very good advice.
    Typography is hard to do well; it requires subtly, strong fundamentals of craft and an eye for detail and seeing “what’s wrong with it” that can only come with experience. Bad typography looks really bad, and can drag down an otherwise good cover. Leaving the fancy out of it is a good way to “do no harm” – provided you choose a legible, appropriate font.
    Concentrating on imagery and layout is going to get more bang for the inexperienced designer’s buck. Once you have a better grasp of those fundamentals, you can start messing with bevels, shadows etc.
    I don’t think the behavior of anyone on that thread has been particularly helpful. I will say that one side has been especially and unwarrantably nasty, however.

      1. Fail, it wasn’t your advice that was necessarily bad (at least on typeface selection, the fontsplosion is a typical newbie fail) it’s that you’re such a complete ass in the way you present things. (Of course the rest of your “advice” sucked wet armadillo fur, we won’t get into the things I suspect you’re smoking.)

          1. No, I’ll be honest, he’s not, but that means nothing. There are spoofing devices, and for him to come to that conclusion, he’s either fail or he’s insane.
            Also, he’s commented under FOUR different names before at MGC. you take your conclusions.

            1. Sarah, check the email address. You’ve seen my cover art.
              I’m not Fail. I don’t know Fail. I’m in no way associated with Fail.

                1. You know I’ve heard that question asked before, but personally suspect that such sensation would not be nearly as pleasurable as most seem to assume.

                1. Most likely.

                  FWIW, I do happen to think that Fail may have had some decent advice in some of his posts, but it got lost amidst the rudeness and attitude.

                  1. Well “make your title legible” is good advice. I’m at a loss for any other.
                    Look, he doesn’t SEEM to get the fundamental “it’s a sales tool, and it needs to cue the genre and subgenre so it’s targeted.”

                    1. Like I said, there may be some. Not that there was.

                      I remember reading some stuff thinking that might be worth considering, but it got lost in and amongst his insulting attitude toward people who simply disagreed with him like Dorothy Grant.

                    2. I think he never heard anyone saying that because he never argued against that point.
                      I get the impression he spent most of the time being defensive and trying to avoid being forced to defend what he didn’t say.
                      He was sarcastic and impolite, but he didn’t start out that way. Others were rude to him first – and I think he was subjected to greater nastiness than he ever gave.
                      From my perspective, there was one side arguing that fancy text is not for beginners and the other side was arguing that genre convention matters. They aren’t really in conflict – but the tone escalated hostility to irrationality.

                    3. Look, he doesn’t SEEM to get the fundamental “it’s a sales tool, and it needs to cue the genre and subgenre so it’s targeted.”

                      I think he never heard anyone saying that because he never argued against that point.

                      The point is that he was giving advice that ignored that fundamental concept, or else he didn’t understand how cuing works. And then, there’s this in his list of rules, which seems to argue against it (emphasis mine):

                      Rule no. 5: ignore these workshops they’re talking about. Contrary to what they think, I have read them. Their advice is brutal. It has nothing to do with design concepts, which is no surprise considering they’re writers. They’re coming at this from a marketing angle. Why? Cuz they’re not visual artists. They don’t know what they don’t know. If they did they’d retreat to no harm no foul, or hire a pro. The in-between is a disaster waiting to happen. Color theory and composition is its own world. Just accept you’re not in it. This link is just a tiny introduction to a massively subtle world:

                    4. NoWayerMan,

                      The issue wasn’t that Fail argued one should avoid typographic tricks, but that a newbie should not even attempt them because they couldn’t. Well, some of us took issue with that, because even the greatest cover designer of all time was a newbie at one point and had to learn.

                      His suggestions resulted in a poor design that would ultimately hurt the sales of the book in question. Everything about it screamed self published. There’s still a stigma to that in a lot of minds, and it won’t get quashed until/unless those people pick up indie books and find out that they’re not what they think.

                      So, he got called on it. Well, that happens. People get called on stuff all the time. There’s a reason for that. What he was suggesting? That is not standard for any genre or subgenre at this point in time. Maybe in another ten years, but doubtful. But his suggestions were about far more than typography. It was about overall design, and he got called on that advice.

                      Then, rather than engage in a discussion, he copped attitude. Not only that, but while some may have called him names, he began to lash out at everyone who disagreed with him. For example, see his the rudeness of his comments to Dorothy Grant, who never called him anything negative. She merely disagreed with him.

                      If you don’t agree, so be it. I can’t see how someone who read all of that could possibly think Fail wasn’t out of line is beyond me, however.

                    5. I stayed out of the argument, but I also read Fail Burton as behaving like the north end of a southbound mule. His first post is bad advice. I’ve read through a good chunk of the tutorials for starscapes, nebulae, and various other such things, and they still look bad without practice. The basic shape ship is not something a rank amateur can save from looking anything other than cobbled together.

                      Ms. Sanderson pointed out these issues, and provided broad rules that both make sense and have been echoed by the few professional bits of advice I have encountered. Fail’s advice does not correspond either logical or artistically with other observational data (the stories that are selling and the evidence presented by those who do the work to sell thier stories and their accounts of what works and doesn’t.) Mr. Richardson, Ms. Paulk, and Ms. Grant all echoed the sentiment, the language was stronger, but only Mr. Richardson came close to rude by making a play on Fail Burton’s user name. This could have been either a clever jab or an attempt to defuse temper with humor, or a mix of both. (we later learn that Mr. Richardson has professional experience in this field, as well as pervious, and apparently very negative experience with this individual. His reaction reads as a restrained version of mine to young earth creationists. I am a geologist, so you can imagine what that set does to my blood pressure. I see similar signs in Mr. Richardson. I maybe misinterpreting, but it matches the data.)

                      Things get more muddled after that and the cycle of responses get harder to track from a phone so I will go to Fail Burton’s next then more broadly summarized.

                      Fail Burton apparently missed the point that the others were making: just any cover will NOT do, and if you’re doing your own you need to fake it into the right ball park. He gave way to his temper immediately, though no one had been more than firm and blunt with him. He began the swearing. Then he dismissed the lot of them, derided their advice with great hyperbole and no thought to what was presented nor why.

                      At this point the gloves started coming off as he dug himself an ever deepening hole, and sulked, and never answered a direct question. Though the others readily put forth their qualifications he refused to do so with great petulance. The cover he posted was a very poor example of his point. He also played the ‘intersectionalist’ card, which, with QUILTBAG, is the most derogatory term in his vocabulary. (that last you would have had to have read his rants to fully appreciate how severe an insult he intended to render.). The others became more blunt and quite a few tempers were thoroughly lost. Fail Burton ‘s was long gone at this point.

                    6. “The issue wasn’t that Fail argued one should avoid typographic tricks, but that a newbie should not even attempt them because they couldn’t.”

                      I think that’s actually good advice for a newbie. Concentrating on images and layout, and keeping the text very simple, is the best course of action. Work with typography later. Not to pick on Sarah, but her earlier work would have been better if she’d not used the text effects.

                      His sample cover was amateur, granted. But no amount of advice is going to make the creator of that cover produce a professional cover. That only comes with experience. The typography was not the only problem with his sample, and adding gradients, bevels or shadows would not have helped and very likely would have hurt. Focusing on the imagery and layout would have a greater effect on the quality of the cover – and the sales – than doing anything to the type. Genre conventions tend to have greater effect within the imagery and layout anyway.

                      We’re not talking about ALL cover designs here – and I think that’s where the fundamental disconnect happened. He was addressing a specific case. The group applied that advice to all covers.

                      Getting to the point that you don’t look self-published takes a lot of tries. Cedar and Sarah – who’ve been doing their own covers for a while – have only recently gotten close to not looking self-published. You have to walk before you can run, and you’d better be able to walk before you try running while juggling. Typographic effects is juggling.

                      Think of it this way; when you use a third party image, the image itself is of a certain quality. It has color balance, proportions, design, etc. all built into it. You’d never suggest a newbie to graphic design make their own graphics from scratch. Concentrate on laying out your title on a premade image.

                      The typography in your cover is an image/composition unto itself. If you could buy third-party typography THAT would be the way to get your effects etc. But you can’t because the text has to be custom to your book. If you’re designing your own cover you have to make your own text – so when you’re beginning you should concentrate on keeping it simple first. Don’t get into advanced techniques until you have the basics of typography down.

                      It’s the same with writing. Newbies shouldn’t try weird plot devices and bending the rules of convention and style. They should concentrate on strong narrative structure and finding their voice. That doesn’t mean books should never bend the rules of convention, or that newbies can never learn to do it. You just need a certain level of craft before it’s advisable to go there.

                      (capitalization is for emphasis, not yelling – I don’t actually know how to do formatting in this comment system; tags?)

                    7. Oh, Holy H*ll man, no that’s not good advice. Keeping it simple means “keeping it looking amateurish.”
                      And the same goes for writing.
                      Do not presume to give such advice on writing. Not to us. You write the story you have to write. If the plot devices are weird, let them be. They are what they are.

                    8. Had Fail’s advice been for new writers to be extremely careful with effects, I wouldn’t have had any issues with it. Effects aren’t a catch all by any means, and they can take a solid font and screw it up until you can’t read a damn thing.

                      Of course, while the typography advice might have been poorly stated, the rest of his advice results in a crappy cover. Ever. Single. Time.

                      Someone took his rendered image and made a much more professional looking cover. Simple font, with no effects (because it wouldn’t work in that circumstance), and none of that idiotic black border that screams self published.

                      While I’ll agree, not everyone can look like they’re put out by the Big 5, there’s no reason to play it so safe everyone can tell you did it all yourself. Experiment, push your boundaries, but understand the concept that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Fail’s argument, time and again, was simply that “You can’t right now, so don’t even try it.”

                      It’s funny. I had someone tell me that about writing once too. I didn’t listen to them either.

                    9. You don’t think it’s good to prioritize while you learn?
                      You’re not going to make a professional product the first time out, it seems better to focus your efforts on the basics and develop your craft. Do you disagree?

                    10. Prioritizing learning is fine, but that cover? That wasn’t playing it safe. That was going out to commit suicide and hoping no one would notice someone standing on the side of the bridge.

                      Fail’s suggestions were to play it so safe, to not screw up. I think he said something about causing the least amount of harm. However, his suggestions (and they do need to be looked at as a whole) would result in a great deal of harm. More or less than going with too many effects on text? That’s debatable, and would depend on a case by case basis.

                      So yeah, he got called on it. He got called on it because it would have guaranteed a crappy cover. Period. Do yourself a favor and realize you’re not going to sway a damn soul on any of this.

                    11. Keeping text simple will not keep your cover amateurish. Quite the opposite; believing you need fancy text effects to look professional is a common misconception. Even when you do use effects, you tend to want to keep it simple.

                      I took a look at the Amazon bestsellers last night just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. In every genre except Urban there are examples of great, professional looking covers that use simple, plain text with no effects. In only one genre were there examples of garish bevels and drop shadows at all: Western. It was also the only genre that included a preponderance of amateur covers. Even there, having simple, plain, no-effect text does not keep you out of the top 40.

                      In every other genre, there were no examples of covers with garish text effects. Almost every amateur-looking cover that made it to the top 40 avoided text effects entirely, many were white on black. On the whole, the strong majority of best seller covers use simple text, even when effects are present. In every case, including Western and Urban, the cover displayed a basic understanding of composition and color.

                      In short, using simple text will likely make your cover better, not worse; will make it look more professional, not more amateur; and will likely help sales, not hurt.

                      Telling beginning designers to avoid “fancy” text effects is excellent advice.

                    12. NoWayerMan,

                      You are either missing the point or choosing to ignore it. I don’t know which and after your long comments defending Fail without addressing the substance others have mentioned, I don’t particularly care, either.

                      To begin with your little self-reported survey is worthless because you don’t give nearly enough actual data to go with the results you’re handing out. You also fail to account for little things like the author’s name. A new Terry Pratchett or Stephen King could have nothing more than the author name and title as a cover and still be a bestseller. Joe Unknown’s cover has to work a lot harder – but if he’s a horror writer and his cover looks kind of like a Stephen King cover, then his book is sending out the right subliminal message.

                      It slices and dices very finely indeed. Most new fantasy and SF I’ve seen in hard copy uses some degree of embossing on the titles. That’s obviously not going to happen on an ebook cover, but making one look like it’s embossed means it won’t stand out the wrong way.

                      If it’s Baen, it’s going to look different than anything from any other house.

                      Using this to claim that Fail’s comments were 100% right (and bear in mind that I was one of those who did not insult him, even after he insulted me) lies somewhere on the misguided – butthead spectrum.

                      I’ll leave you to decide precisely where.

                    13. I never said Fail was 100% correct, there’s no need for hyperbole. Don’t call me a butthead. I’ve come nowhere near insulting anyone on this thread and that remark was completely uncalled for.
                      My last comment had nothing to do with Fail’s points, I was making my own point. I’m not in any way “crushing” on Fail, and I am, in fact, responding specifically to the substance of Sarah’s comment.
                      Sarah said that “keep text simple” means “keep it amateurish”. The Best Seller lists on Amazon – your agreed-to criteria for what makes a good cover – does not back you up. I thought I was pretty clear and detailed in my description.
                      You don’t have to take my word for it, you can check the Amazon lists yourself. Professional covers don’t need fancy text, amateur covers don’t need fancy text to make the best seller list. The majority of amateur-looking covers on the best seller lists have plain, simple text. The majority of professional covers have simple text.

                      Sarah, you know very well that I’m not Fail. I’ve verified myself with information that you have re: my email address. There’s no need for you to impugn my honesty.

                    14. “To begin with your little self-reported survey is worthless because you don’t give nearly enough actual data to go with the results you’re handing out. You also fail to account for little things like the author’s name.”

                      I’ll amend my statement to provide the detail you request.
                      In every genre, other than Urban and perhaps Western, one can find examples of professional-looking covers within the Best Sellers on Amazon, that are not from famous authors, that use simple text with no effects.
                      Fancy text is not required to look professional in any genre, and in no genre – other than urban – will your cover stand out as inappropriate solely because it doesn’t use text effects.

                      Is that detailed enough?

                      Coincidentally, the Urban genre seems to have the fewest examples (one when I looked) of amateur-looking covers within the top 40. Sci-Fi seems to be the next harshest on amateur covers, although this masterpiece:

                      actually made it to the top 40.

                      Simple text, appropriate font, no effects.
                      It’s not going to prevent you from becoming a best seller. It’s not going to prevent you from looking professional.
                      That’s the entirety of my point here.

                      If you disagree, it should be fairly easy to prove me wrong. Which genre, other than urban, is it impossible to find a professional looking cover that doesn’t use fancy text effects?

                    15. NoWayerMan — Get over yourself. I’ve been away from the blog for the day so I hadn’t seen that you have continued to post without really taking into account what folks are saying here. Before you dig yourself any deeper of a hole, shut up. Grow up. Then go back and actually read what folks have said.

                      At no point did anyone say that authors had to use fancy fonts. What they took exception to was Fail — and you — saying that they should never be used by newbies. The fact that you found examples of non-traditionally published authors using non-fancy text doesn’t prove your point. And your knocking of Chris Nuttal’s cover only shows that 1) you didn’t do all your homework or you would know that Chis is habitually in the top 100 of several sub-genres and genres of SF. So his cover can’t be all that bad and 2) shows, again, that you don’t get the difference between cuing for genre.

                      Now, I suggest that you have more than had your say. Unless you have any new content to add to the discussion, I’d recommend moving on. Those of us who have been around the blog long enough could tell from Sarah’s last comment to you that she’s about had enough. Do you really want to push her into banning you?

                    16. I wrote:

                      “Concentrating on images and layout, and keeping the text very simple, is the best course of action.”

                      Sarah responded:

                      “Oh, Holy H*ll man, no that’s not good advice. Keeping it simple means “keeping it looking amateurish.””

                      That’s specifically what I’m responding to. It seems like she’s saying that keeping text simple means it’s going to be amateurish. I disagree with that idea. The last few comments have nothing to do with Fail, and I don’t understand why I’m being responded to in this manner. I’ve been respectful throughout this discussion, and unless disagreement by itself warrants banning, I’ve done nothing to deserve the response.

                      There’s really no need for personal attack. I will point out that you have now started calling me names. I’ve done nothing of the kind.

                      I really don’t understand the hostility, other than I’ve taken a differing position – so I have to leave because what? Because shut up?

                      I guess I’m just the wrong kind of odd to be welcome here.

                    17. Ahh, and now we have the “sniffle you’re being mean to me, I guess you’re not my friends” troll.

                      You are getting hammered because you came on this blog, ostensibly for the first time and proceeded to lecture us on how mean we were to poor Epic Fail.

                      We find you arrogant, sir, and we respond not well to it.

                    18. No one has called you names. Fail, come off it already. We don’t believe you’re posting form Cairo Egypt, and we don’t believe you’re two people, and you’re being SERIOUSLY as in borderline insane scary. STOP IT.
                      As for being one of the designers who contacted me — prove it. Contact me again.
                      Also, FYI I told NONE of them I liked their work. BAH.

                    19. It’s not “leave” necessarily. It’s “drop the hammer, the horse is already gone to the glue factory.”

                      There are any number of folks around here quite fond of tenderizing equine well past it’s sell by date. I’m one of ’em. But, dude. Let it go.

                    20. Oh my, NoWayerMan, you really do need to go back and read what I wrote. I don’t recall calling you any names except for this alias you are using here. Sure, I told you to grow up and get over yourself. Sorry if you can’t handle someone telling you that you’ve been beating a horse and we’re tired of it.

                      As for who and what you were referring to, perhaps if you’d actually quoted and named who you were responding to, it would have been easier to follow. With regard to being the wrong kind of odd, that’s your call. But, again, you have failed to add anything to the conversation. You keep repeating the same things over and over again and, much like Fail, you have yet to show that you have more than a passing knowledge of layout and, as someone who has worked in advertising, I know that what works as layout in one medium doesn’t necessarily work as layout in another.

                      Now, unless you have anything new to say, run along. You’ve managed to insult folks who are regular commenters on the blog as well as who are friends of Sarah. Are you trying to prove the suspicions that you really are Fail?

                    21. NoWayerMan,

                      I’ve looked at a lot of those covers as well. Many of them have subtle effects, but effects none the less. The difference is the designers didn’t get impressed that their software had every tool including the kitchen sink. Subtlety with effects leaves them legible while still making them distinct. Big difference. And an important one.

                      As for your email address proving that you’re not Fail? Dude, email addresses are easy to come by. I’ve got at least half a dozen myself, and that’s just for various legitimate reasons. I’ve never been banned from any site or blog where I’d feel the need to try again. So, your email address means diddly to anyone here.

                    22. “And your knocking of Chris Nuttal’s cover only shows that 1) you didn’t do all your homework or you would know that Chis is habitually in the top 100 of several sub-genres and genres of SF. So his cover can’t be all that bad and 2) shows, again, that you don’t get the difference between cuing for genre.”
                      I wasn’t knocking his cover, I was saying that that cover properly cued for the sci-fi genre, made it into the top 40 best sellers, and didn’t require any special text effects. I thought it was particularly interesting because someone else mentioned that white text on on black field around an image would lead to failure “Every. Single. Time.” You have to admit that his covers bear a striking resemblance to the mock-up that Fail Burton did. Fail’s image is of far weaker quality and probably not genre specific, and Nuttal’s cover has a better choice of font; but the design is similar and something an amateur can definitely do. That’s why I say that telling amateurs to keep the text simple and focus on composition and color is good advice. The fancy effects aren’t necessary, and there’s a chance they might hurt.
                      I thought my inclusion of samples from the top 40s was directly relevant and new information. I thought the exception of Urban as one genre that appears to have a text-effect requirement was interesting.
                      I was called a butthead, and told to grow up. In my world that’s name calling. It’s not that I can’t take it, I just don’t think the ad-hominem is warranted.
                      If you don’t want to discuss it anymore, that’s fine, I really was just trying to contribute to everyone’s understanding of genre and cover requirements.

                      Sarah, you’ll get an email from me with a link to one of the samples I sent you and the quoted text from your email telling me you’d keep my work in mind in the future.

                      I am not a liar.

                      Have a good evening. Sorry to have tried.

                    23. “I know that what works as layout in one medium doesn’t necessarily work as layout in another.”

                      I completely agree, book covers are not magazine ads are not one sheets are not television frames. 2d film is not the same 3d film, etc.

                      I do, however, think there are some fundamental ideas that are common to all mediums. Things like the rule of thirds. There are common techniques and fundamental concepts that can be applied to most any format.

                      I find it frustrating that ebook covers are so inconsistent across readers. Covers that look great on a Kindle Fire, for example, can look terrible on a Kindle Reader or Nook (e-Ink). Of course, at that point the book has likely been purchased so the cover’s work is essentially done, but I’d still like it to look nice. I haven’t come up with a solution to this, other than test on as many devices as possible and avoid certain effects (gradients are particularly troublesome).

                      “Subtlety with effects leaves them legible while still making them distinct. Big difference. And an important one.”

                      I wholeheartedly agree. Which is part of why telling new designers to keep their text “simple” is so important. Even when you get to the effects, subtlety really matters and “less is more” is a good guide. The mistake inexperienced designers often exhibit is a heavy hand – usually because they haven’t developed the eye to see what’s wrong.
                      Bad text effects screams amateur much louder than no effect at all, imo.

                      “As for your email address proving that you’re not Fail? Dude, email addresses are easy to come by.”
                      In this case the email address is privately owned and not publicly available. It has relevance because I’ve corresponded with Sarah using the domain before. I’ve replied to the last message she sent me using that corporate identifier. It’s the best I can do to prove I’m not Fail, not insane, and not a liar.

                      Again, I’m sorry if no one is interested in what I have to say and I’m just making people mad. I’m responding to the most recent comments (which I saw after my last comment) because I thought there was something relevant to add. I’m still interested in having the conversation about cover art. I have a very different background than most of the people on this board, but I’ve also spent some time studying book covers. I learned last night that Urban covers seem to require text effects to be effective; I didn’t know that before. I learned that because I was trying to verify that what I was saying could be backed up by Amazon results, a direct result of this conversation.

                      If this comment is out of bounds, I apologize in advance.

                    24. First things first.

                      “As for your email address proving that you’re not Fail? Dude, email addresses are easy to come by.”
                      In this case the email address is privately owned and not publicly available. It has relevance because I’ve corresponded with Sarah using the domain before. I’ve replied to the last message she sent me using that corporate identifier. It’s the best I can do to prove I’m not Fail, not insane, and not a liar.

                      It won’t. I’m sorry, but it won’t. Even if you’re not Fail, your email address not being the same as his won’t matter a hill of beans. After all, if his is yahoo or gmail or whatever, it won’t accomplish a blasted thing.

                      Again, I’m sorry if no one is interested in what I have to say and I’m just making people mad. I’m responding to the most recent comments (which I saw after my last comment) because I thought there was something relevant to add. I’m still interested in having the conversation about cover art. I have a very different background than most of the people on this board, but I’ve also spent some time studying book covers. I learned last night that Urban covers seem to require text effects to be effective; I didn’t know that before. I learned that because I was trying to verify that what I was saying could be backed up by Amazon results, a direct result of this conversation.

                      If this comment is out of bounds, I apologize in advance.

                      He’s a tip. If your first comments on a blog, message board, or whatever are a defense of someone who seems to be near universally despised by the populace there, don’t be surprised if they take issue with it. Doubling down by repeating it, and claiming that he was some kind of victim yet again isn’t going to help. Then, you parrot his opinions. And you wonder why many of us are convinced you’re Fail? For the record, I’m one of them. However, I’m showing you the benefit of the doubt with this comment because, frankly, I don’t give a damn in the grand scheme of things. If you’re Fail, and you think you learned your lesson and are trying to move forward, so be it. If you’re not, then so be that as well.

                      Now, onto covers and stuff (which I’d much rather talk about).

                      I wholeheartedly agree. Which is part of why telling new designers to keep their text “simple” is so important. Even when you get to the effects, subtlety really matters and “less is more” is a good guide. The mistake inexperienced designers often exhibit is a heavy hand – usually because they haven’t developed the eye to see what’s wrong.
                      Bad text effects screams amateur much louder than no effect at all, imo.

                      While we’re in agreement on subtlety being necessary, where you’re wrong is that unadorned is superior to overdone in so far as conveying amateur cover design.

                      The average reader – who we are trying to market our books toward – have seen that plain, crappy looking text enough on self published books that they recognize it on a subconscious level. They may never be able to articulate it, but they associate that visual with amateur. They associate it with poor editing, poor layout, poor everything.

                      While, on the other hand, an overdone text doesn’t necessarily do that. Oh, the reader may not like the typography by any means, but it’s not necessarily enough on its own to keep them away. Granted, overwrought typography also often accompanies other problems, such as the cover not cuing to the genre, etc.

                      Now, we agree that less is more in many ways. However, your arguments come across as (and Fail’s actually were blatantly saying) “It’s best to not even try, because you might get it wrong.”

                      I’m an indie author. A grand total of two titles to my name, but I’m damn proud of them both, flaws and all. Once upon a time, someone told me that if I wrote a book, I shouldn’t publish it myself. Why? Because there were a lot of things that went into a book, and I couldn’t possibly master them all, so I’d be better off letting someone else do that.

                      The spirit that beats within many an indie author – and in the hearts of readers who support indie authors – is the kind of spirit that doesn’t take well to being told they should avoid doing something unless there’s a damn good reason for it. Should I avoid jumping off the side of the Grand Canyon? Absolutely, because it’s a long way down. Should I avoid using bevels, borders, drop shadows, lens flares, or whatever? Maybe…unless you’re telling me outright to not do that.

                      You want to know what is really best for a new designer to do? Learn. Screw avoidance. Screw playing it safe. All that will do is keep you in the exact same spot for years and years. You played it safe.

                      Instead, learn. Grab hold of whatever information you can about book cover design. Take workshops if you’re able. Read blog posts, particularly by people whose covers you like (my suggestion is Dorothy Grant’s series on it myself, but I’m sure there are others out there). Learn all you can, so when you do your cover, you make it look as close to what a big house is doing as you’re capable of.

                      Telling people with an independent streak as wide as the United States that the best course of action is avoidance isn’t going to sit well with us. We avoid what we find unpleasant because we choose to. We don’t, however, appreciate anyone trying to tell us to avoid something because we’ll probably screw it up.

                      And that, my friend, is why you’re catching a lot of flack around these parts.

                    25. Just for clarity:

                      “Even if you’re not Fail, your email address not being the same as his won’t matter a hill of beans.”

                      My point with the email address isn’t that it’s different form Fail’s, but that it’s the same as an email I’ve used to correspond with Sarah before.

                      “If your first comments on a blog, message board, or whatever are a defense of someone who seems to be near universally despised by the populace there, don’t be surprised if they take issue with it.”

                      Fair enough, I wasn’t aware of any history with this board and Fail or what-have-you. I only meant to say that the way his statements were being presented on the board didn’t come through in my reading of the thread. I think we’ve hashed that out plenty though, and I’ve fully moved on to my own opinions.

                      “Then, you parrot his opinions.”

                      I’m actually not, I’m trying to present my own ideas and understanding.

                      An example of somewhere I think Fail was wrong is in his insistence that inexperienced designers avoid all but a short list of fonts. I don’t think that’s particularly good advice. I would advise new designers to be very careful with their font choice and to make sure it’s easily legible – don’t be forgiving of your font, be certain it can be read by someone looking at a thumbnail through greasy specs that has no idea what your title might be.

                      “While, on the other hand, an overdone text doesn’t necessarily do that.”

                      This is where I think we begin to disagree. I believe that your average reader, on a subconscious level, associates the bad text effects with poor layout etc. just as strongly – if not more strongly – than naked text. Naked text and bad layout might be worse than effected text with bad layout, but I’m not sure. In either case, good layout is going to improve your reception quite a bit, and once you have good layout naked text works better than bad effects. Like you said, they can’t necessarily articulate the problem, but it just looks “wrong”. I don’t have hard data to back this up, and I’m not sure how to get such data if it exists. However, since I can find examples of naked text in the best sellers on Amazon, and I can only find bad text effects in specific genres, in general I think the naked text is a better choice.

                      That’s where I get to my advice, and I think where people are misunderstanding what I’m saying. I’m not trying to make anyone do anything, and certainly not saying don’t try. I’m saying that as you learn you’ll likely see better sales, learn more quickly, and overall experience better results if you concentrate on composition and color and don’t worry about fancy text effects. You really don’t need them to get effective covers (e.g. Nuttall’s) and focusing your effort on composition and color will likely improve your covers faster, as well as help you see the text effects and learn about them more quickly when you do take them on.

                      It’s just advice, it’s not a command. Take on the text effects when you think you’re ready, or if you just want to, but understand that it takes an experienced eye to really see how to use them effectively. It might hurt your sales if you do it badly. It’s not easy, it’s one of the hardest things to do with covers or most any graphic design, and is a whole discipline unto itself. If you don’t care about the risk, fine, I’m not going to stop you, and I’m not going to say you’re a bad person. However, if you show me your cover, I will probably suggest you lose the drop shadow.

                    26. “Even if you’re not Fail, your email address not being the same as his won’t matter a hill of beans.”

                      My point with the email address isn’t that it’s different form Fail’s, but that it’s the same as an email I’ve used to correspond with Sarah before.

                      And, yet again, I’m saying it doesn’t matter for crap. Not to me, and I suspect not for a lot of people. You’ve corresponded with Sarah before. Good for you. Not to be an ass here, but it. Doesn’t. Mean. Anything. Anything except that you’ve talked to Sarah through that email address.

                      Do whatever communicating you want to do with Sarah. She wants you to resend stuff, so go ahead. For me, it won’t matter a whole lot.

                      The only thing that will convince me is sane conversation over the long term. Someone pretending to be someone else may convince the folks for a little while, but eventually their true personality pops out. Keep talking sane and you’ll convince us soon enough.

                      Fair enough, I wasn’t aware of any history with this board and Fail or what-have-you. I only meant to say that the way his statements were being presented on the board didn’t come through in my reading of the thread. I think we’ve hashed that out plenty though, and I’ve fully moved on to my own opinions.

                      You were told several times. Just some friendly advice here, but if someone tells you there’s a history with someone? Trust them on it and move on. You earn a whole lot less animosity that way.

                      This is where I think we begin to disagree. I believe that your average reader, on a subconscious level, associates the bad text effects with poor layout etc. just as strongly – if not more strongly – than naked text. Naked text and bad layout might be worse than effected text with bad layout, but I’m not sure. In either case, good layout is going to improve your reception quite a bit, and once you have good layout naked text works better than bad effects. Like you said, they can’t necessarily articulate the problem, but it just looks “wrong”. I don’t have hard data to back this up, and I’m not sure how to get such data if it exists. However, since I can find examples of naked text in the best sellers on Amazon, and I can only find bad text effects in specific genres, in general I think the naked text is a better choice.

                      I didn’t say they see it as good. They don’t. However, most people know what they can do in Paint. Especially in the era of the meme. While overdone text won’t be considered “decent”, must less good or great, they’re not attached on a subconscious level to what their kid did with a picture of Grumpy Cat and software that came with their computer.

                      As far as Amazon’s top 50, I completely disagree with your assessment of the fonts. Some do seem to be effect free, I’m seeing some slight effects on the majority, particularly in the top 20. For the record though, most of the “effect free” appearing ones? They look a far cry different than when most people put simple text on an image. Now, I’m not sophisticated enough to say what they’ve done, but it’s not just text on the photo.

                      For what it’s worth, I also don’t think anyone’s saying you can’t make it into the top 50 with an amateurish cover. There are a few that are signaling self published to me like crazy (and they follow your advice – and Fail’s demands – pretty closely). However, they’re the exception rather than the rule as you’re insisting.

                      That’s where I get to my advice, and I think where people are misunderstanding what I’m saying. I’m not trying to make anyone do anything, and certainly not saying don’t try. I’m saying that as you learn you’ll likely see better sales, learn more quickly, and overall experience better results if you concentrate on composition and color and don’t worry about fancy text effects. You really don’t need them to get effective covers (e.g. Nuttall’s) and focusing your effort on composition and color will likely improve your covers faster, as well as help you see the text effects and learn about them more quickly when you do take them on.

                      Actually, this is the first time I’ve seen you say anything about “learn”. Everything else you’ve said has been about playing it safe. Much like Fail (maybe you disagree with him on font choice, but the essence of the discussion, you two agree on far, far more than you disagree. Just FYI), you advise people to skip out on effects that will create a more polished product.

                      No one has said anything negative about learning composition and color, but why do you seem to think it’s best to learn those instead of how to make great typography? They’re a package deal, after all. If any of them are off, you’re going to have a problem. Learn them all. Skipping one is a good way to end up with a crappy cover. That’s not to say you’ll automatically have a crappy cover, but it does mean you won’t have the best cover you can manage.

                      It’s just advice, it’s not a command. Take on the text effects when you think you’re ready, or if you just want to, but understand that it takes an experienced eye to really see how to use them effectively. It might hurt your sales if you do it badly. It’s not easy, it’s one of the hardest things to do with covers or most any graphic design, and is a whole discipline unto itself. If you don’t care about the risk, fine, I’m not going to stop you, and I’m not going to say you’re a bad person. However, if you show me your cover, I will probably suggest you lose the drop shadow.

                      And it’s advice that the vast majority not only disagree with, but frankly find insulting. You may not see it that way, but we do.

                      I find it amusing that you say, “if you show me your cover, I will probably suggest you lose the drop shadow.” So you’ve already made a determination about an effect without even seeing the cover?

                      We get where you’re coming from. You’re not going to get most of us to agree with you either. Sure, it’s advice, but we consider it bad advice.

                    27. NoWayerMan:

                      Note, how I address you at the beginning of the post so no one will mistake who I’m talking to. This is something you are still failing to do. You at least added quotes to your last couple of comments but didn’t attribute them to anyone in parti:cular. Not helpful, NWM. I had to go back and reread multiple comments to try to figure out who said what and I still didn’t get them all.

                      Now, to take your comments in order:

                      I wasn’t knocking his cover, I was saying that that cover properly cued for the sci-fi genre, made it into the top 40 best sellers, and didn’t require any special text effects.

                      Funny, that’s not the way I read it. You wrote, “Coincidentally, the Urban genre seems to have the fewest examples (one when I looked) of amateur-looking covers within the top 40. Sci-Fi seems to be the next harshest on amateur covers, although this masterpiece . . . actually made it to the top 40.” That came across snarky to me. If that wasn’t your intent, sorry. That’s how it read to me. It also isn’t a great illustration of not needing any special effects since the font used has the breaks in the lettering, something most folks read as “special effects”. I happen to like the cover, but you could have found better examples to make your point.

                      You have to admit that his covers bear a striking resemblance to the mock-up that Fail Burton did. . . the design is similar and something an amateur can definitely do.

                      OMG, man, are you trying to be insulting, not just to Chris but to most everyone else here? For one thing, while you can see similar design elements, equating the two covers as anywhere close to the same thing is wrong. Oh, I know what you are saying, the rule of threes (iirc) is being followed in both and there is no drop shadow, etc., on the fonts. But that is where the similarities end.

                      And what is it about calling everyone amateurs? You do realize you are insulting folks, right? That’s like the members of SFWA and others of that ilk telling those of us who aren’t traditionally published that we aren’t professional authors. It doesn’t matter that we make more money than they do or that we sell more books. You are calling folks here amateurs who have proven their covers work, whether those cover meet your – or Fail’s – standard for what is good.

                      I was called a butthead, and told to grow up. In my world that’s name calling. It’s not that I can’t take it, I just don’t think the ad-hominem is warranted.

                      Up until now, you’d been responding to me – I think. I went back and looked. Not once did I call you a butthead. I did tell you to grow up because, frankly, you are like a kid who keeps trying to push his point, hoping that the adults will finally believe you if you just tell the same story long enough. As I said before, you are simply rehashing the same think over and over again. Move along.

                      As for your comments to Sarah about your email, etc., man, grab a clue. This is something you should have discussed with her in private, via email when you first brought it up instead of continuing to protest here.

                      I find it frustrating that ebook covers are so inconsistent across readers. Covers that look great on a Kindle Fire, for example, can look terrible on a Kindle Reader or Nook (e-Ink). Of course, at that point the book has likely been purchased so the cover’s work is essentially done, but I’d still like it to look nice. I haven’t come up with a solution to this, other than test on as many devices as possible and avoid certain effects (gradients are particularly troublesome).

                      Sigh. Of course they look different. You are using two very different technologies and image mediums. How do you check to make sure a cover looks good on both? You look at your cover you made in all those pretty colors in greyscale. Or, you don’t worry about it. Most people reading on e-ink readers know that the cover will not look as nice on their e-reader as it would on a tablet or smartphone. They don’t care. They bought to book to read, not to look at the cover or the pictures. If it really bothers you, do a greyscale cover and then put two copies of your book up for sale, clearly marking one as optimized for e-ink and the other for color displays. And, btw, if you are a writer, you need to be testing your e-books on as many different devices as possible and in each format you a selling it in. You want to make sure it looks good and the conversion process has been completed without any problems.

                      Bad text effects screams amateur much louder than no effect at all, imo.

                      Ah, NWM, here you go switching folks you are commenting to and not telling us who you are now addressing. However, I will comment here. No, it doesn’t. Why? Because I see as many traditionally published titles using bad text effects as I do indie. And there you go again with the amateur comment. You are making an assumption that the author is the one doing the lettering. Have you polled the authors of those books you find objectionable to see if they did the covers themselves or if they had someone else do them?

                      Again, I’m sorry if no one is interested in what I have to say and I’m just making people mad. I’m responding to the most recent comments (which I saw after my last comment) because I thought there was something relevant to add.

                      And you did have something to add, thank you. Your comment about the differences between color and e-ink displays was new. At least to this conversation.

                      I have a very different background than most of the people on this board

                      So tell us what your background is. Each of us have been willing to discuss how we do our covers or discuss our qualifications to do cover design. But I don’t remember anything from you about your qualifications. As I told Fail, it is easier to take the advice of someone if you know where that advice comes from and what it is based on.

                      but I’ve also spent some time studying book covers. I learned last night that Urban covers seem to require text effects to be effective

                      So give us the credit of having done the same and for more than one evening.

                      NWM, we love a good discussion here. We’ll discuss just about anything and debate when we see something we don’t agree with. However, we tend to turn a skeptical eye when someone comes in and instantly attacks because they haven’t taken time to learn the background of things, including interactions with known trolls. It would have been very easy to discover that the conversation – and I use that term loosely – with Fail had been a continuation of one from another recent post where he had attacked covers by some of the folks here and then went on a personal attack against others. Shrug.

                  2. I’m going to stress the may on the decent advice.

                    He’s got some speaking knowledge of graphic design, and some detailed familiarity with a couple of specific artists. But he refuses to identify quals for cover design. He may have ’em, he may be banking the big bucks working with the Big 5, I dunno. He won’t say.

                    I’m not asking for anybody to out themselves on the internet, but if he’s going to make such definitive statements he needs to provide some hint of his authority.

                    As to his behavior, you’re right, his message is going to get buried under it. I’ve sat in college level art classes and cringed through brutal classroom critiques… And anybody that came off the way he does would have unpleasant days ahead.

              1. Sarah, please confirm that I’m not Fail. In October of last year I began a correspondence with your about covers and sent you some samples (which you said you liked).
                I thought I used this address as it’s what I use to conduct public business, but in looking at my records I used a personal email of the same domain but prefixed with my name.
                I’m sorry if there’s confusion or offense about my handle, it’s not something I pay particularly close attention to as I try to keep my online footprint to a minimum.
                I really don’t mean for this exchange to seem harsh in any way, but I get the impression that the group has decided I’m an enemy. I’m just trying to express my confusion at the treatment of Fail because I didn’t see anything in his behavior that warranted the initial reaction he received. Several people have mentioned a history with him – and that may validate the reaction – but judged solely on the exchange itself it seems unfair.

                1. If you’re not, you’re not.

                  However, if you didn’t see his behavior as anything warranting what came next, then you might want to go and reread that thread.

      2. Instantly nasty. I’m genuinely surprised at the reaction. Why the name calling?
        What advice did he give that was so bad? It seemed like a lot of cross talk rather than any actual discussion. His first post – that was met with condemnation – was about the typography.
        If there’s a history with that commenter I don’t know about, I can’t really comment on it. Based solely on this exchange Fail’s behavior didn’t warrant the excoriation.

        1. It was less because he was wrong, than it was because he was acting superior and using language that signals complete asshole. If he wanted to come in and give his opinion, people would have been happy to debate with him in civil terms, but he started out with insults and imperial command language, which tends to put peoples’ backs up.

          1. I don’t see that in the timeline.
            What was the first insult he fired? From what I see, he suggested someone avoid “neat typography” and the response was that his remark was an “epic fail”.
            I see this point as the beginning of the argument, and it was not instigated by Fail Burton.
            Further, I think it was created here by a misinterpretation of his remarks.
            Fail was suggesting to a new designer with no experience to stay away from “neat typography”.
            The responder acted as if Fail was saying that no cover should ever include bevels or shadows.
            From that initial misunderstanding, the name calling ensued.

            1. Ok, I went back and checked timestamps. You are correct, that his first comment was not insulting, and the responses were probably fueled by prior arguments to some extent.

              However, if you don’t think his tone became imperious and arrogant, then you may have problems detecting such things. And there is no realistic way to argue that he was insulting to many people, including at least one who had merely disagreed with him.

              1. Yes, his isn’t blameless. But he was defending himself from attack, he didn’t come in guns blazing. If you read through the thread, I think he comes out a lot better than he’s being portrayed in this post and in the MGC post. On balance, the group was a lot nastier to him than he was to the group.

                1. There comes a point in navigating online conversations where you have to engage your skepticism. Why is somebody getting hammered? If it’s not readily visible then it’s appropriate to wonder what the history is.

                  It’s simply not practical for a community to preface everything with citations to community history to avoid confusion with new visitors.

                  I was following the discussion in real time last night, and it was apparent this was not the beginning of this particular argument. Did it get harsh? Yeah, but Fail’s got history here and elsewhere and he owns people’s responses to him. His ultimate behavior last night and this morning ought illuminate some of that history.

                  I appreciate the point you’re making, and I don’t disagree regarding the objective view of this one situation. But if we’re going to cruise the internet we’re going to have to be sophisticated readers and look for context, particularly when stumbling into little interrelated communities like this one.

                  In context, Fail was lightly bruised. And he owns it.

    1. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn’t read any further than his first comment on cover design. Even then, the advice he gave would instantly signal indie to most readers. Not even that, but new indie with no experience and possibly no pride in their cover. His flattened oval on top of a triangle to form a ship does not translate well into cover art. Scroll further down the comments on that particular post for an example of what I mean — an example Fail did.

      Then there is his advice that you can skip that and pay an artist big bucks and wit months to get your art. Sure, you can do that, but there are a number of other alternatives, free to extremely inexpensive, that he failed to mention. So, while that initial comment might have a germ of truth in it, there was a great deal more that was omitted.

      As for being nasty, well, we tended to respond in kind to him. This isn’t our first run in with Fail, either here or on other blogs. You’ll note that he never once offered up any reason why we should give any credence to what he was saying, but he was more than happy to attack us and our covers. He failed to address questions put directly to him. It was, in short, his way or the highway.

      And yes, you are right, concentrating on imagery and layout will get you more bang for the buck — but there are other considerations as well. Font and size of font are two of those. The reader has to be able to read the author name and title of the book in thumbnail. The entire effect of the cover has to remind the reader of what they are seeing from traditional publishers. It also has to “read” to the genre. In other words, pretty much what Sarah and others have said.

      We’re all for dialog here. Sometimes it gets heated. But most every one of us are willing to put forth who we are and what our qualifications are for something when asked. That’s especially true when we are offering advice on something that can impact another’s income if they follow our advice. That’s something Fail continues to refuse to do.

      As for my covers, I keep track of what covers look like in the genres I write in. Then, when I’m ready to bring a new book out, I consult with my cover designer. We find the best art possible that is true to the book and that signals the genre. The font that is used is the same. After all, a cover is your first marketing tool. If it doesn’t speak to your target audience, you’re screwed. So you have to know that audience and what it looks for. That, too, is something Fail seems to miss. Or at least that’s the way it appears.

      1. I think your history with him has unfairly biased your interpretation of the exchange. I never got the impression of “his way or the highway”. I decidedly got the impression of neither side really listening to the other.

        For example:
        “And yes, you are right, concentrating on imagery and layout will get you more bang for the buck — but there are other considerations as well. Font and size of font are two of those. The reader has to be able to read the author name and title of the book in thumbnail. The entire effect of the cover has to remind the reader of what they are seeing from traditional publishers. It also has to “read” to the genre. In other words, pretty much what Sarah and others have said.”

        I don’t remember anything Fail wrote that disagrees with that paragraph.

        Nothing that what I wrote disagrees with that paragraph either, yet it seems you’re trying to correct me over a disagreement that doesn’t exist. Font and size are not the same as bevels, drop-shadows and other effects. Choosing an appropriate font, size and color are exactly what I was talking about in keeping it simple – and I think that’s what Fail was saying as well.

        Coming from an outside observer with no history in the affair, his remarks seemed well-intentioned and unobjectionable. He was called a lot of names and I didn’t see him making any personal remarks. Granted, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and attempting to understand what he’s saying. But if you’re going to treat him badly or take offense every time he comments, just ban him and be done.

        1. Coming from an outside observer with no history in the affair, his remarks seemed well-intentioned and unobjectionable. He was called a lot of names and I didn’t see him making any personal remarks. Granted, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and attempting to understand what he’s saying. But if you’re going to treat him badly or take offense every time he comments, just ban him and be done.

          I’m of the impression it was a resurrection of a discussion had at different time/place.

          But leaving that aside, if you didn’t find some of what he was saying objectionable, or notice any personal attacks then you’ve either missed some comments or your notions of how to behave in a community are suspect.

        2. I’ve got no idea who you are and I appreciate the fact you are coming at this from the outside. However, you are failing to take into consideration the tone of what he said as well as the insults implied and explicit. As for the rest of it, no, I wasn’t trying to “correct you”. I was pointing out there are other considerations to be taken into account. Sorry if you took that the wrong way.

          Frankly, my only issue with you is that you came in here trying to school us in how to deal with someone we’ve had history with and you, from what you say, have not.

          1. I’m really not trying to school anyone on anything. I was just surprised that there’s been two posts about this exchange and how badly Fail Burton has behaved, but when I looked at it that’s not what I found. It may be that, in the context of history etc. he’s terrible – but not every reader of these posts is familiar with the history. Without explaining the background, I don’t think it makes the community look good.
            Sure, he implied you were arrogant, but only after you outright called him a moron. It’s not as objectively one-sided as the posts imply.

            1. I don’t have time for this. Go back and read the comments in order. He’s the one who commented “Listen, lady, you don’t. . . ” Now, in my neck of the woods, that is copping an attitude and the “lady” is anything but complimentary. He then went on a rant that he didn’t have to prove his bona fides when all I’d done was ask him to show why he was so qualified as to tell us what we should or should not be doing on covers, especially when others we knew had qualifications were telling us to do something different. And yes, I did call him a moron AFTER he indicated in no uncertain terms that he didn’t understand cuing a genre in a cover and still continued to ignore that such a thing is important.

              I also have to wonder why you have spent so much time defending someone you supposedly don’t know instead of actually commenting on the contents of this blog. Just sayin’.

              1. I thought we were just having a conversation. I responded to a point Sarah raised in this blog post. I thought the characterization was inaccurate. I was offering my perspective.
                Sorry to have wasted your time.

                1. You responded to one small paragraph/point in the post and then proceeded to hijack the comments. You all but insulted her regular commenters in your characterization of our responses to Fail. I suggest if you want to discuss the post, you drop the constant condemnation of the rest of us for not having patience to deal with Fail and the poor advice he was giving people.

                  1. I didn’t realize I was “hijacking the comments”. Sorry to tread in your domain.
                    I’ll take my leave now.

  4. I’m going to comment on that “Too dumb to learn” before I forget it. I haven’t read the rest yet, too busy calling Barb the cat lady (Drew says we have kittens in the warehouse, though I haven’t seen them or heard them. Sigh.) “Physical Education” in Gastonia NC worked that way. The teachers/coaches looked for the potential team members, and those who clearly could not make the teams or got cut were ignored or used as blocking dummies.

  5. I was going to suggest you look into Poser/Daz3D, but you beat me to it. However, the one thing you might want to check out to go with it is Painter of some version. They have some “cloning” tools that can make a cheesy render or even a photograph of a guy with a sword look like a watercolor or an oil painting, obscuring the 3d model’s inherent slack-eyed look or the enthusiastic amateur model’s “Aha, a SWORD!” dynamic.

  6. <i.Now, think what you will of Ill Met By Moonlight. I know I do. Geesh, if I ever go down the rabbit hole of beautiful language again, shoot me. It’s more merciful.

    “Beautiful language” is not, in itself, a bad thing. For that story, I thought it was completely right.

    For a shoot-me-up Space Opera, it wouldn’t have been.

      1. I have a ton of typos, mostly verb concordance on this post. But you see, I’ve decided sinus infections are JUST dandy and I need one right now.
        Or something. BLAH. Benadryl and tea.

        1. You had a 2500+ word post (yes, I copied it and pasted it in Word, just so I could check), so it would take a while to edit. I used a quote and two dozen words. But I almost always get done with the last word and automatically click the “Post Comment” button without double-checking.

          Oh, this time I did check, and that sounds overly self-critical (something that I’m told I do from time to time), but it’s intended to be light-hearted self-deprecation. Ok, having to explain the joke ruins the joke, right? Never mind. 🙂

      2. I like shoot-me-up Space Opera, fun new genre!

        Aimed at the FPS gamers and adrenaline junkies, full immersion!

        Or — no.

        1. After I read what I wrote, i was thinking sort of the reverse of Mary Sue-ing, where the character in the story who is the author’s avatar is the one who gets the violent death.

          1. Yep. Go write — er — program — hm — create the technology and venue for that story!

            It’s the small challenges that make life interesting.

            1. Wait, isn’t that Bioshock? (Haven’t played, watched my husband’s character suffer through the first one and vaguely remember #2 has you as one of the monsters.)

              1. Huh. Everything I’ve seen so far about Sword Art Online (which isn’t much, just the premise and some stills) has been saying “Stay away” to me. But you’re the one who told me about Embers, so anything you recommend, I’m highly inclined to check out.

                Why do you find it awesome, if you can explain that without spoilers?

                1. I totally had the same reaction– would NEVER have watched it if my husband wasn’t doing so. (There’s a reason my computer is in the living room.)

                  For starters, the premise gives me heebie-jeebies.

                  But having seen it… well, that’s the “theme” for my browser. It’s the only anime I’ve seen where the ending was more optimistic than the first episode. (This could still change, I believe there’s a new one coming up.)

                  Having a fan sub might change matters, I’m not sure. I don’t know if there is a pro-dub.

                  *****

                  Why it’s awesome:
                  You know all those cliches about loners and teenage boys and how being evil is cool?

                  Start with that.

                  Add teenage gamer boy… with Japanese honor. The compatible-with-Christianity part, at least mostly. They managed to make it so I got hooked into empathizing with his thought process. Kid’s intelligent, not magically so, with reasonable failings.

                  Add familiarity with gamers– guys who play girls, characters totally different from your real self, etc. (I’m not sure if this is actually needed to like it or not; the lack of screwing it up was a big point in the game’s favor, induced by the way that US TV seems to use third hand info on “fringe” stuff like MMOs.)

                  Add a Shining Knight (female– probably in the cover art), monsters, mysteries, a lack of the usual insulting jokes, fairly few embarrassing situation (and those are actually reasonable) and, again, the writers seem to be somewhat familiar with teenagers and writes them so a 30 year old woman who was a total geek in high school can empathize with them.

                  Good writing, too– some plot twists go the way you expect, some definitely do not!

                  1. SAO Season 2 just started a week ago, and I almost won myself a night on the couch starting the first episode w/o telling my wife that’s what I was doing.

                    We both loved it, though the second half of the first season got more than a little creepy. (The Alfheim arc, and everything that happens to Asuna in it.)

                    > >

      3. >”shoot-me-up” was supposed to be “shoot-em-up”.

        shoot-me-up, shoot-’em-up — all a matter of point of view. Assuming that there are several characters who regard it as a shoot-me-up.

    1. I liked “Ill Met…”

      But the world champion for pretty and verbose language goes to Steven Brust for “Five Hundred Years After” told from the POV of one of the elves from his normally plainly spoken Jhereg series.

      I couldn’t believe I made it through it.

      1. I love that series. It’s The Three Musketeers but less verbose and with aliens.

  7. Cover art has one single purpose, to entice a potential reader to investigate further, take a better look at the contents, and hopefully purchase your work. As such it is the composite package of art, text, and layout that is important. Cover art as art is a separate issue entirely. I have sat through so many of Toni Weisskopf’s Baen slide shows that I’ve lost count and Baen aggressively pursues quality art for their covers, but based on frequent comments from Toni someone, perhaps she herself, works closely with those artists to integrate the art with text to arrive at the complete package.
    It is very important to stress as you have to be ever aware of what impression the finished cover will have on the casual observer. A cover that misleads a potential reader with art unrelated to the book’s content will not only kill the deal, but likely create a long term bias against any other work by that author.

    1. I adored Toni’s roadshow at the latest LibertyCon. The dry wit of bringing up the art for Sea Without A Shore to the tune of “And [the artist] wanted us to be really sure where the text went this time…” implied an entire history of exchanges that I can image all too well. I’m not sure people who haven’t worked with cover designers would understand why I was trying to smother as many giggles as the corset would allow room for in my lungs.

      1. One artist was explaining a painting in an art show to a con attendee: she had carefully put some neutral space up top so that art directors could see that she could leave room for the title.

    2. “Cover art has one single purpose, to entice a potential reader to investigate further, take a better look at the contents, and hopefully purchase your work.”

      You left out — without leaving a bad taste in the buyer’s mouth. You want to build your brand, so that your byline will attract ’em back. If a cover scares off someone who likes military SF on a galactic scale from a fantasy mystery where a wizard tracks down an unsuccessful thief in order to appease a dragon — well, consider the bad word-of-mouth you just avoided.

      1. Absolutely!
        Your cover is a promise, an enticement to peruse the contents. If your words fail to live up to the expectations created by the cover you’ve just created a disappointed reader, and there is little in this world worse for sales than bad word-of-mouth. And if a cover not only fails in it’s promise, but actually deceives, then your customer is not disappointed, they are angry, which can be much worse. The disappointed simply won’t buy again, the angry will shout your name to the rooftops.

  8. I’ve been following the cover discussions closely of late, and hope to scrape together a pile of time and money to take the DWS/KKR cover class. Because — the key failing I see in a lot of the arguments that crop up is missing that the “cover advertises the book” and that is all.

    I’ve had artistic training in a few mediums and some design, have some lofty opinions of what service art performs in culture and life, have a degree of curiosity about composition and technique…

    And I’d absolutely suck at cover design, without guidance. (Probably with guidance.)

    The vast majority of covers I see, I don’t like and I wouldn’t pick. I’m not a fan of Baen covers, in general (shows what I know). It bugs me, personally, when cover details clash with the book. Much of the thriller covers bore me. I like da pretty pictoors. Genre cues? Yeah, that’s the heading in the store where it says “Mysteries,” right?

    None of that has anything in particular to do with good cover design. And so I soak up everything I can and keep going back for more. Because if I get a cover, I want it to facilitate moving the book. Everything else can hang.

      1. Yep. One of those hit ‘post comment’ and and “D’oh! He beat me to it!”

        Nature of the medium, but if I had my druthers I’d stop time ’til I finished my comment so I wouldn’t miss somebody else saying it better…

        😀

    1. Covers are also a signal to those with a lot of experience. In general, Baen covers aren’t a good signal for me—artistically, I hate them for the most part, so it’s not an indicator of quality to me. Darrell K. Sweet is another artist whose work is signal-neutral to me; I’ve read both things I like and don’t like with his artwork. (Which I also hate, but that’s another story.) Michael Whelan’s artwork is a good signaler to me because editors who pay to have his work on the covers of books generally have taste I like. Same with John Jude Palencar. There’s a few others I could throw in, but what it comes down to is trying to guess what the editors like in terms of art AND writing. Odd way to pick books…

      1. Long-time Whelan fan, and Palencar’s covers with Charles deLint? Loved ’em.

        OT: My phone updated and I loathe the new autocorrect iteration.

      2. Sadly, I adore Luis Royo’s art, butI’m batting more than 80% on not liking the book inside. Which is sad, because I’ll automatically pick up a cover I love, and only then go “Oh, no, it’s a Royo… but, so pretty! Maybe this time?”

        Michael Whelan’s artwork, though, has always been a strong signal for “will probably like this book” as well as automagically making my hand pluck it off the table.

  9. Sarah, I apologize for the dustup here. Is there any way to cool things down? Perhaps with an airdrop of carp?

    (Actually, trout – I have no carp at hand.

    1. um…. I think it’s gone past that. I only got involved because in covers, too, I took very bad advice, which is why there are some covers of mine out there done in times new roman and sucky.

  10. I have gone back and made new covers for my older books. As for if or why– I do what I can when I can with the least amount of money expended.

  11. Personally, I like the DIY nature of indie publishing. However, it’s important that the cover not look DIY, like you said. For better or worse, it requires some learning to do that.

    Any advice of “Don’t even try it, because you can’t do it” is, IMHO, contrary to that. A warning about overdoing effects, for example, would be more beneficial than an admonition to never do something.

    1. And, just because Fail’s not here demanding it, I’ll share my own cover that I put together at no cost. I am not telling anyone they should do a cover like this, or that I know what I’m doing. There’s a ton I now know I could have done better. This was before Dorothy Grant’s excellent series on cover design.

      Personally though? I happen to feel this is better than Fails example, more contemporary at the very least, and again at zero cost.

      1. So, noting that I don’t scan genre cueing and such accurately, what’s the story blurb?

        I’m curious how story and cover connect, as part of my own learning. And (I’m sorry, really) I like that cover. Thus I’m wondering if this one is on target in other people’s expectations.

        1. Here it is:

          Born and raised in a space station, Alan had never set foot on Earth. It made him unique. Unfortunately, uniqueness goes out the airlock when a meteorite damages the space station he’s stuck on all by himself.

          Now, Alan is forced to try a desperate plan in a last ditch plan that will either help him survive or turn his corpse space debris.

          1. Erm… not that you asked for feedback on the blurb, but did you copy/paste that, or re-type it here? Because that last sentence has problems. The use of “plan” twice in the same sentence makes it awkward (should the second instance be “effort”, rather than “plan”?), and it looks like it’s missing a word near the end, where I would expect it to be, “turn his corpse into space debris”.

            Now, if you re-typed it instead of copy/pasting it, of course the original could be fine.

              1. Yeah, just fixed mine. FWIW, that might actually explain the poor sales for that title.

                Well, that and the image I built wouldn’t work for Amazon. :/

              2. Yes. I monkey about too much with my cover not only as a form of vacuuming the cat rather than writing, but rather than blurb writing, too.

                Observation: the difficulty of writing a story, creating its cover, and blurbing it have NO relationship.

          1. I appreciate you throwing it up for review. I can do art review and critique, but not covers.

            For me, shelved in the right spot, that cover would have me flipping the book over in curiosity and the blurb would meet my expectations. But I’ve established I’m an abnormality. Seeing what other folks see and respond to is very instructional.

      2. My first thought is that this is one where you might benefit from a drop shadow. It would help maximize the contrast of the title.

            1. Sometimes increasing the size helps, sometimes bold does. I’ve had to monkey around with it.

              1. I did bold it, which looked a lot better, but I probably should have played with it a bit more.

                And to think how proud I was of it when I got finished. 😀

                  1. Ah. Younger son walked almost as well first time. You see, he was making for a plate of chocolate cookies, which were only visible when he stood.
                    Incentive! That’s the thing.

                    1. I was an early walker — I was cruising when I was nine months old, and walking freely when I was a year old — with a period in there where I would walk as long as I was holding onto something, no matter whether it would help me keep my balance — but I took a while to adopt it exclusively. Would walk and then crawl and then walk. . .

                      My little sister was a late walker, but one day she took a few steps, the next day she walked across the room, the next day she could walk around the block.

      3. To be perfect it needs a space-suited hand just in frame at the bottom.

                1. It’s what I’ve got. *shrugs*

                  I’m learning it some. Bevels, drop shadows, etc. Almost sent you a cover I made screwing around with it and a free trial of Filter Forge.

                  Didn’t completely suck. Unfortunately, it looked more like literary or chick lit. That whole “Cuing to genre” thing again. 🙂

                    1. True.

                      Luckily, mine are just the results of playing around with the software.

                      I’ve got better plans for the final cover of my actual first full novel…which will be out fairly soon. (Gotta get the plug in, right?) 🙂

                    2. Oh, don’t make me collaborate with you on a picture-heavy post pointing out with circles and arrows the cuing for various genres and subgenres. That’d run somewhere along eight to twelve day’s work before we even finished the ones we write in, and started on the ones we read in.

                      I have a day job, after all. It eats my time perfectly well enough…

                    3. It would be rude and mean and wrong of me to say how useful this would be and how I would love it and squeeze it and call it George.

                      So I won’t do that. I’ll just go sit over here in the corner. And pine. Pine for my little lost George.

  12. Also, as you develop an eye for the art that works for covers, you find you need less and less complex art, because thumbnail. Take your favorite painting and view it from across a conference room.

    Windows. Extra-Large icon and Large icon. Being respectively the image on the Amazon/B&N/Goodreads/etc. page and the thumbnail size.

    Eyeballing a lot of thumbnails online, I notice that a lot of them have the title only marginally readable, but certainly that helps.

    Also, I have heard readers complain about TOO simple art — art that when you click on the thumbnail and go to the sale page, the larger image has nothing that couldn’t be seen on the thumbnail. Indeed, I have heard people say they haven’t bought a book because the lack put them off.

    1. Perhaps even more vital:

      1. Layers. Keep your layers distinct to maximize your ability to work with them.
      2. Any serious change should probably get saved as a new version so you don’t have to remember what you did to reverse it.

      1. Exactly so!
        1. Lets you adjust, move the text around, try different perspectives. Only flatten the final camera ready output. I used to lean towards single layer artwork, but unless it came that way I now feel keeping the layers while developing the final cover is just good technique, allows you to tweak things as needed.
        2. Electrons are cheap. Always keep your source files pristine, and only work with copies. Never, ever overwrite your source material, and almost as important, don’t destroy interim versions. You never know when you may want to go back a few steps and veer off in another direction.

        1. I only flatten neutral space into the image — and when saving to another format, to see the icon stuff I mentioned.

      2. “1. Layers. Keep your layers distinct to maximize your ability to work with them.”

        YES. In fact, at my work, the first thing you do with an image is do a layer copy so that you *always* have the original available. And learning to use masks is also a lovely thing, because then you haven’t erased anything, just hidden it from view.

        1. And the background is empty because you can manipulate the layers on top of it.

          I observe that the first step is of course sizing it appropriately. If the pixels will be larger than the original image, you can just do and refine from there. If that is smaller, however, you want to do it to an empty file and then paste the image into a layer, so you can shift it about instead of getting it clipped to the central portion.

          1. Photoshop pro trick here: There’s a sweet spot in the algorithm at 110%. If you write an action that increases the size to 110% (and then make an action that does the first one several times), you’ll get the cleanest possible upsizing. Mind you, this only works so far, but if you’re going to be doing work over the top of something to minimize pixellation, this is the way to do it.

            1. Understand, I’m not doubting you, but mathematically, that makes no freakin’ sense. It should introduce tons of errors, because each increase would lose a little detail to calculated pixel locations not matching up with actual pixels

              But… If it keeps the original shape, and recalculates every time, I can see something working somehow. But if that’s how it works, then you should be able to multiply the number by itself the same number of times (1.1 ^ x), and get the same result.

              1. I’d guess there’s a built-in “shortcut” where the 110% happens to match up really well with their “estimated locations.” Might disappear when the computing power needed to do every single pixel individually is a tiny demand, and then they’ll put in a suggested scale? (to preserve the blocks-of-pixels.)

              2. It’s not by any means perfect, but if you’re having to blow up an image by 200% or more, it will be cleaner when you do it in stages than if you do it all at once.

                As I am not a programmer, I don’t know the reason, but Foxfier’s theory sounds plausible.

  13. “She told me I’d never sell it because it was a romance with fantasy elements,”

    Dang, and all this time I thought romance needed such plot points as people falling in love, and such.

    I could see that comment about your Magical British Empire books, but Ill Met by Moonlight? Who exactly are the lovers in that?

  14. “Our own Mary Catelli in comments has a lovely drawing of a woman as an icon, but for months I thought it was a blown dandelion. Because, small.”

    Ah, but did you think it was UGLY blown dandelion?

        1. Well Mary, I’m embarrassed to say that I couldn’t tell what your icon was meant to be until I clicked on it. [Smile]

          It didn’t “turn me off” or anything bad, I just couldn’t say what it was.

            1. Thank you. I know very little about art but I know what I like and I like that image. [Smile]

    1. I still “see” a patch of flowers, with a focus on a very dark daisy, with the wind blowing from left to right. Simi-impressionistic to convey the movement.

      It’s still lovely, and I know it’s a lady facing the east (….no, I don’t know why east is in there…) but most of the time I see the flowers. *Grin*

    2. To me it looked like a goat with something stuck on its horn, until I clicked on it.

  15. I missed the argument; probably a good thing. I’m doing a western at present. Based in Osage County, OK. (Next door) So, I’m doing pictures of the county where able to back date to 1873. Ah- if a fence is in the picture, it has to be wood, etc. And the old blacksmith shop in Pawhuska which has been restored. No problems with that other than get a good picture, type font and size for the cover. However, my real writing is in space opera with dimension gates stuff or modern adventure; Doc Who and Charlie’s Angels have already used the cover motifs I wanted. It’s going to be fun finding covers for them. Heedless to say, I will be following this branch of articles and comments for inspiration closely.

    1. Easy, peasy to get appropriate locations for Western historicals – I got permission from the local heritage society to take a picture in the hallway of one of the historic mansions in King William, with the door opened at the end of the hall.
      My little brother (who is a pure genius with Photoshop!) worked in another of my photos behind the open door. (The underlying theme of the book was escaping from a stultifying environment to … something better and more rewarding.)
      All the historical association asked for was a credit in the book – and I gave them a copy of the book when it was published.

    2. Western, fiction, or non? You don’t want a photo on the front of a Western novel, it needs to be ‘painterly’ and depending on what you want (ie, you can apply a filter/s to photos to make them work) I have a painting I’d license to you… It was a fun exercise, so it’s not one I’m looking for money on. 😛

      1. I’m studying GIMP right now, tried the ‘canvas’ filter and was not impressed. I’ll keep working with what I have; but, if it doesn’t work I will definitely be in contact.

        1. try the “Oilify” filter. The Artistic fliter option lets you tweak all sorts of things, I haven’t fully played with it, mainly because I went ahead and bought Filter Forge.

  16. I think I’m going to be mailing you a guest post on a different sort of expert failing soon. . . .

  17. Well. I have a few thoughts on covers. Most of you are more role models than peers to me, so I feel a little awkward sharing my own meager experiences, but here goes.

    My background: A touch of writing, graphic design and marketing. Mostly dealing with businessy stuff like websites, flyers, brochures, business plans, patents, art and layout for credit cards and loyalty cards, that kind of thing. No college or fancy training, 100% learning on the job and seeing what works in the real world. So far I’ve author-published (is that the term of the moment?) one book, and I’m working on the sequel.

    My covers: So far I’ve done two.

    Real World experience: I’m not sure how well they work as thumbnails, but I’ve gotten many complements on them in the trenches of the real world, and they’re certainly eye catching. On a table full of indie books, mine gets picked up almost every time. Still, the ebook market is what counts. Still trying to get good feedback on it there.

    My advice/What works for me:

    Dreamstime, Flickr, Renderosity, etc. Use them all! Download low rez images of the pics that catch your eye. Either send them to your artist or, if you’re doing it yourself, plug them into your cover template and play around with them there. ONLY pay money when you’ve made a demo cover and decided this is the glorious correct one. Buy only the images you will absolutely use. Nobody wants to throw away cash we don’t have to.

    Look at other people’s covers. This has been talked about above quite a lot so I won’t spend a lot of time on this one. I will just say, if you are designing your own cover, do not feel shy about very shamelessly aping another successful cover as close as you can. Do this with two or three and see what works for you with your design elements. Odds are you’ll end up with your own special synthesis of the designs, but the very act of trying to recreate a successful cover will probably teach you a lot about what goes where and why it goes there.

    Do not have a cover idea in mind before you go rounding up rogue artworks on the interwebs. Do not put yourself in a box. Do not try to meticulously recreate that cool scene from chapter 23. You’ll end up with substandard artwork that you bash and mash and try to make cool. It won’t be as cool as what’s in your head.

    Instead, grab any and every scrap of artwork you can find that has even the tiniest thing to do with your book and genre. Make a big folder. Make a pinterest folder. Make a scrapbook. Tape it to your ceiling. Do whatever you do, but gather and gather and gather up as many different things as you can, and then go back and study what you have. The gems will rise to the surface, they’ll be the ones you keep coming back to, the ones that make you smile and say ‘gosh that’s so neat!’ Now go and look at other people’s covers, immerse yourself in the zeitgeist of your genre and then look back at your scrapbook/folder/pinterest/tattoo collection/whatever.

    Do not settle for your first design. I try to make four or five different covers, even if I love the first design. If you got it right the first time, it will be obvious and you’ll come back to your one true love. If not, you’ll be glad you didn’t settle for the first thing you could come up with. The cover matters, take time to give your book the best chance it can get.

    Do not be afraid to correct your graphic artist or make changes. If you aren’t doing the artwork, make sure you understand, it doesn’t matter if your Graphic Artist is happy with the cover. YOU have to be happy, and you’re the boss. You’re the publisher. Your graphic artist won’t cry if you send over corrections or want a new direction, especially if you’re nice and word it politely. Well, okay we do cry every time, but your GA knows some basics of marketing and how to make pretty pictures, you know your audience and genre, or you should. If you don’t, handle that first before making a cover!

    Let practicality be your guide. Do what you can do. Do not try an ambitious cover design that you can’t realize in the real world. If all you can manage is something small and simple, do that. Do what you can make look professional. If I have to choose between a cover that looks professional and attractive, but isn’t 100% right, versus something that hits the demo exactly but looks amateurish, I’ll go with the professional one every time.

    Having said that, have fun, experiment, try out some crazy cover designs. It might just be a new trend! Who knows. Give your crazy inner artist a chance. Just make sure you have a couple of practical, conservative, genre appropriate alternatives in case your flight of fancy crash lands into the swamp.

    When you start making a name for yourself, do not be afraid to break from established designs. In the stone ages I had a fashion design business in a virtual reality space (Second Life) and I became a big fish in a teensy tiny pond. I always said not to follow trends, but be the trend other people follow. That’s nice to say and all, but there’s a time for being the trend setter and a time for following the herd. I’m definitely not there (yet? I hope?) in the book world, but one day! One glorious day…

    Fonts: There are gobs of free ones everywhere. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE RIGHTS TO THE FONT YOU USE!!!! Other than this, everyone else’s advice about crazy fonts… mega dittoes. What they said.

    My final bit of advice:

    Something is better than nothing. If you can’t get it exactly right, go with the best you can do, and get that sucker out there! A friend who worked at JPL shared this old chestnut and I’ve done well following it ever since: “There comes a time in every project where you have to shoot the engineer and go into production.” It will never be perfect. If you wait for perfect, you will never publish. There will always be an excuse. Know when your engineer needs shooting.

    Okay, that’s about it. Hopefully someone out there will find some of this useful.

    1. Excellent comments, very helpful.
      As to that JPL saying, at Johnson and Marshall our version was “at some point you have to shoot the engineers and fire the rocket!” Very much the same sentiment, and being one of those engineers for a quarter century I can still sympathize with the feeling.

    2. Just because the world is weird and I suddenly feel like I’m not *sure*…

      If one owns a copy of Word or Photoshop, one has a “right” to use the fonts that are in them… right?

      1. That’s not necessarily true. Photoshop and Word will pick up on any font you have installed in your OS. Not all of these are commercially licensed.
        The ones that come default are usually fine, but if you’ve downloaded or installed additional fonts they’ll show up in Photoshop and you may not have the rights to publish works with them.

          1. The commercial license to the font is separate from the license to use the program on your computer. You have the rights to use the fonts that come with Photoshop and Word to the extent Adobe and Microsoft have granted commercial licenses to users of their products, but inclusion of a font in a program you own does not necessarily mean you have the right to use the font in a commercial publication. According to Microsoft, they are not the originators of all fonts in their products, and cannot sublicense them – so you’re subject to the terms of the font owner. You have to review the license information for the software you are using.
            Additionally, some applications outside Photoshop or Word install their own fonts in your OS and you may not have a commercial license for those fonts. You may not even be aware the fonts were installed. If you’re not sure on the origin of a font it’s best to find out if you have the license. You can review the Adobe font list here: http://www.adobe.com/products/type/font-licensing/additional-license-rights.html
            Microsoft’s rules are here: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/RedistributionFAQ.mspx

          2. Indeed, the problem comes when people go out to supplement their fonts out in the Internet willy-nilly. Never download and install a font you have not read the license for, that way you don’t contaminate your word processors and graphics programs with fonts without any license or with a restrictive license.

            The same as with any images. The suggestions above about downloading anything that interests you concerns me for the same reason. If you do download images for inspiration, keep them separate from images you own, or have licensed, for cover work.

            1. Yes! This is very very important, and sadly one of the things I took as a given that might not be. You MUST have rights to use the images you use on your covers. Very good points Robin.

        1. In short, it doesn’t hurt to take a few minutes to Bing a font and find out who owns it, and what the usage rights are for it.

  18. I tend to be a kinetic learner as well – I my thumb with a hammer several times before I learned to not do that. 🙂

  19. Ya know, someone probably should compile all the links here and . . . um, why is everyone looking at me? And smiling? Toothily? *gulp*

      1. Double their work and halve their pay. 🙂

        *mutttering* This is what I get for saying this AM, “Hey! I don’t have anything looming over me!” Sucker.

        1. listen, honey chil’, I just volunteered m’own self to TEACH a fricking workshop — maybe two — for NO pay. With homework to correct.
          I’d have my head examined, but I’m afraid of what they’d find.

            1. Portable CT. And tranquilizers. Then we’ll have all her secrets!!

              MWAH — Hm. She can see this, huh?

              Where are those tranquilizers?!?

          1. 😀 The last time someone called me “honey chil’ “, she added a second cathead biscuit to my plate before shooing me on down the dinner line. (I’d been gushing over the sight of the biscuits. The lady who made them was very proud of her creations. And yes, they were very good.)

            For those not from the South, “cathead” refers to the size: about as big as the head of a house cat.

            1. Gushing over food does get that result, doesn’t it? The last time I was gushing over rice krispy treats at the Nashville Zoo (humongous! And TASTY!), the head chef for the zoo popped out of the kitchen to explain proudly that he uses real butter, high quality marshmallows, no stabilizers or any cheap shortcuts available to commercial kitchens. Insisted on giving me his recipe, though I’m a little flummoxed at measurements by weights designed for 500, but we glee’ed together over the challenge of making kid treats and desserts that are not nauseating when you become an adult.

              Calmer Half, not having grown up on American treats, just looked mildly confused and rather amused in his “My wife has the weirdest conversations with strangers, but isn’t she cute?” sort of way.

              1. Oh, my — I had something of the same experience in reverse at a church pot-luck luncheon at a military chapel some time ago. I had brought … a substantial casserole of gumbo or jambalaya (maybe even red beans and rice?) that I had cooked from a recipe book that I had of Cajun and Creole recipes. I was experimenting then with cooking different cuisines. And the casserole was delicious – and huge – and a lot left over, even for a church pot-luck. The husband of one of the officers absolutely raved over it. He was from ‘Naw Orlins’, and a person of color, and he swore that it was just like what his mom and grand-maw cooked. I was immensely pleased and flattered, too – being a person of distinct Anglo pallor and never even having been to Louisiana. All about the recipe, I presume.
                He even asked if he could take home the leftover casserole, he was that happy with it. (Or homesick, since this was a chapel at a base in Spain.)

            2. I’m glad you translated that bit of Southern. I was envisioning maybe a lumpy small biscuit with whiskers… more cat-fish head sized than house-cat head sized.

              1. You need to either become a better fisherman, or start noodling. A good catfish should have a head considerably larger than a house cat.

                Good home made biscuits are something to die for, or at least to kill for. While bad biscuits are something to throw at the neighbors in the hopes of either knocking it out if you hit it, or it choking on them if you miss, either way accomplishing your goal of shutting it up.

              1. “And [they] was very good.” Especially with the little bit of melted butter still moistening the sides of the biscuit from the corner of the pan.

  20. Sarah you don’t have to be a goddess of design to charge for your covers and be of great value to the writers. You indicated you can put a cover together pretty fast once you have the idea in mind of what you want to do.
    I asked one of the traditional publishers how much one of his covers cost because I admired it. Ballpark number was about $3,000. I just can’t justify that. Yours are not as good as this pro – but WAY better than my own efforts. My two books for which you did covers are selling better than my older ones. They are also newer books in which I did better writing and were edited better. But I suspect your covers are a significant factor too.
    There is a middle ground of skill and price you can occupy as you gain skills where somebody like me is willing an able to pay a couple hundred dollars. Until you get so good I can’t afford you.
    Who knows? Maybe by then I WILL be able to afford you.

  21. One of my kids did this cover art for me (I thought it would be inspiring to have a “cover” to look at in a “yes, just get those edited and you’re good to go!” sort of way.)

    http://mayberry12.deviantart.com/art/Sleep-455259733

    I told her how I wanted the composition and it wasn’t quite what I was thinking in my mind’s eye, but I like it, and while anime style artwork isn’t commonly used on US published books I think it works.

    It was a learning experience to try to figure out how to place text and decide on a font and dull down the white reflections so white text works better… so all in all it wasn’t a bad idea to work on it “prematurely.” 🙂

    1. It’s gorgeous art… tell the kid. However, if it’s not a YA or juvenlie story, you shouldn’t use it. If the protagonist is young, and you’re selling to younger readers, go for it.

      1. Agreed. On all counts, really. It screams Middle Grade/YA to me, mostly because of the shape of the face, but also from the notion of having a (nominally at least) human sealed into a fluid-filled tube with connecting hoses/cables suggests dystopia of some sort. Well, it also suggests cyberpunk, but with the shape of the face, it’d be a pretty weird one. Kids don’t typically feature as primary characters.

        1. That particular story has a teenager in it. I mean, if you were grown in a vat, you’ve been a baby in a vat, but at the time of the story she’s a teenager living at home (in a vat). I agree though, that the picture looks younger than the story, and is certainly younger than the other stories planned for the collection.

  22. I know nothing about photoshop or even Gimp, although I’m sure if I took the time, which I don’t have, I’d be able to do the basics. When I wrote Seals I sourced the image–bought the right to use it–and got someone else integrate it with my cover. If I had to do it myself it would not have looked good.

    This was the result: http://wo3lf.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/seals-small.jpg?w=627

    For the second book that I’m currently busy with I went to the same guy I sourced the first image from and had him create a new one which I then took to the same girl to do her magic.

    This was the result: http://wo3lf.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/the-morrigan-dark-cover.jpg?w=627&h=941

    I know there are better covers, but I’m pretty happy with the look I have here. It is consistent with what I had envisioned and it wasn’t that expensive. For the print version of Seals I used InDesign (the free version you can use for 30 days) and created the layout inside. Took me a while to understand, but I thought it worked out fine. I even have some awesome-looking drop caps in there, etc.

    All-in-all a good experience for a first time, I think. But it’s not selling all that well. Also, I’m taking too long to get the next book out. I’ll sort it out somehow, no worries.

    1. I think your covers look good – and intriguing. I like the antique look of them … but since I do historicals, it’s a natural inclination.

      1. Wow! Thanks! That is a big compliment. I’ll take it!

        I like a minimalist cover. It sometimes says more. Given the subject matter and my genre I wanted something that would, hopefully, endure and still look fresh in a few years. I also wanted something that would do justice to the story and overall series. The jury is still out on that. :-p

  23. OK, here is a digression. You mention two techniques in your description of your writing group, dialog tags and starting a story with dialog. Being a completely self-trained writer, where is a good place online to find a list of techniques like these that a lot of people consider “best practices” for writers?

    1. When someone said, “Always start with action.” I went through my bookshelf and pulled down my very favorite novels by my very favorite authors and checked to see what they’d done.

      1. “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”

        “I am a very old man; how old I do not know.”

        Both good intros without much in the way of action. Starting off with action can certainly be good, but I think the important thing is to grab the readers interest. The above opening lines do so, despite the lack of excitement:-).

  24. Well, it’s been an interesting evening. I’ve taken the advice of many and looked up youtubes on how to do things with Gimp. Doggone it, now I’ve got to redo my cover for the ‘magazine’.

    Especially if I want to keep it ‘period’. Right now, it looks more early ’80s using Neuropol font than 1956. Well, that’s for tomorrow or Saturday….

    Again, thank you all for your advice!

  25. Interesting thing about covers. When I went to a book store to buy a book, I never focused on the cover, I focused on the tittle. Even now on Amazon, it’s the tittle that catches my eye. I never noticed Rocket ships and ray guns on the cover but if the Title was “Tom Swift and his marvelous flying machine” I probably opened the book to see what the story was about.

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