The Perfect Enemy


Weirdly, this is not a political post, though seriously, we need to stop asking Him to make our enemies ridiculous. Enough is enough and we’re approaching dumpster fire in a sewer with a clown car driving through.  Past that lies something unimaginable and arcane, and I’d rather not find out what it is.  Possibly like a glimpse of Cthulhu it renders you mad.  Not worth risking…

Okay, so one thing the stupendous paper book sale did (yeah, I have a couple to send out on Monday, money having arrived at last) is make me realize how bad my early covers were.

Now, let’s be honest here, they weren’t bad-bad.  Not for indie books without dedicated artists and an art designer.

Seven (almost) years ago, I was doing my art on paper, and probably stuck “two years from cover-worthy” which is what my then teacher classified me as.  BUT she was assuming of two years of concentrated practice (I’m probably a bit worse right now) which I couldn’t give it, because ce n’est pas mon metier.  Or not my main one.

So I was doing things with photoshop and stock photos.  Which is difficult for any historical since finding people in costume that is actually accurate, let alone where people (guys are particularly prone to this, particularly when holding a sword.  It’s like the brain snaps and they go “I have a sword”) aren’t grinning like idiots, or ugly as sin is a problem.  Do yourself a favor and do not EVER look for handsome man in stock photos.  Obviously my standards of “handsome” which include “must not look like a rat” or “Must not weigh more than triggly puff” are too demanding.

Now the original cover of Witchfinder (still up on Amazon.  I need to do the paper cover for this, then I will go in and do it all at one swoop.  This is part of my new, revised, stupendous way of spending my weekends and doing something useful with them) was NOT the best that could be achieved even under those circumstances.

I tried hiring an artist, in fact, and paid more than the proverbial “$400 cover” (but not by much) but what was delivered was actually worse than what I could do at the time.  So I fell into the stock photos and filter forge and achieved something that was not utterly disgraceful, even if not wonderful.  Say it was about 15% of what a decent midlist cover should be.   Probably 90% of what I could ACTUALLY have achieved. But 90% was all the time and attention I had to give it.  Beyond that lay the land of spending days tinkering with shadows and it might bring it to 98% of what I could achieve, and about 15% of one to perfect.

I’m not going to claim to be perfect now. All I’m looking for is “midlist by most big houses.” Which I think I’m probably 98% on. Beyond that lies either genius, inspiration, or greatly diminishing returns. MIND YOU if I keep doing this and getting better, they will eventually all so far outclass this that I’ll have the same reaction to this I had to those earlier covers.

Which is part of what I wanted to say: this is what life is.  Not just art.  Not just writing. Not just your profession or your job, or whatever. Life.

We start out pretty sucky at it.  Heck, I remember one of my persistent fears in early childhood (probably under five) was of forgetting to chew something and actually choking to death.  It came close enough a couple of times that it lent this fear credence.  But if I had that fear as an adult, it would be outright crazy.  I mean, what kind of idiot is afraid of FORGETTING TO CHEW?

An idiot pretty new to her body.  I have obviously practiced having this body for ten times longer now, and while I can still choke (usually when my sons make me laugh or something equally stupid) putting chewy food in my mouth is no longer an occasion for neurotic terror (yay!)

In the same way until I was about fourteen, my knees were permanently scarred from falling.  I couldn’t seem to figure out how to stop doing it. I was extremely clumsy, yes. This phase lasted long enough to interfere with my wish to look sexy in nylons. I don’t know how much of it was due to the fact I spent a vast portion of the year in bed with various illnesses till I was 12. But obviously a lot of it came from that.  I simply had only about half (or less) the practice at walking of a 14 year old.  Yes, I also had — and have — a tendency to get lost in my own head and forget I’m walking.  When I lived in downtown Colorado Springs, in the North end, with its plethora of cracked and root-uplifted sidewalks, I tripped a lot.  But note I never fell.  (Well, once, but that involved a patch of black ice and my wearing my clogs outside. Because I’m an idiot.)  I never fell because I had a ton more practice.  I hadn’t suddenly become way more acrobatic, or better at balancing (snort, giggle) or for that matter started paying more attention to where my feet were and what they were up to.  No. It’s just that I’d been walking for 30 years longer, and could now catch myself before I face planted or knee planted, for that matter.

Now at 14 wishing to walk without scarring my knees, seemed impossible and I had no clue how to get there.  If I’d aimed for perfect I’d have stayed in bed, waiting for the perfect to come.

I guess it’s kind of like my realization that what I was doing wrong with Alien Curse was … trying to make it The One Book. The Perfect Book. (Not even the perfect book of its kind, just the perfect book.  Which is impossible. But even the perfect book of its kind is fairly unlikely.)  The best thing to do is to “make it as perfect as you can, given who you are and the tools you have RIGHT NOW.”

Because if you do that; if you start where you are and with what you can do right now, instead of wishing for perfection, and do it a lot, you’ll get better.

And like me (I’m sure) in five years, looking at this (I have bought courses on lighting, on backgrounds, on…  That’s also for the weekends this year.  Yes, that and floor installing.  That’s life. Yes, the year is going to purely suck in terms of workload.) in five years of doing the best you can with what you have right then, you’ll look at today’s work and go “Oh, dear Lord, what WAS I THINKING?”  But what you were thinking is that you were doing the best you can, right now.

We don’t have magical abilities, to reach into the future and make us as good as we can be.  And yeah, study (see I bought a load of courses) and thinking and learning from our betters (in covers I have a lot of betters) helps.  BUT in the end? Practice. Practice makes the biggest difference. Practice will allow you to do what right now seems impossible.

Yes, that means you’ll produce a lot of imperfect stuff.  Humans are imperfect. A lot of it will probably be good enough, be it in art, or life, or whatever.

And honestly, even when you’re really really good you might choose to be at 98% of achievable, unless you’re getting paid in the millions.  Most people don’t notice the top 2% of perfection.  And the effort is another 50% at least.  You’re better off producing more, practicing more.  And then your next ten pieces will get you to the 100% of what you can achieve now anyway.  And they too will sell.  And you’ll get better at things you didn’t even realize needed improvement.

Go and practice. Because that way lies “as good as it can get.”

The constant discovering of flaws in what you thought was great before, the constant dissatisfaction with yourself is just the price you pay.

It’s worth it.

To be satisfied is to stop improving.

101 thoughts on “The Perfect Enemy

  1. Grumble Grumble

    Now here I read the full article before seeing that the Enemy is “Trying To Be Perfect”. 😈

    1. See, without reading the books, if they’re heroic fantasy, they don’t signal that. Thriller maybe. But that might suit his writing.
      But there are tons of “perfect” covers for each book.
      I need to figure those for musketeer mysteries. Have failed epically so far.

      1. What, you think a cavalier with a deerstalker cap and magnifying glass won’t signal it?

        I think the most important thing might be to avoid signalling something else. Who wants reviews reading, “I picked this up because it looked like epic fantasy and was terribly disappointed!”

        It isn’t so much a matter of signalling what the book is — nearly impossible with a sui generis series, anyway — as to avoid signalling it as something other than it is.

      2. Frostborn are heroic fantasy, but it also shows the Cloak Games, and Ghosts, much closer to thriller.

      3. Maybe one or two Musketeers kneeling to investigate a corpse, while a third stands guard with drawn sword…

          1. One of the things which has always attracted readers to the Musketeers has been their closeness.

  2. Do the best you can with what you have…and time is part of “what you have,” and practicing is part of ‘the best you can; good advice. On par with “I am someone.”

      1. really, lighting the people is just a matter of three-point lighting… a key 30-45 degrees to one side of the camera, a fill the opposite side, and a rim behind them, 4:1 (key four times stronger than fill) is soap opera or new lighting, while 10:1 or 12:1 is film noir-like lighting.

      2. I’ve been looking at Daz3D since you mentioned it here. After seeing the program, I understand what makes those pictures look the way they do. Its that video game thing where everything in the frame is in focus at the same time, and the depth of field is flattened. If you look at a frame from Quake, it looks like that.

        I think that some hand-softening and maybe an oil-paint or watercolour filter applied to the rendering would go a long way to making it look like art again, instead of a computer-rendered cartoon. Possibly making it up in layers, and applying de-focus filters to the background.

        Some of the poses are very awkward as well. Particularly the fingers for some reason. People don’t generally stand, walk or run with their fingers sticking out, for example.

        One thing I learned from comic book class is -where- you put the main subject. The picture is divided into 1/3rds, vertically and horozontally. The figure goes in the middle third horozontally, the center of the face falls roughly on the upper border of the middle third. That convention can be broken of course, but you should have a good reason for breaking it. People expect to see that, and it looks “funny” when they don’t. People tell me they don’t like things that look “funny”.

        Then you put your author/title in the top third and “BEST BOOK EVAHHH!” in the bottom half of the bottom third.

        Getting an artist to actually -paint- something seems to be a non-starter these days. They’re all using Solid Works, Daz, Maya, ZBrush or some other modeling software with cut-and-paste human figures.

        One more thing for me to learn. 😡

        1. I feel your pain, but I, also, understand the explosion in using 3d models.

          Painting something takes a lot more time, and skill, as opposed to setting up a scene in a modeling program. BTW, in the camera tab in Daz, you can add in depth of field to soften the background.

          In many ways it’s cheaper, especially if the client wants realistic, not the cut out cartoon look of cozy mysteries.

          The dirty secret is the artist needs a model in an outfit akin to the finished piece. Folds, folds have to be right. There also has to be the same three point lighting going on as mentioned above … and then the artist takes a photo…and uses that as reference. Many of the great illustrators had favorite models. Boris married his. Whelan used his daughter. If you don’t have good looking family members, you have to pay for a model.

          And all of that is before you even get into the cost of the paints!

          1. I have a budding artist kicking around the family, that one has graduated to digital from $7 each markers and $20 per pad paper. I am told that digital is how absolutely everything is done in the art profession now, either 3D modeled or digital brushes.

            Young Artist is churning out digital portraits based on photographs in around 8 hours these days, making up the clothes. Big fun for a kid.

          1. Right? Turns out art is really fricking hard. Too bad it can’t be super duper easy, like writing a book. ~:D

            I’ve been trying to use Rhino to make impressive science-fictiony machines and then render them with skins and filters. So far, everything I’ve done looks like a kid’s art project. Like a really talented ten year old did it.

            But then I look at some of the covers out there. And I go back to my modeling program.

            1. Do you have any drafting experience? Time spent drawing machine components, and visually breaking down machines into sub assemblies might possibly help.

              Art is really freaking hard.

              I keep on finding out how much in my preferred mediums. Not to mention the mediums I dabble in rarely.

              1. I learned drafting in woodworking school. Part of my design process when I’m building something. I do mine with a T-square and a pencil, because 3D CAD is sooooo sloooooowwwww.

                So now I’m trying to make a whole picture using 3D-CAD software, not just a mortise joint. I swear it would be faster to make a gear out of wood, paint it and take a picture of it than to draw the damn thing. But that’s where we are.

                  1. Its me that’s slow, not the software. Pretty steep learning curve. CAD program I have is Rhino, its a NURBS modeling one. Also tried Maya and currently looking at Daz3D

                    1. Rhino is… styling and design more than CAD. Maya is animation. Try Fusion 360, you can get a free edu/maker license

                    2. Right tool for the right job. And then try several until you find what works for you. Just from FLOSS —
                      Art of Illusion: logical/procedural modelling, plugins for relatively easy handling of many common complex objects, convenient “intuitive” interface (which you can tweak with more plugins).
                      Wings 3D: for mesh work and basic texturing.
                      Blender: if you want moar powahr, scripting support (i.e. tons of plugins) and don’t care much about learning curve.

                    3. With respect to CAD programs, for me, it’s been practice, practice, practice.

                      I got really familiar with Drafix CAD (Win 3.1, and it worked through Win 98), then had to switch to Turbocad. Eventually, I got good at it, in time to shift the computers to Linux. I’ve been using Qcad, and I’m maybe 30% in the total program, but Good Enough for the 2D work that comprises my Gotta-do projects. Definitely not my favorite CAD program, but it is sufficient, and it responds to the right sequence of curse words. 🙂

                      OTOH, I’m not making a living off of CAD work. (Integrated circuit layout was close, but that was a long time ago, and I was more support than at the pointy end.)

  3. “We need to stop asking Him to make our enemies ridiculous”

    But He’s done such a magnificent job of it . . .

      1. Yes, they are at paints to point out they’re self-made, thus relieving the Almighty of a dreadful responsibility.

  4. I would dispute the conventional wisdom that covers sell books. At best they catch the eye of a potential new reader. At worst they might scare that same reader off, or at least promise something that the book inside fails to deliver.
    For myself I want a cover that has clear readable title and author text and some graphic more or less in keeping with the genre if not necessarily the actual story inside.
    Investing heavily in a kickass cover made perfect sense in the days of hardback books lovingly displayed front out on bookstore shelves, or in those half page promo ads that publishers took out in the major markets. These days it’s a thumbnail on an Amazon web page along with a ton of similar graphics.

    1. Nod.

      IMO the Best that a cover can do is give the shopper some idea about the genre.

      It can’t “sell” the book but it can encourage the shopper to check “what’s inside”.

    2. Covers CAN sell. As a reader, when they’re intriguing enough they help.
      OTOH covers can lose you sales. I have a friend for instance who has a black and white picture of a castle on her (pretty dang good) sf novel.
      I keep telling her to let me do a cover. She keeps saying covers don’t sell. I beg to differ. Her cover says “I don’t know what sf is.” People won’t buy it because they’ve been bitten by too many “fucks up cover. Fucks up contents.”

      1. I clicked on lots of things on Amazon in the also-bought, suggested, or sponsored, just because the cover looed really interesting. Many of them, after reading the blurb, I wasn’t interested enough to continue – but quite a few sounded good enough, as well as looking good enough, that I downloaded the sample. And if I made it all the way to the end of the sample and wanted to know what happened next, I bought or borrowed the book.

        None of which would have happened if the cover hadn’t caught my eye.

      2. The only dictum I took to heart about covers was that covers with people on them sell better. I really don’t know if that’s true, but I was overruled on my wife’s cover, and she is after all the author. I really have no objections to it, and I think it does match the theme–after you’ve read the book, it makes perfect sense. I doubt she has lost any sales from the cover, but also doubt she has gained any. When, ahem, ahem, I start publishing my own work, I an make my own covers. They will no doubt be very bad, but I’ll get to do what I want. Yay Indie!

        1. This “people in the picture” appears to either be a thing, or a current style. You look at any advertizing, there’s always happy people in the picture. Rat poison and exterminator ads have happy people.

          I fricking hate those pictures. I want to see the thing being sold, not a Shutterstock pic of some smiling model. But I am weird, and advertisers aim for the Normies.

          1. Back when I was an active SCUBA diver, I always got a kick from the ads in the diver’s magazines for gear. Perfectly coiffed models with not a smudge of their make-up. No mask rings, no snot running out of their noses, nothing that would make you think they’d done any actual, you know, diving.

        1. She’s mentioned that one before, and I found it! Ignore the cover. The book is pretty awesome!

          1. The picture actually isn’t so bad. It would make a great one for a mystery. Put a little dragon in the sky for a fantasy. The text placement and size isn’t great, and there needs to be a bottom text line. To my eye it needs some colour in the text too, but I suck at colour so beyond that it is missing, I don’t know what would work.

      3. Black and white could be SF; B&W castle? Well, a certain recent vampire series used B& covers, but…. (Pastels are romance; and 3/4 time is for offertory; wait, wrong set of rules.)

    3. I think I might agree with you …I’ve been able to generate most of my own covers from photographs (to which I own the rights, or was granted them by those who do *waves across the room* Hi, Bernadette!) and to which various artistic filters were applied. Kind of wish I could afford to include humans in historical outfits and suitable backgrounds, though … it can be done on a budget. Local author I met at the last Giddings Word Wrangler has friends who are model-thin, another friend who is a historical reenactor with an extensive period wardrobe, and other friends who own scenic country properties, plus are good at photography. Her covers are professional grade, but the location shoots cost her a mere pittance.
      My one advantage in this respect is my clever younger brother, who is a professional graphics artist.
      For some upcoming books and re-covers, I’m considering a still-life shot of relevant items, as in the opening titles to the Sharpe series.

    4. Exactly.

      If I pulled the book off the shelf, I’m *already* interested in buying it. All the cover can do is persuade me *not* to buy it. Which isn’t hard; block text on monochrome is the same as a “good” cover; something I see for an instant as I flip it aside to get at the inside text, or turn over to read the back. A bad cover… that is such a reliable “we didn’t care” indicator, I’m liable to just shove it back on the shelf without looking inside.

      1. IF.

        And why did you pull it off in the first place? If you didn’t have word of mouth or author’s name to guide you, you had the cover and/or the title to inspire you.

        1. Authors who have a track record with me, I’ll sometimes buy despite a bad cover.

          Authors I don’t know… I pulled the book off the shelf due to the title – the first thing I see.

          The next few steps are fails:

          Ugly or ridiculous front cover: Fail.

          Back of cover has giant picture of author instead of text: Fail.

          Back of cover has text, but it’s so generic it could apply to an entire genre instead of a specific book: Fail.

          Flyleaf is sound bites from people/publications I never heard of instead of description of contents: Fail.

          I have your product IN MY HAND. But I’m not going to buy it on title alone. I don’t care about your picture, and if you can’t be bothered to describe what you’re selling… this isn’t the 20th century, when choices were so limited I might give it a shot anyway.

          “Brr. Obviously they don’t want *my* money…”

          It’s like… figure a restauranteur who’s all wrapped up in what kind of Muzak he’ll be playing. But diners don’t care about Muzak, they’re looking at your menu, except it’s ugly and you can’t be bothered to tell them what Special Number 3 might be… “but Muzak is really really important to the dining experience!” And then they wonder why so many people walked in, then turned around and walked right back out. People like me, confronted with a PA system honking out country or rap music. “But some of our diners LOVE it! That’s why they dine here!”

  5. I understand completely. I look at some of my early work; writing and art. I think, oh man, horror show. But each piece got better, and some in the mix were phenomenal. I’m taking the leap this year and just saying my work is as good as I can get it. C’est la vie.

    1. After I had written several hundred thousand more words of fiction and almost 100K words of non-fiction, I went back to look over my dissertation to revise it for publication. Oh My Stars and Garters! It was horrible. And yet it won a best dissertation of the year award. At the time, it was the best I could do. Four years and a lot of words later… I can do much better.

      1. Well, yes, I’m sure you could polish the heck out of it. But is it ‘good enough’? Obviously it was more than ‘good enough’. Our abilities grow and ebb. And creators can be their own harshest critics. BTW, congrats on the award! =)

        1. Thank you. And no, it’s not good enough. There are some places that need to be updated with information that’s now available, and others that should be explained a little more. In a dissertation you can drop in case names and laws and get away with it. A book for general readers requires a little more fleshing out.

          1. Oh! Well, if it’s going for general readers, it has to change in many other ways as many dissertations are a cure for insomnia. Yes, I have fallen asleep reading one wonderful journal once. 😉

      2. Not to be salting your beer, but keep in mind that “best dissertation of the year” does not mean it was good, merely that all the others were worse. Sorta like winning the Least Punny Hun Last Month award.

        Further, I suspect certain ailments are expected in a dissertation, with the expectation that the author will, eventually, learn how to write. OTOH, I know of no evidence that clarity of expression is valued in academia.

        1. That’s what I suspect happened. Although as dissertations go, it’s not bad. Has action, interesting characters, and some humor.

      3. It has been claimed that 1/4 wavelength of light variation for polished surface of a telescope mirror is sufficient to render quality images. Perhaps this is true. Some optics are described as “diffraction limited” (the limit is the nature of optics and physics, rather than the surface itself). Sometimes “good enough” is indeed that – any better is purely theoretical. Sure a PERFECT polished surface is ideal… but.. physics (even if meteorological cooperates – AS IF!) means… so what? 1/10 wave is *fantastic*. Beyond that? Does it really matter? Probably not.

  6. I expected the taste gap – the one where you look at what you’re currently doing, then look at what you love (why you got into this artform in the first place), and see the yawning chasm between them.

    I didn’t expect the blindness – where I looked at the finished piece and thought “I know this can’t be good, because I’m too new at it, but I can’t tell where or how!” Which froze me for a long time, because, lord knows, we’ve seen artists (including authors) put out some pretty dreadful work and be utterly proud of it. What’s admirable in a 3-year-old is not so much when you’re looking for something to entertain you on Amazon – and I didn’t want to be one of those folks.

    Beta readers help, a lot! And with more practice, I’m finding myself stuck on things when I realize they suck… and looking back at older work and going “Oh, I see what I could have done a lot better, there!”

    And yes, I know, you’re going to tell me to write it anyway, then fix it in post, aren’t ya? …grumble, grumble…

  7. As to practice, practice, I’ve already told the story about Ted Sturgeon’s guaranteed method for getting published in these comment sections before. There are 2 books I highly recommend as very enlightening. No, they’re not books on writing. The first, and possibly unfindable, one is something called IIRC “First Voyages”. It is an anthology of famous SF writers first published stories. Actually Ray Bradbury had 2 stories in it, the one he wrote, and the same one after a published writer put a couple of aliens in it, so Ray could sell it. The story as Ray wrote it was definitely his unique style, but very raw. The collaboration, not so much.

    The other is: 3 novellas each written almost 20 years apart. The first was passable pulp adventure, the second was much better and very interesting, the third is “Home is the Hangman,” and it well deserved it’s awards, back when they meant something.

  8. look at today’s work and go `Oh, dear Lord, what WAS I THINKING?`

    In my experience, if you never do that it means you’ve stopped developing, stopped learning, stopped thinking.

    As for the chewing thing, it comes and goes. I recently had to discuss with my doctor the fact that on several occasions my throat had apparently misdirected food into the air intake, forcing me to pull over suddenly and cough up hamburger. Not that I expected the doctor to be able to do anything about this newly acquired avocation but it seemed prudent to get it on the record lest it prove to be necessary diagnostic information at some point.

    Maybe that’s where “over the hill” comes from: Life as a curve, with you starting at the bottom and working your way up in skills until you finally peak and start losing capacity until eaten by a bear.

    1. When my mother was in the hospital in the last year or two before she died, they gave her drinks with thickeners in them, to keep her from choking. I believe they said her swallowing reflex was not fast enough, or something like that.

      I worry that I’ll get such a treatment if I’m in the hospital for any length of time, because I’ve been known to choke on my own spit. But not because of some swallowing problem, just FORGETTING to swallow.

  9. Considering the matter, while I certainly cannot claim to having never bought a book because of its cover, I have far many more times bought in spite of or without regard to its cover.

    Sure, the Frazetta covers for the old Lancer Conan ppbs got me, and I would have bought the Tarzan books for the Neal Adams covers had I not already owned earlier editions (and not, y’know, have had to work for my money. But many of the Baen covers frankly do nothing and less than nothing to rouse my interest (I am not a fan of the Monster Hunter covers, for example, nor the Leary & Mundy covers — but I pre-order each and every without noticing the cover.) As noted elsewhere, bookstore sales may be helped by covers but not nearly as much as publishers, marketers and cover illustrators would like you to believe.

    I doubt a GREAT cover can add much over ten percent sales compared to an adequate cover and certainly not enough to justify killing yourself producing one. Consider how many popular series are essentially unillustrated covers — do you think anybody buys Robert S Parker, Sue Grafton or Elmore Leonard because of a cover?

    1. In the ’70s, somebody did reprints of the H. P. Lovecraft stories, and the paperbacks all had a skull theme (with stages of decay and/or various grotesque things wandering through the cavities). Those books are long gone, but the covers a) defined the books as part of a series, and b) were simple, but memorable.

    2. Yes, actually. Not you, nor I, but the 0-4 books/year crowd, the ones that are the reason the bookstore staff have jokes about “I’m looking for a book. It’s blue…”

      A distinctive cover helps, because they’re buying ‘that thing everyone at the office is talking about, you know, the one that tells you what’s going to happen next season on the show with the hot guy? The cover is green?” *glances around, sees stack of Outlander* “That’s it! That’s the book!”

      Often they’re looking for The Name. So when they see STEPHEN KING in large letters, the cover that tells them this is The Book, and sells them on it. (The cover art didn’t sell the book, but the cover design certainly did.)

      If it’s not The Name, it’s often “Looks like.” “I’m looking for a book for my son, it’s captain something?” *bookseller holds up Captain America, and Captain Underpants.* “That! It looks like that! He loves those!” From Twilight to Game of Thrones to Captain Underpants, the point of the cover art is to be distinctive enough to be easily remembered and found again, as much as anything else. (This is why Game of Thrones rebranded all their covers when the TV show came out, with the non-epic-fantasy-standard covers. Which can be hard to remember, given how they became so successful that now they’re de rigueur for epic fantasy cover style.)

      If they buy a book that’s not on the very small list of authors they recognize and like (usually a list 2-3 names long at most), it’s based on the cover attracting them. If they’re buying a book for someone else who does read, quite a few of them will base their choice on “the cover looks like what you read.”

      Power-readers who actually love reading certainly buy a whole lot more books per person than the demographic that makes bookstore clerking an “interesting” retail experience, but there are a whole lot more of the 0-4 books per year buyers than there are power-readers, so they’re quite the economic demographic.

      1. One thing that confused the heck out of me was the cover art for Julian May’s Galactic Milieu series. Intervention was published by Houghton Mifflin, and the first book in the trilogy (published by Knopf) was similar in theme. (OK, looking at the jackets, though May switched publishers, the same artist did both covers.)

        However, for books 2 and 3 of the trilogy, it was a completely different theme. Kind of an early ’90s computer art thing. I’m guessing there was some kind of issue between the house and the artist, but it made for an interesting game of “guess the series”. I knew what to expect, so found them, but still…

        1. This is an issue largely unrelated to the quality of the cover art and straight on a question of cover design. It doesn’t matter whether later books were far better as art or as design, they failed the most basic test of linking the titles as a continuum. Sarah has experienced this with one of her published series, the Musketeers Mysteries as I recall, and it essentially crashed the series.

          The buyer needs to be able to instantly recognize the book as part of a series and identify it as one not yet read. If the buyer has to go home, review his library and return to the bookstore you’re likely losing that buyer. (This is another reason Amazon has had such success — it keeps track for you of stuff you’ve previously bought from it.)

          1. Yep. Musketeers was the worst, as they also removed “Musketeer” from the title. I later found out most of the fans had no idea the last two books had ever come out. They finally bought them indie.
            Meanwhile, while Darkships has the same font, it has suffered greatly from having THREE different artists with widely different styles.

          2. Yeah, the Julian May books failed both tests. The first two had surreal images that captured the essence of the books. The last two, not only make it look like a different series, the generic computer art was thoroughly boring. If I hadn’t known the books were coming out (and the titles), I would have skipped them.

            I have a couple of redundant CDs in my collection. AFAIK, the only redundant book was a fresh copy of Grumbles from the Grave after the first one was water damaged.

      2. I undoubtedly ought have distinguished between cover design and cover art, and made clear that my musings were about the art, not the design.

        That design matters is indisputable, but often that design consists of little more than the author’s name occupying half the cover. A series such as the Hunger Games unquestionably benefited from its distinctive design, just as the covers of the Harry Potter books likely sold few extra books — except as they became the recognizable brand for that series. Having a design that is recognizable is, I suggest, a different matter than a cover whose design is good. I think we can all agree that “Now A HIT TV Series” is probably the best thing one can have on a cover, and it requires scant skill as artist or designer.

        But Sarah’s post had, I think, more to do with the challenge of perfecting her cover artistry than developing her design skills. And thus the issue devolves to whether it is worth her time (from a standpoint of increasing sales, which is quite apart from her sense of perfectionism) to work hard to improve her cover art. Having merely twenty-six hours a day, the question is what is the best investment of those hours: developing skill as story-teller* or as cover artist?

        *Not to be confused with “writer” and of the two the more important skill, I suspect, in the marketplace. A terrific storyteller and mediocre writer will likely prosper more than a terrific writer and mediocre storyteller. Certainly the longevity of ERB, REH, and Arthur Conan Doyle would argue in favor of that proposition.

    3. It’s been known to catch my eye. If you can’t get me to glance at it, you aren’t going to get me to buy it without other pushes.

    4. Really, when it come to covers, I am this weird throw-back who has no issue with and unadorned hardback with a title & author… and while I NOW know the cover image is a “get attention” thing, was long annoyed at covers that were ALMOST what the book had. “Hey, didn’t the artist READ this.. at all?” (Well.. probab;ly not… but it wasn’t like the AUTHOR had any real choice in cover art… back when.)

      1. A lot of Frazetta and Rowena covers got recycled among different books.

        I could just as well have done without getting the stink eye from the cashier.

  10. Frank | January 5, 2019 at 4:51 pm | Reply
    As to practice, practice, I’ve already told the story about Ted Sturgeon’s guaranteed method for getting published in these comment sections before.
    * * *
    Being still a newbie here, I went looking and found at least one reference, which was in a comment on a post way-back which is quite relevant to the topic of this post.
    “.I met Ted Sturgeon at TUSCON IV–yes I’m that old. There were about 20 of us, and it was held in something like a Motel 6 at the side of the road. We just sat around in a large hotel room on the floor and BS’d the night away. I took the opportunity to sit next to Mr. Sturgeon of course, and when he found out I had ambitions to be a writer, he asked, “Do you want to be a published writer?” To my assent, he added, “I have a guaranteed method to make anyone a published writer.” I asked of course, and he replied simply, “Write 50 stories in a year. By the end you’ll be a published writer.” It took me 2 years, but I did sell my 32nd story.”

    I particularly liked the phraseology at the end of the comments:
    New Class Traitor #
    Perhaps placing self-imposed deadlines is one way to put an end to ‘endless editing loops’. If one’s day job involves grinding out time-sensitive copy (e.g, tech journalism, general journalism, scientific papers,…) then getting trapped in editing loops means the whole piece goes down the drain (because it’s obsolete, no longer news, or a competitor scooped you). So you learn the hard way to put a damper on toxic perfectionism.

    September 26, 2015

    1. I don’t know I would ordinarily pay much attention to either of these, in part because I don’t have much innate reaction to the idea of what I presume to be the genre: Mysteries In Space! (Sorry – couldn’a resist.) Moreover, neither cover particularly compels me.

      I understand the use of the blaster-wielding man as a series unifying theme, but the yellow blaze outline seems a trifle jarring; an oval or pentagon or some other closed polygon might be a trifle less jarring. Make the blaster more visible, not the same apparent color as his suit. You might consider adding some “spacey” element to the suit, such as space boots or a p-suit under the jacket and vest. I am not a major noir fan but the brown suit doesn’t read as noir to me — others might disagree, or a navy, black or gray suit might pick up a trifle better (assuming noir is the motif you are trying to convey.) I suggest, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, putting a fainting p-suited broad in his left hand — but only if the novels contain some romantic element — to play up the contrast between costume messaging.

      On the first cover I suggest making it clearer that the orb rising is Earth; at a glance and before I took in the moonscape I misread it as Luna. Make that big blue marble really pop.

      Consider different fonts — go to a book store or online array of books in the intended genres and see what fonts they use. Perhaps using different fonts for the title and author? Those read self-published for some reason. You might also separate the series listing, either by using a different background color (even something as minor as a darker green) or possibly framing it in a ribbon banner, spaceship outline, laser rifle silhouette or other visual element.

      Overall, plus points for continuity of theme and design elements. The emblazoned detective (gunman?) and framed picture provide a good link between them and ought carry over for later books without adjustment. Not a bad concept at all and potentially very strong with a little tweaking.

    2. Are you striving for a 1950s pulp SF/noir look? I’m getting that from the appearance of the character and the colors.

      Side note: finger on the trigger? Yikes!

      1. Well at least I’m signalling the genre right. Alternate timeline where there’s a moonbase in 1949. And other pulpy advanced tech.

        It’s a microwave ray-gun. Doesn’t blow holes in things like thin spaceship hulls, but effective on people.

      1. White could work with the rest. Yellow if the blue backgrounds shifted to another color. (Are Swedes ‘sons or ‘sens?)

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