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Familiar Adversary: More Adventures In Cover Design

AdversaryCover2-new

AdversaryCover

This post has happened before, with different examples. It happens often enough that it has its own tag, “cover art”.

This familiar old story is about self-publishing on a shoestring. Self-publishing when the often reasonable prices of people who design covers for a living are out of practical reach. And trust me, paying someone else to make covers would be nice, and I might have found a way to make it work if I was writing novels. But, as of this writing, I have 71 distinct titles out, because I’m silly enough to write a bunch of short stories instead of just a few longer works.

Trust me when I say that paying for 71 professionally designed covers is beyond my means.

So I’ve been making covers for a while now. I keep them simple, believe me. I’ve seen some of the videos and blog posts that professional designers make, showing them making covers with (a slight exaggeration, perhaps) 849 layers and who knows how many cool ‘shop effects.

I’ve kept it simple, and cheap. When in unfamiliar waters, stick to the basics and learn them very well. So around the beginning of 2012, I downloaded GIMP, free image-manipulating software that is a distant cousin to Photoshop, and started figuring this cover design thing out.

Through practice, I’ve gotten better since January 2012. Above, the cover on the right represents my skills in October of that same year. I’d gotten slightly better — some of my earlier covers were even less appealing — but not much better. The left/top/better-looking cover is one I made tonight, because I had done a bit of writing and hit a point where I had to put the story I was working on down and do something else. So I made dinner, and then I decided that poor old Adversary, long burdened by one of my early cover attempts, deserved better.

It does deserve better, it’s a good story. Of course, I always say that, because I wrote the thing. Nevertheless, I think it’s good and it deserved some new ‘clothes’.

I could, maybe, have gotten away with keeping the base art. Or — wait — no. It’s too monotone. Too ‘someone stirred the tomato sauce a bit too hard and got froth in it’. But even worse than that, those white fuzzy drop shadows. Ugh. I can’t believe I thought that looked good.

Perhaps worse is the tagline in front of my byline. “A short story by,” I have come to understand, is shorthand for “I am very new at this.”

There are worse things than being a n00b. But it puts some people off; despite the old saying we really do judge a book by its cover, even those of us who say we don’t. We do, we definitely do. It’s just that some of us have realized that a cover is not always the whole story and make it a point to check out the contents. In a perfect world, nobody would have to bother with learning how to make a prettier book cover. But this isnt’ a perfect world, and for every person who says ‘even though that cover is ugly, I’m going to read the blurb and see if it sounds like a good book’, twenty scroll right past looking for a prettier cover.

So that “A short Story by” tagline had to go. You’ll note that I did the one-word-title-in-giant-stacked-letters thing. I’ve seen that style knocking around on a few recent books, so I thought I’d give it a go, too. Maybe it’ll fall out of fashion and I’ll find myself redoing this cover again in a few years because that style will have become cliche by then. Or maybe not.

In any event, I think the title, and the whole cover, look much better now. It’s still a very simple cover, but I think that it has a bit more impact and just plain looks more appealing. And the top-heavy layout of byline and title left me with a blank at the bottom that was a nice place to put a little one-line teaser tagline, which I like to do once in a while.

That might be a n00b move, but I don’t care. As long as it doesn’t say “A short story by” anymore.

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Cover Design: Retiring the Worst

When I need a break and want to play with GIMP for a while, indulging my somewhat neglected visual-arts side, I look back over past ebook cover design adventures and pick out something to redesign.

Even though I’m sitting on two finished short stories and am making good progress on a third… technically I’m backlogged by three covers.  But never mind that.  This old cover has been bugging me for a while.  See if you can guess why:

 

EWWWWWWW.

NiceWeatherCover3

AHHHHHHH.

NiceWeatherCoverNEW

That’s so much better for so many reasons.  I’ll leave you to contemplate the difference.

I’ve just added the new cover on Smashwords, it should take anywhere from 1-3 weeks to reach the various retailers that carry my stories listed conveniently in the sidebar to the right.

As of now, I have 43 distinct titles out there and several are free.  There are more on the way; apparently I haven’t squeezed my imagination dry quite yet.  With any luck, I never will.  I like this writing thing too much to give it up.

Isolation Has A Cover

Isolation And Other Stories is creeping closer to being finished.  The two longest stories, both in novella territory (17,500 words or more) as they near completion, are making me work to find satisfying endings for them.  I have a provisional ending for Down On The Farm which needs a touch of fleshing out, and I’m still working on the last (maybe) 2,000 words of Isolation and have a general idea of what needs to happen within them.  For blurbs describing those two stories, click the link at the beginning of this paragraph.

But I have a cover.  Artist Erik Elliott composed the original art, and I used GIMP image manipulation freeware to build the rest of the cover around it.  By which I mean I added letters in positions and of proportions that I found fitting.  While my role was the less demanding, I still found a way to spend time designing a cover I didn’t like before both Erik and my wife persuaded me that I could do better.  After incorporating their suggestions, I came up with this cover, which I find to be somehow pleasingly retro and evocative of the theme of Isolation:

IsolationCover

For reference, here’s my first attempt, which I still like, just not as much as the other cover.  It’s kind of cluttered, the drop shadows are a bit odd, and the transit from white to dark makes me want to read my last name as split into two separate words, ‘bar’ and ‘ton’:

IsoCoverIdea1jaypeg

Of course, you might have your own opinion about the way either or both of these covers strike you.  Please feel free to comment.  I still have plenty of room to grow in the field of cover design.