Cover Design Discussion and Cover Reveal

John G. Hartness
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Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first – here is the cover for Paint it Black, the latest Black Knight Chronicles book!

Paint it Black

I am, as usual, thrilled with the cover that Bell Bridge has put together for me, and with my role in the process, however limited. 

The way cover development works with this publisher, for me, is this – I write the book, my editor reads the book, she talks to the cover artist about strong images, she talks to me about strong imagery, then we try to come up with a funny t-shirt tag line. The artist creates a rough sketch, sometimes I see, sometimes I don’t, and my editor either approves it or asks for changes. With this one, I didn’t see a sketch but my editor and I exchanged various emails about the cover development. Then the final art is done, typography is added, and in this case, Faith was nice enough to give me a blurb for the cover (she actually gave me the blurb a while back, but it finally made it onto a cover. Thanks again!). 

There are several things I like about this cover, and they are important to consider when looking at covers for any project that you have input into the cover for, be it a self-published work or a small press book that you have some say as to what the cover looks like. I haven’t done a book with a major NY publisher, but I doubt that the same level of input is requested or allowed there. 

First, the title is big. This is important because the cover must look good not only in a 6″x9″ trade paperback size, but in a thumbnail on a computer screen, too. We can’t ignore the fact that Amazon sells a ton of books, and the vast majority of ebooks. And the cover on an Amazon page is teeny-tiny. So the cover better look good in a thumbnail or it’s going to hurt sales. 

Secondly, my name is a decent size and in a typeface that is easy to read. This is not just an ego thing, although it certainly feels nice. When people buy books, they often don’t know or remember the title. But they remember their favorite author’s name. So make sure your name is clearly visible and easy to read, especially in a thumbnail. 

I like the fact that this cover has two blurbs, one from an individual and one from a review site. Each type adds a different type of credibility, and the designer (also my editor) did a good job of laying out the cover so that the words are big enough to read without everything looking cramped. 

The imagery is strong and tells you what kind of book we’re getting into. You can’t really tell that Jimmy is a vampire from the cover, but you can tell that he’s not the biggest, toughest dude in the story. The runes on the axe head tell us that there’s some kind of fantasy elements going on, and the “Got Blood” on the t-shirt tells us to expect some humor, or at least snark. So all the elements work together to give us a comprehensive story, which is really well-executed. 

Contrast that with this cover, the original for Hard Day’s Knight - 

bkc1_v6c_lowrez

 

Now let’s be very, very clear – I am not blaming the artist for this cover. It is exactly what I asked her to create. Exactly. 

That doesn’t mean it’s not a terrible cover. 

The picture itself is an awesome skyline shot of Charlotte, and I’d actually like to have the photo on my wall. But it doesn’t say anything about the book. It gives us no hints that it’s a fantasy novel, or a vampire novel, and the only way you recognize that as Charlotte is if you live here or spent a lot of time here. It also doesn’t look very good small. The details all blur together because of the blur effect she used at my request. And let’s not get into the typography, except to say that Comic Sans is on the list of taboo fonts for book cover design. We’ll leave it at that. 

I got the cover I asked for, and I liked it, until I realized that people weren’t picking the book up because they weren’t getting enough clues as to what type of book it was. So I redesigned the cover with a new cover artist who knew a lot more about book cover design that I did (and more than I do to date). And this is the cover that I got, which I still like quite a bit. 

JohnHartness_HardDaysKnight_eFINALclean

 

This cover is a lot more horror-centric, but it’s an awesome cover. You can tell write away that here there be vampires, and other monsters. The type is clear, it’s big, and the images are strong. 

My publisher wasn’t crazy about it. With a couple more decades in the business than me, she said she felt like women, who make up a majority of the book-buying public, wouldn’t pick up this book based on the cover. Whether or not I agreed with that assessment, I was willing to let them design a new cover, which I have to admit, I love more than my luggage. Yes I just quoted Steel Magnolias. Don’t get all judgy.

Hard Day's Knight

This is the final cover, which looks like an urban fantasy novel, not a  horror novel. And Jimmy looks like a hero, not a monster. And there’s a leg in a trunk, which is funny. And there’s a shotgun, because I’m a redneck. All in all, it’s an awesome cover, and we’ve got the same artist for the whole series, which is killer. 

So there’s more about covers than you ever wanted to know, with visual aids. 

Just out of curiosity, which Hard Day’s Knight cover is your favorite?

And Happy Birthday week to AJ, me and Faith! 

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10 comments to Cover Design Discussion and Cover Reveal

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Very interesting. As a thumbnail, I think I actually like the first cover you designed best. All you really need to set it up as urban fantasy are the title and a picture of a city. Just a dark city like that is, to me, intriguing. The image is dark, but the title hints at a bit of comedy.

    Once I looked at the larger versions of your official covers, I can see why you like them so much. However, to me they translate less well to a thumbnail size, where the lower resolution emphasizes the flaws rather than the strengths of the illustration, the later of which to me are the fine-drawn edges and subtle details.

  • Great post! Loved reading about the evolution of the covers for A Hard Day’s Knight. From a purely visual/artistic viewpoint, I prefer your first cover, the one you designed. However, I’m not sure I’d pick up or click on that one as a book cover. The last one appeals more to the reader in me.

  • I have to say (since I own both but the first pre-Bell Bridge set got trashed in an unfortunate water bottle incident), I love the new Bell Bridge covers just a bit more. But I did like the geekiness in your original cover (the demon and the nerd, not the cityscape). I agree that the cityscape one doesn’t give enough info.

    That’s fantastic that you got the chance to have input in the cover with your publisher. It sounds like every writer’s dream. I cannot *wait* for Book 4! :D

  • Thank you! As a graphic designer (new to book design) I really love this sort of post. My personal taste leans a little more towards the second design but I understand why the final version works better.

  • Thanks for the cover information. As for my opinion – the final cover is the best of the three. The cityscape – I would not have clicked on it, nor would I have picked up the book in the store. In addition, your name isn’t visible and the title is blending in the background. It’s a beautiful cover, but not functional. I would have steered clear of #2 since I dislike horror – and I think a horror fan would have problems with the amount of humor in the story. Neither 1 or 2 reaches your target audience. #3 promises what is between the covers – and your readers are happy.

  • sagablessed

    I like numbers two and three. Either one would pique my interest. But #2 promises more a horror, #3 is more UF, except for the body in the trunk. But I would pick it up and read teh cover to find out what type of book it is.

  • I like number 2, but number 3 works. It tells the whole genre, the feel/tone of the book, and I’d pick it up in a heartbeat. It is packaging that sells. And yes, Happy BD to all of us!

  • The second cover totally gets the comic vibe of the book, but I like the third one better. At a glance, the first one looked like it had a sex toy on the cover to me. Mind you, that was at a glance, and then I realized it was a cityscape. Now, that might say more about ME than the cover. Or, perhaps, more about Charlotte (what is with that big, shiny, gold building??), but the book has nothing to do with sex toys, and I don’t think it would have encouraged me to buy it. :D I definitely like the third one. And I like your news one, too.

  • Razziecat

    For the first Hard Day’s Knight cover, I had the same reaction as as PeaFaerie, kind of, “Whoa, that’s a bit phallic!” ;) The second cover has impact, but it’s the kind of image I tend to steer away from. The third one intrigues me enough that I would pick it up and check it out, so three gets my vote.

  • Vyton

    Great post. Very helpful. I like the third cover best. There’s a lot going on there with the shotgun, the long duster, and of course the leg. Do taxis charge extra for bodies in the trunk?