Friday, February 21, 2014

The Front Cover

From first word to final publication (Part 4)

(*Note: this post was about my old covers – I wrote later about the new ones.)

The story and how it’s told are the vital insides of a book, but the front cover is its face – what usually creates that important first impression.  Which is why a lot of independent publishers pay actual artists to design highly professional, glossy covers.  Since I’m doing my own covers (and I’m no artist) I don’t try for that same look – rather, I’m designing covers I hope convey the feeling of the stories I write (and hopefully don’t look too amateurish.)

To that end I’ve tried to keep my covers simple, straightforward and minimalist.  I’ve considered each design element and how it can best represent what I write.  And I believe I’ve succeeded in creating covers that capture the essence of the books while achieving at least a minimum standard of professionalism.

To take each element in turn, I started with how I wanted to present the title.  I chose the Accord Heavy SF font because it has a classic, almost pulpy science fiction feel, and I manually kerned the letters to give the words a more display style graphic.  And I laid out those words like an acrostic to create the suggestion of a word puzzle.

For both Certain Hypothetical and Millennium Crash I did both titles in a glowing red to give the impression of a warning light (because both stories start their series with things going unexpectedly wrong.)  And I put my name in the regular Accord SF to keep it in the same font family but the emphasis on the book title.

That part wasn’t too difficult (once I’d learned how to use computer graphics programs.)  And the backgrounds were just a matter of finding high-quality public domain photos that suited the theme of each book.  Which ended up being the brick wall for the Slowpocalypse books and the cracked asphalt road for Millennium Crash.  (There are plenty of places to get public domain photos on the net.  My favorite is BurningWell.)

The big challenge was the central images that would really define the look of these covers.  For those I wanted pictures of my main characters, because my stories are essentially character-driven – and ideally they would’ve been full-color illustrations (in the style that featured often on book covers in the 70’s and 80’s.)  But that’s far beyond my meager capabilities.  I settled for rather simple sketches.

Not being artistic, I created these by tracing bits and pieces from photos – a bit of the curve of a nose from one and the way a lock of hair falls over the forehead in another.  I altered them and connected them together, trying to piece together an approximation of the image of the characters I have in my head.  The results have been mixed, and I’m more pleased with some of these than others.  But overall I’ve been satisfied.

The big surprise to me is that I haven’t (yet) gotten any criticism of these covers.  (Though the important thing is that people enjoy the stories themselves.)  Of course, there’s more to the packaging of a book than just that front cover.

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