• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

I need cover design help

Caged Maiden

Article Team
No, my feelings aren't hurt, but the professional thing to do would be to offer some reasoning. If I don't like someone's work, I have no problems telling them so, but I usually qualify my dislike with some version of: "This opening isn't engaging to me because it spends fourteen paragraphs in exposition. I wonder why you made that choice. I think you did a fair job of setting the scene in the first paragraph, is it really necessary to go into further detail about the weather and what the city looks like, and exactly how cold the rain is and how that affects the character's mood? Couldn't we assume that his mood is affected and morality low simply because you showed three people on horses caked in mud and with water dripping of the ends of their noses? I think that image would be more effective than belaboring the point."

So you see, I'm fine hearing negative feedback, as I've already admitted I'm not a cover designer, or even a great painter. Why is it amateurish? Is the painting technique horrible? Does that mean it's unscannable? It's been hard to photograph the painting because the camera distorts the image depending on whether I capture it from directly overhead, on the right side (its best angle) or on the left. That's been challenging because in some images the perspective lines of the windows fall perfectly in line, but if I move over to capture the center, the perspective lines look really skewed and like they don't connect (very frustrating).

Or is it the structure of the picture that looks like an obvious blunder? Have I simply made the subject too small and only a second thought to the architecture? See my original intent was to make a big painting, larger than needed, so it could be scanned and trimmed down. The left window would fall entirely on the back cover, and maybe wouldn't even be used (but I'd rather have too much than not enough when consulting with a digital artist, so I did it as big as I could conceive, since that's what art teachers always encouraged me to do in art classes, not to only focus on the subject in the center, but to increase the scale and focus, and trim it down as necessary later).

Yeah, I'm fine with it sucking. I considered going with something else entirely, and as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I only did the painting to experiment with whether I could create something worthwhile using as a starting point in 20 hours of my time. If a potential digital artist tells me, "Yeah, this isn't really useful because it doesn't appeal to the readers you're trying to appeal to," then I'm fine doing nothing with the painting. Or maybe I'll edit it and print it in a limited run and give it away with pre-orders. Or maybe I'll just frame it and put it on my wall as inspiration in my office. I don't care. I'm not in love with it, anymore than I'm in love with my opening paragraph or my novel's title. I'm happy to change whatever needs to be changed for commercial appeal.

So I appreciate every opinion, but I can't take an unjustified one seriously. I'm not looking for anyone to stoke my ego in any way, because I have none. I'm only trying to experiment with what may work and what may produce the results I'm after. Basically, I can't feel good contacting a cover designer with no clue what I'm aiming for or without an idea what I consider "good enough" to sell my book. I'm already disappointed I may have to self-publish this particular novel because it's a hard sell to agents, I don't want to also shoot myself in the foot by being responsible for my own cover design choices. That's why I asked for help on this. To try to figure out whether the image itself is salvageable (I had a friend last year who cropped out the figure and shoved him closer to the skull, and added in some shading, and it looked really good for a few minutes of her time. That made me wonder whether the image could be used, since I like the architecture a whole lot. But honestly, since the wall exists in our real world, there's no reason I can't use a photo of it and blend that into other photos. I just don't have the skill to do so. And covers with solid background colors and then a band of pertinent subject material are very popular right now. I could do a leather-print red cover with a photo about 2/3 of the way up, featuring a parchment with a dagger and blood...but then I don't know whether that image feels cliche or not? I mean...it would be very pertinent to the subject and tone of my book, because this character (the chancellor) communicates in painted manuscripts with his rebel friends. They specifically use red ink to hide their messages, hence the title: Written in Red. I am fine with so many ideas, really, it's one of the reasons I kinda don't want to be responsible for designing or even approving a cover. I can determine what I like, but I've realized looking at a bunch of covers, that I might not be as particular as a lot of other folks out there.

DO I include a character on the cover? Do I pick the female lead or her more important husband, though he's a lesser character to her in the POV, but more intrinsic to the plot? If I pick the female lead, will I immediately put off any potential male readers? will I be broadcasting it as a story intended solely for women? Or will readers expect a romance plot that I'm not going to deliver on? Will architecture be too boring or bland-colored a subject? If I go with the scroll (an idea I really like), will it be photographs layered/ A painting of a painted scroll? Is the idea of blood on paper cliche? Will it appeal to female readers, who tend to prefer characters on covers?

The questions are limitless, and while I like a lot of the covers I see, I can't gauge how effective they are. Who do they appeal to? How can I mitigate the picture on the cover and the expectations my story will not achieve? I mean, it's definitely a love story, and even graphic at times, but it isn't a romance story. That's a REALLY BIG thing to me. If the love interest dies, it cannot be classified as a romance, and will disappoint people who expect a happy ending. So I'm really trying to steer away from saying anything on the cover that might lead a potential reader to expecting what I won't deliver. I've never read a story like mine, and so I have a very limited amount of exposure to what sells similar books. It's sort of like Swordspoint (which features a very old-school fairytale sort of cover):images

it's also similar to Ellen Kushner's next book, Privilege of the Sword: url (this was what I'd be going for with my leather cover with the photo band idea)

and The Lies of Locke Lamora, which has had several covers:

51tpIK8K+tL.jpg (like this one a whole lot, and would totally fit my book)

But the thing I think I like about those last couple is that they're paintings, but then digitally layered and enhanced. And that was sort of my goal. So...is painting useless then, or is it just that my painting wasn't of the right quality? Was it the architecture, or the image? Or the coloration is too bland? Or is it the perspective, which I admit, looks aligned in person, but completely doesn't work in the photos? Is it useable, or just a waste of my efforts in pursuing it?

So, while I have some ideas, I don't think my problem is lack of concepts, I think it's mostly my confusion over what looks good to other people, especially readers, and what each of my concepts will convey, either correctly or incorrectly. I know the book intimately, but trying to find the right cover to project what I'm trying to convey is SO TRICKY! And I've been struggling with how unsure I'm feeling about that.

SO yeah, I'm cool with my painting not being a masterpiece. I'm even cool with the whole concept for it being unworkable and a waste of 20 hours (if I finish it ever). But I'm still on my quest to put together a good cover, in the event that I have to self-publish this work in the future because no agent will pick it up. It simply isn't the kind of story that has immediate appeal to an agent, like a simpler story with predictable characters and a comfortable conclusion. Nothing about this story is comfortable, and though I understand why agents probably don't want to take a chance on that, I can't help but feel like it worked really well for Scott Lynch, coming up with a gritty tale and morally gray characters, and some really damn uncomfortable moments that left readers gripped and cringing all at once. But I want to make sure this story finds that audience, those people who LOVED The Lies of Locke Lamora, because I know some people who hated it, and I'm just bewildered. I need to make sure I find my target audience with the right cover and blurb, or I'll just have wasted not 20 hours, but three years. And that, I can't feel okay with.

Thanks to everyone who is helping me on this thread. I value all your feedback and ideas. I'll try to put up my images of the parchment and stuff, but it's hard to do without linking it. I'll have to upload them to my photobucket.
Hey there Caged.

I feel that my remark to your question was left incomplete.
I'm no writer, so I'll try to be as clear as possible right now, we go like this:

I took another look to your first illustration ( the original I believe ) and realized that my problem is with the character. That's where the amateur side of it shows, to me (drawing technique).

If you don't show a picture of a character in the cover, the readers are allowed to use their imagination to give a face to your characters, and their choices will always be perfect.

The skull ornament is actually pretty cool. As for really cool !! and I could totally see it as a cover with text on top of it. You can then play with the color on the lettering and the ornament to give specific moods that you feel will better represent your book.

- If you want to go wild :) you can even add a specific scene on the book, as a detail on the bottom of the cover. In black, just as a graphical element to add some more input on to what to expect.

- All these options are easily made in photoshop

I hope this could be of any help for you.

Caged Maiden

Article Team
Well, like i mentioned, the skull wall is a real thing, so I can easily use a photo of it. But that feels a bit incomplete to me, since it's real, and I'm not sure it says anything about the book necessarily, but here's a photo of the skull wall for your perusal either way. One is a tourist's photo, and the other is obviously looted, so forgive me for posting it, but since I painted it off the tourist's photo, I don't have one I own:


Caged Maiden

Article Team
Here's the preliminary photos I found to inspire the manuscript and leather cover idea. I would use the leather cover and use a band of photo like in Privilege of the Sword and that would be the manuscript. I could even use a figure standing next to it like Ellen Kushner's cover, but I'm not sure about putting a character on the cover at all, so... Here are those photos, but I haven't got any editing software to produce anything that looks like my vision in my head. Hope you can envision what i'm talking about.

Here's Privilege of the Sword:

Here's the leather looking cover:

And here's the piece of manuscript I'd have to cut and fit into a little box as in the example cover:

Caged Maiden

Article Team
So anyways (because I couldn't type more after posting the pics), I would use the same basic layout as the example book, but i'd use the leather cover kind of background, and then the manuscript instead of a city scene. But I'd have to make it look interesting. I'm not sure how to do that, but the parchment with writing on it would be okay, a better photo would show writing and a floral border, or something with a pattern, especially if it was detailed with red. That is really pertinent to the story, but I figured alone, those two things (leather look and manuscript0 would be a bit boring, which was why I thought to add a dagger or blood drops on the parchment? Again, we might be moving into cliche territory there, but I don't really know.

Any thoughts?

Edit: actually, now that I think about it, there's no reason the hidden messages must be in the border, and even if they are in the book, I think this photo of a manuscript is equally fascinating without a border. It would hint at the right thing, and it might be more exciting is it were edited to look like blood had spilled on it in a small way.
Last edited:


I'd hate to see your loveleh painting go to waste so I've worked up my own designs incorporating the leather cut-away idea. These are at pretty low res but if you're interested in continuing this route then let's PM and do this properly.

I think once you stylise real objects such as leather or photos in the right way you can get a pretty decent pairing with your painting! I think the difference would also be even less noticeable on a printed book.



Caged Maiden

Article Team
I only get one "thank" for a post, but I'd do a hundred more if I could. I LOVE what you did, and you totally nailed what I was going for with the leather and parchment! I'm so thrilled I posted my sample pictures and described what I was going for, because it looks like you really understood what I was trying to say (despite my unusually limited vocabulary on the matter) :)

!!!OMG!!! I just think this is great!