Cover Story II

When someone puts up a web page showing off their portfolio of gorgeous book cover designs, and when they’re charging copious amounts of money to design your cover for you, you’d think you’d get a beautiful cover, first crack out of the gate.

You’d think.

To follow up on yesterday’s rant about the perils of cover design, I’m going to show you the tripe that was shoveled at me last week under the pretense that it was suitable for a book cover. I’m not going to name the company, because I want to be able to fling insults at their work without fear of getting sued.

The designers in cover design companies are never shooting blind. They always ask for details about your book, including visual ideas you may have. My book is a YA fantasy mystery called Woven of Death & Starlight. Since there’s a murder scene with a bloody sword, I suggested that as one of the possible elements. In another scene there are some gnarled, bare-branched trees (it’s late autumn), so I suggested that a tree branch or two might lurk or intrude along the edge of the cover to add some ominous flavor. But of course it’s YA fantasy, so the lead character is a 17-year-old girl. I also mentioned ribbons, because the magic in the story is to do with weaving.

The deal is, after receiving a hefty cash advance, this company sends you two concepts. If you don’t like either of those, they’ll come up with a third one. Here are their first two crude stabs at my cover:

The first one is rather elegant, I’ll give it that, but it’s murky. There’s no glow to it. You have to stare at it for a few seconds to figure out that you’re seeing a rear view of a young woman: That’s her hair and her left arm. The sword crossing the image diagonally like that shouts “battle fantasy,” which is exactly the opposite of my story.

The second one is worse. Are those fat things ribbons? I didn’t say anything about blood on the ribbons. And a burnished steel font for a YA fantasy? This is shockingly clueless.

So I said, “Let’s try again.” Here is their next concept:

The tree, which I suggested as a peripheral element, has somehow become the main element in the design. The typeface is Bodoni MT Italic (I happen to have it on my computer, so I was able to identify it) without the slightest adornment, so it’s frankly cheap. The sword no longer has blood, and it’s positioned in a way that clearly says “Christianity,” even though I had never mentioned Christianity in my description to them of the book — and wouldn’t have, as Christianity has absolutely nothing to do with the story. If you zoom in, even in this reduced jpg you may be able to see that a fabric texture has been underlaid or overlaid on the entire image, which makes it fuzzy rather than crisp. And where is the glow? Do they honestly think this shit is going to entice readers?

We went on from there through a few more design concepts before I decided to throw in the towel. The point is, I shouldn’t have had to keep trying to chivvy them into a decent design. They purport to be professionals! Why am I being served these slabs of crap?

If I want an amateurish cover design, I can do it myself, with a lot less aggravation and a lot less outlay of cash. Right now I’m downloading some free fonts….

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