Friday, August 26, 2011

Cover Art

I need help.

Okay, not like that, but I know myself well enough to understand some of the things I do well, and others I don't do so well.

Writing, I seem to have a knack for. Art, colors, design -- not so much. Despite that limitation, I've been working on book cover ideas for my first three novels. I love getting the novels printed at CreateSpace -- just as proof copies right now. But I'm struggling with the cover for INCENTIVIZE, so I'm asking for your help picking the best design.

A few basics on covers -- five objectives
  1. Make the subject matter clear.
  2. Communicate one big idea
  3. Emphasize the book's target audience
  4. Entice a potential reader to look further
  5. Communicate how the book will enhance the reader's life (I'm not making that up).
So let's start with the two covers I'm reasonably happy with:

This first cover is for LEVERAGE, a story set in Minnesota about a mid-level corporate manager and recreational runner who gets sucked into an espionage investigation.

I think this cover is good, but not great. Running is important to the main character, and he does actually outrun the bad guys at one point. And that chase does take place through a wooded area on a path.

I had trouble, however, finding an image of someone having their teeth drilled out with a hand drill, which might have been a little more on target to the plot of the book.

Next is DELIVERABLES about the wrecking of a product licensing deal for a world changing battery technology, and how the scheme impacted one particular employee.

I really love this image -- if you look at the picture closely, you can see that bomb-shaped thing, is actually constructed of batteries. It fits the theme of the book perfectly, and is also odd looking enough that you might pause to look closer.

And now for the difficult one -- INCENTIVIZE. This is the story about a young American woman working for an International mining company who comes to East Africa, is kidnapped while visiting the Dallol hot springs, is held captive in Mogadishu, escapes and is arrested as a spy, and then is nearly killed in a huge explosion at a hotel in Addis Ababa. Yeah, a lot of bad stuff happens to her. Anyway, each of the possible covers hits on a different theme from the book.

This is potential cover number 1.

A picture of a fire and it's devastation in an African country, with a man in the foreground getting ready to try to spray it with water.

This could be the hotel after the explosion, or just the disaster which is Mogadishu. It kind of covers both bases, and I like it because of that.

Potential cover number 2.

I'm not sure where this photo is taken, but I think it is a great shot representing the hotel going up in an explosion.

My only problem with it is the surrounding area doesn't look anything like Addis Ababa (too primitive, too "disastered").

On the other hand, it is dramatic.

Potential cover number 3.

This picture is of the Dallol hot springs. Some important action takes place at this location, and the hot springs are dramatic, desolate and eye-catching.

Unfortunately, it doesn't do a great job of grabbing a big idea from the story.

If only there was a group of mercenaries in a truck in the background....

Potential cover number 4.

The plot of this novel revolves around mining, and some bad things that could result if an immoral mining executive managed to have the opportunity.

And, of course, the story is set in Africa.

So, my plea for help -- which of the four covers do you like the best? Give me some much needed guidance!


  1. Hey Tom,

    Heather here. I looked at all four options, and a few ideas/suggestions immediately come to mind. First of all, as they are, I like the third option (the hot springs) best. It is not too specific, yet has some element of relevance to the book. I'm not sure that it needs to be a picture that depicts a scene central to the main plot. I think the best book covers are those that don't have a whole lot going on in them. Simple, yet enticing.

    I also had an idea about the second option. You're right, there is a real, dramatic element to the fire explosion. I like that. But again, I think it might be too specific/literal. One suggestion I have for this one is to make the background black, lasso out the picture of the hotel, and just leave the flames - leave it vague so readers have to guess what's exploding. Maybe even add a filter to the flames to make them really stand out. I think it would look really cool, and it would certainly be an eye-catcher.

    If I have any other ideas and/or suggestions, I will let you know.

    Have a good time in San Francisco!

  2. One more thing - the battery bomb. There was some talk about it the other night. Just an idea: try using one battery and adding a string to it. Maybe make it so it would look like a bomb, with the string lit, but the bomb is the battery. I hope that makes some sort of sense!

  3. Heather, those are both really good suggestions. But my photoshop skills are pretty limited. Do you know how to do those things?

    I particularly like the idea of a burning fuse on the battery bomb. It would look really cool if the fuse curled up into the black space above the picture...

    Maybe I'll get a chance to experiment a bit...

  4. I have to go with Heather, although I would like to see her idea for # 2. I think that currently 1 and 2 are too literal and they didn't match what I imagined in my head based on your description. They look like the Middle East, not Africa. I have to admit I don't know too much about Africa, but this isn't what I was expecting.

  5. Hi Tom,
    I like your musings on the corporate world. Well said.
    For the cover, might pick something simple - gold nuggets next to a black pouch. Pouch also alludes to a head covering after being kidnapped. Cover type, rectangles etc. are a little busy. My design and photoshop skills are rather good.
    Let me know if you want some (free) assistance.

  6. I am fairly decent at Photoshop - not great, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I can certainly help out if you would like!