So I was updating my Amazon profile the other day with my recent releases, and it turns out there are kind of a lot of them! Here’s where I’ve appeared in the past month or so.

not_our_kind_tinyNot Our Kind: Tales of (Not) Belonging – January 25
My story: Good Neighbors [Check it out on Amazon]

When you talk about outsiders, it’s easy to think about that sense of isolation when you’re not one of the “popular kids” in high school, when you’re the new person on the job, when you stand out in a bad way.

But there’s more than that.

There’s the sense of wonder at a new, alien place. There’s seeing everything you know through a new, different point of view.

These stories defy expectations and easy genre boundaries.

But if you want that sense of wonder and amazement when you first encountered speculative fiction, that idea that there is something different, something more just around the corner, just out of sight, that sense of coming home to the unfamiliar, then this is the book you want to read.

faed_tinyFaed – January 31
My story: Away and Below [Check it out on Amazon]

The good neighbors, the folk under the hill, the fae. Spirits, ghosts, and outsiders, often thought to be gods. They step into the real world to play, not caring or knowing how humans live.

And like children playing with dolls, they have the power to completely change the story.

Fantastic Stories of the Imagination – February 1
My story: She Opened Her Arms [Read free]

Amber was hunched on the playground swing, watching Michael chalk meticulous, artless nonsense on the blacktop, when a woman came up to watch. Amber eyed her warily. Her brother couldn’t tell bad strangers from good ones, so it was up to her.

phobos_troublemake_tinyPhobos: Troublemake – February 8
My poem: When I Am Eighty-Three [Check it out on Amazon]

For our third issue of Phobos, “Troublemake,” we called for stories about biters of the hands that feed, timid folk acting out against their tormentors, unlikely disturbers of the status quo, hell-raisers both literal and figurative, and creatures who just plain don’t like being told what to do.

An incredible, international collection of writers responded with stories about the various hungers of a corrupt food critic, a clandestine embalmer on the run, suburban botanical troubles, a desperate politician in a haunted town, casual witchcraft gone wrong, casual witchcraft done right, a working dreamer and a dreaming worker, the obstacle course of a disintegrating family, and the clever, web-fingered, eponymous main attraction of our final piece.

thetimeithappened_tinyThe Time It Happened – March 1
My story: Xenofabulous [Check it out on Amazon]

Time. We feel it march by, seeming to gain momentum with each passing year. Some physicists argue that it might not actually exist. We have only our recollections to depend on, and sometimes those can fool us, becoming fogged, like overexposed film.

“The Time It Happened” from Third Flatiron Anthologies contains 15 short science fiction adventures and flash humor pieces that explore world-altering events, both real and imagined, ranging from alien invasion and space wars to fantastically unpredictable science experiments. Seemingly minor crises, such as missing your morning cup of coffee, or a network glitch, can ruin your whole day, but what about forever? Historical events, like Lincoln’s death, the Apollo 11 mission, or Sputnik, may not have happened quite like we remember. Yet surely the most important memories, like love, are permanently etched on the walls of time.

“The Time It Happened” proudly showcases an international group of new and established speculative fiction authors.

Mirror Dance – March 1
My poem: Crown of Bells [Read free]

If we had only known earlier–
We whisper on the linen, nose to cheek–
If we had guessed the witch for what she was,
If we had resigned before the mess began–

But a servant’s no advisor,
And a cook’s no fool.
Let the master handle his own witches.

xiii_tinyXIII: Stories of Transformation – March 16
My story: Why Ulu Left the Bladescliff [Check it out on Amazon]

The thirteenth Tarot card is Death, and he is a symbol not of the end, but of transformation and rebirth. This is the genesis and root of Thirteen: Stories of Transformation. The twenty-eight authors of this collection are voices—new and old—who are not afraid to explore what comes next. Whether it be a life after death, a life without love, a life filled with hunger, or the life shared by a ghost. These are stories of the weird, the mythic, the fantastic, the futuristic, the supernatural, and the horrific.

The ghosts of the past have been eaten by the children of the future: this endless cycle of birth, death, and renewal is the magic of thirteen.

Do not fear change. Embrace it. Let Thirteen be the handbook for the new you.

For this week’s weekend book cover experiment, I got a fantasy novella from Laura Christensen. She commissioned an original piece of cover art from Natasha Alterici.

QUEEN_8banners_sminfo

THIS ART IS AWESOME. My primary job here is to not ruin it with a bad design.

This requires absolutely no additional images, so my whole job is choosing the fonts. For a fantasy, especially historical fantasy, I like serifs. To my surprise, the major factor seems to be finding a font with a decent Q. I scan through my fonts and decide High Tower Text looks appropriately epic-fantasy. I just learned how to do a decent metallic font, so I want to flex that new muscle.

On the way I find Onyx which looks like it’ll be great for the author name. (It looks familiar, in a mass-market paperback kind of way. I can’t place it. Anyone?) I want to use that blue accent on her gloves and shoes in the author name. I apply an outline around the author name and a texture over it.

There’s space for a blurb over to the left, so I put some smoke behind it to make it easier to read, and use the same font as the title. Seriously, this art is composed so perfectly for this purpose.

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I like this a whole lot. Some things I don’t love: the white behind the title is too obviously shaped like the letters. The title doesn’t stand out as well as I’d like in thumbnail size. The blue text is too hard to read against the brown background. (I weep to lose it.) The title is a little lopsided for my taste. I look up a few authors and find it’s more common not to put a space between initials. (Who knew?)

This leads to my usual disastrous session of Trying Things.

tries

I pull these together into an iteration that uses what I think are the best versions of each element. I contact the author about the blurb; she doesn’t have one, so I write a tagline based on the description.

8banners6_sm

This was a different challenge than the usual one of making stock art look halfway decent. I think original art is a great strategy for fantasy covers, but only if you can get something as high-quality as this piece. She’s open to commissions, I understand.

The story that goes with this cover is available to read on Wattpad!

What do you think? Does the text work with the image, or get in the way? What tweaks would you make?

FONTS, TOP TO BOTTOM

  • High Tower Text
  • Onyx

IMAGE SOURCES

TIME TO CREATE

  • About 2 hours for the first draft, then another 2 hours of fiddling

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

My fifth weekend book cover, and my second steampunk, is a novella from Sonya M. Shannon. She sent me a cover model and description, and I worked with the watermarked stock photo until we liked the results, in case it didn’t turn out to be worth the purchase.

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The steampunk section of Amazon shows a lot of variety, but it’s very popular to have a figure on the cover (more full-length than busts, but I’ll take it) and it’s just about gospel to have foggy old London in the background, so I find a photo on Unsplash (where else?) that could probably pass. I do not know where this is actually a picture of, for the record.*

*SRRSkelley ID’d this as Charles Bridge in Prague!

download

I took quite a few wrong turns designing this, largely because I decided early it needed old-fashioned gold lettering, which is not at all where we ended up. Rather than waste a lot of time explaining all my wrong moves, let me just line ‘em up.

first_tries

The last one is what I passed to the author, who requested a few specific things.

info2

Since this is a learning process, I tried nearly all of them to see if they worked, and they totally did. WELP.

Heliodor10

One last pass used the high-quality unwatermarked cover, enlarged the first letter of the title, and corrected my embarrassing error in the subtitle. I like it!

Heliodor12_sm

For the purposes of this blog post, let me break down the layers and steps that went into this thing.

The figure was removed from its background and duplicated. The top layer was desaturated and set to low opacity, with the glasses erased. In a third, middle layer, I isolated the lenses and turned the hue to green. There’s a little black smoke over the bottom left of him.

The background was duplicated and pasted so I had more room to work, and turned green. There’s a fog overlay.

The title font is in white with a green grunge texture overlaid with low opacity; the first letter is enlarged. The author font is in dark green with the same grunge texture overlay. There’s a black gradient stripe behind the author name to help bring it out.

And a green grunge texture over everything except the subtitle, to help bring it out.

FONTS, TOP TO BOTTOM

  • Kleymissky Medium Italic
  • Baskerville Old Face
  • Bentham

IMAGE SOURCES

TIME TO CREATE

  • About twelve hours start to finish (lots of fiddling, and a lot of touchy work–special shout-out to those flowing locks)

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

The next entry in my weekend book cover experiment is a YA fantasy romance from Rebecca Simkin.

info

Phew! A lot more photo-manipulation went into this one than usual. Fantasy so often has illustrated or custom-shot cover images (here are some beautiful examples), neither of which I can do, so I’ll have to work with what I have.

The photo is fantastic, but as the author noted, “the image lends one to think of religious experiences or self help books, so beware!” She’s absolutely right. The title makes that correlation even worse. I ask her to think of another, and go ahead with a version of the title as a placeholder. I’m going to have to work hard to make sure the cover screams “YA fantasy romance” as loudly as possible.

The other difficulty is–as it so often happens!–the photo’s very short and wide for a book cover, and worse, the top is truncated in a way I can’t easily extend. It’ll be tough to position this element.

I start off with the given image. To me, nothing says “YA fantasy” like purple, so I isolate the hands and change the background color. There’s just not enough photo to fill up the cover, so I hunt down something (from Unsplash, which is becoming my go-to-slash-crutch) and color it to match.

healinghands1smThat looks amateur, but at least it gets me working with the image and testing what it can do.

I realize the glow in the hands doesn’t say very much, visually. (This is actually the second hands-cupping-magical-glow request I’ve gotten; the other is still pending.) Can I add anything that drives home anything in the book description? I browse Unsplash again. A flower = romance. I isolate it, and use three layers (hands, flower, fingers) to place it. The glow remains almost everywhere, which is fantastic, since it keeps that “magic” element, but now it’s “magical romance”. Getting there! I turn the top nighttime image into a background image and leave the too-short arms floating in space. That leaves me room for a tagline, which I use to emphasize both that it’s fantasy (main character’s name), and that it has themes of love and war. Oh, and can you tell there used to be four figures standing between the trees, not two? Romance!

bluesYou know what, though, I really liked that purple. I change the background color and the tagline color, and in messing around with the background discover I like it in a different place. These are getting really close to decent. (I also try making the flower more purple. Every attempt ends in disaster. It’s fine the way it is.)

purplesBreakthrough: the author has come up with a title that’s much more in the YA vein (the original is practically genre-neutral). I rework the title. I’m not proud of using Harrington, but in lieu of a custom font it gets the job done. I also decide to shore up the magic and romance with some kind of ornamentation. Poking around a vector site nets me one that works, which I use at low opacity as a garnish. I find a better font for the tagline and we’re off.

ungloved1_smDang, y’all. This is a good cover! The author, however, has several tweaks in mind. She doesn’t like the floating arms, thinks the kerning is weird in the C’s of the first name, and sees a street lamp on the bottom left where I saw a debranched tree. Well, fair enough. I manually re-kern the end of the author’s name, turn the lamp into a tree, and–through applied miracle-working–lengthen the model’s arms. This is the exact limit of my art skills. I also tweak the title and add a little transparency to it, which I think is classy. I do like the second version better.

ungloved2_sm

What do you think? Can you tell the genre just by looking at the cover? What tweaks would you make?

FONTS, TOP TO BOTTOM

  • Century Gothic
  • Harrington
  • Sylfaen

IMAGE SOURCES

TIME TO CREATE

  • About 9 hours plus another hour after the “last” draft to make the “last last” draft

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

Continuing my book cover project, I got a request this weekend for a book cover featuring this very famous historical photo.

Mark_Twain_in_the_lab_of_Nikola_Tesla;_1894info

This is the perfect kind of photo for a book cover. It demonstrates its time, place, subject matter, characters, and tone all in the same image. And it’s in portrait orientation! Blessed day! My first job is to find a source that proves it’s public domain. Then I start making it fit.

There are two issues with the photo as-is. First, Tesla is creeping in the background like a creeper. I need to move him closer in: it makes a nice parallel design if he’s the same distance from Twain as the cabinet thing. I also want the ability to adjust the focal point of the book cover–I think I want Twain at a third of the way up, not halfway–and there’s not that much neutral space above him.

Moving Tesla takes three layers, all duplicates of the same photo. In one, I delete everything but Tesla and small a halo of green around him. In the second, I use a layer of transparency and the eraser to blot Tesla from existence. Then I use a third layer underneath that to fill in the blank space where Tesla was, by shifting it around and deleting leftover Tesla until it looks more or less seamless. Once that’s merged together, I move the isolated Tesla inward until he’s better aligned. I am really enjoying saying the name “Tesla”.

To gain more positioning leeway, I use the old copy-and-flip trick. I duplicate the photo, flip it upside-down, and carefully match ends with the original. It’s easy to notice, but elegant and quick. (I did the same thing on the final blue cover, here.) I repeat that process, flipping them backwards and matching them up. Now I have more space to the top and right, so I can position Twain and his electro-magical sphere where I want them.

Mark_Twain_in_the_lab_of_Nikola_Tesla;_1894 vs photo_rearranged

I’ve been wanting to try a watermark-type of look on a book cover, and it’s the perfect way to add a special touch to a well-known photo. I type out the alphabet in a mathy font and fiddle the letters around until there aren’t too many similar symbols side-by-side. I overlay it on the picture. It doesn’t look quite right, so I use the eraser to remove the letters from over Twain and Tesla. That helps define them, especially Tesla, who’s still creeping, the creeper.

I want a handwriting font for the title, and this one looks just like chalkboard scribbles: perfect. I decide on serif fonts for the rest of the text. In the title, I add a gradient to “The” and “Age” so it looks a bit like the word “Glowing” is letting off light. I put a glow behind the author’s name as well. Et voila.

TheGlowingAge2_sm

The book doesn’t exist yet (sorry!) so I made this a quick job. If it was going to press, I would take more time with choosing the title and author fonts. I don’t think the cover needs any supplemental text, but a row of “By the author of” probably couldn’t hurt. Another thing to consider when using this photo on a book cover is that it’s famous and free. A cursory search didn’t turn up any other books using this on the cover, but they have to be out there.

Does this book cover look professional or homemade? Is there anything missing from the cover you wish it included? What would you change?

FONTS TOP TO BOTTOM:

  • Andalus
  • Homemade Apple
  • Traditional Arabic Bold

IMAGE SOURCES:

TIME TO CREATE:

  • 1.5 hours plus about fifteen minutes of Googling

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

Reprising my offer from last week to design a book cover for the first person who had an image available, I got a medical thriller from @eigenseide. Here’s what she sent:

conceptinfo

There are two complications here. First is that the title is still up in the air. We toss around some options and decide to go forward with “A Rash of Violence” to start.

The other complication is that the image, while beautiful, doesn’t say “medical” or “thriller” and only says “set in Mongolia” very, very subtly. And also it’s in landscape orientation. Books are in portrait and tend to need some neutral stuff at the top or bottom. Just, you know, in case you’re thinking of taking photos for use on a book cover. Word to the wise. I mock up something, but it’s not the direction I want to go, at all.

rash1

Here’s the medical thriller category on Amazon. Lots of red-and-white, and also a lot of bright light blue, interestingly. It probably calls on scrubs and antiseptic walls and that kind of thing.

medicalthrillers

Don’t be fooled by the patches of green; there are a couple Irish country doctor memoirs in there for some reason.

So I go looking for another image on my new favorite site. I see this one and get the idea immediately. It implies modern Asia, and crowds, and it’s hospital-white, and I think I can set apart one of the figures in a striking way, to represent disease in the middle of society.

statues_sm

I duplicate that layer, turn it super-red, and erase the shape of the dude from an overlay of the original. I also retitle the book because neither of us are happy with the title yet and I’m arrogant that way.

epicenter1

These are…okay? I feel like the concept is good but the execution is lacking. I become paranoid that I saw the idea somewhere else and stole it by mistake. I start fiddling.

epicenter2

I’m making things worse. Time to break for dinner.

When I get back I decide to redo the concept. I use three layers (white figures in front, red figure in the middle, white figures in the back) and it makes the colorizing look a little more natural. I also don’t massively oversaturate the red layer. I’m not entirely happy with the pinkish tone, but I’m not able to make it darker red without making it look out of place. I assume a pro could do it.

epicenter3

We’re also talking about titles again, so I experiment.

viralcomplications

Switching the author name to the top is making things worse again. I backtrack. The good news is, we’ve settled on a title.

rashI vastly prefer the lowercase, because I think it looks more modern and stylish, even though I don’t know whether that works for a medical thriller. I want the central figure smaller, because I feel like at this size we’re losing that element of “infected figure in unsuspecting crowd” I was so proud of coming up with. Shrinking the image adds a dark space at the top, but luckily we’ve added a tagline to fill it up with.

rash2There’s a lot about this I’m not sure about. I add a fancy flair to the title, to reinforce the theme, though I’m not sure it works. Ultimately I send out two potential covers, and a bonus cover as an apology: the kind of book cover I’d use the original photo on.

MedThriller14red_smMedThriller15_sm

travelogue_sm

This was super tough and I’m still not satisfied that I nailed it. What do you think? Which cover do you prefer? What kind of book would you assume this was, from the cover? What changes would you make to fit it more firmly in its category?

FONTS, “RASH”:

  • DilleniaUPC Bold
  • GulimChe (left)
  • Gungsuh (right)
  • Century Gothic

FONTS, “THE THRONE OF KHAN”:

  • Century Gothic
  • Arial
  • Kokila Italic
  • Centaur

IMAGE SOURCES:

TIME TO CREATE:

  • 5 hours in GIMP plus 1 hour for bonus cover, 1 hour researching and 1 hour fretting

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

I make book covers now! This weekend I offered on Twitter to make a free commercial ebook cover to the first person who had an image available and told me they wanted it. My taker was @ChrisIfill.

Here’s what he sent me:

modelinfo

I love the model, but the photo is pretty low-resolution*. I scale it up to proper size and isolate the figure from the background, and resolve to deal with it later. For a thriller, I want dark colors and sans-serif type. This isn’t strictly the best plan, but it’s the one I start out with. After some playing around, I decide I like the figure off to the side, urban-fantasy style, and I find that Impact font is close to what I have in mind. I try various backgrounds, including solid white and dark gray, and go with a black-blue gradient as a placeholder. I isolate the pink parts of her dress and turn them blue to match–plus then I’ll be able to change it to something else if I want to. I fancy up the author’s name, even though it risks looking silly. I try out a few versions of the title. Given that the provided image is my limiting factor, I think my design should consider what she’s looking down at. I’m okay with her looking at the word “revenge”, but I’d kind of like her looking down at a city. I’ll have to find one later. I test out orange as a font because I hear it works well against blue. All of these versions look pretty amateur, but I feel like I’m iterating toward something better.

early tries

Then I spend a while on Amazon looking at the category. Amazon actually has a subcategory for Vigilante Justice, so I go there, as well as all over the Thrillers and Crime category, and learn something interesting: very, very few of the top sellers feature a distinct figure on the cover. Gone Girl has a dude, but it’s at a distance from behind, and besides, it’s got a movie now. Most of the rest of the people on thriller covers are tiny, stylized, in silhouette, or completely absent. Colors tend toward bright splashy warms over darkish cools. Landscapes underneath a large font are popular. My cityscape idea has legs. I hate to abandon the stock photo that was sent to me, but I’ll have to figure out how to incorporate her. So many of these books have custom fonts, or interesting things going on around and under the fonts. The ones that don’t tend to use really tall fonts. I like both approaches, but I’m not capable of custom fonts. (Gradients under fonts notwithstanding.) I google “James Patterson font” which leads me to Libel Suit, and call it a night.

vigilantejustice

The competition, who know what they’re doing.

The next morning I start incorporating what I learned last night. I try out Libel Suit, and I really like it. I find a few potential backgrounds on a Creative Commons Zero stock photo site. I try a few that don’t work, but find a shot of Alcatraz that seems like it’ll do. I increase the size. I don’t like the water, so I darken it. Then I darken the whole thing. I thought lowering contrast would be good, but it only washes everything out, so I throw the slider in the other direction and it makes a neat effect where the orange highlights pop.

backgrounds

I decide to try it without the figure, and do the designing via typography. Something I really liked on covers in the Thriller category was when the font style varied within the title. I can’t make Libel Suit bold for reasons unknown, so I go back to Impact for one of the words. I try making the two main words orange and the others grey, but I like it the other way around: The, Of, and Revenge in orange, with Sound set apart by font and color. I think incidental text makes a cover look classy, so I add A Thriller underneath. The horizontal lines are just a row of hyphens surrounding the text, because I’m such a pro. This is getting pretty good!

late tries

I want more incidental text, so I write a tagline for the top and add a placeholder blurb that ties into the way I emphasized “sound” in the title. I realize opacity might be my ticket to including the model. I try her along the side, at 25%, but it doesn’t work, so I move her down. I like that, but the photo looks even worse when overlaid a much higher-res one. I smudge her edges and turn opacity down to 20% to try to make up for it. Here’s my final version.

SoundofRevenge6_sm

What do you think? Does it look like it fits the category? What would you tweak if you could? Are there any techniques I could have used to make it better?

FONTS, TOP TO BOTTOM

  • Kirsty
  • Libel Suit
  • Kunstler Script
  • Impact

IMAGE SOURCES

TIME TO CREATE

  • 4 hours in GIMP and 1 hour research

*Turns out the original photo is much higher-res than the one I got! Authors! Send the best you can!

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

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