…A Book By Its Cover

by Bruce Blake

I know, I know…it’s Halloween and I really should be posting something with a holiday theme: monsters, frights, or favourite horror stories. I considered it, but Scott did such a good job on his post a couple of days ago, What Scares You?, that I thought I’d let that do the Guild’s fright night talking and I’d carry on about something entirely different.

To that end, my Halloween subject? Book covers.

I was at the library the other day, browsing for something to read, when I caught myself doing something…I’d pick up a book, look at its cover and if it didn’t catch my attention, I’d put it back. If it did, then I’d go on to read the blurb and if that sounded good, I’d flip the book open and read the first page. Ultimately, it’s the first page that convinces me to buy or check out a book, but I really do judge a book by its cover.

A big change I’ve noticed in the almost two years since I published ON UNFAITHFUL WINGS is in the quality of book covers found on self-published books. Once upon a time, it was easy to tell which books were put out by a traditional publisher and which were not. The electronic book shelves abounded with stock image covers marred by glued-on fonts that typically didn’t work too well. Sometime in the last twenty-four months, indie authors en masse seem to have realized that people really do judge a book by its cover and most went out and hired professionals to do the work they didn’t have the skills to pull off themselves.

And thank heaven for that.

The cover of ON UNFAITHFUL WINGS has gone through four versions during its close to two year run. It began with the typical novice author mistake…I designed my own. I started with a moody stock image I really liked. In fact, I’d already used it for the self-made cover of a short story called ‘Wave Songs’. I liked it so much, I couldn’t imagine using anything else.

Man leaning towards the sea. Húsavík, Faroe Islands.To this, I added the title, subtitle, and my name in fancy fonts and interesting colours and…voila, a snazzy book cover, or so I thought.

Man leaning towards the sea. Húsavík, Faroe Islands. After a short while, I thought this needed to by snazzed up even more. I delved into GIMP, fished out some special effects, and put my rather limited graphic arts skills to work (I’d like to point out that I am a writer, so please don’t hold my poor visual abilities against me).

Man leaning towards the sea. Húsavík, Faroe Islands.I still have a few paperbacks with this cover lying around the house, so if anyone is in love with it and doesn’t mind the fact the prose needs a little more editing…drop me a line and we’ll work something out.

Sales of ON UNFAITHFUL WINGS boomed, moving a whopping five to ten copies a month for a couple of months (please read a sarcastic tone into that line). Six months after the publication of the first Icarus Fell novel, book number two, ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST, was ready to go, and I decided I’d reached my limitations–it was time to bring in someone who had some real talent for book covers. Enter Travis of Pro Book Covers. We tossed around some ideas and the new look for Icarus was born, along with a theme to be carried through the series.

Icarus Fell, urban fantasy, On Unfaithful Wings, Dresden Files

On Unfaithful Wings Version 3.0

All Who Wander Are Lost, urban fantasy, Hell, demon, devil, Icarus Fell

All Who Wander Are Lost

Much better. I was happy to have covers that didn’t look like a writer decided to try his hand at graphic design. ALL WHO WANDER was published, the KHIRRO’S JOURNEY trilogy came next (covers also designed by Travis) and a year later, it was time for the next Icarus book. Surprise, surprise, the fickle author decided a new book meant a new direction for the covers. Much as I liked these ones, I felt like they were too dark and had too much flame, so Travis and I went back to the drawing board (well, Travis did, really…I sent a few emails). To celebrate the release of SECRETS OF THE HANGED MAN, new covers were born.

On Unfaithful Wings, Icarus Fell, urban fantasy, Jim Butcher

On Unfaithful Wings Version 4

All Who Wander Are Lost, Bruce Blake, Icarus Fell, urban fantasy, hell, devil, demon

All Who Wander Are Lost Version 2

Secrets of the Hanged Man, Icarus Fell, urban fantasy, Dresden Files, Jim Bitcher, demon

Secrets of the Hanged Man

I feel like these covers are eye-catching, give a sense of genre (urban fantasy), and look professional…quite a change from the first version I cobbled together. The best part is, the more I work with my cover artist, the better we understand each other. I really feel like we’ve grown together over the last few years, right up to the production of the cover for my latest book, WHEN SHADOWS FALL, which I think kicks some serious butt.

When Shadows Fall, Small Gods, epic fantasy, fantasy adventure, George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire

(The First Book of the Small Gods)

So what about you? What are your favourite covers, yours or someone else’s? What do you think separates a good cover from a not-so-good cover?

And for those of you who were disappointed at my lack of Halloween post, here is the nasty little pumpkin who will be meeting all the little trick-or-treaters who darken my door…Happy Halloween!

Halloween, scary, jack o' lantern, frightening, monster, pumpkin—–

Bruce Blake is the author of three Icarus Fell urban fantasies, the KHIRRO’S JOURNEY epic fantasy trilogy, and WHEN SHADOWS FALL (The First Book of the Small Gods). The Second Book of the Small Gods will be out in mid-December if he doesn’t eat too much Halloween candy and put himself into a sugar coma with the first round of editing only partially complete.


2 comments on “…A Book By Its Cover

  1. Actually, I don’t mind your first cover. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it is a good image. The thing about professional designers is, they always take the image to the next level – beyond “nothing wrong with it” to “Wow!”

    • Thanks, Scott. I liked it, too but, as you say, ‘pretty good’ or ‘not bad’ just don’t cut it in today’s market. With so many books available, the cover is the first thing that can separate your book from so many others.

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