Cover Art / fantasy / marketing for authors / Publishing / science fiction

Cover-up Follow-Up

Fantasy novels

Beautiful bespoke cover art. Baen is almost the only House still doing this.

Cross-posted over at Amazing Stories

Last week I showed some examples of good and bad cover art. Now, if you are an indie author, or a small press publisher, you can’t afford a great cover artist to create bespoke art for your cover. And I’ll tell you something: most traditional publishers don’t bother, either. You will find covers that came from one of the sources I have listed below on them, or even no art at all – an icon, or simply the author’s name and a small blurb.

Nonetheless, you can hire an artist if you want. The trouble will be finding one that is reliable. I have friends who have gone through several without every seeing their art. I myself waited a year for an artist to finally get around to sending me what I had commissioned. If you find an affordable, reliable artist, treat them like a jewel and hold onto them – I’m given to understand they are rarer than hen’s teeth. I am working with one myself, right now, and if he wants I will give out his information when I can show off my cover art for Pixie Noir. I have found, as have others, that artists on Deviantart might have pretty portfolios, but most likely they won’t even respond to messages, and again, you have no way of knowing if they can deliver on deadline.

The next step is to learn the basics of layout yourself, which can be done using a free program like Gimp, just as well as in the much more expensive inDesign or Photoshop. For art, either buy low-cost images from Dreamstime, or search for creative commons images in places like Creative Commons itself, even places like this for copyright-free NASA images, perfect for SF stories. With any site, whether you grab a free image or pay for one, you need to give credit where credit is due. Also, make sure you check the licensing for the image, as some are free only for non-commercial purposes.

I can’t find an image that fits a scene in my book, now what? Well, you don’t need to have an image that perfectly fits your book. What you need is an evocative image, not too cluttered or busy, that captures the feeling of your genre, be it fantasy, science fiction, or beyond. Your readers make their first impression on this image. Resist the temptation to create a blurry, pixelated piece of amateur art and slap that on your cover. It will look bad, and it will put readers off your book. Far better to go simple, elegant, and classic than to put hours into art if you do not already have the training to create it. Keep in mind that science fiction covers are never photographs. There are ways to digitze photos into artistic looks, and if you have the training, this may be the way to go for you. Fantasy is also never a photo-cover genre. however, you can play a little more fast and loose with the art, to suit your part of the genre. Epic fantasy has different cover styles than urban fantasy, and so forth. Don’t put a pretty unicorn on your tough, sexy, werewolf story unless you want bad reviews and disgusted readers.

It’s an art form all itself, covering your books. And be prepared for the boundaries to shift, and in a year, to possibly be re-covering your books again. Like the art of writing, you never stop learning in this business. Just do one thing… make your name big! Really big, covering the span of the cover. It might look like too much to you, but keep in mind that your reader sees this cover in thumbnail for the first time, and you want your reader to remember your name. It’s called branding, and I will talk about that next week.


8 thoughts on “Cover-up Follow-Up

  1. Have you tried going to a tattoo parlor? Some (maybe most) are pretty good artists with lots of samples in their portfolios.


    • I have not tried that, but it’s an interesting idea. I am a professional face and body artist in my other business, so I can say it’s not the same thing at all. However, I have used my own artwork for a couple of covers, namely Snow Angel and Dwarf’s Dryad.


  2. You write, “Keep in mind that science fiction covers are never photographs,” but I wonder if that need necessarily be so.

    Consider this trailer for Robert Jordan’s Towers of Midnight:

    Images from that clip could well have been used for the book’s cover. In other words, a good photograph of sufficiently-realistic cosplay might make for a successful cover.

    This might be easier for fantasy, especially sword-and-sorcery: hire SCA or renfaire folks as models and you’re halfway there. For SF, it’s likely cheaper to hire an artist to draw the image than to create a realistic photograph—but I think it could be effective if it’s well done.


      • I meant to get models dressed as if in cosplay for your book. But yes, you’ve got to pay the models and the photographer, and design a cover around it. Like I said, it would likely be cheaper to hire an artist (especially if you have that talent yourself)—but photos could work, too.


  3. I’ve had excellent results over on Deviantart, working with artists from around the world. They haven’t been that expensive, either–many of them are students still learning their craft. Don’t expect them to know book design, but what I did was commission the image and then I do the lettering and book design part.


    • This is heartening, Judy. The artist who took a year to deliver my (prepaid) art was someone I was working with through deviantart. I have tried a few times to contact artists, as have others in my writing group, with little luck in it.


      • Yeah, prepaying is a bad idea in general. I only paid once I saw their initial sketches (if it was a cheap commission) or half on sketch, half on final for the pricier illustrations.


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