Writing Tips: How to make book covers readers will hate (Now with extra hatred!)

Book Covers
                              catchy or catastrophic?

I originally posted this a while back because art is special to me and bad covers make me cry.  But I realized as I was doing my cover look-a-likes post....why didn't I use all my lovely procrastinating time and make pictures!?  So this week's throwback post is revamped with more pictures, more eyebleeding insanity, and more tips for cover domination.  

But let's be honest.  Some of these examples break more than one.  

Sin #1:  Fonts that make me want to cry 
I'm a fontophile, I'll admit it.  Back when I had more time and did digital art a lot, I used to collect fonts like crack.  Or stamps or something.  Then there were fonts like Papyrus and Chiller.  They captivated me as a 14-year-old, as they should.  Because I was 14.  But I realized as I matured that they're terrible for digital art.  They're too common, they're poorly designed, and they're way the heck too common.  Whole websites have been dedicated to finding examples of Papyrus, but you needn't go that far.  Walk out your door sometime.  It'll shock and horrify you.  So when I see these fonts on a book cover, I (a) groan and (b) assume that the book inside is probably just as slapdash.  Maybe it's not fair, but that's the rub.  


Sin #2:  Blurry, low-res, or otherwise terrible-looking pictures 
If the cover of a book looks like a phone picture, chances are I'm going to run the other way.  Again, this is just a sign of laziness / lack of commitment to me.  Maybe that's not fair, but that's what I see.  Low on cover cash?  I'd rather see a clean, type-only cover than one that makes me squint.  

Sin #3:  Girls in dresses looking all morose 
This is one that indies and the Big Six alike share.  In fact, I think indies are way less likely to commit this sin.  See a list from just 2012 and you'll see what I mean.  Wtf are all these girls doing in ball gowns!?  Half of them do not involve ball gowns!  And unless I missed something, teenagers don't go dressed like Cinderella much.  Not all of these covers are bad.  In fact, some are quite pretty.  But they're still way too common and they don't have the same wow-factor that another cover would--so it's gonna take more to get a second look.  

Sin #4:  OMG close-up and look I'm all sad 
Similar to girl-in-dress, this is simply just girl, trimmed to mostly face, and usually not looking happy with the world.  Check out a list.  Some of these are better than others.  Incarnate and Daughter of Smoke and Bone?  Good.  They're faces, but they use the faces artistically to tell you something about the book.  Vampire Academy?  Okay, so there's a girl in it.  With brown hair.  

Sin #5:  I'm seeing double 
So you found a neat new stock photo that's OMG so gorgeous and you want to use it.  Well, keep in mind that someone probably already had that idea.  Again, major publishers are not immune to this.  Take a look at these shocking book-a-likes.  Some of them are stylized enough that they still look unique.  Some are practically indistinguishable.  The last thing you want in a crowded market is for readers to forget which book is yours.  This is covered well in my full book-a-likes post, but I give you a few examples below.  


Sin #6:  I can haz Photoshop?  
We all thought we were Photoshop gods back in the day.  Some of us were.  I've seen some people on forums who truly make works of art.  Then, I've seen a lot of people who just slapped together a bunch of images, blurred the edges, and called it a day.  If you're not good with digital art, hire a cover artist.  It's worth it, because a cover that looks like a grade school collage is not going to help your sales.  


Sin #7:  Word Art is not your friend  
The people responsible for this are generally bake sales, small-town newsletters, and, you guessed it, book covers.  Snazzing up your title text is NOT always the best idea.  It just makes it look cheap and slapdash.  Drop shadow?  Think again.  It can be used well...by people who really know what they're doing.  Glow text?  Oh god, please no.  Rainbow gradients?  I will smite thee.  There's nothing wrong with simple, plain title text.  In fact, it looks a lot nicer!  

Sin #8:  Thanks for playing. Try again.  
This is a miscellaneous sin.  It's the "what the heck happened here?" sin.  Maybe it's an awkward-looking image.  Maybe it's a horrifically cliched vampire mess.  Maybe it's a really bad sketch.  Whatever it is, kill it with fire!  

Links from Smart People

So, what are your cover loves and hates?  


Musing: It's time for Book Expo America 2014!


BEA starts in two days!  Or tomorrow, for those of you who are going to Bloggers Conference, like I am.  I can't wait to meet people there.  If you've ever spoken to me or just stopped by the blog and would like to say hello, don't be shy!  I'm shy so if I give you a weird look, it's probably because I'm suppressing some social anxiety.  Half kidding.  If you'd like to meet up, shoot me an email! 

You'll find me at Sarah J. Maas' signing and hanging around the publishing booths.  I'm also thinking about going to the Teen event at Books of Wonder.  So please, come find me and let's chat about books! 

For this week, posts will be sporadic.  I've schedule a few but I"m considering it a week off.  See you all on Monday! 



Art: Dead Beautiful, sketch of Celaena from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas


I've been meaning to draw another version of Celaena since my first one, partly because I knew I could do better and partly because Celaena is awesome.  (Don't know her?  Go read Throne of Glass.  Now.)  So I was trawling Sarah J. Maas's pinterest the other day and came across a gorgeous dress in her ToG file that I just had to draw.  Here's the result.  Keep your eyes peeled for a color version!  (I also think my hands are getting better since Karou. :P)   

Click for full size! 


Discussion: Writing Tips: Avoiding book cover twins, look-a-likes, and doppelgangers


I judge books by their covers.  I admit it.  In a perfect world, I could spend all my time in a bookstore picking up books, reading synopses, and finding the gems behind the really ugly design.  But I work 60-80 hour weeks and unless I get a great recommendation from someone, I'm on my own.  This means I use heuristics to find books I'll like.  And that heuristic is often great cover design.  This won't be news to most of you, because we all do it.  And if the cover looks dull, poorly photoshopped, or cheesy, then I'm likely to assume that the pages inside aren't so great either.  It's not fair.  It's business. 

So in an industry that's so judged by the cover, why do even top publishing companies persist in making covers that look exactly like every other damn cover?  If you're an indie author, come with me as I traverse some of the biggest bookalike signs, that you may avoid these pitfalls.  If you're a reader, come discuss with me what you think of bookalikes.  

Some of these covers might be a combination of sins, but I tried to place them where they seemed most appropriate.  

Sin #1:  SSDD, or SIDC 
If you've read Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, you'll recognize the first acronym as "Same shit, different day."  I've adapted it for this sin: "Same idea, different cover."  Some motifs are really eye-catching and make a great point.  The problem is, if another book already used that to great effect, yours is going to look like a hafhearted replica.  At best, you might get a few looks from people who think they're getting the other book.  At worst, you'll look unoriginal and derivative.  (I could have added every bad passionate-embrace romance cover ever, but I'll spare you.)  

Sin #2:  Tales from the stock photo graveyard
This is easily the most common of the sins.  I actually had to reign myself in because I could make an entire post just on this.  I can't believe how many people fall prey to this.  Including the Big Six.  Stock photo sites are great, especially if you're making your own cover on a budget, but they're also used by everyone.  And there are always a handful of photos that are used all the freaking time.  Maybe your cover uses it in a really cool, different way.  You'll notice that some of these are more successful in being unique than others.  Or you could just go take your own pictures, people...  





Sin #3:  Okay, now that's just plagiarism 
I was inspired for this sin (and this post) by the look-a-like cover below for a book called Paradigm.  This is a special sign, a little worse than SIDC.  It's almost as though one artist were trying to recreate the first cover with a few little edits thrown in.  (To be fair, I have no idea which came first.)  My only word for this sin?  Psh. 

Redemption:  How to "steal" ideas
There's nothing wrong with being inspired by a cover.  There are plenty of ideas that are the same at their core.  Nothing is new.  So, how do you do it well?  You take the core piece, the thing that grabs you, and you make it your own.  Here are some covers that have similar concepts but would never be mistaken for one another.  

What are your thoughts on very similar covers? 
Have you noticed any bookalikes?  

For more book cover discussion, check out: