Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cover Art

When I visited fellow blogger Andrew Leon over at StrangePegs yesterday, I had absolutely no idea that I was going to be treated to some fantastic art.  To clarify, he has an amazing looking cover for a manuscript he intends to publish that is not done by a professional artist (an artist who is known in the business for doing such things and charges who knows how much for it).  The author/artist who did Andrew's cover is Rusty Webb of The Blutonian Death Egg blog.

Just as a disclaimer, I want to say that I'm thinking Rusty's rates are pretty darn affordable and I suspect it has something to do with him being an ultra-nice guy.

Anyway...this got me to thinking about cover art and how important it is to have stuff on your cover that grabs the eye.   Let's take a look at a bunch of covers here:

First up is the cover for Andrew's work that is coming out. gut reaction... Holy crap... I can't believe that this is a cover not put out by a Publishing House.

Here are the things that make my eyes spin:

1) The letters on the title are incredible. They are scary and draw my eye so effectively in that yellowish paint that I have to know what this story is about.

2) The ominous dark clouds behind the letters.  First it sets off the title beautifully. Second it scares the bejeezus out of me which I think is the reaction that one wants with this type of book.

3) The house looks lonely, forlorn, rundown, and well haunted.  And that makes it look terrifying. I'm thinking that this scene captures the exact essence of Halloween night. Wow.

Okay... Now I'm going to look at the cover for Rusty's own novella and comment about what I think of it.

First off...I've never been a fan of yellow but I think it works here.  I'm kind of in Michael Whelan's camp when it comes to the color yellow (he doesn't like it as a dominant color and neither do I).  However, yellow is screams... and that's exactly what I think is needed here and Rusty honed in upon it exactly.  Did I notice Rusty's brilliance when he debuted this cover? I thought it was pretty darn good, but not stunning like the one he did for Andrew.  So yeah, Andrew's cover is better in my opinion and is what prompted me to do this post.

Okay, next I'm going to look at a cover Patrick Dilloway designed on his blog for one of his self-published books.  Patrick is a hugely talented writer.  I read Where You Belong and gave it five stars.  But is he an artist? Hell no.  Take a looksee for yourself.

Patrick designed this cover for an upcoming project and it was one of two that we could kind of help him choose between on his blog.  Honestly though, a choice between this and the other is kind of like a choice between stale bread and a week-old biscuit. 

This is one of the reasons why I wanted a publisher. I had/have no talent to design a cover were I to self-publish.  Additionally, I don't really have a budget for it and I'm just going to say that this cover is kind of ugly.  I mean it's just a woman with a mask on looking down at her boobs and then the title sandwiched between her cleavage.  My thoughts when I saw this were, "If I self-publish, my cover will look like this and that just sucks."

Based exclusively off of this cover, I wouldn't buy this book. I know they say, "Don't judge a book by its cover," and I try not to, but's hard to do.  I hope that Patrick goes with another cover or get's Rusty to do one (I strongly urge him to speak with Rusty).

Here's the cover for Where You Belong.  Same thing is going on here.  The book has so many awesome characters, so many cool scenes, locations from Arizona to New York, to Las Vegas to the frickin' Grand Canyon.  And the two men and one woman that are spoken of prominently in this book are absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.  So what kind of cover do we get?  Boring.

Yes, that's a coat hanger and a window and some sunlight and some faded curtains.  O.o

I don't really know what I'm supposed to feel when I look at this cover.  Maybe that Where You Belong deserves a better cover treatment than this.  Again, I urge Mutt to speak with Rusty Webb about today.

Maybe he could qualify for a blog buddy discount or something.

Next up is Cindy Borgne the sci-fi authoress that brought us Vallar.  I loved's a damned good read (she's winning awards for it so I'm not the only one that thinks so) and her cover art is way better than Patrick's but not as good as Rusty's. 

I like this, but as I study it, the look is really computer generated.  I guess that's the way people do things these days.  However, this is way better than her first cover art. I don't want to offend her original cover artist but the original was just some red mountains, a stealth bomber, and a boy's ghostly face.  None of the elements really worked for me but I quickly moved past that and just read the book.  This at left...very eye catching and I like it.  But again...not as good as one done by Rusty Webb.

I love cover art. I possess two books by Michael Whelan that feature his incredible cover art and I've read the pages over and over to listen to his wisdom.  He, in my opinion, is the greatest cover artist to have ever lived and he's been lauded with Hugos galore, etc.  His paintings are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and when he passes, which unfortunately could happen any day, the originals will be worth millions of dollars and I will probably weep.

Michael Whelan has many things to say about cover art...he doesn't like the digital age, but most importantly, he stresses the need for the cover art to reflect the soul of the writer and he uses symbolism in all of his paintings.  I'm going to put some covers here so you can see what I'm talking about.

At left is the artist himself painting a picture of his daughter.  He does everything with paints...from watercolor, to acrylics, to oils.  Mostly though, he works in acrylic.  What a master of his craft.  Sigh.

I had a dream once when I was much younger that I wanted to meet Mr. Whelan and have him do a cover for a book I wrote. I know that will never happen.
The shape of Arkady's legs is meant to echo the fallen towers of Isaac Asimov's book.

He went with the ruins of a flying city to go against the grain of the flying city being so common in science-fiction.

Two books, The Snow Queen, and the Summer Queen.  Each symbol in the hats relates to something that happens in the book.  There is nothing present in the pictures that is not essential or at least covered in some part in the novel.  Pretty cool huh?
Anyway, this ends my post on cover art.  I hope you enjoyed it.


  1. The first cover is definitely my favourite. I'll forgive a book a bad cover if it's one I already want to read, or by an author I like but to be an impulse buy, it's got to look good.

  2. Good post. Thanks for sharing this. I'll check it out!


  3. 'never judge a book by its cover'

    Yeah, but's it's really hard not to, as you say. Okay, so the story may be fantastic, breathtaking, hollywood stuff, you know, but when you think about it, at the end of the day it's the cover that mainly sells the book. It has to be something special to capture both essence and eye...

    Great post

  4. yeh, cover art. I had a stab a creating some myself and they were really, really bad.

    *sigh* another thing we have to do. *sigh*

  5. Cover art is a very hard thing doing it on your own (on limited budget). I know I've learned and improved. Vallar is a hard book to capture in art (at least for me). Rusty is lucky to be so talented in both writing and art. On the other hand, I know of some Indie books with bland cover art selling very well. But probably for other reasons.

  6. Hi Michael. I popped over to say hi too campaigner. And I hit on this wonderful cover art. I think we definitely judge a book by its cover these days. Some of these are breathtaking. I think these guys earn their money but unfortunately most of us can't afford this super duper art.


  7. Literary fiction covers aren't supposed to be paintings. Most of them are pictures of people's feet. Don't ask me why that is except maybe it's cheaper not to show the face.

  8. I just wanted to add that I'm sure Rusty could do a better job on my cover art than me. :)

  9. I really like the first cover shown and would have to agree it's the best of the bunch. I recently purchased a novel one of my friends self-published and had the same reaction to the cover art - "Wow, I can't believe this is a self-pub! Looks great!" I'm sure a lot depends upon having great access to folks like those mentioned ... Really interesting post - thanks!



  10. Hi Michael! I love the last pics. I've never seen the cover art, but the hats are fabulous.
    Also, I agree with you about the use of yellow on a cover, but it works for Rusty's.
    My fav is Andrew's. That house is too creepy not to want to read about. It's awesome.

  11. Wow, I am loving Rusty's work! I'll have to keep him in mind for that wonderful day when I finally get a book published. I'm also a lover of cover art and, even though I do try not to judge until I've at least read the blurb at the back, the cover can sometimes make or break the book for me when I'm browsing, especially if it's an author I've never read before.

  12. This is fantastic stuff! My sis-in-law is something of a Photoshop wizard, hence the Woven cover you saw a couple weeks back. A good cover compliments the book. These are quite fitting.

  13. I really try to divorce myself from the cover art when choosing a book, especially since the cover art so commonly done by someone who has neither read the book nor knows the author. I tend to lean toward titles in my book choosing; at least, the author (usually) has some say in that.

    That being said, I know how important cover art is. When I first released my book, I went with no cover art, just the title on a dark background, hoping that would invoke the feeling I wanted, because the options for creating my own cover art were pretty much crap. I knew when I went back to do the second edition that I needed real cover art for the book, though. It just didn't cut it not having anything the first time. Rusty did a fabulous job! and I can't thank him enough for it. I'm still saying it, in fact, "Thank you, Rusty!"

  14. Whoa! I click on your blog this morning and there is Andrew's cover. Awesome! Thanks for the kind words, better than I deserve. I have to say that I think good covers are hard, really hard. Often I will be in a store and something will catch my eye and I'll pick it up and wonder what it was that made it work. Sometimes the individual elements will be lacking but the overall look will be amazing... the whole thing is a big mystery to me. I've often had this brilliant idea, then when I make it, something just isn't right... then I have to keep tinkering until it's right. It's a lot like writing in that sense. You just keep plugging away at it until it's something you're happy with.

    I do think Yellow is a powerful color, I'd never heard Whelan's thoughts about the color, but I'd think his is an opinion worth listenting too. They guy is/was amazing. The only color I try to only use sparingly is green. I've read that books with green covers tend to sell poorly, you won't find many that color at the bookstore. Weird.

    I generally like more muted color schemes myself, but with my novelette I was thinking of how it will look as a one inch square thumbnail. I hoped it would scream a little - it would almost have to in order too get anyone's attention. I'm a crappy self marketer anyway - so I crossed my fingers and hoped the bright cover would at least catch someone's eye.

    But I probably spent 3 hours creating my own cover, and at least 15 on Andrew's - including several varations before settling on the final design. If that cover is better it's because it had a lot more work put into it.

    Anyway, I like Cindy's new cover quite a bit myself. I'm glad she changed it. I love covers with cities on them, flying cities, domed cities, ruined cities, floating cities... I'm a sucker for all of them.

    And your welcome Andrew, I'm thrilled you liked it.

  15. So what works for some doesn't work for others.

    I like the Vallar cover art - -it's pretty good, but it also has a 1960s sci-fi sort of feel to it, like it should be on a Bradbury book.

    The first one you put up is definitely the best of the bunch, but look what Rusty had to work with; horror works (I assume that's what it is?) frequently have better covers because they can evoke emotions.

    (I'm hoping to use Rusty for cover art one of these days.)

    But I like the art for "Where You Belong." I instantly got a feel of HOME -- the coat rack, the chair, the hazy glow -- all said "Comfy" and "a little nostalgic," which seemed to fit the title perfectly.

    The other Dilloway one, I also liked, but that's just me being me -- it's got cleavage, so I'm looking at it.

    My favorite cover for my own books is on "Just Exactly How Life Looks." It's a white cover with the title, my name, and a thin, slightly-bent, blue line a little below the center. It means nothing until you actually read one of the stories, after which you realize where the title and the art come from, but it's visually arresting, too (I think.)

    Unfortunately (or fortunately) the CreateSpace version of that book won't have that cover -- which is a different thought altogether: with electronic books becoming more popular, and POD books likely to be the last bastion of "real" books, why bother with covers at all? Or with just one cover.

    But until then, and all other things being equal, everyone in the world should have Rusty Webb do their cover art, because he's awesome.

  16. It's amazing how much a cover art can tell you about a book (or not tell you as well.) I know i've picked stuff up just because the cover caught my attention.

  17. Awesome post. I'm becoming more and more of a fan of Rusty as every day passes. He is an amazing writer and artist.

  18. Beautiful art! I have to admit the first one really caught my eye - I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't MY House on the Corner in the picture ;-)

  19. Those last Queens are stunning!

    This is more of a side note about popular YA fiction for girls: the cover has to be PRETTY. It doesn't matter what the book is about, if you can have a pretty girl in a beautiful dress, book bloggers will squee and moan over the prettiness. Double if there's a corset.

  20. Ayup, I like you already. Utah denizen, fan of Michael Whelan, speculative fiction writer...I think we'll get along on the campaign trail together just fine ;)

  21. Michael Whelan's art is so amazing and beautiful. If I could have a cover done by him, I'd up and die of shock and pleasure.

    But I agree. Covers are horribly important aspects of selling, and if a cover is just short of fantastic, sales are going to show it. I've learned through my own trial and error that you need to have somebody at least semi-professional help, even if it means spending some money on it. It pays off in the long run.

  22. I did enjoy it and I agree, it can definitely make a big difference, even if it shouldn't.

  23. Howdy fellow campaigner!

    Just stopping by to say hullo. Looking forward to getting to know you & all the others!

  24. Ooh, I really like the cover of The House on Corner. The lettering rocks, and I love the lonely tree to the left.

    Cover design has got to be a tough beast to tackle, for sure. I'm a visual sort of person and I totally judge books by their covers.

  25. Rusty does some awesome stuff!

    And Whelen is a master.

  26. I think the cover on "Where you belong" works-- although to qualify, I am going from the title and what I sense it might be about, I haven't read it. And it wouldn't keep me from reading it (although the fact that I don't have a e-reader does...) Rusty's art is terrific and perfect for the covers he designed. Although to qualify... I think he'd probably do his best work on things that are within his interest. I would guess that if I asked him to design mine, for example, it would be a harder fit. I have something in mind but I've worked with an artist before for a bit on my piece and she just didn't quite get what I needed. She did a gorgeous piece, don't get me wrong, but it was not what I needed. So maybe Rusty could design a great cover for Mutt or maybe not. Literary works are different than horror or scifi.

  27. I love it! Cover art is so important! Glad you are so blatant with what you don't like. I'm often too nice to say what I think sometimes. Not to say you're not nice. NEver mind. My foot's getting lodged in deeper and deeper...

  28. Oh wow, that cover art really is gorgeous. Love the Asimov one.

    I agree that digital cover art lacks something sometimes. If I see one more cover with feminine hands cupping something (rose petals, an apple, ect.), I think I will scream. Someone needs to do a parody where it's absolutely grotesque yet they're still holding it in this dainty fashion.

  29. First time I've seen cover art reviewed. Awesome.

    I judge a book by its cover too. If I really like it, and buy the book, I'll be disappointed if it doesn't reflect the main plot or MC of the novel.

    Love Rusty's work. His novel is on my list to be read.


  30. I love these covers. The Snow Queen and the Summer Queen are just beautiful. Reading this post makes me wish I could draw!

    See you on the Campaign - I'm in your dystopia group.

  31. Rusty definitely does make stunning cover art. I love a good cover, but wonder if they matter quite as much with so much of the publishing sector being electronic.

  32. Beautiful artwork! I really loved the one with the crumbling towers.

    A fellow Fantasy Campaigner stopping by to say hello!

  33. These are wonderfully eye-catching book covers, Rusty; thank you so much for sharing them with us, Michael. I'd be hard put to choose a favorite.

    BTW, Michael, I've left a response to your comment at

  34. I have just become a HUGE fan of Rusty's work. Heading to his blog now.

  35. I think I like boring in some respects. By that I mean clean, simple line. The House on the Corner is interesting and fits in with the creepiness, but the font would drive me nuts if it was my book. Again, I think my taste would run to neat and boring. :)

    The 'Where You Belong' cover isn't bad. I look through the window and wonder what's out there.

    I guess it's a case of to each his own.

  36. Awesome post! Being a former artist, (read out of practice!) you gave me a lot of ideas for the covers for my mss. Hello from a fellow Campaigner!