Sunday, March 9, 2014

I hereby humbly request your input...on art

First, let me give another thank-you to everyone who encouraged me to get into e-publishing. I'm having a lot of fun with it, and I appreciate the little cushion it adds to each month's income. Now, I don't have the energy to do much marketing; but one thing I can do, and which I enjoy doing, is to make better cover art. That's why I'm asking for your input.

I've found all kinds of great tips on the MC Forum's e-publishing board (If you're publishing e-books, I encourage you to get involved there), and recently it gave me some advice on making better covers. I had thought I was doing pretty well, but that thread made me realize I'd overestimated myself. Using that advice, I went back and retouched the covers to two of my worst sellers, "Love in a Silver Socket" and "Mirrored in Your Eyes"; and I was rewarded almost instantly with a new sale ("A" new sale doesn't sound like much, but since these books were hardly moving at all, that one new sale means something).

So now I'm hoping to redo the Sleepwalkers cover yet again. My heartfelt wish is not to spend another week on it and then come up with another "meh" image like what you see in this post. But I think I'll do better this time, in part because I've improved my Gimp skills, and in part because I won't be starting from scratch. I plan to keep the models from the newer cover but reposition them so that they look more natural - and yeah, maybe start over with Hawthorne's body. Again. *sigh*. I also need to start over with her hypospray gun and use a typeface that's easier to see in thumbnail size. Basically, everything just needs to pop more.

So I'm turning to you for advice. It doesn't matter whether you're an artist or not, or how much you even know about art. I'd just like some honest (but kind!) advice about how I can improve the Sleepwalkers cover. What does and doesn't work about the current version? Do you think it would it help to add in some of the background elements from the older cover, or would that just make it look busy? What about the color scheme? I'm thinking about making the new typeface the same greenish-yellow as the gun, but I'm afraid that might look ugly instead of eye-catching. I'm also thinking of making the gun more obviously phallic, but I don't know if that would turn potential readers off instead of on. How would you feel about a gun that looked like a dildo, especially when a woman is holding it against a man?

I really, sincerely, want some honest opinions on this. Remember, I've configured my blog to let anyone leave comments in complete anonymity, and I won't delete anything that isn't spam or trolling. So please tell me what you think.


Anonymous said...

First, let's look at the book covers that have grabbed me the most, so you have an idea of what I look for, in such a situation; before you decide if it should apply to your situation :)

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Stark. Neat. Catching. The minimalistic art on the cover (the key, the figure) scream 80s video games, which is a huge facet of the book, never mind the title itself is a call to such as well. The bold font and color choice screams kinetic, fast motion.

Good Omens - Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

I've purchased this book 6 times in total now, lending them out with the purpose of never having them returned, so they get passed around and read by more people. Out of all the copies I've had, this cover speaks the most to me.

A black demon on the white background, or a white angel on a black background? Each with the tiniest splash of red (the book and the wine) for each. While the names were very well known to me at the time, this cover sums up the entirety of the book between two covers, and maintains a fun atmosphere to them.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien

I cannot, for the life of me, find a picture without the dust jacket of this one.

My hardcover was bought 4th or 5th-hand, beat up, well-loved from a used book store. What caught my eye was the spine. The cover was entirely unadorned, except the spine. Along the spine was the title in gold, with a simple 'ring' of the first line from the ring itself, in the language of Mordor. So simple a thing, but that screams volumes.

One other cover that strikes me, having read the book, but never owned or seen this particular cover 'in the flesh' as it were, was the Brazilian cover for Neuromancer by William Gibson.

That is exceptionally striking, to me. A hard-set woman's face, with eyes that, while without pupils, seem to be sizing you up, and hiding an intelligence behind them, which describes Molly from the novel quite well.

So, my personal tastes go toward stark contrasts with little snippets of story to them.

Of the two covers you have already done, the second on your page, the one with the DNA spiral, and the mannequin-like face strikes me the most, but I feel it is almost 'too busy'.

While this will probably be a total pain in the ass, perhaps a vignette from part of the story, a single scene that, while not entirely 'crucial' to the plot, may be more apt?

Dark room, bright screens barely lighting motionless forms before them stretch to the distance behind. You can see a woman's head in the lower right quarter, staring sightless toward her own screen (the 'camera' if you will), with the data reflected in that eye; stark lines of 'code' reflected in that eye... dull, docile, processing. The subject's world is just that code; like the others behind her.

A rather geeky nod? The code reflected is some part of the source to 'touch' from GNU ;)

thrall said...

Thanks! I really, really like your idea - and the covers you mention (I've loved that Brazilian Neuromancer cover for years). If I wanted to start over from scratch, I'd just take your suggestion and run with it...although I *would* have to sex it up a little. ;-) Funny how that didn't come naturally to me when I first started making covers. It didn't occur to me that erotica needed erotic covers, but apparently it does. Silly me, I just wanted art! ;-/

Now, I feel sure I *could* do a sexy cover based on your idea, but I'd have to abandon about a week's worth of work I did on Paul and Hawthorne, then find and/or create from scratch the other elements in the scene. That kind of makes me feel like I've just hiked down from Everest only to see K2 in front of me. :-(

On the other hand, your suggestion for the Sleepwalkers cover is pretty close to what I'm planning for "My Very Own Serial Number" - whenever I get around to e-publishing that one. I've been thinking about how to depict Amanda in front of the TV during the photo shoot scene - looking at her from behind the TV so that it obscures her naughty bits.

Thank you again for the detailed suggestions. Do you have any ideas for what I could do using the existing Sleepwalkers art and just modifying certain elements?

Anonymous said...

I assume the elements of each are still layered out in the photoshop/gimp images in your save? Or, at the least, you have the original images you pulled from?

The 'DNA' cover is very busy. It has 'chemical' elements along the sides and across the bottom quarter, along with a figure, blank-eyed in the center. This conveys a sense of the emptiness the 'victim' feels, and that it's chemically induced. The problem is there's far, far too much going on to bring focus to one element or another.

On that design, I'd strip down to the human subject, to start. Simplify the color pallet, keep the eyes. Use the cloud layer as a 'window', fogged on the edges to black, to 'see' the figure (an inverse of the real world). A stark, unidentifiable figure behind the primary subject, holding the injector gun, in a pose of dominance. From the gun, issues forth the helix structure, possibly that's what fades to the cloud we see our primary subject through.

I'm not a fan of the character picture. Far too reminiscent of trashy romance novels, which isn't an over-arching theme in Sleepwalkers, IMO. You write better than the trashy dime-store romance novels, and that's what that cover says to me. I do like the font choice on that cover more, though; perhaps bold and a vertical stretch would help, though. It may be possible to salvage the figures, or the outlines of the figures, to work into the background if you insisted to do so.

Sleepwalkers is dystopian, stark, cruel, and underhanded. It is not light bondage rolling in the heathers in the Swiss alps on a naughty vacation.

I apologize for my comments on that cover, but still stand behind them. I was a web developer for a while, and my art was horrible; I contracted that out, and totally understand and respect how much work goes into such things. I lost an artist or two to disagreements of this kind; ones who's 'vision' didn't include easy-to-understand-at-a-glance. They did great work for backgrounds and prints, but when you have to stand out in a sea of advertising (which, in all honesty, is what a book cover is), it was just a blur of crap that people glanced right over.

thrall said...

Oh, you don't have to apologize. I asked for honest opinions, and you gave me yours. I do, however, feel compelled to clarify that I didn't create the the first cover; I bought the image on Dreamstime. ;-)

I actually feel the same way you do about trashy romance novel-type covers; but I've been studying a lot about what sells, and when you're writing erotica, you pretty much have to have naked torsos. Sad but true.

I like the idea of the cloud layer as a window and the helix coming out of the gun. I think I pretty much have to keep Paul because of the "naked torso" thing, but I can position him more naturally and put him at the center of the cloud. I'd also *like* to keep Hawthorne's head if I can make a good composition with her in it, simply because the model's expression is so great. But that might be too many elements for the picture. I'll let it all percolate in my head for awhile and see what comes out.

Thanks for the great input!

Anonymous said...

Is there any way you can offer readers some cover 'options'? I really love the first Sleepwalkers cover, but sadly missed the chance to buy the book with it.

thrall said...

Funny you should ask that! First, let me tell you a way you might be able to get the book with the old cover. Then I have some news that I was actually going to share via post a little later on. Now you'll be the first to hear it. ;-)

1. If you got the e-book at Smashwords, you should have access to every version of Sleepwalkers that I uploaded prior to the one you bought - and I uploaded it several times as I found and fixed typos. I'm not quite sure how you get that access, but I know you have it because I remember reading about it. So I'd suggest starting by going to the book's main page and looking for a way to download it again. I'm guessing you'll find a link to the page with all the previous versions, but if you don't, try the Smashwords help function. Let me know if that doesn't do the trick for you, and I'll come up with a workaround.

2. And now for some news about the next cover. After posing the question I posed here to the group on the MC e-publishing board, I realized I needed a completely new cover after all - and there's another EMC author who does *amazing* covers and has agreed to do one for me. We've just started hammering out the details, but based on her past work, I can promise you that the next cover will be spectacular. And I will have a way to give free copies of that version (which will be a deluxe version with added content) to my blog readers. :-)