When Does Cover Art Really Matter?

Whilst you (and your readers) probably know the famous adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, this doesn’t mean that you should skimp on the cover art. Seriously, good cover art still matters.

Not only does good cover art catch the reader’s attention and, with physical books, make them want to leave a copy of the book lying around – but it can also make an already good book seem slightly cooler too. The emphasis here is on “already good”. Whilst cool-looking cover art can be used to briefly disguise second-rate writing, it can also enhance the experience of reading a good novel.

Still, there are three main ways that cover art can have an effect on a novel.

First of all, there there are good and great novels that also have cool cover art ( that include things like visual storytelling, well-chosen and visually-striking colour schemes etc…). Whilst these are cool novels because of the writing, the cover art is one of the things that makes you want to keep a copy nearby and read it as often as possible. They are also books where the cover art is good enough that you’ll want to take a look at them, even if you’ve never heard of the author before.

Secondly, there are great novels that have ok cover art. It isn’t terrible but also isn’t as attention-grabbing as it could be. These are books that go for a more understated, generic or “respectable” look with their cover art (often featuring soft colours, minimalist design etc…)

They’re books that have to rely on things like the author’s reputation, word of mouth or a chance discovery in order for people to read them. And, although there’s the cool feeling of finding “an awesome thing in disguise”, the cover art probably won’t play quite as much of a role in getting readers to choose these books.

Thirdly, of course, there are mediocre novels with cool-looking cover art. I won’t show any examples (since, upon reflection, it seems a bit harsh), but you’ve probably encountered at least one of these type of books before. They are the books that gave rise to the old adage about not judging a book by its cover.

So, I guess that the main lesson here is that cool cover art matters the most for “really good, but not always truly great” novels. A great novel will still find a way (through word of mouth etc..) to reach those who will truly appreciate it. And, mediocre novels need all the help they can get when it comes to cover art. But, novels which are really good also need great cover art too – especially if they’re by less well-known authors.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

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The Practical Advantages And Disadvantages Of Risque Cover Art

First of all, I should start by saying that this article will be focusing entirely on practical matters. So, if you’re expecting a call for censorship, then you’re going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re actually expecting to see any risque cover art in this article, you’ll also be disappointed. That said, let’s get on with the article….

Anyway, I ended up thinking about the paradoxical subject of risque cover art recently after finding two creative works that use this type of cover art.

In addition to the horror/thriller novel that I reviewed yesterday, I also ended up buying a MP3 of “Future Club” by Perturbator a while before writing this article ( a song that comes from a record with fairly “Not safe for work” cover art). Naturally, this made me think about both the practical advantages and disadvantages of this style of cover art.

I’ll start by listing the advantages, then I’ll talk about the disadvantages. So, let’s get started…

The Advantages:
First of all, risque cover art is attention-grabbing. Even if the cover art isn’t your kind of “thing”, then it still stands out from the crowd and gets your attention.

After all, this style of cover art usually breaks some kind of social taboo about nudity or whatever, so it is going to be something that people will notice. Yet, it’s usually just mild or suggestive enough not to fall foul of any rules that might restrict it’s display. It’s a similar principle to the famous “French Connection UK” marketing campaign from the 1990s. So, when done well, this can also make a creative work more memorable too.

Secondly, risque cover art can make prospective readers, viewers, players or listeners feel like they’re doing something a little bit “rebellious” by looking at something with this style of cover art. Needless to say, making your audience feel like rebels is a good way of building a fanbase.

Thirdly, risque cover art traditionally served as a kind of content warning/critic filter. In other words, people who disliked the cover art would just try to ignore the thing in question (although, as I’ll explain later, this also has disadvantages). This was a way for things with risque cover art to ensure that they were only experienced by people who actually wanted to experience them. This traditionally resulted in these things having a more devoted and loyal fanbase. Of course, in this age of social media and instant controversy, this technique doesn’t really work any more.

And, yes, although controversy has traditionally served as a form of free advertising in pre-social media times, it isn’t a wise strategy to use these days. Not only is controversy seen as more of a “bad” thing than it used to be, it’s increased frequency these days means it has less “shock value” than it once did and – of course- due to the invention of social media, responses from people who dislike controversial things have also gone from strongly-worded, but polite, letters to the local paper to more vitriolic, threatening etc… online messages.

So, in short, the practical advantages of risque cover art are that it grabs the audience’s attention, it makes a creative work more memorable, it makes the audience feel like rebels and it used to lead to a more devoted fanbase whilst also serving as a form of free advertising, via controversy. Now, let’s talk about….

The Disadvantages: The first disadvantage is that audiences are more cynical, and this can work against you. Because risque cover art is such a well-known way of getting attention, most of your potential audience will be wise to it. As such, they’ll probably think that you’re trying to make a low-quality creative work look more appealing. Of course, if your creative work is actually good, then this expectation can work against you.

For example, the two creative works I mentioned at the beginning of this article are really brilliant. Even if they didn’t have risque cover art, they would still be brilliant. But, because they use this type of cover art, they don’t seem as sophisticated (at first glance) as they actually are.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d enjoyed other books by the same author and had previously heard the song on Youtube, I’d have probably just rolled my eyes and thought “If they need to use nudity to sell this, then it probably isn’t very good” if I saw them on a shop shelf. So, risque cover art can lose as many sales as it gains.

Secondly, whilst risque cover art might make your audience feel like rebels, it also limits where and when they can enjoy the things you create. Simply put, it’s frowned upon to read, carry, watch etc.. these kinds of things in public. Likewise, it may put less extroverted members of your audience (who might really love the thing you’ve made) off of buying the thing in question, because of the embarrassment or nervousness involved.

For example, although I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the sample chapters I’ve read there’s a very good reason why the UK paperback cover art for E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades Of Grey” is a deliberately bland picture of a grey necktie. If it was a more graphic picture, then it probably wouldn’t be a bestseller because many people would be too embarrassed to buy it or read it in public.

Finally, risque cover art limits your audience and can shut out some potential fans. Different types of risque images appeal to different people. So, you’re limiting your audience.

So, yes, there are also some fairly hefty disadvantages to using this style of cover art too. In short, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to the question of whether you should use this style of cover art. In some contexts, it can work really well. In other contexts, it can be a terrible idea. So, use your own judgement.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Can Novel Cover Art Teach Us About Making Art?

Well, it’s been a little while since I wrote about making art. So, today’s article will be an art-based article with a slight twist. I’ll be looking at what the cover art of novels can teach us about making art.

But, before I begin, I should probably illustrate the difference between good and bad cover art. In short, good cover art includes visual storytelling and is designed to grab the audience’s attention in some way or another, whilst telling them what to expect.

To give you a comparison, here are the covers of two modern books by the same authors and the same publisher. One is better than the other. Take a look for yourself:

This is a comparison of two UK paperback covers by the same publisher and the same authors. Apologies about the label remnants on one cover though.

Out of these two covers, the one on the left is more well-designed. This is because it includes intriguing visual storytelling (a helicopter flying away from an exploding building) and it also includes an orange/blue colour scheme that is reminiscent of posters for modern Hollywood action movies. The slightly tilted perspective also implies movement and action, as if the viewer has been knocked down by the force of the explosion. This cover unambiguously tells potential readers “this novel is like an action movie!“.

On the other hand, although the cover on the right includes some beautiful high-contrast lighting and a gorgeous black/gold colour scheme – it isn’t very well-designed. Why? It doesn’t really include much visual storytelling. It could be a historical novel. It could be a horror novel. It could be a political thriller. It could be a lot of things, but there’s nothing in the artwork that unambiguously tells the reader what to expect. Only the mention of “adventure” in the small text at the top and bottom of the cover clues the audience into the fact that it is an action/thriller novel.

So, cover art can teach us a lot about the importance of visual storytelling in art. It can teach us about how the most interesting pieces of art are ones where something is happening and/or which look like they could be a single frame taken from the middle of a film or a cartoon or something like that.

This doesn’t mean that your art has to include lots of explosions or fighting or whatever, but it should hint at some kind of story. And, if you think that this is a modern thing, it really isn’t. Historical paintings will often include lots of visual storytelling.

For example, here’s a painting by one of my favourite 18th Century painters, Joseph Wright of Derby:

“The Orrery” (c. 1766) By Joseph Wright of Derby [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Although this painting doesn’t include any bombastic action, it contains a lot of visual storytelling. In the background, a man eagerly makes notes whilst an older man glares at him sternly. Beside him, two children stare at the brightly-lit orrery with awe-struck fascination. To the right of them, a man leans wearily on the table, deep in thought. Beside him, another man tries to say something to the older man in the background etc… There are a lot of things happening in this painting.

In addition to this, cover art can also teach us the importance of colour and lighting choices when creating mood too. During my early-mid teenage years, I used to love reading old second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk horror novels. Although the internet was around then, smartphones thankfully weren’t. So, if I hadn’t heard of the author before, how did I know when I’d stumbled across an interesting horror novel in a charity shop? Simple, the cover art told me:

This is a comparison between two paperback covers of novels by Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson, two great horror authors of the 1980s.

Old horror novel covers were instantly recognisable because of the colour and lighting choices. They would often feature gloomy Tenebrist lighting and they would often only include a few bold colours that stood out dramatically against the dark backgrounds. In other words, the colour and design choices literally screamHorror novel!” to any potential reader.

Good cover art in many genres will often use colours and lighting expertly to create a mood and to signal to the reader what to expect. For example, gloomy lighting and bold colours work really well on the cover of a horror novel. However, when used on a thriller novel (like the thriller novel cover I showed you earlier) or on a light-hearted romance novel, it will just bewilder and confuse potential readers. So, cover art can also teach us the importance of colour and lighting choices in art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Random Thoughts About Comic Cover Design

2017-artwork-two-random-comic-cover-thoughts

Well, since I’m busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk briefly about cover design in comics. This was mostly because the cover for the Halloween comic was somewhat hit and miss. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size cover artwork will appear here on the 20th October.

The full-size cover artwork will appear here on the 20th October.

This was probably the first time I’d tried to draw a comic cover in landscape, rather than portrait. So, it was something of an experiment as much as anything else. Still, like all creative experiments, I’ve learnt a couple of things from it.

1) Colours: This was one of the first times where I tried to use a consistent colour scheme for the cover of one of my comics. Unless you are trying to make more “realistic” cover art, it can often be a good idea to use a complementary colour scheme of some kind for your cover.

Limiting the number of colours you use and combining them in the right way can really make your cover artwork stand out. Likewise, try to choose colour combinations which suit the mood that you are trying to create.

For example, the preview image I showed you earlier mostly uses a red/green/blue colour scheme. This is intended to be reminiscent of old CRT television screens and, by extension, the 1980s too. If I wanted to emphasise the horror elements of the comic, then I’d have probably used more of a red/black colour scheme. If I wanted to give it more of a sci-fi horror atmosphere, I’d have used a red/blue/black colour scheme etc…

The best way to learn which colour schemes are appropriate for different moods, genres etc… is simply to look at as many comic covers, DVD covers, album covers etc… as you can (the “image search” feature in many search engines can be useful for this) and take careful note of the colour combinations that are used. Once you’ve done this, see which ones tend to be the most common.

2) Layout and composition: This is probably the most important part of any comic cover, and it’s probably the thing that I messed up in my cover. This is probably because I’m more used to making comic covers in portrait than in landscape but, since the comic itself will be in landscape, it made sense for the cover to be in landscape too.

Likewise, I used a fairly boring composition for this cover and just drew the four characters standing in a line. This was mostly done for time reasons, and as a reference to the cover of last year’s Halloween comic. Whilst this composition shows the audience all of the main characters, there isn’t really much happening in it.

In retrospect, I should have probably spent longer planning the cover. I probably should have added more action and/or less detail to it.

So, yes, planning is important when it comes to cover design. Whilst this was probably more of an issue with print comics (where the cover is always the first, and possibly only, thing people will see), it still matters in comics posted online (even though people are just as likely to see a random page from your comic before they see the cover).

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Sorry for the short and rambling article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Does Cover Art Matter?

2016 Artwork Does Cover Art Matter

Although this is an article about books and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about a silly videogame controversy from earlier this year. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will hopefully become obvious later. Plus, I may have talked about some of this stuff before – so, apologies in advance if this article gets repetitive.

Back in February, there was a ridiculous amount of fuss on the internet about the planned box art for the then-upcoming modern remake of “Doom”.

The original cover art was described as generic and boring. Although it’s a cool-looking picture, it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. It’s just a picture of a space marine posing with a gun (it also uses a rather low-contrast yellow/green/brown/orange colour scheme too). By comparison, the alternative designs later released by Bethesda look a lot more true to the spirit of the series.

The original “space marine” cover design isn’t really as good as the cover art for the original “Doom” or even “Doom II“. But, at the same time, it isn’t exactly a bad image. If I had a much more modern computer and a larger gaming budget, I’d probably still buy a copy of the new game because, well, it’s “Doom”. It’s a modern version of one of my favourite games. The box art could be completely blank and I’d still buy it.

Still, this silly controversy about the good-but-not-great box art for the “Doom” remake made me think about how important cover art actually is when it comes to things like books and comics.

Good cover art is probably only really important for catching the attention of totally new readers. Even then, it isn’t everything – the old adage of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” springs to mind for starters. I mean, I’ve bought books purely based on cover art in the past- but it’s no guarantee that they’re worth reading.

The other thing that makes good cover art important is it’s decorative value. If you’ve got a collection of books and/or comics, then you’ll know that they’re more than just functional objects that only exist to be read. They’re a way of making a room look more interesting. They’re decorative too.

However, apart from these things, cover art isn’t really that important.

When it comes to books and comics, things like online reviews, plot summaries/ blurbs, the price, word of mouth and the author’s name matter a lot more. If you’re a major fan of a particular author, then you’re probably going to read their next book regardless of what the cover art looks like. The same is true for books that are part of a series or which are based on TV shows, movies etc…

If you’ve heard or read a lot of good things about a particular book or comic, and it seems like the kind of thing that you’d enjoy, then you’re probably going to seek out a copy of it, regardless of what the cover looks like.

Likewise, whilst a good cover design might make a new reader pick up a copy of a book or comic, this will probably only hold their attention long enough for them to read the blurb and/or plot summary. If this interests them, then they might look at the first few pages. If those pages interest them, then they’ll probably buy a copy.

The price probably plays a role too. I’m no expert on book or comic pricing, but I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen something that looks really cool, but decided not to buy it (or to buy it later and/or to buy it second-hand) because of the price was too high.

In other words, good cover art is important, but it isn’t exactly the be-all-and-end-all of whether someone chooses to buy something.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Two Very Basic Tips For Making An E-Book Cover (With Examples)

2015 Artwork Simple ebook cover art article sketch

So, you’ve written something that you want to release as an e-book, but you’re not sure what to do when it comes to making the cover image.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you don’t have the time and/or money to hire a professional graphic designer (since you should always do this if you can, because you’ll end up with a much better cover).

I’m also going to assume that you have little to no artistic experience too.

However, you will need some extremely basic graphics editing knowledge. In other words, you will need to know how to do some very basic things in MS Paint – such as changing the background and text colour in a text box and copying other images.

(If you don’t know how to change the background colour of a text box in MS Paint – just create a text box, then right-click on one of the colours in the palette and the background will automatically change. To change the text colour itself, just left-click on one of the colours in the palette.)

Although the two very basic tips I’m going to give you won’t make an outstanding e-book cover, they’ll at least let you make a moderately good one that won’t automatically put people off of looking at your book.

1) Keep It Simple: This sounds obvious but, if in doubt, always err on the side of simplicity when designing your cover.

Not only is it easier to make good-looking simple cover art, but it’ll also look a lot more professional than badly-made, but ambitiously complex, cover art.

The most basic way to make a simple cover image is to just use large white text against a plain black background. Yes, this won’t stand out from the crowd, but it will still look clean and professional. Like this:

White text against a black background. (The font used in this example was one called "Riky Vampdator")

White text against a black background. (The font used in this example was one called “Riky Vampdator”)

Just be careful about which fonts you use in your cover, since some commonly-used fonts require you to pay royalties to the designers if you use them commercially (I’m not a lawyer, so do your own research here).

So, it’s probably a good idea to search the internet for fonts that are free for commercial use.

I found a lot of them fairly quickly when searching online. However, I should warn you that at least a few of them seem to be based on fonts that are used in copyrighted movie posters (and therefore may not actually be truly free for commercial use and/or might land you in legal trouble if you use them for your cover). So, be careful and always do some research about your fonts, so that you don’t make something like this:

Yes, the idea that this font is "free for commercial use" might sound like an offer you can't refuse, but....

Yes, the idea that this font is “free for commercial use” might sound like an offer you can’t refuse, but….

Most importantly, when choosing a free commercial font, be sure to go for a font that is still legible when viewed at a distance.

Although your actual cover image might be fairly large, you’ve got to remember that most people will probably only see a small thumbnail image of it on whatever e-book site you’re using to sell your book. As such, your font should still be readable at a fraction of it’s original size.

2) Public Domain Artwork: If you want to make your cover look a bit more artistic, then one of the best ways to do this without having to splash out on lots of stock images and/or royalty payments is to use artwork that is already in the public domain.

In other words, use old art whose copyright has expired (eg: in most countries, this usually means that the original artist died more than seventy years ago).

There is absolutely loads of this artwork on the internet and a good place to start looking for it would probably be Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons is absolutely crammed with old public domain paintings, etchings etc.. that anyone can use in any way (even commercially).

And, with a little bit of editing in a program like MS Paint, you can make a fairly professional-looking book cover with these images – like in this example:

The image in this example  is "Messaline (entre deux figurantes)" By Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

The image in this example is “Messaline (entre deux figurantes)” By Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

However, unless you find a fairly obscure old painting, this will make your book cover look slightly generic. But, as a way of finding quick and free cover art, it’s probably one of your best options.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (11th July 2013)

Well, I made three drawings today as well as the cover art for “Liminal Rites” (another project I started recently), which I’ll include here too.

Since I seem to be working on several things at the moment (my drawings, “Liminal Rites” and this blog), I’ve decided to go back to making smaller drawings for time/energy reasons.

As usual, these three drawings and book cover are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence.

"Mountain Observatory" by C. A. Brown

“Mountain Observatory” by C. A. Brown

"Afterimage Threshold" By C. A. Brown

“Afterimage Threshold” By C. A. Brown

"Monitor Bank" By C. A. Brown

“Monitor Bank” By C. A. Brown

"Liminal Rites  Cover" by C.A.Brown

“Liminal Rites Cover” by C.A.Brown