A Boatload of Covers

My participation in more than half a dozen story bundles brought a lot of cover design my way.

The More than Human bundle in August 2017 kicked off my journey, which wended through seven bundles (and counting) and on to a few covers for individual stories, some within bundles and some entirely independent of them.

I thought it would be fun to see the round dozen all in one place, so I’ve collected them into a sort of bulletin board below. Check it out!

Kinda cool, don’t ya think? 😀

Remembering Warriors I Immortals I Spring Surprise
Here Be Dragons I The Kitchen Imps I The Warrior’s Curse
Early Spaceports I Of Blood and Scales I Tales of Erana

 

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Blood Silver: The Title

I loved hearing what everyone had to say about the prospective cover for my novella Blood Silver.

You all helped me see some details that needed adjusting, as well as confirming the choice of the Sunburst version as the right art to use.

Thank you!

In the course of all our discussion, an important question was raised.

Is the title right? The mood of the words does not quite match the light, bright mood of the art. Should it?

I didn’t even begin to know how to answer that question correctly. As I’ve said before, I am no expert on marketing. I’m learning. As an indie, I must learn about marketing, if I want my audience to find my books. But there is far more that I don’t know than there is that I do.

But a lovely bit of good luck came my way.

One of the people weighing on the cover for Blood Silver just happens to be an indie whose marketing knowledge I respect a great deal. So I asked her about my title. And she was most generous in sharing her thoughts with me.

The first thing she explained is that a book cover possesses three “channels.”
1 • The art
2 • The typography (what font is chosen and how the type is placed)
3 • The title (the meaning the words convey)

You could convey the same message with each channel, but if you do you severely limit what you communicate about the book. Generally it’s best to use each channel to communicate different elements of your story.

My kind adviser then proceeded to analyze the message communicated by the Sunburst cover for Blood Silver.

The Art

First we have the art, which is a bright fantasy illustration showing a knight and a lady. The subject matter tells us that the story focuses on two people. The bright, glowing treatment of the surrounding leaves indicates that magic is likely involved.

The image is appropriate for either urban fantasy, straight-up fantasy, or fairy-inflected fantasy.

So far, so good. Blood Silver involves the faie and follows the fortunes of a knight and a mortal woman.

The Typography

Next we have the choice of font and how the title is placed.

The font is Trajan, which indicates epic fantasy. Apparently Trajan is the font to use, if you’re making an epic fantasy film. I did not know this. (See, I told you I was not a marketing expert!) But it’s also the right choice when kingdoms or other big things lie at stake in a book.

Since the events in Blood Silver turn on the conflict between battling kingdoms, Trajan is definitely a good choice.

Regarding placement…this happens to be something that I actually do know something about.

Most thrillers have the author’s name in big—no huge—letters at the top of the cover and the title in slightly smaller letters at the bottom.

Fantasy is usually the reverse: the title sits at the top, while the author byline rests at the bottom.

If the story is urban fantasy or horror, the title may be slanted or vertical or have some other unusual orientation. But for epic fantasy, it will be sedately positioned on the horizontal, centered.

(YA fantasy might have a small title or a flush left or flush right alignment, especially if it needs to convey edginess.)

Now that we have art and typography together, we need to consider not only what they convey separately, but what they communicate together.

In this case, we might guess that the story involves two lovers caught up in a conflict between kingdoms. Blood Silver is not going to be a quiet tale. Quite right.

The Title

When I chose Blood Silver as my title, I was thinking of the phrase “blood red,” because there is definitely blood involved in my story.

That’s a fine reference point, but my astute advisor pointed out that it’s also a play on the words “blood money.” And “blood money” makes us think of treachery, cunning, and deception. Which is perfect, because Blood Silver is all about trickery and treachery.

When you put all three channels together, you have the story of two people caught between the violent forces of large events, featuring trickery and great deeds.

If that’s what Blood Silver is about—and it is!—then I’ve got the right art, the right typography, and the right title.

The result?

Blood Silver will keep its title, Blood Silver. 😀

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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Which Cover to Choose?

It’s that time in the publishing schedule. I must decide on a cover for my novella Blood Silver. Longtime readers of my blog will be familiar with this phase, since I usually share my process with you.

Sometimes I am inspired and my cover design comes together swiftly. Other times, it’s a struggle. I remember wrestling for months with the color and texture of the title for Fate’s Door. (And then, after all that, I decided a year later that Fate’s Door needed a completely new cover!)

This time I have an entirely new wrinkle.

Blood Silver clocks in a 39,300 words.

The official definition for a novel is a story that is 40,000 words or more. Blood Silver is currently with my second reader. If her feedback prompts revisions which add 700 words to the manuscript, Blood Silver will graduate from the category of novella to that of novel. And I purchase covers for novels from Deranged Doctor Design.

(They created such a magnificent cover for The Tally Master that I want all my novels going forward to receive covers of that caliber. But I’m not yet able to shell out the bucks for shorter works.)

So what do I do?

There’s really only one practical answer. I create a cover, knowing that it will not be used if Blood Silver gains 700 words. That might not work for someone else, but playing in Photoshop really is play for me. So even if the cover I create is never used, I’ll have enjoyed myself making it. (And, really, the likelihood of non-use is slender. The revisions I make after my first reader’s feedback can add hundreds of words. After my second reader? Not so much.)

With that decision behind me, I searched the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites (and other artists influenced by them) from the nineteenth century. I wanted an image featuring a knight in full armor, because the protagonist of Blood Silver is just such a knight. (Although he is faie, not mortal man.)

I found quite a few paintings to choose from.

And, oh, it was hard to choose! I must have mocked up a dozen covers while I debated with myself, trying out which image would work best. Sometime down the road I’ll show you those “just to see” covers. But that’s a different post.

In this post I’ll focus on the four different covers I devised from Frank Dicksee’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” And I want your opinions on them. Which one do you like best? Which one would make you click the “Look Inside” button on Amazon to check out the beginning pages of the story?

I really love the painting by Dicksee, so my first version uses his work nearly straight up. I chose a window from the image that focuses on the knight and the lady. I intensified the colors, since the scan seems to have washed them out a bit. And I liked what I had. I was ready to declare it The One.

Until a friend whose judgment I trust weighed in.

She pointed out that it looked like a cover from times past and that I needed to bring it into the modern age.

Hmm. I wasn’t sure that was really a problem. Maybe it was a feature, not a bug. I’ve haunted many a used bookstore, delighting in the older books and enjoying their vintage look. I suspect a goodly number of my readers may be the same. But what about the readers who would be more drawn to a fresher, more modern look?

Plus my friend had another point.

The dark, slightly gloomy tone of the painting doesn’t fit with my story at all.

Oh, there is danger and even gloom in Blood Silver. But the overall mood of the book springs from the sun-dazzled wonder that my protagonist feels when he first emerges into the bright world from under the knowe. My cover needs to convey that.

Back to the drawing board.

My own inclination was to seek out a fresh painting, but my friend suggested that I run “La Belle Dame” through a few filters to see what might be done.

I can be a stick-in-the-mud about filters. I mistrust them, and I dug in my heels.

Thank goodness for good friends! This one offered to (insisted on?) running the painting through various filters herself. Oh, my! I liked what she showed me. (And I’ll be less resistant the next time the possibility of filters come up.)

I loved the “inverted” filter. It generated an image which had a true faie feel to it, along with a sense of the explosion that my hero felt when he first encountered the bright world, and again when he set eyes on a mortal for the first time. Yes! This might be The One!

But, but, but! (You suspected there might be a but, didn’t you?)

My friend and my husband both agreed with my sole concern. As cool as this inverted mage is, it is also confusing. The human eye does not parse it easily. The human brain says, “What is it that I am seeing? I don’t quite get it.”

And confusion is bad. Confusion results in the browsing reader clicking away from Blood Silver to a web page with some other book. That is not what I want my book cover to accomplish!

I was feeling a bit stymied at this point.

Once more, thank goodness for good friends! Mine suggested that I look through the dozen filtered possibilities that she had generated for me. And she drew my attention to the one that went through a blue filter, which had lightened and brightened the overall color balance of the painting. “What about that one?” she said.

And she was right about it giving a more modern, lighter feel. What about that one?

The main problem is the cool hue that results from a blue filter. It works well for the horror genre and sometimes for thrillers. It can be appropriate for certain types of fantasy. But Blood Silver has a very warm feeling to the story, and the coolness of this image stands in direct opposition to that.

Back to the drawing board once again.

This is the one that I currently hope is The One.

It is warm and bright. It’s not dark or heavy. The sunburst effect gives an otherworldly feel to the image and brings out the “blown away” reaction that my knight feels upon encountering the bright world. Surely this is The One!

But here’s the thing about covers: no matter how much an author likes the cover for her book, what really matters is how the prospective readers feel about it. If it makes readers flee, then it is the wrong cover.

Which cover would prompt you to click “Look Inside” or “Add to Cart”?

I’d love it if you’d vote in the comments.

To keep things straight:
Painterly (the first option shown)
Faie inverted (the next one shown)
Cool blue (the next)
Sunburst (the one immediately above)

Cast your vote! 😀

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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A New Cover for Livli’s Gift

I’ve been on a cover tear, so perhaps you can guess what’s coming next. 😀

Sarvet’s Wanderyar once featured a pen-and-ink illustration by Kay Nielsen, but now it possesses art by John William Waterhouse – an oil painting in vibrant color.

Winter Glory, the other novella in the Kaunis Clan Saga, was adorned by a pen-and-ink rendition of Kay Nielsen’s northern skier. Now that ebook also features art in color.

Clearly the Kaunis Clan novel, Livli’s Guft, would need a new cover as well.

My first sweep through the portfolio of John William Waterhouse did not turn up anything that grabbed at me. I considered his Annunciation (even did a mock-up with it), but had reservations about it.

I worked on other things, while I pondered. When those things were finished, I revisited the Waterhouse portfolio. This time I saw something: The Crystal Ball. I suspect the artist may have been thinking about wiccan paraphernalia when he painted it. But another angle altogether comes to view when the painting is considered in light of my protagonist.

She’s a healer. In her culture, she’s the equivalent of a doctor. Which means that of course she studies anatomy, and like many people in the medicine of the past, she scrutinizes the physical clues that people leave behind, such as the skeleton. That’s what that skull is doing on the table in the scene.

The weighty tome is a medical text. And the crystal ball is not actually a crystal ball, but the sphere of light that she sees in her mind’s eye when she exerts her healing powers.

So…I had found the right piece of art. I opened up Photoshop and went to work. Check out the results below!

Livli struggles with a secret she keeps from everyone, even her closest friends, and she must solve the problem at its heart before she’s discovered.

She’s certain the answer lies in a fragment of folklore and magic half-remembered from her childhood. Almost certain.

She wouldn’t need forgotten magic if only the men and women of her secluded mountain culture dwelt together. But the women—and Livli—inhabit their sister-lodge atop its lofty bluff, while the men live apart in their brother-lodge several valleys away.

Unless she can force a change, Livli stands to lose everything . . . including the most precious thing in her life: her son.

A story of secrets, shibboleths, and deep-forged strength told with insight and engaging intimacy.

* * *

The ebook edition of Livli’s Gift possesses the new cover.
Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols
(The new trade paperback is coming soon.)

PRAISE FOR LIVLI’S GIFT

“I started reading and couldn’t put it down. I love the world and the characters she has created.” – Goodreads review

“I have never read a novel that made me feel so good. Mrs Ney-Grimm, you absolutely BLEW MY MIND! . . . It was so unique, so original . . . Usually I blast through the pages of a book that I love, but Livli’s Gift made me want to go as slow as possible, absorbing every moment of bliss.” – Goodreads review

EXCERPT FROM LIVLI’S GIFT

Livli rerolled the scroll carefully, returned it to its pigeonhole, and sighed. The whisper of her breath sounded loud in the quiet space, as had the crackle of the brittle parchment and the faint click of the closing cabinet door.

The tale of The Princess and the Griffon did not have the reference she was looking for. Neither had The Lindworm’s Eyrie nor Triton’s Egg.

“Why am I bothering,” she murmured. “It’s a wild gos chase.”

But she knew why she was bothering. She really, really wanted the information in whatever tale it was.

“I wish I could remember.”

But she couldn’t remember.

Of course, she could ask her birth-mother. Sarvet would undoubtedly reel off an entire list of the folktales she’d told her children at bedtime. But I don’t want her to know . . . what I’m thinking about right now.

Livli sighed again and shifted uncomfortably. Having to pee so often was for the birds. I just got back from the dump-buckets! I’m not traipsing through all three of those long corridors again. At least not right away.

Instead she straightened and moved over to the windows.

The view was incredible. Not so much for its scope – a vista across a snowy valley brushed by clumps of dark pines, bounded by granite cliffs, and presided over by tall mountain peaks was ordinary in Hammarleeding enclaves – but for its wavy presence through glass while Livli stood indoors within warmth. The scroll-lodge of Siajotti was richly supported by all the sister-lodges and brother-lodges, and a library needed good lighting. So Siajotti had glass in its windows rather than hide coverings. And the scroll repository itself had big windows.

A coal fell in the tile stove that stood in the corner between the windows. The building creaked. The day was abnormally still, with no wind to mask the smaller sounds.

Livli paced from one end of the windowed wall to the other and back, her footfalls soft against age-darkened pine boards.

That lost scroll wasn’t her only problem. What am I going to do about Thoivra?

She traced one of the circular muntins holding the small glass panes – it was cool to her touch – and bit her lip. Focus, she reminded herself. One thing at a time. Scroll first.

I need to look somewhere else, but where?

None of the parchments on prayer, ritual, superstition, or even birth described the rite she sought. If it even existed.

* * *

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A New Cover for Winter Glory

When I was getting ready to publish my novella Winter Glory, and was contemplating its cover, I longed to feature the illustration by Kay Nielsen captioned with: “So the man gave him a pair of snow-shoes.”

The skier depicted was tall and lean, just like my protagonist Ivvar. He even had grayish hair! (Also like Ivvar.) The landscape he skied through was the snowy arctic of the far north of my North-lands. And the illustration was beautiful.

I tried to convince myself that I could build my cover around it.

But the other two books in the series featured pen-and-ink illustrations – black-and-white, not color – and I really felt that I should keep the branding homogeneous. I started to sigh and resign myself. And then I had what seemed to me a wonderful idea.

I could put the color art on my light table and trace it with a drawing pen, thus creating a black-and-white version of the color piece that I loved so much.

I’ll admit that I was really pleased with the result. So much so that I did not regret leaving the color illustration in my wake. I still find that black-and-white cover beautiful.

But as you may realize from my post about the new cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar, I eventually realized that beautiful as the pen-and-ink work of Kay Nielsen is, it’s not the right art for my books and my readers. I’m replacing all of those black-and-white covers. Which meant I needed to revisit the cover for Winter Glory.

My first thought was to search the works of John William Waterhouse. I’d found something perfect for Sarvet’s Wanderyar amongst his portfolio. Maybe there would be something equally good for Winter Glory. But there wasn’t. Waterhouse seems to have painted mostly women. The few men in his paintings were decked out in ornate plate armor, and all of them were young.

Ivvar is in his eighties, and while he is a skilled hunter, he does not sally forth as a knight of medieval times. He wears wool and leather.

My next thought was to look through the works of the Pre-Raphaelites who influenced Waterhouse. There I encountered the same problem: mostly women, the few men presented as knights in shining armor. So, no. I would have to come up with another idea.

And it was only then that I remembered that, back at the vry beginning, I’d wanted to use the color piece by Kay Nielsen. Could I use it after all?

When I re-visited the image, I grew enthusiastic. I loved it as much as ever, and a vision sprang into my mind as to how I could marry it to the new trade dress I’d evolved when I worked on the new cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar.

I set to work!

I must confess that I reveled in Photoshop, having more fun than seems really fair.

And, here it is…

In the cold, forested North-lands – redolent with the aroma of pine, shrouded in snow, and prowled by ice tigers and trolls – Ivvar seeks only to meet his newborn great granddaughter.

Someone else has the same plan.

Traversing the wilderness toward the infant’s home camp, Ivvar must face the woman he once cherished and an ancient scourge of the chilly woodlands in a complicated dance of love and death.

Ivvar’s second chance at happiness – and his life – hang in the balance.

* * *

The new cover is available on the ebook editions at most online bookstores, although (as I type this) it is still wending its way through the distribution chain to Scribd and OverDrive.

Winter Glory as an ebook:
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PRAISE FOR WINTER GLORY

“A little atmospheric gem of a novella… interesting, beautifully written, and worth re-reading.” – Amazon review

“In the starkly beautiful North-lands – a place that Ney-Grimm conveys so clearly it’s like watching a movie on the inside of your skull – two people who once knew and loved each other meet up again. This is their story…” – Amazon review

“The descriptive language is nothing short of gorgeous… I love that the protagonists are older… and they stuck with me long after I had finished reading.” – Amazon review

“The writing is lucid, elegant, smooth. Ney-Grimm creates a fantasy world of Norse legends, but with real people…” – Amazon review

“…in the midst of this excellent adventure story comes an insight so brilliant…”
Amazon review

EXCERPT FROM WINTER GLORY

His gaze stopped on a woman sitting alone in the booth at the far left corner.

She wore Hammarleeding garb – wool tunic and leggings like his – hers drab in subdued ecru decorated by patterns of gray and white. She was bony, rangy, likely quite tall when she stood. And old, like him. She’d pinned her long iron-gray braid around her head like a coronet, and she held herself like a queen, straight and graceful as she sipped her cup of tea.

The frontiersmen began a rollicking ballad about bears dancing in the woods, and the Hammarleeding woman turned her face toward them.

Ivvar felt all the air punch out of his lungs.

She wasn’t beautiful, but she drew him. Lightly tanned skin like his own; straight nose, a little on the long side; flat cheeks. Laugh lines framed her firm mouth. Crow’s feet bordered her level hazel eyes. He suspected she’d reached that calm place where life was just interesting, neither a tragedy to be resisted, nor a passion to be exalted. But what was it about her . . . ? She looked genuine and . . . appealing.

The flutter in his innards grew.

Then lagging memory brought another face before his mind’s eye.

Like to the one across the room from him in the here-and-now. So like. But younger; fifty or more years younger. Jaw clenched, hazel eyes hot, and lips tight with anger. His linking-sister – what these lowlanders would call his wife. His former wife. Paiam.

The last time he’d seen her, angry at life itself more than at him, but telling him their linking – their marriage – must end.

How had she grown into this serene old grandmother?

* * *

The ebook links again for Winter Glory (I’m hard at work on a trade paperback edition that will feature the new cover):
Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo I OverDrive I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols

 

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A New Cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar

All the work I’ve been doing on the new cover for Fate’s Door has me seeing my covers through fresh eyes. And, much as I love Kay Nielsen’s art, much as I love the covers made with his art, I’ve been forced to see that the covers probably aren’t right for my stories.

The art is elegant and unusual. I really do adore it. But it is also melancholy, a little dark, and enters the so-called “uncanny valley” that occurs when human figures are very human, but also possess some features that are decidedly not human. Like clowns. Or like the attenuated sculptures of Alberto Giacometti.

I like to believe that my stories partake of some degree of elegance. And I’ve been told many times that they are unique (thus unusual). But my characters are as human as I can make them, not uncanny. And my themes are all about inspiration and hope and finding strength in unexpected places. They are not melancholy.

Once I’d progressed that far in my thinking, it occurred to me that of the readers who’ve expressed admiration for the covers of Troll-magic and Sarvet’s Wanderyar and Livli’s Gift, the majority have been those who eventually decided my work isn’t really to their tastes.

I’d been hanging onto their admiration for those covers as a reason not to change them. But elegance and uniqueness are not enough in a cover. It also must speak to the readers who will enjoy the book. And these weren’t.

(Looking at the Kay Nielsen cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar, my husband – who likes the Kay Nielsen art and considers himself a fan of my stories – said: “You know…it really looks sort of like post-apocolyptic horror.” Eek! No!)

So, as my new cover for Fate’s Door moved toward its completion (I’m not quite there yet), I knew I needed to create new covers for more of my backlist, specifically those books featuring Kay Nielsen art.

Now, I would love to commission new covers from DDD. But the same financial constraints that prevented me from buying a DDD cover for Fate’s Door remain in play here. I don’t have the money for a DDD cover for both WIP and a backlist book.

Luckily, I’ve discovered that the art of John William Waterhouse (which is in the public domain) works really well on my book covers! So I returned to that well to find cover art for Sarvet’s Wanderyar.

The painting titled Windflowers caught my eye as being really right. The model could easily be a teenage girl, which Sarvet is. The setting is windswept, very much in keeping with the mountain meadows where Sarvet dwells. And the overall composition has a lot of energy, the terrain at a slant, the girl’s hair and gown whipped by the wind. It’s easy to imagine that she is taking a long walk, something related to the more extensive wanderyar that Sarvet craves.

I’m really pleased with the cover I created featuring Windflowers, so much so that I plan to create a paperback edition to match the new ebook edition.

Running away leads right back home—or does it?

Sarvet walks with a grinding limp, and her mountain culture keeps girls close to home. Worse, her mother emphasizes all the things Sarvet can’t do.

No matter how gutsy her spirit or bold her defiance, staying put means growing weaker. But only boys get wanderyars. Lacking their supplies and training, how can Sarvet escape?

Can dreams—even big dreams—and inner certainty transform impossible barricades into a way out?

The new ebook edition of Sarvet’s Wanderyar has the new cover.
Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords I Universal Link*

(The new paperback is in production.)
 

PRAISE FOR SARVET’S WANDERYAR

“…it’s an entrancing story with a character you care about, and desperately want to succeed… At first I saw Paiam as the clear antagonist, but I came to sympathize with her. This makes for a complex interaction between the two characters that rages almost completely in the subtext–very clever on Ney-Grimm’s part, and very effective… On a side note, one of my favourite things about Ney-Grimm’s work is her treatment of fantastical creatures…the pegasi seem ethereal…creatures of light and gauze that are somehow the most real things in the world.” — Speaking to the Eyes review

“J.M. Ney-Grimm has woven a beautiful, multi-layered tapestry… All the characters, human and otherwise, in her world are well-rounded and believable.” — Barbara Karp, Readers’ Favorite review
 

EXCERPT FROM SARVET’S WANDERYAR

Tense and furious, Sarvet shook her mother’s angry grip from her forearm. “I’ll petition the lodge-meet for filial severance,” she snapped, and then wished she’d swallowed the words, so hateful, too hateful to speak. And yet she’d spoken them.

The breeze swirling on the mountain slope picked up, nudging the springy branches of the three great pines at Sarvet’s back and purring among their needles. Their scent infused the moving air.

Paiam’s narrowed eyes widened an instant—in hurt?—flicked up to encompass the swaying tree tops behind her daughter, then went flat.

“You dare!” she breathed. “You’re my daughter. Mine alone. And I’ll see to it that you and every other mother in the lodge knows it too. You’ll stay under my aegis till you’re grown, young sister, even if I must declare you careless and remiss to do it!”

Oh!

Sarvet only thought she’d been mad before. “You never wanted me!” she accused.

Was it true? Or was she just aiming for Paiam’s greatest vulnerability, aiming to hurt? Because under her own rage lay . . . desperation. Something needed to change. She just didn’t know what, didn’t know how. And didn’t want to be facing it right now, facing her mother right now.

* * *

Here’re the links again:
Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords I Universal Link*

*Books2Read provides a link that leads to nearly everywhere an ebook is in stock. More and more online bookstores will appear on Sarvet’s “universal” page at this link as the ebook makes its way through the distribution chain.
 

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A New Cover for Fate’s Door

water spirit under waterI remember how nervous I was when I commissioned the cover for The Tally Master from Deranged Doctor Design. Their portfolio of work looked wonderful. But would my cover match that excellence? Would they be able to find compelling images that worked with my Bronze Age setting? Would they really be able to compose art for a story that they’d never read?

I could make a long list of my worries. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that I had them. Plenty of them.

Then the day arrived when the preliminary draft landed in my inbox, and I loved it. In the words of a fellow author, it was magnificent!

And now, nearly 4 months after the book’s release, I can report that the book sold more copies at its debut than any of my other titles and continues to sell well. Clearly that sublime cover is having an effect.

It also got me thinking about all the covers on my backlist. I suspect all those books would sell more copies if only they possessed covers by DDD. I’d love to replace them. But in order to do so, I’d need to accumulate some big piles of cash. And cash is v-e-r-y tight at Casa Ney-Grimm, with some big medical bills to pay and two high schoolers approaching college. Yikes!

Which means that if my backlist is going to get “new clothes” any time in the next decade…well, let’s just say I’m not going to be shelling out $4,300 to re-cover 18 books! It would undoubtedly be worth the investment, if I had the money. But I don’t.

Now clearly some of my old covers are fine. Crossing the Naiad sells as though it were a novel, even though it is a short story, and that is probably due to the cover. I probably shouldn’t replace that cover at all, because…why monkey with success?

On the other hand, my novel Fate’s Door sells as though it were a short story, and that really bugs me, because I think it is a very fine work. If I could replace only one cover from my backlist, it would be Fate’s Door.

I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted. But I am determined that all new releases get DDD covers. And if I buy a DDD cover for Fate’s Door, then I won’t be able to provide WIP with a DDD cover when it releases. That’s not a good trade off.

But…I don’t think I must relegate Fate’s Door to a cover that isn’t speaking to my readers.

I’ve been thinking about the elements in the cover for The Tally Master and comparing them to existing cover for Fate’s Door. They are really almost visual opposites.

Tally has great depth of field. Fate’s depth of field is compressed, creating almost a flat effect.

The art for Tally dominates the image, with the title and byline playing a complementary role. Whereas the title and byline for Fate are ornate and large, forming an important element in the image as a whole.

Tally’s art is painterly, moody, and evocative. Fate’s art is photographic and straight forward.

Now Fate’s Door and The Tally Master are very different stories. Fate’s Door is brighter, about a young sea nymph growing up and confronting a challenge that is in part self-made, while Tally transpires in a darker milieu. The covers on the books shouldn’t have identical values.

But although the stories are different, they’re both what I would call “typical Ney-Grimm”: lush, exotic settings; depthful characters; flashes of insight into the human experience; and paeans to the strength of hope. The feeling conveyed by their covers should be more similar than not. And I think the cover for Tally got it mostly right, while the cover for Fate gets it mostly wrong.

So my idea…you knew I had an idea, right?

Actually I had several. You probably knew that, too. 😀

My first idea was that I could try to give my existing Fate cover a more painterly effect. I could try running the image through the watercolor filter in Photoshop. Or the oil painting filter. Or even try the software FilterForge, of which I’ve heard good things.

Well, that first idea didn’t work out very well. The watercolor filter is attractive (right), but it doesn’t really make the image look like a painting. To my eye, it’s really not all that different from the unfiltered version. I couldn’t imagine that the watercolor version would appeal to my readers any more than the original image.

Time for a plan B.

I tried the oil painting filter. The pastel filter. The sponge filter. In fact, I tried nearly every filter that yielded a result in color, even the plastic wrap filter! (Which really does make Nerine look like she has plastic wrap over her face. Ugh!)

Just to give you some idea of how wrong those filters can go, I’m showing you the result of the fresco filter. It looks like something from the mod-70s to me, as did many of the other filters.

I had to conclude that running the existing image through a filter simply wasn’t going to generate the painterly effect I could see in my mind’s eye.

By now, I had the bit between my teeth. Time for a plan C. 😀

With my mind on painterly effects, I contemplated a trip into the past to solve my cover puzzle. Art by Kay Neilsen graces the covers of 4 of my books. His work fits with my North-lands, but wouldn’t be so suitable for a story set in our own Mediterranean (with some divergences north) in the Hellenistic period.

What about the works of other artists from the past?

It turns out that featuring art from the past on a cover is not quite so simple as I’d imagined. The key question is whether or not the art has been published. If it ever appeared on a postcard, a poster, in a book, or in some other way reproduced for public distribution, then it has been published.

Appearing at a public exhibition to be viewed by thousands does not constitute publication. That’s where things get dicey.

If it was created before 1923, published before 1978, and its creator died more than 70 years ago, then the image is in the public domain and I am free to use it.

If the art was created before 1923, published after 2002, and it’s creator died more than 70 years ago, it is in the public domain.

BUT if that old painting from the 1500s was first published between 1978 and 2002, then there is a chance that the publisher may own the copyright, as crazy as that seems.

I love the artwork of the nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelites, and I had in mind specifically the work of John William Waterhouse, not a Pre-Raphaelit himself, but strongly influenced by them. He lived from 1849 to 1917, and his paintings were created between the 1870s and 1916. They were certainly candidates for the public domain. But it took me 9 hours of research to determine that they truly are in the public domain.

I wrote a blog post about Mother Holle (a goddess figure with roots in the Bronze Age) that featured Waterhouse art, and one of those paintings depicted Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott at her loom.

Because my heroine, the sea nymph Nerine, serves as a handmaiden to the three fates who weave the life of the world on their great loom, a beautiful painting focusing on a weaver seemed ideal.

Now Nerine is blonde and slightly younger than the weaver in the painting, but covers don’t always depict the protagonist of the story. I viewed the weaver as Mother Holle herself, in whose footsteps Nerine is following. And the mood of the painting is rich and lush. It has the right feeling for Fate’s Door, especially when compared to the cover on the first edition.

It was fun working with the painting, to create my cover. I used a more subdued treatment for the title and byline, following the trail blazed by The Tally Master. I’ll admit that I love what I developed.

But, but, but!

Of course, there’s a but!

I think the story of the cover for this book is nothing but a big long series of buts! (You may recall that I waged a heroic struggle with the color and texture of the title and byline when I was approaching the release of the paperback. I blogged about it here.)

When I showed the new cover with the loom to a friend, she said, “But what about the painting of Miranda?”

I didn’t immediately know what she was talking about. When I returned to the Wikipedia gallery of Waterhouse works, the painting in question jumped out at me as being perfect: a blond in Grecian garb gazing out at the sea. Nerine’s hair has greeny-gold highlights, but aside from that “Miranda” could be Nerine.

I was so utterly beguiled by the image that I just had to work with it.

So I did!

But now I’m in a quandary, because I love both versions. Which one should I use?

That is my decision to make, of course, but I’d love to know what you think. Loom? Sea?

Believe it or not, I’m considering making two versions of a new paperback, one with the loom image, one with the sea image. I can do that with paper. But I’ll have to chose one or the other for the ebook. 😀

Your opinion, s’il vous plaît?


 

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Book Cover for Fate’s Door

Last month, when I shared my step-by-step process for creating the book cover for my novel Fate’s Door, I concluded by saying that I was not quite satisfied with the gold texture that appeared in the title and byline.

Since that post, I’ve found a texture I love. Take a look!

Fate ebook cover 600 px

If you’d like to see the full account of my search for the right gold, read the Edited to Add section at the very bottom of the post: Building Fate’s Cover.

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
Amazon I B&N I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books

 

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Building Fate’s Cover

Fate web cov 200Usually I don’t think about a book’s cover until I’m close to completing the manuscript, but the cover concept for Fate’s Door leaped into my mind fully formed as soon as I started writing of Nerine in the Mediterranean Sea.

I could see her so clearly on my mind’s eye, emerging from the water, with her blond hair and hazel green eyes, and a wave crashing behind her. That vision stayed with me all through the writing of the novel, and I began the search for the right photographs much earlier than usual.

After several separate tours through the Dreamstime site, I thought I’d found the right model. She looked like a sea nymph to me. Finding the right wave was even easier. I wanted one that was still rolling along part of its length, while crashing into white foam on another part.

2 The wave

I downloaded comp copies of both photos to see if they would work together the way I thought they would. And they did! I was pleased.

However, I did not immediately purchase the files and set to work on building the cover. I was still in the middle of writing the book, and it was important that I not distract myself from that task. It’s a good thing I made the prudent decision.

I remember Lois McMaster Bujold mentioning on her blog, some years ago, that a certain novel of hers remained just three chapters from the end for a good half of the book.

(Unless my memory is utterly wrong. Which it could be. I have a terrible memory.)

But Fate’s Door was like that book of Bujold’s. Once I’d written 100,000 words (roughly 300 pages), I was just 15,000 words from the end. For the next two months! At 160,000 words (roughly 400 pages), Fate’s Door had finally reached “The End.”

After I readied the manuscript for my first reader and sent it to her, I turned my attention to the cover. And decided that I didn’t like my choice of photo representing my heroine. She was too serious. Just as important, she simply wasn’t Nerine.

This same thing had happened to me when I designed the cover for Caught in Amber. I had to go photo-hunting again, and discovered exactly what I wanted among the dozen or more models I’d originally considered. That was Nerine!

1 Nerine

Once I’d purchased the right to use the photos on my cover, I downloaded the files. Then I isolated the wave from the sky over it, and clipped Nerine out from her background of tree leaves. I’ve shown the clipping required in the images above.

3 Wave on coverThe next step was building the progression of waves in my cover file. I’d already done this in the test comp file, so I followed it as a guide. The waves flowed together very nicely, creating a marvelous sense of the sea’s power. I was pleased.

The next step was to place Nerine. Again, I followed what I’d done in the comp cover, but using the newly chosen photo of a different model. I discovered that the green of the tree leaves shining through her hair was very close to the green of the sea. A stroke of pure luck!

4 Nerine on coverI carried on with placing the title and the tagline that goes above it. Next came my byline and the tagline that goes below it, as well as the underline that visually connects the descending letter “J” to the tagline “Author of Caught in Amber.”

At this stage in building a cover, I can see whether or not the design is coming together. The design for Fate’s Door was definitely coming together, but like every other cover I’ve created, some problem areas remained which would require tweaking.

The first correction I made was to place a translucent green screen over all of the water. It’s fully 70% opacity, but with the light quality set for “soft light” rather than the more usual “normal.” I did this, because I really liked the color quality of the water in my test comp, and the full resolution photograph had a darker, more blue quality. My green screen gave the water a more inviting hue and restored it to that of the comp image.

5 first conceptionHowever, the most obvious problem area was the back cover. While I really liked the scene I’d created – Nerine rising from ocean waves – the back cover was not going to provide the even color tone required for cover copy. In fact, the alternating white of sea foam and dark green of the waves would provide the very worst possible background for text.

The dark green would call for white text, while the white foam would need black text. And alternating black and white text would look awful, as well as being hard on a reader’s eyes. Something would need to be done. That something felt rather obvious to me. I’d had doubts about the layers of waves from the beginning, but been beguiled by the scene I was “painting.”

6 Adjust the backThe solution was to stretch the dark green portion of the wave to cover the entire back cover and feather it to gently transition into the foaming wave on the front cover.

Fixing the most egregious problem caused the next worst one to leap to my eye. The title was hard to read, because its first word – Fate’s – was neatly bisected by where the white foam of the frontmost wave gives way to the green of the next wave rolling in. I tried moving the frontmost wave down, so that the color change occurred between the two words of the title. The golden color showed up equally well on the two colors – white and green – so it worked, in that sense. But I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like splitting the title. And I didn’t like how the overall composition looked with the white sea foam positioned at that lower level. I decided to try something else. What if I left the sea foam essentially in place, but stretched it vertically, so that the upper edge fell near the top of the first word?

I tried it.

And I liked it. Very much.

7A Move wave

I considered Nerine’s dress. I’d already changed it from pale pink to white. I’d hoped it might look like sea foam, but it didn’t. And Nerine doesn’t wear dresses in the sea. But I had a plan. I selected a section of sea foam with the right shape, copied it, and placed it over her dress.

It needed a little stretching to make it right, but Photoshop’s warp tool is a handy thing for just these situations. The foam was a little too white, as well, since it was out from behind that “soft light” green screen that I’d placed over all the water. Another easy fix: place a similar screen over just this front portion of sea foam.

Next I poured in the back cover copy.

Still looking very good.

Now it was time for the final tweaks, mainly placing translucent screens with softly feathered edges behind some of the text. The tagline above the title got a 20% screen of wave green behind it. My byline received two screens, a hair-colored one at 30% behind “Ney-G” and a 20% wave screen behind “rimm.” I made both large enough to also fall behind “Author of Caught in Amber.”

8 final Fate cover

A few more similar screens went on the back cover behind “Wild Unicorn Books” and the price and genre. I decided to remove a small awkward piece of Nerine’s hair, where it protruded from behind the ISBN box and simply looked odd, separated from Nerine herself as it was.

My cover was nearly finished. The spine needed all three of the usual elements: title, byline, and Wild Unicorn logo. The elements themselves are simple, but I expected to have trouble with them because of the pesky flower in Nerine’s hair.

Now, I love the flower. I can just imagine it plucked from a blooming tree by a lover, and cast on the waves as a wish, to alight in Nerine’s hair as she surfaces. But its location on the spine is problematic, because it might all-to-easily interfere with the title – either crowding the title or making it hard to read by peering out from behind the letters.

This proved to be the case when I first placed the title. The flower was located behind it. Not good.

However, I usually start with the title larger than I need it, because making it smaller is always an option. Whereas, if I decide I need it larger, I must start over with the larger image again. Each time I shrink an image, some of the data is discarded. Taking the small image and enlarging it does not restore the lost data.

As I made the title smaller and smaller, I could see that it would probably fit very nicely between the top of the spine and the flower. There is even a little room (considering aesthetics) to make it smaller yet, if required. But I’ll need to see an actual physical book – the proof copy – before I decide. On my computer screen, the title looks a little crowded by the flower.

But the only place the spine will be seen is when a reader holds the trade paperback in his or her hands. And I’ve learned that the size of type on a screen appears very different from its appearance on a physical book. This post will likely go live on my blog before I’m working on the paper edition, but I’ll add a note to tell you how the title issue turns out.

Once I placed my byline on the spine, I saw that the flower was not the only constraint. The title has essentially 9 “letters” in it, when you include the space between the two words. My byline has 12 “letters.” I like the letters of title and byline to be the same size on the spine. Which meant, in this case, that the letters had to be small enough for both title and byline to fit, along with the unicorn profile which is my imprint’s logo.

All of the elements required translucent screens behind them to make them easily readable – hair-colored for most of the type and the logo, water-colored for the “E” and the “S” in “Fate’s.”

And here it is, with the spine complete. For now. 😀

9 cover spine

Edited to Add April 2016

My first reader gave me excellent feedback on Fate’s Door. I made revisions to correct the issues she found, and then sent the manuscript off to my second reader. My second reader gave me equally good feedback, and I made yet more revisions.

All in all, three-and-a-half months passed while my readers read and while I wrote revisions.

During that time, I also revised the copy that appears on the back cover of the paperback. Below is the corrected version of the cover.

Fate's Door, final cover, 600 px

Given that the cover for the paperback is complete, where – you may be wondering – is said paperback? Why can it not be ordered on Amazon or anywhere else?

Here’s my problem: the metallic gold title looks good at full size on the paperback. But it’s not quite right at thumbnail size on a website page. I’ve tried many variations to see if I could improve it: metallic brass, jade green, copper orange, and more. All of the variants looked worse than the metallic gold. Much worse.

Fate's Door, cover variations

I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel and go with the gold filigree.

And thus the paperback still waits on my hope that I can figure out a solution to my title quandary. Cross your fingers for me – and for my readers who prefer paper to digital – that I dream up my solution soon! 😀

Edited to Add May 2016

In the comments below, my friend Alicia suggested that I try a different gold texture for the title treatment. Her suggestion stuck with me all week after I read it. I’d already tried five alternate gold textures, and none of them worked. But I had a feeling she was onto something.

I searched for yet more gold patterns and found half a dozen possibilities. None of them worked either, but I still felt that Alicia was right. I took a week’s break and then searched again. This time I found one, but I hoped it just might be the one.

When I tried it…I liked it! A lot! Alicia was right when she said, “You’ll know the minute you find the right combination…”

Thank you, Alicia! I doubt I would have persevered so long and so successfully without your suggestion and your encouragement.

Fate tapestry cover

I saw one more problem after I created the new title treatment. It’s a little crazy that I hadn’t noticed it sooner. I did my first work on the cover when I was still writing the book’s manuscript draft, and when I returned to the cover (many months later) I’d forgotten that the tag line above the title was originally a placeholder.

I’m still shaking my head at myself. Really, J.M.? Really?!

Alas, really. It’s fixed now. 😀

Secrets, like troubles, come in threes – when you possess one…

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
Amazon I B&N I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books

For more cover builds, see:
Building Wild’s Cover
Building Glory’s Cover
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

 

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Bookkeeping Prompts Another Cover Revision

Ashkenazi Sefer TorahI’ve been catching up on my bookkeeping. This is appropriate, because my current work-in-progress, Tally the Betrayals, is about a bookkeeper.

(He inks his tallies on scrolls. Thus the photo above.)

Now he’s not your ordinary bookkeeper.

He works in the “dark tower” of Silmaren in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, keeping track of the tin and copper flowing into the smithies where the weapons of the troll-lord’s armies are forged! And one of his tin ingots has gone missing.

But I digress. (And, yes, that was a tease.) 😀

Back to the bookkeeping at Casa Ney-Grimm.

I was updating my year-on-year spreadsheet, where I see how many copies of each book title sold each year, from 2011 through the present. It helps me assess the big picture.

web imageSeveral things became clear after I tallied the numbers for 2015. My short stories sell sporadically and by the handful. This is normal. Short stories just are not as popular with readers as longer works.

Except my Crossing the Naiad, which sells steadily. Still by the handful, but every month readers are choosing Naiad, which intrigues me. It’s a great story, yes. But so is Resonant Bronze a great story. What is it about Naiad that has extra appeal?

More experienced writers than I tell me that this is always the unanswered question, so, moving on…

Next conclusion: novellas sell better than short stories, still by the handful, but steadily. (Sort of like Naiad, in fact. Except that Naiad is not a novella.)

And novels sell best of all.

None of the above is really surprising. But the thing that caught my attention was that Livli’s Gift – a novel – is alone amongst my novels in selling merely like a novella. What’s up with that?

I think I know the answer. It was the cover. The old cover just wasn’t right.

Now I revised the cover a few weeks back and blogged about it. But seeing the cold, hard numbers made me revisit the issue. Sure, I’d revised the cover, and I liked the new version a lot. But had I revised it enough? If the old cover had been hurting its popularity that much, had I truly fixed the problem?

No, I didn’t think I had.

So I’ve been tinkering with it some more. I’m not quite done tinkering. I have a few more details I want to change. But I thought I’d show you what I have thus far.

Livli's Gift, night sky cover, 350 px

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What do you think?
😀

To see the original cover of Livli’s Gift, created step by step:
Creating Livli’s Cover

To see the cover revision of Livli’s Gift:
Why Revise a Book’s Cover

To see the inspiration for my novel Tally the Betrayals:
Tally the Betrayals

 

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