Cover Story

mccleever-street-blues

As I’ve said before…I may have a side job on my hands.

See, this started back in the mid 80s when I was in junior high.  I was more obsessed with music and band discographies than I was in sports.  Even then I could tell you what song what was on which album, if I knew the band well enough.

One summer afternoon, I’d made up a fake band and had a little bit of fun coming up with a fake discography to go along with it.  [I don’t remember the band’s name but the ersatz label I came up with was Plazmattack.  Don’t ask me where that came from.]  I went into detail, coming up with song titles, album names, all the way down to the multiple singles and EPs.

I never actually followed up with writing and recording the songs, as I was fifteen and didn’t have much musical ability.  But I was a true music geek, and I was willing to take this fanciful idea for a spin.  A few years later when a few friends and I started The Flying Bohemians, I actually made a detailed discography for our small but growing batch of songs.  I even did a few cassette covers, taking blurry pictures I and my sisters had taken and pasting them on the insert cards.

*

Thirty years later and I’m about to embark on another fake discography for a future writing project.

And more than that, I’m about to pretend I’m an artist as well.

The above is my first attempt at a book cover for a story that doesn’t exist.  It’s an experiment to see if I can actually pull it off.  If I can, then my Secret Side Project may actually have legs and be worth pursuing.

Background: The title McCleever Street Blues predates the Vigil and the Mendaihu Universe by a year or two but is in the same setting and timeframe.  It was to be a short story about a kid trying to get from one location to another in a sprawling city, and all the boundaries and distractions he had to deal with, as well as all the regular folk he’d see every day.  I’ve never actually written it.

The picture itself was taken by me on my cell phone on Rue des Petits Champs in Paris late in the afternoon a few months ago while on vacation, and filtered through the Prisma app.  I cropped it using Photoshop and added the title and byline using Pic Monkey.  It’s a very rough outtake, of course.  For starters, I’d do a much better job of the matte frames for the title and byline given more time and inclination.

So…what do you think?

Creating Covers

So tonight I decided to play around a bit with the cover for The Balance of Light, even though it’s still quite some time before it’s going to see ebook or print.  This one was tough, because I had an idea of what I wanted, but looking for the right picture was going to be a tough one.  I wanted something to balance out the blue/yellow night view of A Division of Souls, so I knew it would have to be yellow/blue and morning.  I had the color scheme down, but the picture was the tough part.

I’ve said before that I really love this part of the self-publishing process; I mean, really love it.  Like, to the point that I may possibly do this as a side-job in the future.  I love looking for that perfect shot.  Trying to get the perfect crop balance.  Figuring out whether to adjust the color or give it a bit of an effect.  Playing around with fonts and text placement.

I’ll be honest, it’s like I’m making fake album covers.  It’s something I used to do as a teenager with my mixtapes and the Flying Bohemians tapes.

Let’s take a quick look at the three covers I’ve made so far:

ados 100615 nt cover

The cover for A Division of Souls was meant to invoke a few things:  the setting (a metropolis, teeming with people), the time (at night), and mood (tense and mysterious).  It’s also to serve as a tie-in to the very first scene.  In short, my aim was to say: this is what the book’s going to make you feel.

The cover was also supposed to tie in with the other two books, which means that I also had to think ahead:  what were the other two going to look like?  I knew I’d have to keep a few visual motifs going…a city would have to be involved in all three, somehow; the images would need to evolve, just like the story itself.  In this case, I created multiple ‘lightboxes’ in my Shutterstock account and started looking for pictures that would do exactly what I needed them to do.

The time it took to throw this one together was surprisingly quick, to be honest.  Looking at it now, I can see a few things I should fix, but for the most part it went smoothly, once I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

tpom 032316 take 2

The cover for The Persistence of Memories was a bit trickier, and I think it looks better as an e-book cover than it does as a trade paperback cover, but I do like how it came out.  The same rules applied here…in this case the setting was twofold: it takes place both on Earth and on Trisanda, so I chose to do a ‘satellite’ point of view that shows both the city below and the stars above.  Time seems to be fluid in this shot.  It seems to be late night in the city below, blanketed by the similar blue (not exactly the same but close) of the first book, but in the heavens, time is irrelevant; it’s all light and dark at the same time.  It also creates a dreamlike mood, where you’re not entirely sure what’s reality and what isn’t.

The placement of the title was purely serendipity, to be honest; I did not expect the top two words to be in space and the bottom two to be in the planet’s atmosphere.  It just turned out that way and worked out quite nicely.  Funnily enough, once I’d noticed that, I was torn on exactly where I should place it…the other outtake had the title dropped a tiny bit lower, so the “of” is resting right on top of the gray cloud line instead of hovering over it like it is.

 

I haven’t made a solid decision yet on what the Book 3 cover will look like but this is what I came up with tonight:

tbol outtake 3b

 

I’m still playing around with the font color for the title, as well as the placement of the text.  The picture hints at the metropolis of ADoS, but the mood and the time is different: we’ve gotten through the late night of Book 1 and the witching hours of Book 2, and now we’ve come to the morning after of Book 3.  The yellow of the sunlight is supposed to hint at the yellow font of Book 1, and I’m still trying to figure out which bluish hue would be good for the title (to hint at the blue cityscape of ADoS).

True, it does kind of hint at new-agey books, but that’s kind of the point…the characters and the planet itself has gone through a spiritual awakening of sorts.  And like Book 2, it serves a dual purpose: the physical awakening from that dreamlike state, and the spiritual awakening.

*

One thing I learned early during this process was that I shouldn’t merely look for something that ‘looks cool’, no matter how tempting it may be.  The last thing I needed was to look for something shiny, because I didn’t want the casual viewer to say ‘wow, what a flashy cover’ but not completely connect with it or remember it.  I wanted something unique.  Something that stood out from other covers, not because it was the flashiest, but because it was different. Something to catch their attention because it stood out just enough.

These first three are my first attempts at doing book covers, and as you’ve probably noticed, there are no actual people on the cover.  This was a conscious choice; not only is it because of the large cast, but because I also wanted to invoke the idea that it wasn’t just my characters being affected by the story, but planet itself.

My next couple of projects do involve a much smaller cast, so there’s a very good chance I may use people (or silhouettes) on their covers.  I did a brief Shutterstock search for those and found a few ideas to work with, and I’m looking forward to these when I get to that point.  The main drafts of these stories haven’t even been written yet, or at least not completely, so again this was a bit like creating fake album covers!  In the process it’s giving me something fun to look forward to.

 

 

TPoM: Cover Revealed! Coming Soon!

tpom bg b1a pm

It’ll look a bit better when I redo it with the real non-watermarked picture I just downloaded from Shutterstock not that long ago. The picture creator is Marcel Clemens, whose collection on that website is full of lovely spacey images.

The Persistence of Memories will be released mid-April! Stay tuned for more info as we get closer to the release date! 🙂

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Cover Art

Almost-official cover, take two.
Almost-official cover, take two.

Today’s work included taking the step of buying a stock photo and finally utilizing my sort of decent art skills for future profit. I used the most basic plan on Shutterstock: $41 for five downloads, four of which I’ll use at a later time for the other two books in the trilogy, and maybe a future project or two.  That was the easy part.

The hard part was thinking three or four steps ahead before I even started. There are a few things that I had to keep in mind before I went anywhere with this.

Image Resolution. Many places like Smashwords and BookBaby require high resolution of the finished product. This is so your potential readers will see a nice clear picture on their e-reader, and won’t cause pixelation (i.e., it won’t look all blotchy and fuzzy if you blow up the picture larger than necessary).  Thus I downloaded the highest resolution, which I believe was 3400 x 3400 pixels. Much higher than necessary, but after cropping, it still looks good.

Cropping ratio.  This is something that is actually pretty important yet not too many people think about.  The most common ratio for e-book covers, I’ve read, is 1:1.33.  That is, 1.33 times taller than it is wide.  And looking at this cover take, that makes sense, because it’s roughly the same shape as most tablet and e-reader screens.  I admit I went a bit lo-fi here to figure it out:  I took a ruler and measured the picture on the screen.  In the above thumbnail here, it’s 2.5″ wide.  If you multiply that by 1.33, you’ll get 3.325″, which is very close to the height I ended with.

Fonts: color and placement.  I have to thank album covers for being able to understand this one.  For my example, the most important part of the cover, aside from the visual, is the title, right?  So in this version, instead of bannering it up on top like the previous attempt, I chose to spread it down the entire center.  The font had to be larger than the other two lines I’d be adding (the subtitle and my name).  BUT — it also had to stand out.  In this case, I asked for assistance from one of my artist friends: since I knew I’d be using this photo and that its primary color was blue, what is the opposite of blue?  [This is actually pretty easy to figure out: here’s a color wheel chart you should save for reference!]  In this case, it’s yellow, so I used a very light shade of it for the title, to make it stand out, even more than the subtitle or my name (both in standard white).  The fonts themselves were provided on the free version of PicMonkey.com…the title is Geo Sans Light and the other two are De Walpergen Pica.  All three were placed with a bit of ingenuity:  I aligned the sides of the text blocks with the sides of the picture, and had everything center-aligned.

Clarity.  My original outtake in the previous post used the Edo font on PicMonkey, but here my wife suggested a different, plainer font.  It’s a bit unexpected to be sure, because it doesn’t look like a genre font.  It’s classic and plain, but it still looks professional.  The trick here was to ensure that none of the words vanished in the white spots of the picture behind it; yellow stands out well against blue, but gets lost against white.  Everything is readable, and that’s the most important part.

Viewing it in different sizes.  This is another thing that sometimes gets glossed over or forgotten, but it’s actually quite important, and ties in with everything else.  Think of it this way — say you’re looking for that new book you know has just come out, but you need to scan the New Release shelves and the endcaps in order to do it.  Chances are when you see it, you’ll be at least a good ten or twenty feet away.  Same goes with e-books: when you’re browsing online, you’re not looking at the actual-size cover, you’re looking at a thumbnail cover.  This is another reason I downloaded the high-res version: the picture itself doesn’t look too sketchy, but more importantly, the fonts are still readable.  It’s okay if the subtitle is fuzzy; it’s not important.  What is important is the title and my name, so I had to make sure they were large enough to be read.  This is why I’d tweeted it right after I’d completed it:  I wanted to take a look at it on my phone, to see how it looked on a much smaller screen, plus I’d get feedback from my friends as well.

*

Granted, I already own Photoshop (a birthday present from a few years back), and I’m kind of lucky that I have a lifelong interest in art and a passable ability for it, so I’m able to do most of this myself, which is exactly what I wanted to do.  Some of you may want to hire out a professional cover artist instead.  There are many out there — The Creative Penn has some good links to a few out there, for instance.  And many of them are quite affordable.

In the end, the cover still remains one of the most important parts of the book (or e-book), because it’s the first thing every reader sees.  You can let the pros take control of the cover creation, and all you’ll need to do is explain the images you’d like to see.  But if you have the ability and want to go it alone, definitely keep the above in mind.  Don’t just throw something together and call it done, either; just like musicians, save a small handful of differing takes and use the one that works best.

A Division of Souls: More Character Sketches

image

Two more characters to add to the gang. These two ladies are good examples of what happens when you don’t have nearly as much faith in your home team as you wish you did…or are expected to have.

Saone Lehanna (aka Sonia Lehane) also has the luck of being the youngest daughter of an extremely important man, Natianos Lehanna, a very wealthy CEO who just happens to be the high leader of the Shenaihu faction here in Bridgetown.  Her older sisters are all shadow agents under Natianos and are already well integrated into his corporation.  High expectations to live up to, for sure.

There’s just one problem — she’s no longer a full-blooded Shenaihu anymore.  By mere chance, she happened to be at ground zero when Nehalé Usarai performed his Awakening ritual, which forced Saone to become a cho-nyhndah (an equal balance of Mendaihu and Shenaihu).

 

Kryssyna Piramados (aka Kristan Leguire), on the other hand, is from a regular blue-collar family o Shenaihu with a long history of agents in the Alien Relations Unit, and she’s just joined the Branden Hill HQ.  She willingly went through the ritual of becoming cho-nyhndah soon after Saone’s forced awakening, which has pretty much made her the black sheep of her own family.

She met Saone in college, and they soon became ch0-shadhisi (that is, lovers and bound by spirit).  Natianos dislikes Kryssyna, pretty much seeing her as a traitor, but to be honest, Kryss doesn’t give a shit about that at all.  As long as she and Saone remain together, that’s all that matters.

A Division of Souls: Character Sketch!

image

And we’re back! My first bit of artwork now that I’m back on the whiteboard schedule is another character sketch for the Bridgetown Trilogy gang.

Christine Gorecki has an interesting background, as she was originally a tertiary character when I created her late in the ADoS story; she shows up in person in the last third of the novel when I needed to have someone ARU-related meet up with Sheila and Nick during a specific point in the plot.  I ended up really liking her and gave her a major role in the trilogy.

She’s somewhat of a lone wolf.  She’s highly intelligent and resourceful and originally used that to her advantage while she was part of the Alien Relations Unit.  She’d decided about six months previous to the events in ADoS to take a temporary leave of absence to clear her head and deal with some very personal issues, and in the meantime she’d started freelancing as a detective as well as a low-level healer, which she runs out of a storefront on the ground level of the apartment building she owns.

Christine shares a very close friendship with Alec Poe; she is often the first person he thinks of when he needs outside (non-Vigil) help, and trusts her completely, and the feeling is mutual.  She’s also close friends with Caren Johnson and her sister Denni, and looks after them from a distance.

A Division of Souls: More Character Sketches

20150317_190725Please welcome Alec Poe, emha si edha!  Alec looks a little tired here for his mug shot, but that’s because HR took it first thing in the morning, and he’s not a morning person.  More to the point, he’s definitely a night owl.

A little bit about Alec, who’s often referred to as “Poe” at HQ and by his closest friends: he’s half-Meraladian and was given up for adoption when he was an infant, and grew up with the Poe family in the blue collar McCleever South district, where he still lives in the same apartment.  Like his ARU partner Caren his extrasensory abilities are above average (this will be a major plot point later on).  He’s very protective of his friends and extended family.  He’s a semi-habitual smoker who often lights up when he’s under severe stress.  In large crowds he’s more of an observer than a participant, but within his inner circle of friends he’s quite intelligent and chatty.

A Division of Souls: More Character Sketches

image

A two-fer this time, featuring Sheila and Nick. They’re Caren and Alec’s team two on the ARU.  Admittedly rough (eyes and eye symmetry seem to be the hardest for me), but I like how they came out.  These two are my favorite secondary characters in the Bridgetown trilogy, as they seem to have that “we’re from a different book but somehow we got dropped here” aura about them.  They do have very important roles, however.

Sheila Kennedy is Caren’s former ARU partner; they split up while Caren was on LOA due to her parents’ deaths.  They have an extremely close friendship that transcends some boundaries — they were lovers for a very brief time as well — and though they are on separate teams now, they remain very close friends.  She’s that girl you knew in college who was loud and silly and friends with everyone, and you’d better be far away if you piss her off.  Her extrasensory abilities aren’t as strong as, say, Caren’s or Alec’s, but she has a knack for using them in unconventional ways to get the job done when need be.

Nick Slater on the other hand comes from the darker edge of Bridgetown; he was both part of the B-town Metro Police and a bodyguard for various government visitors.  He left the BMPD because he felt he could do more working for the Alien Relations Unit.  This is an interesting decision, considering unlike most of ARU agents, he shows no outward signs of having any extrasensory abilities.  He is, however, extremely observant and stronger than he looks.

Edit: I’ve gone back and done a bit of similar description for the Caren and Denni drawings, if you’re so interested.  It’s two entries below!

A Division of Souls: Character Sketches

Something I’ve been doing lately as part of my whiteboard schedule is doing some kind of drawing at least once a week.  I’m trying to break out of my doodly comic style (I call it my “Murph” style after the character I used to draw in college) and attempt something a little more realistic.  The last few weeks I’ve been trying out characters from the Bridgetown Trilogy.

Here’s a perky looking Denni:

022415 Denni

Denni is an extremely intelligent girl for her age and nearly all of her classes are Advanced status.  She’s amiable with everyone, but she saves her real emotions for her closest friends, of which there are few.  Her closest friend is a boisterous and diminutive girl named Amna Ehramanis, a half-blood human (she has both Earther and Meraladian blood from both sides of the family and damn proud of it).  She seems to have taken the deaths of her parents (also ARU agents) a bit better than Caren; she still mourns for them but instinctively feels that their spirits have remained close by to watch over them, and that has helped her heal.

And here’s her older sister Caren, wearing her Alien Relations Unit uniform:

030315 Caren

Caren Johnson doesn’t look too happy here, and it’s because she hasn’t been truly happy for a long time, not since their parents died under questionable circumstances.  She herself did not know how they’d died while on a case until nearly six months later.  She’s healed somewhat, but she now feels frustrated and directionless, and feels she needs to do more to make everything right, especially now that she’s taking care of Denni.  Despite all that, she still cares deeply about her fellow ARU partners and everyone else close to her, and will go out of her way to do what is right for them.

This is actually kind of a fun exercise!  I know these characters so well, and yet all this time I never really got around to visualizing them in this manner.  [There’s also the fact that this is a half-serious attempt at drawing the characters for a possible webcomic version down the line, but that’ll be some time in the future.  For now I’m just trying to get them onto paper!]

I will of course add more sketches as they pop up!