Learning New Skills: from Writer to Book Designer

Not every writer is willing to undertake designing their own book covers. Stick to what you know and leave that esoteric stuff to people who really know what they’re doing. But I have a long history of not paying attention to that kind of advice and I enjoy challenges. I have zero talent for creating art, but why should I let a little thing like that stop me? I’ve spent a lifetime in love with art, and I’ve picked up a little, here and there, of the elements of design. So why not? I’m aware that being an avid reader and understanding the elements that go into a novel does not make you automatically a good writer. It’s a learning process. I know I’ll never be a fantastic book designer, but I’m willing to do the work it takes to become a competent designer. Or maybe barely adequate.

All that is prelude to being struck by the notion that, just as I’ve been tracking my progress as a writer, it might be helpful to others to track my progress (and setbacks) as a cover designer.

To start off, here’s the first “draft” of the cover for Gift of the Ancien that I posted yesterday. 

And here’s the second draft, that took me much blood, sweat, and tears yesterday evening. It’s a big improvement, but still lacking . . . something.

I’ve received a lot of suggestions, none of which will work, but many of which got me thinking, and that’s a good thing because the primary problem is trying to create something original using the design elements I’m familiar with. If I were actually a designer, that would be a comparatively easy job, but since I lack the talent that goes into being a designer, it takes stimulus from outside to jolt what little creativity I have into motion.

One suggestion was to make the author’s name gold rather than black. Designwise, that’s a bad idea because it would fade into the background. Would I prefer something other than solid black? Yes, but at the moment nothing comes to mind.

Other suggestion were for images that would give some sense of the story, the way a gun or a bloody knife tells you that you’re looking at a mystery or detective novel. But being perfectly literal isn’t always a good idea, and it doesn’t fit with my preference for establishing a mood. The overall mood of the book is dark and sombre, and that’s what I’d like the cover to at least hint at. I wanted the title to suggest blood, but the first draft was much too bright. The darker red fits much better, but isn’t enough by itself.

Thinking more about the basis for the story, DNA came to mind, and here is where it makes sense to be somewhat more literal than I originally intended. The DNA chain is practically a cliche, but the one I discovered via Google conveys what sets the Ancien apart: a mutation. I don’t know if that’s actually what the graphic represents, but I think it can be read that way.

So now the last and maybe hardest part of the design is ahead of me. I have to tweak the graphic so that it doesn’t dominate, and then incorporate it into the existing elements of the design. And that means learning a new skill in Pixelmator.  More fun and games ahead. If you hear a loud banging noise for the next day or so, that’s me banging my head on the desk.

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10 thoughts on “Learning New Skills: from Writer to Book Designer

  1. I think the black of the author name helps add to the sombre tone you are creating.
    Is pixelmator easier/better to use than Gimp and is it freely downloadable? I also found Gimp very confusing to work with.

    1. Pixelmator isn’t free, but if you hop from the App store to the developer’s site, you can download a 30 day trial. It’s only $15.00, so I’m thinking seriously about it. The help files aren’t that great, but there are tutorials on the site, and third-party sites also have some tutorials. I’m also considering the possibility that if I learn to use enough of the tools, then going back to GIMP might be easier.

      Black is probably the only sensible choice, even though I’d like to get away from it. Maybe a deep bronze or something like that. I’ll have to try it out.

    1. I think anyone who wants to try it, should do so. Yes, it takes work and patience to learn new skills, but it’s one more thing that we don’t have to assume only professionals can do.

  2. I think a lot of cover creation has to do with knowing which audience one is trying to reach. From your keywords and blurb for the previous story, I gather you’re trying to reach science fiction readers and vampire fiction readers. I would have guessed from your cover (which is lovely to look at, by the way) that you were trying to reach historical fiction readers. And I’m afraid that a map of Europe with a title in red really doesn’t convey a somber mood to me.

    Personally, I’m afraid I wouldn’t click on the title if I only saw the cover, because I’m looking for stories about relationships. Ironically, though, that’s what you write; it’s just not clear from your cover.

    Perhaps you could follow the current trend of placing two images on a cover, conveying two different pieces of information? For example, covers for historical romance novels often put people on the top of the cover, and a historical scene on the bottom – for example, this one.

    1. I do plan to include another image, thanks to all the feedback, but I think this is a story you probably wouldn’t care to read anyway. It does include relationships, but they’re less important than the central theme: the struggles of a subspecies which is already outcast from the human race, to survive another variation among their kind. It’s difficult to categorize because there’s a tenuous relationship with vampire legends, which is one of the things that’s kept them isolated, but they’re not vampires.

  3. “I think this is a story you probably wouldn’t care to read anyway.”

    Sorry, I worded myself badly. I meant, “If I were the type of reader who was seeking stories about relationships . . .” – as in fact I am, but I was envisioning the theoretical reader, not me, who will read anything you write. 🙂

    But my comment is moot in any case, since you say that’s not an important element in this story.

    1. I’m beginning to think all readers are theoretical, if we’re trying to figure out what will attract them and what won’t. Or maybe that’s only a problem for those of us who are victims of a muse rather than followers of the latest bandwagon.

    1. Thanks, Roger. It’s a decent foundation, but I’m still working on it. Trying out new ideas is being limited by still being in the learning stage with Pixelmator. At least it isn’t as complicated as Photoshop or Gimp.

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