Picking Their Brains: Scott Kaelen on Cover Design

Wrapping up this week’s advice topic of book cover design, let’s hear from Scott Kaelen, author of The Blighted City...

Just to show how awful the initial attempts at cover creation can be, here's the first cover I made (it's for my short story which was renamed "When Gods Awaken" prior to publishing). 

My advice would be to not mess around with trying to make your own book covers if you haven't had professional experience and don't have access to the best programs to use. I ultimately made all my own covers, which is fine for short stories, etc. but not for a novel if you want it to get the right sort of attention. Pay the experienced artists (NOT the mediocre ones) to create a compelling cover image AND cover text for your book. It won't look professional unless it's done by a professional. And don't listen to any praise your friends give you about your self-made cover - they're only saying it to make you feel good and because they don't have the backbone to tell you the truth. I know this because all my crappy self-made covers got positive praise from my online acquaintances, but I knew the covers were shite. Only listen to critical and responses from qualified and unbiased professionals connected to your writing genre, who you trust will give you the hard truth when necessary (peers, designers, book bloggers, etc.) 

The first two (actually, three) covers [for The Blighted City] were done by an artist based on what I asked him to do, but the last one (the current one) is a small area of a stock photo I'd been holding onto for several years and I did a lot of work on it myself.  

First version for The Blighted City cover art

This is the first one I had the artist make. It was intended as a full cover (front, rear, spine). Ultimately the consensus of my betas and a few others I asked was that it didn't fit with the tone/setting of the novel. So this one was shelved.  

Second version

I decided to try a different angle with the second cover, based on suggestions from a beta. This one depicts the end of the Chiddari Crypt. But after it had been published for a while, the main feedback I got for it was that it felt more like straight-up horror than dark epic fantasy, and that the image really didn't gel with the book title. So this one was replaced. 

Third version

The third cover only lasted a few weeks, but it did sell one paperback in that time, which is the only physical copy of the second published cover edition in existence. Maybe worth a small fortune if I ever get successful! For those who look closely and with the keenest eyesight (not me!), they might be able to tell that it is really a small section of the city in the background of the first (never published) cover. But it's been further tweaked from the original.The consensus for this one was that it felt more like a historical fiction than a secondary-world fantasy. So, scrapped this one, too. 

Current cover

And this is the fourth (third published) cover, the currently published one. This one had much better reception than the previous covers, although, to my mind, it still doesn't give a true depiction of the setting which it's based on. But hey, artistic licence and all that. If the cover helps to sell copies, it's doing its job. 

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