Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mothership's New Cover, or Learn from My Mistakes

Mothership Goose has a new, snazzier cover!

Ooooh! Ahhhh!

Way Too Much Crap

When I was creating the original cover, I fell victim to one of the most common cover mistakes: Way Too Much Crap.

Covers are hard. They're like the hardest things ever. You need a single image that represents the feeling, the content, and the genre of the whole dang book. And it's tempting, oh so tempting, to put a little bit of everything on the cover.

I decided the cover absolutely needed it's namesake, The Mothership, but it clearly also needed the main character, Misha the Mouse Mechanic, and then if that wasn't enough, rocketships, because who doesn't love rocketships?

My book debuted at the Alabama Phoenix Festival, a sci-fi/fantasy convention, where I had a table, with prints and books for sale. I figured kid's book with rocketship+sci-fi fans would make a big splash, but it was completely overlooked by everyone. It might as well have been invisible. I would point it out to people looking at my table and they'd be surprised! "Oh, that's a book?" they'd ask. "I couldn't tell!" After getting such a reaction, I really started to think about my life choices.

While the cover passed my most basic formula of Cover Successfulness, it was still left in the dust by my other books and illustrations.

The Stages of Mourning a Cover, step-by-step from a firsthand account.

  • I know there's a lot of stuff on this cover. But that's okay! People will still see it's brilliance and want to buy it! I just have to mention it to them.
    • (hint: if they don't even realize it's a book, your chances of convincing them to buy it are slim.)
  • What's WRONG with these people?! They aren't seeing the brilliance of my book! THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND MY GENIUS!
    • (hint: if no one understand's your genius, it's not genius, it's stupid.)
  • Maybe I can just make the background black and just spruce it up a little. I don't have to make a whole new cover...
    • (hint: your brain is lying to you, don't listen to it.)
    • (hint: laying on the floor will not get you a new book cover)
  • Alright, fine! I'll just best the best frickle-frackin' cover ever, that'll show them! Then everyone will have to buy my book!
    • (hint: your acceptance stage can be anger too.)
Back to the Basics
I went to my original source of inspiration, retro science fiction illustrations for help! My favorites are thus:

Next time I'll just ask myself, "What would Space Cat do?"

Learn from my mistakes, kids, don't put Way Too Much Crap on your covers!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

4 Common Young Adult Fiction Cover Tropes or, tropie tropes of tropieness

A few months ago I participated in a cover design contest for Awoken by Serra Elinsen. The book is essentially a parody of novels staring supernatural killing machines as romantic interests. It's about Cthulhu reincarnated as a teenager and instead of choosing to spend his evil time bringing about the apocalypse, "sexily" stalks a girl instead.

The people hosting the contest, asked for the tropiest cover possible, so I headed down to the book store for inspiration. These are the tropes inspired me the most:

1. Girl in Flowing Dress Who Walks Away (and sometimes just sits there)
My favorite!
Girl In Flowing Dress is characterized by a someone who is supposedly the protagonist (though sometimes looks nothing like the character in the book) wearing a period ambiguous dress that is never worn or heard of in the text itself. Bonus points for wind blown hair, grungy photoshop filters, and gothness.

2. Off With Her Head!
Also apparently sexy backs with jeans are in...
Off With Her Head is characterized by a sexy lady (or dude) with the top of their head cut off. It can be inferred that the designer didn't want to overrule the reader's sense of the main character, so they conveniently cut their face off, but one starts to question whether it's really about hidden homicidal urges when half the books in the section feature headless people. Off With Her Head is closely related to...

3. Face Obscured by Kissing, Light Flare, or Shadow (and sometimes all three)
So dramatic! (I actually love SEND's cover)
Face Obscured is (in my humble opinion) a better choice, design wise, than Off With Her Head, because it allows placement of the face anywhere. The human eye is drawn to faces and where faces should be. This means the focal point of the cover isn't constantly the top edge. As you can see, this is one of the more successful tropes, in that the covers are still varied in content, color, and composition. Be careful, though, it walks the very fine line of dramatic and melodramatic.

4. Cropped (Sexy?) Body Parts
The Bookstore was nice enough to just go ahead and put these all on the same shelf, so I didn't even have to look!
Vague cropped body parts??? Sexy??? Yes cropped good!!..1??

My Tropetastic Cover:

✓Girl in Flowing Dress
✓Off With Her Head
✓Lens flare
✓Cropped Body Part

The contest was for comp sketches, and my plan was to photograph my gorgeous family if my piece was chosen. Sadly it was not. While on the level of tropiness with the finalist, it wasn't quite as rape-y as they wanted.

I had a good time thinking about tentacles and ridiculous typefaces, though.

Hilariously Melodramatic Bonus Covers:
AHahah. Angel on a motorcycle.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Women Painting Women or, That's Just my Resting Face

There is a movement spreading around the figurative art community. This movement explores whether women inherently paint women different than men paint women. It is titled, fittingly, Women Painting Women. There were a  bunch of gallery openings this fall, and there was much rejoicing!

While the Electric Keychain Collective aren't strictly painters, we certainly are all women so we joined in.

Self Portrait at Work, Aged 24 by Carly Strickland
"I was looking for a classical portrait pose like Artemisia Gentileschi's self portrait as an allegory of art, and the countless other paintings of artists at their easels. I tried to be as honest as possible, with the way I sit, and the way I dress when I work, my addiction to Diet Coke and Doctor Who. Though, in the spirit of honesty, my desk is not usually that clean. 
I know I look kind of intense, but that's just what my face does when I'm concentrating!"

Harassment by Julia Marshall
"I saw a young teenage girl walking home from school. Some men were making comments about her nonexistent boobs, but she couldn't hear them due to her giant adorable headphones. She was happy/in the zone. I thought the whole situation was very interesting, so I decided to illustrate it."
-Julia Marshall 

Amanita by Tati Dengo
"Here it is just plain and simple: I don’t like to draw people. The reasons are numerous and irrelevant, but eventually I just find ways of communicating “person” without actually having to draw one.
Shirley Jackson immediately stood out since her book, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” has this creepy little quote I’d always wanted to illustrate."
-Tati Dengo 
Read more about Women Painting Women on my blog

Women Painting Women Blog

Friday, October 18, 2013

Just in time for Halloween!

Sparkle-Free Halloween Giveaway

Enter to win one of fifty iBooks gift-codes for Say No to Sparkles as part of our All Hallow's Read scary-book giveaway. These codes work for the iBooks app on iPad and iPad mini (not iPhone, sorry).

Go here to enter.

Prizes will be awarded on October 26, 2013.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tshirts, and Now, The Weather

Welcome to Night Vale is a dark, hilarious, indie podcast about a town where every conspiracy you can think of is 100% true (including the one with the five headed dragon, you know the one). It's currently one of my favorite things ever.

Commonplace Books, the owners and writers of Night Vale, was holding a contest for a tshirt design. This is my entry. I couldn't pick just one thing to design, since it was one design per artist, so I did them all.

Special Thanks go to Sir William for designing Hiram McDaniels' five heads.

Listen to Night Vale, you know you want to.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Olympia Heights: The Cult of Kronos Cover Reveal

Olympia Heights final book is coming out this fall, and we're doing a cover reveal giveaway. Enter to win a bunch of cool Olympia Heights stuff (details at the bottom).

Our model for this cover was Mark Miltz, a long time friend of the family and figure painter. I have literally known Mark as long as I've been alive. One day he was over for dinner, and I'm pretty sure I interrupted someone when I blurted, "Amy! Doesn't he look like Jason?!?"

After Amy told me when she wanted the cover done I had some time, so I kept a look out for really amazing clouds, and I'd run out into my front yard and take a bunch of pictures. Pretty sure my neighbors think I'm like, crazy about clouds.

Ahh, Movie Magic Photoshop.

The Giveaway:

Win this cool stuff!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Comparative Analysis on a Theme or, Success!

These are some books I've read lately. I've arranged these books by their cover's order of effectiveness. The Introvert Advantage does not look as professional or welcoming as American Nerd. Lets examine why.

There are 4 (very simplified) things that make a cover successful:
  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
  3. Can you read it?
  4. Is it attractive?

All need to be answered yes for your book cover to be successful.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Judge this book by it's cover:
Graphic and compelling, this book seems screams "QUIET!" and when you're done getting shouted at to sit still and stop talking, the reason for all the hollering is gently presented to you. This looks like a somber book with depths and a solidness many other books don't have.

What's inside is what's important:
What you see is what you get. Quiet reads like a science paper, full of facts and research and anecdotes to string it all together. It starts with a premise, introverts are totally awesome, and comes at it from all sides, the history of introverts, the culture of the extrovert, how introvert brains are different from extroverts, and how to live your life comfortably as an introvert.

 You have to look really hard to find any problems with this cover. It's gripping and elegant and says just what it needs to say. So I'm about to get really nit picky.

The red is very bright, so it should be highly readable compared the the sedate grey, but it's not. This is because it is almost exactly the same value as the grey, which creates a vibration between the red and the grey. Value is how light or dark a color is. The part of your brain that interprets colors is separate, (as in in a different place, disconnected, calling long distance) from the part of your brain that interprets light and dark. When you look at anything you see two pictures, one is pure color, one is greyscale, and you brain lays them on top of each other. So when something is dark and it's surrounded by light (no matter the colors), it's easy to understand the difference between the object and the background.

The cover in greyscale. You can see that
for half of your brain, it's much harder to read.
On this cover, your brain can easily tell that there are two colors, but it struggles with putting the red or the grey in front of the other and the edges of the word vibrate. Such a technique could be used for a reason. If you want something jarring or disorientating, you might use these color. However, I cannot see the reasoning for wanting vibrating text on a book about introverts.

Was this book cover successful? Lets look at our check points:

  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
    • Yes
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
    • As hard as typographical covers go, yeah, it does a beautiful job explaining the book.
  3. Can you read it?
    • Hell yes.
  4. Is it attractive?
    • Yes (minus the slight color choice issues) 

Even Though It's Awesome, Let's Still Fix It!

Always look at your designs in black and white before you send them to print. You may have some value changes to make.

Remember, kids, it's easier to be a critic than an artist. So try hard, make your best work, don't be judgmental of other's work (but learn form their mistakes), and keep an eye out to make sure you're not using the wrong shade of red.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We Were All in High School Once or, Re-Drawing Old Drawings

Several weeks ago I ran across a blog of a girl redesigning characters she had drawn when she was a little girl. Her project is called The Big Book of Cats, and is very cute and you should go look at it!

Shortly thereafter I was moving boxes around and came upon one that had my much beloved sketch books from middle school and high school. My favorite medium of drawing was anime, as I'm sure many other 14 year old's was as well.

I was sort of stunned that I had held on to these really terrible drawings, and I remembered Michelle's Big Book of Cats and how I had poured over her project for an entire afternoon.

My trek to the past will not be as cohesive nor as large (or have a cute name), but I pulled a couple of drawings out, scanned them, and rediscovered them.

Re-Designed Drawing One, The Mysterious Orb:

I estimate that this drawing was done around the 7th grade.

Look at that sweet shading, the fancy ascot, and that rockin hairdo!
Not to mention thumbs! Had some awesome thumb action going on there.

Click to see bigger!

I blame Welcome to Night Vale for the third eye.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Women Painting (R)evolution or, All of the Parentheses

I am lucky to have designed a catalog for a Women Painting Women art exhibit for a second year in a row! Opening is at Principle Gallery from September 20th to October 18th of this year, and the Opening Reception is at 6:30 pm- 9pm, September 20th.

Painting by Alia El-Bermani
Art catalogs are some of my favorite things to design. I draw inspiration from the title of the show and from the work itself, and try to not get in the way of that art!

Painting by Sadi Valeri

This exhibitions title had parentheses and I was looking for a theme. So that meant: 

Paintings by Katherine Fraser and Jennifer Balkan

Art books and catalogs are fussier than novels. Setting a novel, for example, if you change the size of the type or the spacing, it might run you a higher page count, and that's okay. Often with a art book you have certain things that have to go on this page, no more and no less. It's more like a puzzle. You have the pieces and you have to move them around until they fit.

Paintings by Mia Bergeron

(Don't tell anyone but those parentheses were obnoxious! I was constantly tweaking them in size and color. Ugh. Art is pain. And I have no one to blame but myself.)

Paintings by Teresa Oaxaca and Katie O'Hagan

"Women Painting Women is a blog that was started in 2008 by artists Sadie JerniganValeri, Alia El-Bermani, and Diane Feissel to highlight underrepresented female artists working in the figurative tradition with this theme. The blog took on new life in 2010, when the Robert Lange Studio in Charleston, SC hosted a juried exhibition—appropriately titled, 'Women Painting Women.'"

Paintings by Catherine Prescott

This is the third exhibition with the title Women Painting Women (that I know of!) and this fall it will be joined with lots of other galleries simultaneously hosting Women Painting Women shows. Read about the history and the future of Women Painting Women from their site.

Painting by Alexandra Tyng

You can buy the catalog from HP Magcloud.

Read about last year's Catalog.

See another catalog I've designed.

Oh and check out this action video of the artists' work:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jekyll and Hyde or, The Epic Battle of Left and Right Brain

This is the story of a cover illustration commissioned for a werewolf horror novel called Trail in Blood by David Anderson, published by Post Mortem Press. The main objectives for the illustration was a Jekyll and Hyde feeling without being really cheesy. While thumbnailing for this project I was super aware of the line between drama and melodrama, and I think it’s harder line to define than a lot of people think, and that’s because it’s different for everyone. Most people love the new Christopher Nolan Batman movies because they’re gritty and dramatic, but I have a really hard time watching them without giggling. His voice when he’s Batman cracks me up. In retrospect I probably should have waited to watch it on DVD in my room, and not in a packed theatre bothering the people around me. 

I wanted to make sure that my cover couldn’t be interpreted as silly.

I know they're horrible, you don't have to rub it in.

As you can see my thumbnails are super ugly and really have nothing to do with drawing at all. They’re more like ideas and concepts, and sometimes I make a list instead because it’s quicker.

Next comes reference: I used my super manly fiance, Sir William. After I took his picture and had released him from bondage, I wasn’t really happy with the expression, and rather than torture him some more, I took some of myself. I still used him for posture and male facial structure.

Sir William's very good good at looking vaguely menacing, and still managing to look dashing.
While this would make him an excellent Edward, we were looking for something actually threatening.

The pictures I took to get the right one are a perfect illustration of my point. Though I was trying to be super angry and dramatic, most of these expressions are hilarious.

As you can see there’s a big jump after all the plotting and reference gathering. Unfortunately, I didn’t save my inprogress stuff, but if you want to see what it generally looks like go here (make sure you come back, you don't want to miss anything really interesting!).

I had two color palettes, and the client chose blue and asked me to make the slash more like multiple claws ripping fabric. And he was absolutely right!

This is where my right brain and left brain had a fight.

My left brain insisted that it *made sense* for us to able to see the other ear. It’s a more dramatic silhouette of the wolf, and gives a viewer a landmark to make sense of the illustration. However, the location of the slash creates a tangent to the character’s head.

Quick run down: Tangents are when two things are touching exactly on the edge or very nearly touching. See the below image. On the left, the eye is drawn to where the circle touches the line, and it can distract from what you actually want the viewer to look at. On the right, there is nothing to distract you from my poor circle drawing skills, and the overlap feels natural.

In my image, we know that the edge of his head should be right on the edge of the slash, but because we can’t see it it’s an implied tangent, is distracting, and might even look wrong to some people. However, my left brain was very adamant that this was right.

I was persuaded by my right brain (and my very talented and beautiful mother) that it would have to move. I couldn’t just move the ear over, because then it would be in the wrong place compared to the wolf’s head, so I had to show the boring arch of the wolf's head. My left brain is still upset by this development, but there’s no denying that it’s much more natural and the tension is (hopefully) from the dramatic image and not from the disturbing thought of, “Where’s the rest of his head?”

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Comparative Analysis on a Theme or, Book Covers, Book Covers, Book Covers! (part 2)

These are some books I've read lately. I've arranged these books by their cover's order of effectiveness. The Introvert Advantage does not look as professional or welcoming as American Nerd. Lets examine why.

There are 4 (very simplified) things that make a cover successful:

  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
  3. Can you read it?
  4. Is it attractive?
All need to be answered yes for your book cover to be successful.

Confessions of an Introvert: The Shy Girl's Guide to Career, Networking, and Getting the Most Out of Life by Meghan Wier

Judge This Book By It's Cover: 
The women holds a sign in front of her face. She's shy, but she's also displaying her large, bold message. She's an introvert, but she's still putting herself out there in a way that is more comfortable for her. This cover is cute, has nice colors, and seems very readable.

What's Inside is What's Important:
Yes. Those first impressions are totally correct in all ways. Well done person who designed this cover (who is not credited in the book as far as I can find).

Other Problems:
This book still has other problems. Like our last book, I believe the type is too large, and crowded towards the edge of the sign. It makes it very readable when it's reduced, but when you've got the book in your hands, it's a little eye melting. The too large type continues on the inside looking like it's screaming at us at somewhere around a 14 point font. (I almost always set my books at 10.5 if that tells you anything). This tells me that the books was designed to be an ebook, and the print version is an afterthought. The cover looks nice online, and as a thumbnail, but not as nice in print. You've got to think about both aspects when designing for both. One shouldn't get less concern than the other. If all else fails, design it twice.

Secondly, the blue type and her shirt are ALMOST the same color. If colors are close enough, they look good. These are just far different enough to draw attention to the fact that they don't match. I would have chosen a type color exactly the same as her shirt, or a contrasting color.

Third. That typeface. It looks like it came free on a Mac (good rule of thumb: If it came free on your computer and it's not Helvetica, try not to use it for a title). It's goofy looking, and belongs on a church bulletin. They were going for friendly and overshot to unprofessional. I didn't let it bother me when I thought it was a self published book (self publisher's can't always afford typefaces, and are often not really graphic designers) and because the concept was cute. When I got it, however, I realized it's from a publishing company, though not a large one, and they have no excuse for making poor design choices, especially the interior type. Seriously. It was hard to read the type was so big.

Was this book cover successful? Lets look at our check points:
  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
    • Totally
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
    • 100%
  3. Can you read it?
    • Yes.
  4. Is it attractive?
    • I give it a 75% on attractiveness. It's almost there!
Overall Score: Successful, but but not exceptional.

Let's Fix it!

Again, this was about 30 minutes in Photoshop. When I'm designing a book cover I usually spend a half a day combing through my fonts and Font Squirrel and thinking about what kind of type I'd like, and I picking a bunch that I think might work. The next day (with a fresh eye) I start weeding them down in context of the design/illustration/photograph that's going to be on the cover.

Type is JUST as important as the design/illustration/photograph, and deserves as much consideration and work as the rest of it.

Did you miss part 1
See part 3

Learn more about cover design in an article I'm writing in this book!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Comparative Analysis on a Theme or, Can You Tell What I Like To Read? (part 1)

These are some books I've read lately. You may notice a theme in subject matter. Shh, I like learning.
I've arranged these books by their cover's order of effectiveness. The Introvert Advantage does not look as professional or welcoming as American Nerd. Lets examine why.

There are 4 (very simplified) things that make a cover successful:

  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
  3. Can you read it?
  4. Is it attractive?
All need to be answered yes for your book cover to be successful.

The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney

Judge This Book By It's Cover: 
This looks like the most boring book on the face of the earth. The type is boring and plain and huge. They must think we're old people who have misplaced our glasses. There's no graphic element that describes the tone of the book except a mysteriously broken egg shell. Seriously, why is there an egg? I've read this book cover to cover. I still have no idea why there's an egg. It's broken, so, like introverts are fragile? Except that's the exact opposite purpose of the book. Okay, maybe it's about coming out of your shell. Except apparently in this shell there is nothing. There's not even a tag line to explain the shell.

From this cover I assume this book is boring, possibly super intellectual (since there is some sort of metaphor on the cover that I'm not smart enough to figure out), and probably written above the average reader's comprehension level.

What's Inside is What's Important (except when it's not):
I almost did not buy this book because of the cover. Only after pouring over the table of contents and the introduction (while probably making the people at BooksAMillion wonder when am I ever going to leave) did I purchase it. I had to work past the cover. That is the opposite of what covers should do.

The book itself is the exact opposite of all of my assumptions. It's written for the layman. Even though it covers brain chemistry and behavioral psychology it is very accessible. Many reviews on Amazon complain that it's not scientific enough. The cover lead those people astray too. If it was a friendly cover, maybe with a graphic or picture (something like our next book Confessions of an Introvert) The Introvert Advantage might have better luck with audience.

Other Problems:
Not only do those giant words throw you off because they're so huge, they're also cramped. They're far to close to the edge of the book. They're oddly aligned, and uncomfortably forced into a column, when words naturally want to live in horizontal lines like housewives in the suburbs (this is a real art expression, I did not make it up just now...).

Was this book cover successful? Lets look at our check points:
  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
    • Nope
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
    • Not at all
  3. Can you read it?
    • Certainly, because the words are FREAKING HUGE.
  4. Is it attractive?
    • No. If I'm being generous, it's not repulsive. But it's certainly not attractive.
Overall Score: Boo!

Let's Fix it!

Okay, I know this might look like it took me 20 minutes in Photoshop (because it did) and my chick drawing skills might need some work (they do), but let's use some imagination. The logo isn't almost touching the sides, the subtitle isn't frightening small children from 100 paces, and I've placed an accessible metaphor front and center on the friendly-ier-ly colored cover. I've also brought the bold yellow to an element at the top, giving the book balance.

This is still not a good cover (especially because I couldn't be too bothered with actually coming up with a metaphor) but with a healthy supply of that imagination it's less offensive to the eye globes.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Graphic Representation of Cool Stuff You Can Self Produce or, Multitudes of Uses

We're big fans of indie publishing, considering it's what we do here at Matter Deep Publishing.

We've published novels:

We've published children's books:

And we've published art books and catalogs:

We've done all of this under our own steam. We educated ourselves, we've tried things that didn't pan out, and we've stumbled through the dark enough to have some serious advice to fellow indie publishers. 

We figured we're not the only ones, so we reached out to some of our writer friends who also want to help and put together a kick-butt team that has the skills, experiences, and expertise to create a comprehensive How To.

This book will not be only for writers. As is clearly demonstrated above, novels are only a narrow selection of media that can be independently published. If you have an idea for a project you'd like to self produce, no matter the media, you'll find helpful advice in this book.

We're running a Kickstarter for this book, which means if we do not have enough pledges at the end of our set period, we don't get any money at all, and this book will not be produced.

Read More
Watch the video to learn more: