Category Archives: Art

Art of the Cover

Let’s talk about book covers. Yes, let’s. Because if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, then of late cover art has been more miss than hit. No, seriously. If I see another book cover that looks like the “artist” went at it with Microsoft Paint, I will lose my goddamn mind.

Now before I get my ranty-pants well and truly on, I won’t be filling this post with shite covers, but excellent ones by the amazing artist Dean Samed, who does all Cohesion Press covers. I’ll be talking about artists as well, because this is as much about the author as it is the artist – each is as responsible (or complicit) for the end product. I’ll get to publishers later in the piece… yep, no one gets out unscathed here!

Okay, authors, listen up. Covers matter. They matter a whole lot. It is the visual representation of the work within, and the first (yes, FIRST) point-of-contact for a potential reader (and buyer) of your book. A great cover will stop a reader in their tracks and have them pick up your book or click that link, and that’s half the battle won right there. And make no mistake, this is a battle. You’re competing with gazillions of other authors out there for potential readers, and a cover – a GOOD cover – will entice.

Jade Gods HR.jpg

A shit cover? Well, move along, folks – nothing to see here. Readers are discerning; it’s their money they’re parting with, and if you haven’t put the effort into obtaining the best cover you can, why should they believe you’ve made the effort with the writing? Now I know people will be jumping up and down spouting: “you can’t judge a book by its cover!” Well I call bullshit. I most certainly will judge your book by its cover. And so will a whooooole bunch of others. That’s income. Your potential income you’re wagering on the hope that readers will forgive that shite cover and buy your book. But why would they when there’s a plethora of other great covers out there? Know that your crap cover will not find a place on my bookshelf. I’m not alone in this thinking.

A great cover will generate interest. It has the potential to be shared on social media platforms that will increase your reach and garner readers. It will put you and your book(s) on readers’ radar. You seeing the positives here?

But what makes a good cover, I hear you ask. A few things. A few very simple things.

  • It must represent what’s inside. Hit your genre; don’t be putting a zombie on historical romance (unless it’s a zombie historical romance tale).
  • Fonting should be clean, simple, and easy to read. Just because you’re writing horror, doesn’t mean your fonting has to be red… or dripping blood… (please stop doing that).
  • Watch your elements. This is something I see quite a bit – filling the cover with too much stuff. Ooh, there’s a castle in the story, and an elf, and a magical sword…ooh, ooh, ooh, and a horse and a dragon, and, and, and… Don’t make it busy. It doesn’t draw the eye, it confuses it. Singularity is your friend here – one major element with one or two smaller complementary elements. It’s all about balance.
  • Watch your colour. Background colour has to work with font colour. And the busier the palette, the harder it’s going to be to get that right.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT put ‘A Novel’ on the cover of a novel. We’re not idiots.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a bit more that goes into it than the above five points, but those ↑ up there are some pretty straightforward things to keep in mind when engaging a cover artist. You will be the one providing the artist the brief (some artists won’t have time to read your novel, so they rely on you to give them the information they need), so don’t overload them with every single piece of the plot and every character, but give them the main focus points and trust them – they’re the artist, they know what they’re doing.

Into the Mist HR.jpg

And therein can sometimes lie the rub. Not all who claim to be cover artists, actually are. I’ve seen sites popping up on my social media pages with people proclaiming they’re cover artists and offering their ‘work’ for either a pittance, or way too much for the end product. Just because you can mock up a cover and throw some fancy fonting (not always a good choice) over it, doesn’t make you a cover designer. Really, it doesn’t.

Thing is, there are plenty of fantastic cover artists/designers out there who offer amazing work for reasonable prices. You invested in editing (please, tell me you invested in editing), so invest in the coat your baby is going to wear. It doesn’t have to be original art (although there’s something extraordinarily special about those covers), but there are designers out there who work wonders with stock photography who know how to blend the hell out of it to make it seamless.

Dean Samed of NeoStock is a brilliant creative who knows his shit. He understands books and the power of covers, he knows how to blend and manipulate and manoeuvre images to create some mind-blowing covers. Dean understands the market, he understands covers, and he knows his art. He’s also seen a gap in the market when it comes to stock photography, and has started NeoStock – check it out if you’re looking for original stock art that kills what’s currently on offer around the web.

So how do you find a good artist? Again, this is simple. Ask. Get on your social media platforms, send out a request. Sure, you’re going to get contacted by some crap “artists” that’s par for the course, but you could find that gem you’re looking for. Chat to other authors, get recommendations from them. Check out other book covers, and if you find a cover you love check the front matter to see if the artist is listed (they usually are), or get in touch with the author and ask. Deviantart is also a great place to scope artists. While they may not be able to mock up a cover for you, they will provide you with art that doesn’t look like a toddler went at it with crayons.

And if you think readers don’t mind what a cover looks likes, think again. There are whole websites dedicated to the shittiest of shittest covers (see here and here for some examples). Trust me, you don’t want to end up on these websites, it will be nothing but scorn and derision. And that pretty much sucks for you re sales.

So think about the cover you’re wanting to put on your book, find an artist who knows what they’re doing (look at their portfolio or ask to see previous work, and don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ – you can do that, you know), and get yourself the best cover you possibly can. You’ll be proud of the end-product, and your readers will thank you for putting in the effort to make your book awesome both inside and out. Don’t short-change your book, and don’t short-change the reader.

American Nocturne HR.jpg

And if you’re a publisher don’t short-change your author or their work. If you want to be taken seriously in this industry, if you want to make a go of this business then you have to take this seriously, too. Don’t hire your friend’s kid’s uncle’s intern to do the work – INVEST in the cover like you’re investing in the author. The Big Five are as guilty of this as mid-to-small presses and author-publishers. Of late, the Big Five have been seriously dropping the ball when it comes to cover art. So do better. Be better. If you, as a publisher, want to see a return on your investment, then you need to offer a product that hits the mark on all fronts. That means kick-arse covers.

For those of you thinking this isn’t as important as I’m telling you it is, you’re wrong, so very wrong. Social-media marketing will definitely help with sales, but if you’re doing that with a shite or mediocre cover, you’re limiting your reach. Yes, family, friends and colleagues will buy your book, but if you want to be successful, then you have to reach those who wouldn’t normally know of you, and the best way to do that is to have a cover that makes them sit up and take notice. They’ll share it, then their friends will share it. Covers can do that. They’re magical if done well. And who doesn’t love a bit of magic? It’s why we write.

Oh, and for the love of all things holy and unholy DON’T DO IT YOURSELF. NO. I DON’T CARE IF YOU THINK YOU CAN, YOU CAN’T. LEAVE IT TO THE PROFESSIONALS! YOU THERE, PUT DOWN THAT MICROSOFT PAINT AND STEP AWAAAY FROM THE PC!

Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Primordial HR

 

Pay the Creative

There are two things I have no qualms about spending money on: books and art. As a pen-monkey, I believe books are art in and of themselves – from the cover to the artistry of words within. I smile every time I walk past one of my over-flowing bookcases, or the pile of books on my bedside table.  All of which complement the art on my walls. And the nine pieces I’ve yet to frame and hang… oh, they call out to me to find their place.

a-mindful-installation

Yes, I’m running out of wall space, but that’s okay, we’re in the process of finding another place to call home, and while a new house has to hit the right marks with bedroom numbers, office space, backyard, for me it’s wall-space and bookshelf positioning I see. But I digress.

Of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts regarding consumers not willing to pay for books for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Here’s one such post that goes into detail about one author rallying against some readers who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for a writer’s work, that the art of storytelling and providing a reader with a product should be given away for free. (I rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my head, and I had to retrieve them from my cats.)

Pisces

But it’s not just authors who are expected to work for ‘exposure’. Artists, too, are often targeted to provide their work for free (or exposure). You can’t pay bills with exposure; you can’t eat a reader’s ‘good will’, and ‘word of mouth’ doesn’t pay your kids’ school fees.  The fact there are those out there who expect you to work for free, to help them achieve a product that will make them money but not you… damn, that’s hard to get my head around.

Like the books I read, I buy my art. Never would I consider asking an artist to forgo the hours of work and their inspiration just because I like something and want it to adorn my wall. I don’t ask my tattooist to ink my skin for free either. But there are others out there – parasites I call them – who believe artists should just give their work away. The Brave Little Illustrator captures it perfectly here. There have been times when I’ve found a piece of artwork I just have to have, and to own it meant putting my pennies away until I could afford it. That’s just what you do.

train in vain 1

I don’t set out to find art, it finds me. I’ll see a post on social media, someone will share an artist’s work they’ve come across. I’ve found artists at conventions, expos, bookstores… so many different places, and these pieces, I know, belong with me. So I have no compunction for paying for the art, because this allows the artist to live to create more.

And that’s what it’s all about. Here in Australia, our current government has cut arts funding and scholarships, and they’re looking at allowing parallel importation that will grossly undermine the earning ability of writers in this country, and dropping copyright to fifteen years from publication before it becomes public domain. There’s this growing belief that the cultural contribution artists and writers provide isn’t worth the time or paper it’s created on. Art and books create escapism, they take you to places that ignite your imagination, give you respite from the ugliness that intrudes upon our lives, and if that isn’t worth something, what is?

Raniermos

So if there’s a book you want to read, or artwork you want for your home, or perhaps some external or internal art for a book you’ve written… pay the artist!

A big shout-out to those artists whose work adorns (or soon will) my walls: Monty Borror, Jeannie Lynn Paske (Obsolete World), Damon Hellandbrand (owe you an email, dude), Greg Chapman, and Mel Schwarz. Check out their work, and that of Dean Samed and Caroline O’Neal. As for saving for art, it’s a Chris Mars piece I’m looking at next adding to my collection.

Oh, and a big-up to Andrew J McKiernan, who gave me the illustration he did for my story, ‘Nightmare’s Cradle’, which sits proudly above my desk.

7_nightmare_s_cradle

* All pieces shown within this post I have bought from the artists (apart from Andrew’s piece, which was paid for by Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine).

Art of the Cover

Covers matter. They do. That old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover, if taken in its absolute literal sense, is utter bullshit. Covers are your visual selling point; it’s the first thing a potential reader (and buyer) sees. And if it’s terrible and/or amateurish… Behold, I will judge with all my judgey judginess! I will slam down my imaginary gavel, and I won’t buy your book.

But wait, I hear you say, what if the story is brilliant? Then invest in good cover art, dammit. Invest in it like you invested in your story. All those hours you agonised over words and plot and characters, of the sleep you sacrificed, eating at your desk, of wondering whether you showered today… or was it yesterday… (No? Just me then…), invest that same excellence in your cover art. Don’t just slap any cover on your work (and for the love of all things holy and unholy, unless you’re an artist, don’t do it yourself!), ’cause I will judge your book by its cover, and so will a lot of others.

I read a lot, and as a buyer of print books, a beautiful and/or interesting cover will draw me in as much as a shitty one will repel. And with the amount of both print and electronic books on the market, a good cover is half the battle won. I’ll pick it up, and if your blurb is good (that’s fodder for another post), then that’s a sale. When it comes to my hard-earned cash, I’m particular on how I spend it, and I’m more likely to spend on a book with a beautiful cover, than I am on one with a shite one.

For someone with a mountain of ‘to read’ books who also can’t walk past a bookstore without venturing into its delicious depths, I’m always looking for new authors to read. A cover is where it all begins. It led me to Mark Lawrence and his Broken Empire and Red Queen series, and now I’ll read anything the man writes. Seriously, go to his website and buy the man’s books. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

prince-of-thorns

<insert Muzak here>

Back? Excellent.

Another thing I often hear is that bad covers are the domain of the author-publisher. Again, I call bullshit. The advent of author-publishing and the (now-diminishing) stigma attached to it, has shown authors know the value of a great cover. There are self-published authors whose books have gorgeous covers – this tells me they’ve thought long and hard about their finished product, about their reader. And covers should reflect the content, the world and atmosphere of a book. Take a look at Devin Madson’s The Blood of Whisperers – the story inside is as beautiful as the cover. Another author whose work I will now always read.

BoW

As an editor, I understand the importance of covers, how they work to sell the story/stories inside. If you can excite a potential reader by the cover art alone, then you’re looking at sales. Sales are good. Sales mean the author (or authors, when an anthology) will be read, and those authors may begin to get a fan-base – and there’s not a lot better than that. As an editor for Cohesion Press (an Australian small press), their mantra is to always source kick-ass cover art. Great cover art gets readers excited, it builds interest, it builds sales. But more than that, it’s the finished product. Readers will appreciate the effort you put in, and they’ll remember your name.

Into-the-Mist-194x300

I know there’ll be those out there who will bemoan the cost of cover art. That good cover art is unaffordable. Well before you do that, how would you feel if someone bitched about the price of your book? Good cover art costs, just as good editing and proofreading – all essential parts of the publishing process. You want to put your best work out into the world, right? Right?

The reason I decided to write this post was the cover artist for Cohesion’s books, Dean Samed (check out his work) just yesterday had his site go live, and his cover-work is just astounding. Each piece grabs you, it takes you places, and it defines what’s on the inside pages. The last thing any author wants is a horror book (for instance) with a decidedly romance cover. That’s a betrayal no reader will tolerate.

There are amazing artists out there who love creating cover art for the books you love creating. Check out Deviantart, get onto artists’ sites, and if you like the style of a book cover, the artist is usually mentioned in the front-matter. Social media is a great way to get recommendations for artists, for those who specialise in covers, who can put the best ‘coat’ on your baby.

Do a little research, chat to artists, find great art. Your book will thank you for it.

Tusk

Festivus Book Pimping – The Road to Golgotha

Well this is the last of the Festivus Book Pimping, and I didn’t get to anywhere near as many books and authors as I’d have liked, but that just means I’ll have to continue the book pimping sans Festivus. So, to finish this series, I’ll be pimping myself… well my comic, which means I’m also pimping GN Braun and Monty Borror. Pimpity-pimp-pimp-pimp!

In June of this year, The Road to Golgotha was launched at Melbourne ComicCon through Cohesion Comics – the inaugural comic for the press’ new imprint. Here you get two horror stories – that’s right TWO, within the one beautifully-designed, 78-page book.

The Road to Golgotha

The first, His Own Personal Golgotha, is penned by GN Braun; the second is mine – The Road. And it’s all magically brought to life on the pages by the uber-talented artist, Monty Borror – the man is a genius at interpretation; his art, magnificent.

I flew down to Melbourne for the launch with my daughter, and we had an absolute blast. Meeting with old friends and making many others, we were surrounded by the Geekdom that makes us all happy. To top it off, it was the launch of the comic. Something GN, Monty and I had put our hearts and souls into.

Here’s a little something about the stories within:

His Own Personal Golgotha by GN Braun follows the awakening of ‘the man’ into a nightmarish world of cemeteries and bones. To achieve anything, he must find out where and who he is.”

This is a search for redemption through horror-filled pages again brought to wicked life by Monty Borror. It’s a visually stunning piece that doesn’t pull any punches. It’s kick-arse. 

 Golgotha

“The Road by Amanda J Spedding shows us the changes wrought in Riley as she casts off her civilized veneer to allow the goddess within to emerge fully into her birthright.”

This is a story of gods and monsters, of self-discovery and a battle for identity for the heroine. It’s hard and it’s bloody and she unapologetically owns every bit of it.

road page 29

As you can see by the panels here, the art is superb, and Monty has captured the stories perfectly. The man also so very kindly sent over two original panels of artwork for me (the above is one), and they are just gorgeous! And look stunning on my wall.

So with that, it’s Festivus Bookus Pimpus Endus. Let it go, it’s after 1am here and I still haven’t packed for my trip away tomorrow…today…  later… sometime…

Anywho, if you’re looking for some rollickingly good horror, and some kick-arse art, the get onto The Road to Golgotha. Self-pimping aside, it’s a damn fine read.

Recommended for anyone who loves horror, and the art of the comic/graphic novel.

Note: this comic comes with a, ‘Explicit Content’ warning (which is cool in and of itself). So really not recommended for anyone under 18… or you’ll have some ‘splaining to do Lucy!

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Festivus Endus!

Festivus Book Pimping – SNAFU series

For your military horror dining delight, I bring you a big, fat course of SNAFU for your Festivus feast. Sit down, strap on (easy) your kevlar, and lock’n’load – it’s about to get messy. SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fucked Up) is the series put out through Cohesion Press that covers different takes on the military horror theme.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved from the start as one of the co-editors of the series (with Geoff Brown), and having the pleasure of working with some truly amazing storytellers, both established and up-and-coming, and from here and overseas.  But more than that is the calibre of stories on offer.

Cohesion has four SNAFU anthologies currently on the market – two print/ebook and two ebook-only offerings. All of the anthologies have brilliant Dean Samed cover art, with internal art supplied by the wonderfully-talented Monty Borror. This is seriously good monster art – you won’t want to miss it.

SNAFU 1

Let’s begin with the first in the series, the entre: SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror. War is hell, and this offering was Cohesion’s first foray into the military horror theme, and garnered a Bram Stoker Recommended Read and finalist for the Australian Shadows Award (edited publication), thanks to the talented writers.

Next up for tasting in the series is SNAFU: Heroes, which offers novellas and short stories from Jonathan Mayberry, James A Moore, Weston Ochse and Joseph Nassise. As the blurb says: ‘From demons to horrors from the deep, the battles keep on coming. Fight or die…’

SNAFU Heroes

SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, is the next to the table, where you will share your meal with… my, what big teeth you have! This ebook tells the tales of soldiers fighting against all manner of were-animals – wolves take precedence in this instalment, but the diversity is staggeringly good. Stories with bite! (How could I not say it?)

And check out the cover art…

SNAFU Wolves

But wait, there’s more! The next in the print series is SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, which was released in August this year. This is survival horror where every bullet counts. Low on ammo, this is about soldiers trying to make it out alive against nightmares made real. And damn, if these authors don’t know how to wrangle some nasty enemies for their squads.

SNAFU Survival

There are two more in the series on the horizon; I’m currently working on SNAFU: Hunters (think Grimm, Van Helsing, ‘Supernatural’s’ Sam and Dean), which will be published early next year. This SNAFU is all about the hunt, the thrill of the chase, and the uncertainty of outcome. Then there’s SNAFU: Future Warfare – military horror with a sci-fi bent (yeah, you know you want that!), which is due around mid-year. So keep your eyes and ears open for these, kiddies… well not literally kids, ‘cause unless you’re willing to shell out cash for some serious therapy, these books aren’t for them.

The beauty of the SNAFU series is that stories cover the gamut of historical to modern warfare; from Viking raids, the World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan… and all time periods and locales. And if you think you’ve read of every monster out there? Think again, my friend, oh yes, think again. There’s a diversity here that will keep you (or those you’ve gifted these treasures to) turning the pages.

Recommended for anyone who loves military stories, military horror, supernatural horror, straight messed-up horror… you get the picture. They’re brutal, they’re bloody, they’re awesome.

Festivus Book Pimping – Jason Franks

Ah, the decision to choose which book to pimp first for your festive-season consideration was far more difficult than I thought it would be. So many great books, and I’m the worst decision-maker when it comes to selecting which book to read next, let alone which book to pimp next. So, as an Aussie, I’m going to start with an Australian author. You really should be reading Aussie authors – we’re awesome.

So, today I’m going to reintroduce you to Melbourne-based author, Jason Franks. Jason is a novelist and comic book/graphic novel author and illustrator, and this year I read his novel Bloody Waters (reviewed here), and the first in the comic series, Left Hand Path (reviewed here).

Bloody Waters

Bloody Waters is an action-packed, supernatural black-comedy that follows the life and times of guitar virtuoso Clarice Marnier. Clarice is a singularly-focused, no-nonsense, quick-witted protagonist you can’t help but love – she does what needs to be done to achieve her goals. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who has a bent for supernatural horror with more than a sprinkling of dark comedy, witty repartee, and a hell of a twist at the end. I read well into the wee-morning hours to finish this book.

Left Hand Path is also quite a dark comic – we’re talking horror here. I picked up my signed copy at Melbourne ComicCon this year, and this is one seriously cool comic, with fantastic (and explicit – yay!) artwork. In book one (the only issue out at the moment) we’re introduced to the Unconventional Incidents Unit (UIU), who are called to a bloody massacre perpetrated by a demon that’s now loose on the streets of Los Angeles. Very much looking forward to the next issue.

Left Hand Path

While those are the two books of Franks I’ve read, there’s so much more on offer at his website, including the comic series McBlack (think Noir) and The Sixsmiths ­– a family of suburban Satanists who’ve fallen prey to the recession.

What I’ve found with Franks’ work is a delightfully dark satire that makes him stand out from the wonderfully diverse range of books, comics and graphic novels on the market. If you haven’t given his stories a read, then it’s something you really must change. Go. Now. And fill a Christmas stocking with some deliciously dark work. Dare ya.

Recommended for horror lovers, comic connoisseurs, adult audience.

bloody bauble

Review: Left Hand Path by Jason Franks, Paul Abstruse & Eddy Swan

You bet I’m on a roll with posting, but as tomorrow I’m heading away to the country for a week, I thought I’d get this review done. That’s right; it’s review time again!  Today I’m looking at a one of the horror comics from the super-talented Jason FranksLeft Hand Path. I picked this copy up at ComicCon Melbourne – and the last copy at that! Both Jason and artist, Paul Abstruse happily signed it for me, and there really isn’t a lot better than having signed comics and books, I gotta say.

For those who have even a passing association with anything horror-related will have an understanding that the ‘left hand path’ refers to dark magic and Satanism – the path toward evil (yes, that’s a rather simplistic explanation, but I’m not writing a dissertation here). And from page one, we’re thrown right into the mix with a summoning of the Horned One himself.

Left Hand Path

As with any first book in a series, there’s a lot of setting up and introduction of characters (no introduction really needed for Satan, but I can see the same black humour and wit Franks used in his novel Bloody Waters, come through here), and the beginning of plots and sub-plots between said characters.

You can probably guess that Satan gets his kicks on right from the get-go, which pulls in other characters ­– cops Livia and Danik – who have a snarky, gritty dynamic that fits perfectly with the almost noir feel of this side of the comic.

Like I said, this is comic #1 in the series, so here we’re exploring the building of plot and characters, but Franks doesn’t over-dwell on backstory – you can’t with a comic; it has to come through via dialogue and captions, and Left Hand Path shows us Franks is a master at what he does. It’s little wonder this comic was an Aurealis Award finalist.

aurealis

Artwork… ah, artwork, how I love thee! Here, both Paul Abstruse (pencils & inks) and Eddy Swan (colours) really bring this comic to life. The illustrations are beautifully detailed from background to foreground, and Swan has used a perfect dichotomy between muted and vivid colour to really draw the eye. This is especially good when it comes to the gruesome scenes – very visceral in their display, which always makes me smile (hey, each to their own, right?).

Published by Winter City Productions, this is going to be a very cool series to get into, and I’m itching to see what Satan gets up now he’s been unleashed upon the unsuspecting citizens of the city. And more snark from the cops and intolerant (and totally cool) ‘specialist’ sent to stop the big guy tells me this is going to be a lot of fun!

I’ll also make a note here for language and gruesome horror – some of my favourite things, but for others… mebbe not. J

On a Goodreads scale (even though it’s not up on Goodreads – get on that Jason!), I’m giving it 4 stars.

4 stars