Sunday, May 20, 2018

Thoughts on Book Covers

As I mentioned recently, I'm looking for a cover for my third novel. A number of artists are interested, which gets me thinking about what a cover should be.

From the standpoint of the author, the obvious answer is to show a scene from the book, preferably one that is dramatic and has something to with what is happening in the book—fits the theme, or the mood, or illustrates the setting, or ...

An alternative view is that the purpose of the cover is to get someone to look into the book—read the free sample if it's a kindle, read the back of the cover and perhaps the beginning if the book was picked up in a bookstore or library. So what you want is a cover that grabs the browser's attention, whether or not it has anything to do with what is in the book.

That isn't quite right, because the target is not a random browser but a browser who will like the book. What you want is a cover that will selectively appeal to the sort of person who likes the sort of book you have written. The obvious way is to signal genre—a spaceship for sf, a wizard and a unicorn for fantasy, a beautiful woman and a handsome man falling in love for romance. Not all fantasies, science fiction stories, or romances are the same, so ideally you target it more narrowly to signal the particular subcategory.

How does that apply to my current book? Its predecessor, Salamander, was largely about magic. Brothers is set in the same world with some of the same characters and magic  plays a role in the plot, but no longer a central role. That probably eliminates at least one of the scenes I considered—a dramatic one containing four of the secondary characters, two of them engaged in a difficult, important, and striking piece of magical creation.

Another shows two of the central characters at the point when they swear brotherhood. That is central to plot and theme but not particularly dramatic. And since the two characters are both thirteen year old boys, it might signal that Brothers is a children's book—which it isn't, although I hope thirteen-year-olds as well as adults will enjoy it.

The one I have mostly been thinking of involves one of the two boys, is dramatic, is connected to events that are important in the early part of the plot but not central thereafter—and, since it shows one of the boys and his dog, again risks sending a false signal.

Perhaps I should not be thinking in terms of a scene at all. An alternative might be a cover mostly text with sketches of some central characters. Insofar as the book has a theme, it is personal bonds of trust preventing political fragmentation. Two pairs of brothers are central to the plot, one of teenagers and one of adults, a third adult pair is a little less central, all in different ways examples of that theme. Also a brother/sister pair. Would it work to have a cover that is mostly text, frame, and backgrounds, with a sketch of the two boys and, behind them, the two men? All eight?

Perhaps with, at the bottom, the sentence "Bare is brotherless back" to signal the connection to the title. 

All of the sets of siblings are related. Another idea, probably a bad one, is to put a family tree on the cover with sketch portraits of the main characters, with the line linking each important pair of brothers  emphasized.

Comments welcome, especially but not only from Brothers beta readers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Help Wanted: Getting a Cover for a Novel

I am almost finished with Brothers, my third novel, and since I plan to self-publish I need a cover. My first novel was commercially published; the publisher (Baen) got a cover I liked done by a professional. For my second novel I used something I found online, with the permission of the creator. 

For the third novel I want a custom drawn cover. The question is how to get one.

One possibility is to hire the illustrator who did the cover for my first novel. The argument for that is that he is not only a skilled artist, he is someone who did a good job of designing a cover for that novel. Multiple details that didn't matter were wrong (the women, for instance, should be wearing mail, not plate). But the overall feel was better than anything I could have told him to do. 

The argument against is that doing it that way is expensive, probably more than the total income I will get from the novel—writing novels is not how I support myself.

Another possibility is to find an illustrator online. There are a lot of them on Fiverr and I expect other places. Many are very inexpensive, some as low as five dollars for a book cover; pretty clearly those are using stock images, unlikely to fit what I want. But at least some of them, at a price well above five dollars but well below what the professional would charge, are artists drawing their own art. Typically they offer a range of services at a range of prices. That suggests the possibility of buying something at the low end of their range, which might mean a figure without a background not set up as a book cover, on the assumption that if I don't like it I am out a pretty small sum, if I do like it I pay the additional amount to have it converted into a suitable cover.

Another possibility is to find an illustrator in realspace. In a little over a week I will be attending an sf convention. It will have an art show. I plan to look for works that fit the style I want, note down the artists, and see if any of them would be interested in doing my cover and at what price.

That leaves the problem of deciding what the cover should show. The ideal solution would be an illustrator willing to read the novel and with the ability of the professional to design a cover; that may be hard to find at anything below the professional's price. The more likely solution is that I decide what I want and give the illustrator a verbal description, which the illustrator then converts into cover art.

Do any of my readers have suggestions? That includes general ideas on designing covers or finding an artist. It includes, for any of you who volunteered as beta readers and have read Brothers, suggestions as to what the cover should show. 

And if any of you happen to be artists ... . I got the best book cover I've ever had for the third edition of Machinery by a contest on this blog, but that only worked because a lot of the readers of this blog had read and liked that book.

If you are an artist, my current cover idea involves a thirteen year old boy, a very large dog, and a mountain pass. Relevant passage, or the whole novel, available on request.

Health Expenditure: Ignoring the Obvious

There is an interesting article in the New York Times on the pattern of health expenditure and longevity in the U.S. The author's thesis is that both were about the same as in other developed countries until 1980 and that since then  expenditure has grown much faster and longevity more slowly than in other countries. The author runs through a considerable number of possible explanations while ignoring what seems to me the most obvious one.

Medicare and Medicaid were passed in 1965, went into effect in 1966, with expenditure initially small but gradually increasing. Currently, their sum is over a third of all medical expenditure. I am not certain that that is the main cause of the increase in U.S. health care costs, but it fits the timing pretty well.

A health economist writing for the New York Times does not even consider it as one out of his many possible causes.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Another Possible Speaking Trip

Having enjoyed my recent European trip and almost recovered from the jet lag, I am now thinking about another one. I have an invitation to speak in England sometime between October 1 and December 14th. England is a long way from California, so if I go I will want to combine it with other talks in that part of the world. 

Anyone interested?