Rebranding the Covers
Updated: Dec 26, 2022
When my writing partner and I finished our first book, Daram, we were excited about publishing it ourselves.
We had received two rejections from traditional publishers and two rejections from agents: none of these rejections surprised us. Our book was too long and unwieldy and did not fit any one specific market. Was it fantasy or science fiction? Why had we written a first book that was over six hundred pages long? No publisher would touch a first book that large (unless you had connections in the business).
Well, the short and simple answer is: because we wanted to. Should we change the book, cut it down drastically, and add some dragons and orcs to suit the market? Nope, not our cup of tea.
Luckily, right around that time self-publication was taking giant leaps forward with advances in computer technology, and that meant we could publish and produce our book the way we wanted, with no drastic cuts or changes. We were entirely new to the business of publishing in 2015; it was a steep learning curve, to be sure, but it guaranteed us almost total freedom. The only controlling factor really was the budget for cover design and promotion. And naturally, being first time authors, we had no budget whatsoever.
Since I am a retired graphic designer the task of designing a cover fell to me, as we could not afford to hire a book cover designer. I had not worked in the graphic design industry for years; instead I'd been working in a bookstore, so at least I had a lot of familiarity with how book covers should look, and what the current trends were. But figuring out what kind of cover would work for our story was a different matter because, as I mentioned above, the book does not fit neatly into any one genre: the protagonists are members of a contemporary rock band who are mysteriously propelled either by magic or science into another world and reality where music has magical power. There are no elves or dragons at all, but there is a Princess and her spunky lady-in-waiting and a medieval civil war that has to be won to restore the fallen gods of the realm.
So, how to convey something of this time-travel / portal fantasy in eye-catching imagery for a book cover?
My first approach was to focus on the character of the spunky lady-in-waiting, and how what she does with the magical music in this other world figures strongly in the plot. Hence my first attempt at a cover was featured her making a "daram" – an appeal to the gods to send help to her beleaguered country. This image also had the advantage of explaining the title of the book, once readers ventured into the story. The spooky woods where she makes the daram give the image atmosphere and the depiction of the girl and the magic she is doing is intriguing.
The cover was well received by my partner and friends, and lots of people said they really liked it, that it did convey the sense of a fantasy story. The corner arabesques that frame the author names were intentioned to give a sense of the medieval fantasy world.
The second book in the series was given a similar look, with a different main colour to differentiate it from the first book, which worked well, and was a standard trend for books in the same series or by the same author.
However, the graphic styling is dated (I did say I was a retired graphic designer) and moreover, hand-drawn characters have long since disappeared from book covers in favour of photographs of real people, preferably people whom the reader cannot recognize. Readers want the freedom to imagine for themselves what the protagonists look like.
Also the title font didn't quite work, looking older and dated.
So back to the drawing board.
Next up I decided to do a take on a central image of the story, that of the harp that one of the main characters plays and loses somewhere on the fantasy journey. Since the fallen gods once manifested themselves as constellations in this world, I turned the harp into a constellation, symbolizing the supernatural power of music. A background of starry space would indicate that the story takes place in a far distant reality.
This design has the advantage of not depicting any of the characters, and the bold larger image is eye-catching and works well sized very small for computer screen ads, which is where most readers will see the book.
I discovered a font that worked much better for the titles - clean and modern and yet had the element of the stars that were the focus of the story. Covers in the fantasy genre generally require fancy and fantastical fonts usually, and these new fonts fit the bill, but I did not opt for the usual bevel effect fantasy fonts are given, wanting a cleaner, crisper, and more contemporary look to go with the sci-fi element of the story. These covers were effective but didn't really say enough about genre, which really is fantasy though there is a sci fi element to the story.
Back to the drawing board once more. This time around I retained a single central image to symbolize the character of the books and used an eight-pointed star image as the frame for each image, adding a musical element also to this frame. Then I added the other 'fantasy' elements, a damask background and gold border. Everyone who has seen the new covers has said how beautiful they are and how they are eye-catching. I hope a new group of readers will be introduced to the Tales from Taihandria series through this re-thinking and rebranding of the series.
After some trial and error, and ironically, after reaching the end of the series, I finally found the covers that seem to work. At least for now!