What’s Wrong With This Picture?


BEFORE WE GET TO THE SNIPPET tomorrow, I want to invite you — AND THAT INCLUES YOU LOT ON FACEBOOK — to take shots at the cover for The High T Shebang. I’m concerned that it may have been a major cause of my poor sales over the past ten months. (And a deep thank you to all who DID buy the book, never forget that.) As I may be participating in a REDUCED PRICE SALE over Labor Day, I thought to devote some time this weekend to making an attempt at improving the cover image.

First, let me tell you about the book and explain the choices I have made. The story centers around two parallel plots. The overt plot is that a team of special operations types are dispatched to New Zealand to corral some escaped experimental clones. The why and wherefore are explained in the book, but not relevant to the cover. The not-quite-subtextual plot is that our lead characters, who are newly involved in a sexual relationship, are engaging — they suspect — in intercourse a good deal more frequently than normal. The reason for this, they discover over the course of the story, is that they have been covertly dosed with hormones — including testosterone — to increase their sex drives, for reasons yet to be adduced. That is part of the wider, multi-volume story arc, though clues have been laid and foreshadowing shadowed to the fore.

The elements of the design, therefore are to exply (If by implying, you make something implicit, to make something explicit, you exply it — that’s Dollish.) these elements of the story. The battle takes place over a large family compound on a peninsula between a river estuary and the Pacific Ocean on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Thus the map in the background. One of the hormones used to dose the leads is testosterone, thus the hexagon motif and the model of a testosterone molecule and the High-T in the title. The silhouette of the lead character firing a pistol in a comic-book action pose refers to the climax of the story, and is the one element with which I am the least satisfied. The two arm-ring tattoos down the left and right margins of the cover refer to the two cultures in contact (albeit slightly) in the novel — the Maori thorn tattoo on the left refers to the native culture of New Zealand, to which some of the secondary characters are connected, and the Greek arabesque down the right side refers to the fact that the secret society to which the leads belong is classic Greek in origin. The row of identical blondes in fake camo and shouldering improbable M-16s refer to the climactic battle in which blonde clones of black-and-white-era Hollywood starlets (a touch of silliness, if you ask me) are teleported onto the aforementioned peninsula in an attack on our leads and their friends.

All very abstract, but maybe a bit too literal. I dunno.

So: there it is. Tell me what’s wrong. The stated genre is contemporary urban fantasy, sub-genre myth/gods and goddesses. Possibly more apply. I’m intended to fix that and the blurb while I’m at this new cover. I shall also have to come up with some art for the back cover for the paper edition, which I am hopeful of being able to have available by Labor Day weekend. But that can be an abstract wallpaper design, if I like, as it needs to serve as a bed for the blurb and other back cover matter. I’d like to have an iconic bust of Dolly (the female lead) to use on the spine of all books about her. But that’s going to take a lot of work and a quantum improvement in my digital painting skills.

I’m not at all unhappy with the visibility of the art at small size. I just wonder if the cover telegraphs enough about the story to intrigue people into trying it, and whether it telegraphs the right things about genre, etc.

Please comment here or on Facebook.

cvr hi-t 0814Update: The discussion happened over on Farcebook. If I didn’t hate FB so much, I’d shutter this blog (BabyTrollBlog is already a ghost town because: lazy). I made some mods to the design — et, violas — based on the input. It’s not complete, but I’m pleased with the improvement. So far. There’s more I want to do, but this is a quantum leap from my perspective.

Then, Saturday night, I was watching a movie (Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, thank you for asking), when my tablet — which sits on the arm of the couch — bleeped to announce an arriving email. From Jaime. The Alpha reader. With embedded permission to post here. Which I am doing, as a faux comment. With my reply. As soon as I figure out how to bypass the login procedures for attributing posts. I know it can be done, but I’ve forgotten how…

2 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

  1. Hey Mark,
    I debated whether to put this up on your website or do email. Email won. If you want to put these up in public, you have my permission. I wanted to let you make that decision, not me.

    1. You know what this book is about. You have all the characters, the plot, and the different story elements in your head. Someone browsing Kindle books won’t have the first idea. And while this cover DOES have different bits and pieces from the story in the design, you have to know what those symbols MEAN before you know what they “mean.” As this sits now, it’s not giving readers a sense of what the book is about or intriguing them.

    2. It feels too full, almost chaotic. Even though all the items in the design belong to the same story, they don’t feel unified or connected. The most successful, memorable covers that I know of all revolve around one central image. All the other design elements directly, visibly, tie to or support that central image in some way, and the image is a visible representation of what the book is about. It’s thematic, but when you see that image, you have no doubts what the book is about.

    And I’ll be honest with you, I read this three? maybe four times? start to finish, and I thought the blondes were supposed to be Dolly, not the starlets.

    3. This cover doesn’t say “urban fantasy” to me. It says “semi-military thriller/spy caper” novel. Female James Bond/Rambo. Different beast. That impression is totally reinforced by the figure in the center of the cover.

    4. There’s no fantasy element to this cover at all. You have ancient gods, a race of trolls, elves, imps, the Oracle, souls cast into new bodies–no one will ever guess looking at this cover.

    5. Simplicity and elegance might serve you better than the images you have.

    Feel free to tell me that I’m nuts. 😀


    • I think I may post your comments in comments on the blog. What you didn’t see, because it happened on Facebook, is that my friend Cedar Sanderson echoed my post on the group and I got quite a lot of feedback — a lot of which echoes things you’re saying here. AS I responded there, you’d think after 40 years at this, I’d have known better. It’s the same advice you get on writing, really: don’t fall in love with your favorite stuff. Simplify, pare it down, shake the dust off it, sweep up after yourself. I ran a broom over the original this morning and came up with what I’m thinking of as an intermediate step, which I’m really really liking, but still can see what remains to be done. Here’s that revision.

      The next step is to do a painting of Dolly in that pose or one similar. Further refinement include increasing the saturation and the richness of the blend from center out. Then to add lighting effects to make the whole thing look like it’s front lighted from below with warm, golden light, which is a proper genre signifier, and excites a certain amount of nostalgia. I’m coming to some confidence that I can actually pull all that off, which I didn’t have last year, when I did the original cover.

      I think for the next few books, I may have to truncate some of the symbols I try to manipulate on covers, because they do get to be too busy, and nobody gets them. I find myself railing against the latterday lack of curiosity in modern fantasy fans that they have to have everything spelled out for them — to their exclusive tastes — in advance, or they won’t even pick up a book in curiosity. Jeeze the New Wave would never have taken off if everybody back in the day took that attitude. But… whatever. Sarah Hoyt said to me the other day that she thinks I may be breaking new ground in sub-genres and may face a greater challenge thereby than, say, your normal PNR with Gods and Elves.

      I think I may be getting a handle on how to categorize THTS and the search keywords, and — perhaps — with the right central figure on this cover, signal the genre right with cover art.

      This kind of stuff is taking up too much energy. Didn’t get any writing done last two days. ::le sigh::

      New blurb:

      Dolly was reborn into a new body just last week. Right out of the birthing chamber, she was tumbled into a conflict that goes back to the stone age. Her creator, the Greek Goddess, Aphrodite, has disappeared, and the God in charge of her institution — the Babylonian Marduk — has called for her death. Her lover and Geppetto, Mitchell Drummond, is threading his way through political minefields to keep Dolly safe.

      New in love, they soon find they can’t keep their hands off each other. Their sexual fever comes to worry them. They suspect there’s more to the situation than mere new love.

      Meanwhile, they have a job to do. Keeping up the pretense that all’s well and nothing’s going on is wearing thin. But in Upothesa, you’re not allowed to talk about secrets. Dolly is a secret. Trying to keep it together, Dolly and Drummond go on a mission to New Zealand to protect the Dolly’s secret and the life of a major TV drama star.

      The High T Shebang is Book One of The Baby Troll Chronicles, the second book of which, The Origin Conjecture, is due out in 2014.