Judging Books By Their Covers by Joshua Viola

2016_Joshua ViolaThey say you should never judge a book by its cover. But we all do. And you should -- especially when you're in the business of selling fiction.

All marketing techniques begin with the visual presentation. The most aggressive campaign will fail if the product lacks the right aesthetic. In fact, beautiful covers can give otherwise inferior books a marketing edge over better-written novels with mediocre exteriors.

A good cover should hint at the story within. That doesn't necessarily mean lots of details. Sometimes the simplest design is the most effective. A professional cover artist should be able to capture the book’s mood in a single frame while employing intriguing design elements.

The Internet makes the task of locating an artist easy. You can find websites with affordable options like Fiverr and those with a huge list of portfolios, such as DeviantArt. They’re both great places to start, but you’ll likely find more amateurs than top-level professionals.

If you don't want to sort through digital portfolio after digital portfolio, consider attending an art convention. Denver hosts a number of them -- many of which are comic book-related. We have the Denver Comic Con, D!NK, and Comic Fest. Comic book artists have a great sense of visual storytelling and presentation. If you do go with a comic book artist, make sure they have the ability to jump between art styles. You don’t want your new literary novel to look like the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

If conventions aren't for you, visit an art gallery or attend the First Friday Art Walk.

When you do find an artist you’re interested in working with, research their portfolio and résumé to determine their level of expertise. It’s easy to fall in love with a single piece, but it’s important that the rest of their work also hits the mark. If it doesn’t, keep looking.

Once you’ve found a prospective artist, send them samples of other book covers you like and decide whether or not they can provide something comparable to the look, feel and genre you’re going for. Then have the artist provide some basic mockups (this may not be an option until a contract is signed).

Before you sign a contract, find out what rights you'll be purchasing. Much like writers, artists are hesitant to give up the rights to their creations. Oftentimes they’ll license the work for use as your cover, but keep the rights.

Given the subjective nature of art, the artist determines the work’s value. There is no set rate. Typically, quality covers will cost between $300 and $1,000.

If you don't have the money for original art, you might find something worthwhile in the public domain. For those unfamiliar, public domain refers to content that is not subject to copyright and is legally accessible to everyone. Art typically falls into this category 120 years from the date of creation, but you’ll need to do your homework before slapping something on your book.

Public domain artwork is becoming a popular trend in publishing. For example, Tracy Chevalier's book, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, uses Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name for its cover. It’s standard practice nowadays and costs the author absolutely nothing. The New York Public Library recently added 180,000 images into the mix. If you have financial constraints, give this option some real consideration.

Remember, never underestimate the importance of a compelling presentation. It's your first and (oftentimes) last chance to reel an audience in. A professional cover will make the difference when you’re trying to convince those who don't know who you are to give your work a shot.

Now cross your fingers and hope they like your writing as much as they do your cover.


Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. Viola is the editor of the Denver Post number one bestselling horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, and has published Bram Stoker, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writers. His next anthology, Cyber World, co-edited by Jason Heller, will be available this November. Blood Business, co-edited by Mario Acevedo, will be available in 2017. He lives in Denver, Colorado where he is chief editor of Hex Publishers and vice president of Frontiere Natural Meats. He can be found on the web at www.joshuaviola.com

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation. Cyber World presents twenty diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow, as told by some of today’s most gripping science fiction visionaries.

“Cyber World gives the cyberpunk genre a much-needed reboot.”
—Chuck Wendig, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath and Zer0es
Featuring stories by Mario Acevedo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Stephen Graham Jones, Cat Rambo, Alyssa Wong, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

Edited by Hugo Award winner Jason Heller and Joshua Viola. Foreword by Richard Kadrey.

Soundtrack of Humanity's Tomorrow featuring Celldweller, Circle of Dust, Mega Drive and Scandroid.

Available this November from Hex Publishers.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A picture really is worth a thousand words, sometimes more. Humans are visual creatures and as writers, we rely on our sense of sight above all the others. As storytellers, we use written visuals to tell a story by creating pictures with words instead of paint. The earliest known stories before recorded language were written with pictures. Prehistoric man told stories through paintings on cave walls. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are a combination of logographics and alphabetic elements. The first historical civilizations of the Near East, Africa, China, and Central America used some form of logographic writing. It's how written language began.

So it's no surprise that stories can be told through art and photographs. Comic books and graphic novels are designed to do just that, but some artwork can tell a tale without words to go with them. As a prime example, I offer Norman Rockwell's phenomenal storytelling via his paintbrush. Growing up, I idolized Rockwell's work and would study his paintings for hours, noting every tiny detail he included that told a story about his subjects. He's quoted as saying: "No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all his talent and feeling into them!" And Rockwell did exactly that.

Rockwell painted life as he wished it really was: happy children, engaged parents and grandparents, good clean fun.

Then there's the darker side of art; the very detailed religious art by 15th century Dutch painter Heironymus Bosch. The longer you look at his paintings, the more you see. But unlike Rockwell, Bosch mined the depths of his subconscious to create what's never been seen, but only imagined, and only by him. Don't look at his paintings late at night or they may invade your dreams.

If you prefer realism to fantasy, photojournalism is an incredible true-story telling medium. A picture being worth a thousand words is the motto of the photojournalist whose goal is to capture a moment in time for eternity. Each photo tells a story that is felt as much as it is seen.

In this digital age, some artists have discovered innovative ways of telling stories through pictures. One of my favorite digital artists is Amelie Fravoisse. She reminds me of Norman Rockwell in how she stages her scenes to convey heart-warming messages of family, seasons and holidays, except that she uses three-dimensional graphic tools and objects with a computer. The details in her work are amazing, and the more I look, the more I see. Every picture makes me smile.

I'm an artist who relies on the pictures in my mind to tell my stories. I'm nowhere near as talented as Amelie, but like her, I use 3D computer graphic tools to create art and each image tells its own story. Here are a few of my own story pictures I can share:


Midnight Dance



Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

Karen is represented by the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency out of New York city. She’s currently at work on a new women’s fiction novel with elements of magic realism.



Writers Are Artists Too!

When I was a beginning writer, lo these many moons ago, I applied for and received a Fellowship and Residency from the Ucross Foundation.

This was a huge thing for me. For the Residency, I spent two weeks with a private room and a vast studio with no clocks and people there to feed me. For lunch, a delivery elf would creep silently and leave an insulated bag outside my studio door. Because I could not be disturbed. Because ART!

For dinner, all the residents gathered at a big table and ate gourmet meals while we discussed our days. Because the residencies are given to all kinds of artists - musicians, painters, composers, photographers, writers - the conversation covered broad topics, always stimulating and delightful.

Best of all, everyone there treated me like someone special. It was the first time in my life that people introduced me as a Writer. When you're a rank beginner, this labeling is profoundly validating. I wasn't just another wannabe, making noises about writing a novel someday, to be patted on the head and indulged. No, I was a Writer and there to Write.

The feeling has remained with me always.

Just last month, I was invited to a reception at Raymond Plank's home here in  Santa Fe. That's him in the center of the photo above. He recently came out with a memoir about creating the Ucross Foundation, called A Small Difference. The party was held in his honor, and because the foundation board was in town for their annual meeting. Then there were the previous Fellows scattered throughout the party, fairly easily distinguished from the donors and board members.

I wanted to meet as many of the Fellows as I could. Even after four years in Santa Fe, I don't really feel like part of the literary community here. I'm told there IS one, but it feels thin to me. Ironically, my former community in Laramie, Wyoming, felt much denser and richer.

Maybe because we were so much more concentrated into a small space.

Santa Fe, for all its devotion to the aesthetics of art and beauty, does not really favor the writerly types. One of my writer friends calls it the Vast Siberian Literary Wasteland and it can feel that way, for sure. Visual arts rule here.

So, there I was, introducing myself, doing the tail-sniffing thing - who are you, what is your art - and every single Fellow I met was some sort of visual or earth-related artist. It became clear that I was the only writer there. One of the earth-artists patted me on the arm and said, "Hey, writers are artists, too!"

I had to laugh.

But that was the lesson I learned from that Residency, that came back to me going to the party. I am a Writer.

And that means something.


Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.  A contemporary e-Serial, Master of the Opera, will be released in January. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, will hit the shelves in 2014. A spin-off story from this series, Negotiation, appears in the recently-released Thunder on the Battlefield anthology. Her newest book, Five Golden Rings, came out as part of the erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction, in late November.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.