Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zero Sum is Covered

Less blood. More fireworks. Zero Sum's cover has arrived. The new cover was a blast to work on. Jon Steller (editor) and I shot the fingers during our lunch break at the psych hospital. I owe a big thank you to You-Know-Who for finger-modeling instead of acquiring packets of mustard. I apologize for that miserably dry turkey sandwich you endured.

Jordan Kimura was in charge of graphic design for this cover as well. We sent her our over-saturated proofs. She let out a tired sigh (she claims it was a smile of delight), removed the nasty plaster background, and got to work.

As with Zero Sight's cover, meticulous detail was eschewed in favor of an image that popped as a thumbnail and remained vivid and readable when presented in greyscale. I've said it before on this site, but much of the gorgeous hardcover book art doesn't fare so well when converted to monitor spam. Fine detail can turn to blur. Meticulous lettering can become granulated. Some titles are entirely unreadable. Some beautiful drawings look like goop.

Same author. Same novel. The first cover I can't read. The second cover I can't help but click.

If you are an author and/or publisher, you really need to create two cover variants nowadays: one for print publishing and one for e-publishing. It is critical that we recognize the different needs of the mediums. A print cover must snag eyes under the lighting conditions of a bookstore. It may benefit from variations in texture and raised lettering. It's spine can serve as a selling point. An e-book cover must tread water as a few hundred black and white pixels in the left corner of a 8-inch screen full of vibrant text and moving images. Too much fine detail can actually be harmful. The whole concept might vanish in the noise. Few design concepts can hope to cover both needs. That's why I advocate two different cover variants—consistent in theme but distinct in execution.

What Jordan Kimura's Zero Sight cover continues to be able to do is snag tons of digital fly-bys that would otherwise never have given the series a shot. I can't tell you how many people have told me they clicked on the Zero Sight cover on a whim. I've had people tell me they didn't like it, but I've never had anyone tell me that they didn't click it. (I assume I will now ; P)

[Begin epic rant]

Some have charged that the Zero Sight cover is too simplistic. I understand the criticism, but do try and understand Jordan's objective. Her goal was to create a cover that is the first step in convincing a skeptical reader to try a free sample of some random novel by some nobody author. Jordan's covers deliver those clicks. They've been coming in by the bucket load. Those clicks bring prospective readers to Zero Sight's Amazon page this website. There I have a chance to make my pitch. I try to give readers an interesting blurb to read, I try to trumpet your generally positive reviews, and then Amazon helps us all by sharing similar books. Each page view is a chance to convert a prospective reader into a new fan of the series and/or author—but I'll never get to that point without that first click.

For the new Zero Sum cover, we're continuing the theme of pasty white hands in compromising positions. Jon Steller and I settled on using hands early on in the creative process. We liked hands because they are such a crucial factor in nonverbal communication. Think about it. If a person screams, "I hate you!" while clenching their fists, we worry for our safety; if a person screams, "I hate you!" while wringing their hands, we worry about their safety. Same words. Same intonations. Totally different implications. Hands can speak volumes, and when they are positioned in an odd manner, they create some serious dissonance in social animal's mind.

Generating a sense of dissonance is the goal of many advertising efforts. Think of the Budweiser frogs or the best commercial of all time. The dissonance presented in these ads generate curiosity. It kicks us out of our lazy heuristic processing into the more energy intensive analytical mode. It makes us pause for a moment before dismissing the stimuli. It makes us extract the message from the noise. That's the critical "hook" that marketers are always talking about. It gives the vendor a chance to make a more extended pitch. For a writer, this involves presenting a blurb, displaying some reviews, and maybe even handing out a free sample. For a cigarette salesman, it involves shoving a cancer stick in your mouth. And don't believe me about any of this stuff. Believe the billions of dollars companies across the globe dump into these ads.

[End Rant]

Now then, Zero Sight's cover uses an odd grabby motion to create dissonance:

  1. Is the blood-drenched hand hurting the other
  2. Is this some sort of weird handshake
  3. And who the heck is doing all that bleeding
  4. I must know more...I shall ze click!

Zero Sum's e-cover uses ambiguous finger-tip on finger-tip action to achieve a hopefully similar dissonential response:

  1. Are the two of them dancing?
  2. Or maybe one of them is slipping?
  3. Or maybe this is just overwrought pseudo hand-of-God imagery?"
  4. And what the heck is up with all those fireworks, did we just win a war?
  5. I must know more...I shall ze click!

With both covers, dissonance is the goal. We hope to hook ya'll with it. But as always, execution is everything. They could both stink. I think we're hitting the mark, but I can't be the one to judge.

If and when I ever get the print versions of these books out the door, I want to go full-on artistic with them. I'd like to work with a groovy illustrator like Aditya Ikranegara or Stanley Lau to flesh out Rei and Dieter's features [please see Update #1]. I'd like to create a cool brooding atmosphere that manages to capture both the mystery and humor of the novels. I'd also like to pour a whole bunch of blood all over the place. But that is then, and this is now.

Back to prodding the Beta-army. I've got a new cover to fill.


P.S. I'd love to hear what you think about the designs. Don't worry about holding any punches, either. I've already been through my surgical rotation.

UPDATE #1: Jordan informs me that she does in fact also do illustrations, so you can stop urging her to study Illustrator and just hire her for your projects. Apparently, she has even been working on graphic novels in secret. (What the heck! You don't need an author amigo for that?!?) Still, since Jordan is playing hard to get and won't show me any of her illustrations, I am forced to wander the deviantART wilderness in search of inspirational character designs.


Trevor said...

Permission to join the beta army?

B. Justin Shier said...

You are on the list : ) Just be happy your not in round 1. Apparently, I spelled foul "fowl" like five times. And then there is the issue with the rocket launcher... *shudder*


Jordan Kimura said...

Hi Brian,

Just for the record, I did NOT let out a heavy sigh, but instead I smiled with delight as I joyfully sorted through lots and lots of interesting hand combinations provided to me by my favorite indie author. :)

Now that it's announced to the world that I am working on a graphic novel, I better turbo-speed through the project. I just may need an author/doctor (you) and a editor/doctor (Steller) so please be on call. :)

B. Justin Shier said...

Plotting is my specialty. I highly recommend covering everything in blood. Oh, and angst! Teen angst is like the cherry on top.

Now off to do some pre-labor maternal counseling. Yay!


Anonymous said...

Superbly thought-out hands idea paired with striking graphic design execution makes your covers mesmorizing enough for a selective skeptic/avid reader like me to delve into. No need to over-do and over-deliver as your covers do what they are supposed to do. They both managed to create an in-depth thought process with minimal elements but yet very meticulously arranged to spur a purchase on my part. Once into the story, I didn't want to leave my screen as the story engulfed me, leaving the voracious story seeker in me glad I took the risk on an unheard-of author.

Nice work B. Justin Shier & Jordan Kimura!

You have a reader,

B. Justin Shier said...

Glad to hear it, DTechie82. And Jordan really deserves the credit. IMHO, she really "gets" the medium.


pierreBB said...

Nice work! I like the hands theme.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with the K.I.S.S. rule. Whoever said that the covers are too simplistic is obviously discounting the power of imagination, curiousity and mystery and how covers can lure in a reader by the utilization of these elements. The cover was a great hook, you went with your gut and I bought it & loved the characters. I have some discontents and they are that the book had to end, the new one is not released yet and that there are not sequels being written right now.


Anonymous said...

*cough* ready for next book *cough* *cough*

stan slaughter said...

I agree simple iconic images look much better in thumbnail view

You have to have strong silhouette's and sharply contrasting fore and background colors. The science to this is very similar to the rules worked out years ago on logo designs http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/76186


Enjoyed the book

Anonymous said...

*bump* love the semi-abstract covers. hate the wait for zero sum! been refreshing this website everyday - despite subscribing email


B. Justin Shier said...

I swear I will Email ya'll first. And I'm sorry about having to do an Email to begin with, but Amazon will not let indie authors set release dates or pre-orders. Only trad published novels get that feature.

I should be getting the first batch of beta reads back shortly. I'll then send out the second round (which I expect to go much faster). You and I both would like to get this book out immediately, but I have to be VERY careful with the typos. Ebook typos are a hot button issue right now. Both trad and indie releases must be pristine, or face a firestorm of criticism. (As they should, frankly. I don't like typos either.)

On the topic of the covers, A reader pointed me to an excellent discussion of Zero Sight's cover on Goodreads. The main complaint aired was that the bloodiness of the cover served as a turnoff to some readers. They didn't think it captured the fantasy aspects of the story, but rather suggested some sort of horror story. I'll have to think on that a bit...

Oh, and there is a map of Elliot in the works.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the discussion on Goodreads also revolved around readers wanting to have your version of vampires glow in the sunlight with sparkles? lol

I think the cover was just fine; people will complain about anything.

Anonymous said...

Should probably change the fall release date thing, cause it aint looking so good at the moment. =/