Apropos of this post.
So this cover is like 90% of the way. It has a selection of individual elements none of which is wrong or bad, all of which fall in the right ball park. But they are failing to work together to quite add up to the cover the book needs.
There's something dissonant in the atmospheric, intriguing vibe and content of the artwork; the slightly creepy, intriguing title, and the very bright, brash typography. They all more-or-less say ‘fantasy’ but they’re all reach for versions and tones or that which don’t quite speak to each other and the result is something that doesn’t achieve any particular vibe.
If anything, because the title treatment grabs the attention so much, and because it is quite bold and friendly-looking, the overall effect ends ups being more middle-grade adventure than grown-up fantasy.
The by-lines too are kind of photo-bombing, their white-bold treatment constantly drawing the eye unhelpfully.
So to improve these points…
The artwork itself is already nearly perfect. It’s professional quality, really well composed to be intriguing in itself and to allow space for the other cover elements. It’s got a dark, slightly creepy atmosphere with all the spiders and eyes, but the half-turn and smirk on the man’s face invites you in and indicates there’s fun too.*
The only things I would change about it are enlarging it a little, as much as you can without losing the edges of things like the moon and flame. The figure could just do with dominating the cover that little bit more. There’s currently just a touch too much empty space above him, sapping some of the effective confidence and importance he otherwise conveys.
Secondly I would brighten the knife in his hand up quite a lot. You need the touch of sharp detail in the bottom third of the cover to add visual interest, and more importantly the knife, when properly visible, does a huge amount of scene-, character- and tone-setting of the artwork and you really need to be able to see it!
But it’s the title treatment where I’d make the real changes.
Again, I think the existing artwork is like 90% of the way there. It’s the right choice for the title to have gold-effect serif capitals, using a engraved-style font where some of the acsenders and stems of the letters have been played with to give a really hand-crafted look.
It’s in the detail where the existing treatment is letting the cover down.
At present there is just a general lack of sympathy or appropriateness in the relationship between the title typography and artwork.
The letters are just a little too heavy against the delicate detail of the artwork; the gold effect a little too shiny against the painterly illustration; the gold shine too green in contrast to the warm orange slow of the lantern.
The layout/shape of the title sits unsympathetically across the illustration rather than working with the shapes of it. The W jars awkwardly against a tree branch; a lovely background detail of an eyeball suspended in webbing is smothered by the title treatment obscuring it.
As well as feeling jarring visually, it also feels awkward tone-wise. The title, artwork and blurb seem to speak of a tone that is more assassins, cleverness, intrigue etc, the font feels like it belongs more to the WOW, bombastic side of fantasy.
In the revised version I’ve rearranged the title layout to sit in sympathy with the shapes of the artwork. Keeping everything in a lockup which sits within the shape of the figure means the figure’s outline isn’t being interrupted by anything and is immediately more readable at a glance in his pose. The eye can travel from the bright spot of the torch to the face to the knife without interruption and thus there’s a story immediately apparent rather than a collection of disparate details the viewer has to work to add together.
The typeface I’ve used is similar to the existing one but crucially less heavy, having a more elegant feel in line with a tone of intrigue.
I’ve chosen a more realistic gold effect which matches the level of realism in the textures within the artwork. And I have used a warm gold which picks up the shades of warm firelight in the artwork.
With the by-lines I’ve pulled them in towards a middle point , both to have better sympathy with the strong central vertical orientation of the artwork, and to also to allow that nice touch of colour and detail at the bottom left hand corner some space. Comparing the two you ca see how much difference it makes to the overall effect just to have that touch of red actually visible, balancing out the reds of the bloody knife, branch and the torch’s glow.
(I’ve swapped the order of names too, though I realise that may be a contentious issue! The name ‘Jaime Castle’ simply frames the spider detail better, plus it’s harder to mistake ‘Castle Bruno’ for a single name than it is ‘Bruno Castle’).
The white of the original by-lines was too brash a contrast against the subtle colour use of the painting, and again, the font felt too heavy for the tone.
*Actually if I were to get really nitpicky, I’d question the branch cutting across the figure like that. It’s an odd horizontal to add into the picture to my eye and it looks a tiny bit like the man is going to walk into a branch because he’s so busy smirking at us.