I am just finishing a fantasy novel, and I'd like a cover that's suitable for print and ebook publication. The last novel that I published had a cover designed through a contest on 99designs, and I believe its cover was an important contributor to its success (>10000 copies sold). So here I am again! You artists are awesome. :-)
I know this is a bit long, but I'm trying to be as detailed as possible. Hang with me... (I may update the descrip below to clarify questions, and will post an announcement each time I do, so follow contest announcements to be alerted. I will not remove anything as it evolves, just add detail.)
I am looking for a cover that incorporates my title, "Heart Magic", my name "Daniel Hardman", as well as a picture that's suggestive of characters and/or a scene from my book. See bottom of this descrip for dimensions. The picture could be drawn/illustrated, or come from a 3D rendering engine. It could also be photo-realistic, for all you photoshop gurus--although it will certainly require some original art as glue/enhancement, and it's a bit hard to get photos that work in a fantasy milieu. I might be open to stylized textures/layers/symbols as well (I've seen some awesome art that uses that), but I am not interested in collages, abstract art, or caricature/cartoon; any people need to look relatively real and interesting to adults, not children. I recently posted an announcement to clarify my feelings about different styles, because I've had a lot of people ask. The bottom line is that I'm eclectic and open; however, artistry and execution always matter.
Although I will use my own judgment to narrow the field to finalists, I intend to run a poll to pick the eventual winner. My criteria for the survey will simply be, "If you saw this cover on a bookshelf, how likely would you be to read the dust jacket, check it out from the library, or buy it?" In other words, the cover needs to be a strong hook.
Unlike many fantasy novels, this one has no dragons, no elves or dwarves, no rings or swords that destroy/save the world. It also avoids the kings and bards and witches and swordsmen of the traditional feudal europe milieu. It draws its cultural inspiration from ancient India. That should be reflected in renderings of clothing, facial features, and weapons. Some pictures of clothing: http://j.mp/1NzVK2e, http://j.mp/1RAIZoS, http://j.mp/1Xy0qKW, http://j.mp/1MhGhk8. Some of the early submissions use shawls and nose rings to good effect...
The plot centers on a quest where a young couple and several other companions attempt to rescue some kidnapped children. The characters endure some terrifying and horrific experiences; when they overcome, it's not because they're superheros or they're amazingly clever; it's because they swallow hard, keep going, and decide to forgive and love each other. Therefore, I don't want bulging muscles or model-perfect figurines; I want regular people. You'll see that in some of the concept photo links below.
The overall emotion I'd like to suggest with the cover is one of tenacity, hope, and/or courage in the face of darkness.
A word about fonts on the cover: Languages are important in the cultural background of the book. Several writing systems are described. When you search for a font to use for the title, you might consider (optional) using something with an angular style like runes (http://bit.ly/1WgVrRw) or cuneiform--or something that's styled to resemble greek, arabic, sanskrit, or some other alphabet. Use your best judgment to keep it legible, though.
I have 6 cover concepts. Feel free to do as many or as few as you like. I am listing them in arbitrary order, NOT necessarily in my order of preference. Pick according to your interest and skills. Here are quick "tag lines" for each of them.
Concept 1: Malena leads through darkness
Concept 2: Giving the heartstone
Concept 3: Kinora's rocks
Concept 4: Young Toril underwater
Concept 5: Wolf attack
Concept 6: Battle with an ogre
Before I explain these concepts it detail, it will be helpful to roughly describe some key characters; this will make the concepts clearer. These characters are listed in order of importance but not necessarily visual interest; in some of the concepts, you could use your judgment about who to make more prominent.
Malena (age: ~20, long hair in braid, attractive but not stunning. Here's a photo I've been using for my own visualization, but you could diverge: http://j.mp/1idpHKb)
Toril (Malena's husband--similar age, slightly taller, ordinary build or a bit lanky, perhaps stubbled; concept photo: http://j.mp/1MpVvtE)
Shivi (a small, slight, old woman who's suffered much and has the wrinkles to prove it, but not a shriveled crone; concept photo: http://j.mp/1H7wZpw. Shivi's hair is long and streaky silver, and also braided). I have attached a zip file with 7 additional concept photos for Shivi. My favorite is shivi6.jpg.
Oji (young warrior, noticeably golden skin, slender but muscled, only as tall as Malena's shoulder; concept photo: http://j.mp/1idrTRZ, though skin would need to be still yellower). Oji is the only character who's not an ordinary human; his size and yellow skin are the only visual indicators of this. No elf ears.
Paka (Shivi's husband, old, bearded, sometimes turbaned, and pot-bellied; concept photo: http://j.mp/1MR22I3. When I say turban, I mean something like this: http://j.mp/1H9N3He).
Since the book is about rescuing some kidnapped children, the children are also important in a couple of my other cover concepts; if you use them, I imagine them urchin-like, such as http://j.mp/1Nyq3Xh.
Now, on to the specific concepts.
Concept 1 (“Malena leads through darkness”): Very dark, misty environment; Malena is striding forward in the foreground, with companions nearby but significantly foreshortened by perspective. I picture her as reach-out-and-touch close--perhaps only her torso/head is visible rather than her whole body? She is gripping a wooden staff (straight and polished, as tall as Malena, with a tapered brass endcap) vertically. The staff is lit by brilliantly glowing glyphs. This glow is the only light source (no sun, moon, or candles). The glow lights up her face; her face is the focal point. Behind the woman, the other characters I listed are visible, but they quickly fade out because of dense mist--dense enough that you can't see detail any farther than you can reach, and you can't see anything at all after 3 or 4 steps. You could show them in any interesting order, and could omit one or two or fade them almost to nothing if you like.
If you show any detail in the glyphs on the staff, you might select a sample from this graphic: http://j.mp/1M082Sy (this comes from the Alphabet Generator Machine and may or may not be copyrighted, I'm not sure).
Here's a picture sort of like the face/darkness/light I'm imagining for this concept: http://bit.ly/1GHBJY4. If you substituted a glowing staff for the candle, put some people in the near background, added mist, and showed a bit more of the girl, it would be close. Contrast this picture: http://j.mp/1jOrxTv; what I have in mind would be darker than this second picture, mistier, much closer to the girl's face, and have no detail of surrounding landscape.
The figures in this scene are stumbling through a barren no-mans-land, and would be roped together, keeping an arm on the shoulder of the person in front, or hobbling side by side so they wouldn't lose each other. The terrain might be uneven, with Malena on higher or lower ground. Her braid might be askew or with strands loose, and her face should show dirt on the cheeks, bruises, tears, or other evidence that it's not a Maybelline ad. Her lips are chapped. No fancy jewels. Her expression could be fearful or determined.
To help you understand the relative positioning of the figures, and the perspective I'm imagining, consider this photo: http://j.mp/1kaDK4s. Here, we have figures roped together on a slope, with the near one much closer and larger than the others. What I have in mind might be similar, although the "camera" would be even closer to the front figure (Malena), who would obviously be facing us instead of walking away. Also, these figures are a bit farther apart and more evenly spaced than I'm imagining. Here is another photo that exhibits the same sort of perspective I'm after: http://j.mp/1LYGZ6D. This one is better in the some ways (I think I like the front figure higher rather than lower, though that's negotiable, and the spacing is about right). Both of these pictures show extreme slopes, which would be okay if it helps you make something visually interesting, but which is not a requirement.
This scene is not specifically described in the book, but it's implied. Here is the text leading up to it, which describes the condition of the people, the terrain, and the experience of walking through the dark mist/fog/haze: http://j.mp/1MRrQ6W
Concept 2 (“Giving the heartstone”): Cupped hands are extended, in "giving a precious gift" posture. The hands contain a highly polished turquoise oval, somewhat smaller than a hen's egg, probably flattened somewhat to make for easy wearing, attached to a entwined (deep) blue and silver cords to make a pendant. These would be Toril's hands--young and male, with slim, strong fingers. They might be dirty, scratched, scabbed, or otherwise weathered. There might be a thick band of leather on one or both wrists (e.g., http://j.mp/1OZeMCx or http://j.mp/1iiwbrg). The scene associated with this picture takes place in semi-dark as the horizon is growing light with dawn, so colors would be muted; if you zoomed out you'd see a green hill and a beautiful, mature oak tree over Toril's shoulder, but I think keeping it close (no face, probably no chest, just hands) is better.
Concept 3 (“Kinora’s rocks”): A girl is kneeling in a mountain meadow, arranging a pile of stones into a shape similar to a 4-leafed clover (more than 4 stones could be used, and the shape should not be very distinct). She's in tall grass and wildflowers. She should look forlorn, be about 7-8 years old, have ragged clothing. This takes place where light is much better than the previous 2 concepts. The terrain where this takes place looks like this: http://j.mp/1jOC3ud -- but you can show or hide terrain as much as you like; I'm just providing that for background. Season = September. Here's another photo that shows some of the elements you might use, although the stones are too big and not in the shape I'm suggesting: http://j.mp/208Glgl. See the link to an urchin girl concept photo that I gave earlier.
Concept 4 (“Young Toril underwater”): A boy, age 12, is underwater in a river (surface maybe 5 feet above, so still fairly strong light). He's holding a stone to keep himself under, and holding his breath. Hair floating/waving in current, maybe some bubbles, perhaps eyes wide open in expression of wonder, luminescence around eyes/lips. Lots of greens and blues. He may be stepping forward, or standing still. Here is the text of the scene for this concept: http://j.mp/1M0r8rx. I've attached a photo that captures a possible posture, although it's of a boy too young and the clothes and light are wrong (see attachments section).
Concept 5 (“Wolf attack”): Takes place around a campfire just before dawn. Malena fights back a wolf with a branch from the fire. Wolves would be unnaturally large, possibly striped or otherwise slightly odd-looking. Toril would be fighting with the staff. Could incorporate a black-and-white dog (border collie appearance) protecting Malena or Toril. The older couple described above (Shivi and Paka) are also present and fighting; Oji is not. Here is the text of the scene for this concept: http://j.mp/1GGS7rG
Concept 6 (“Battle with ogre”): Toril fights an ogre with staff. Fight takes place in confined quarters inside a stable; quite dark, though it's daytime and windows would provide a limited, point light source. Hay/walls on fire. Ogre about 1.5-2x the man's height, has tusks that jut downward from chin/jaw. Here is the text of the scene for this concept: http://j.mp/1GGRgHt
This book will be printed in 6"x9" (15.24 x 22.86 cm) and 5"x8" (12.7 x 20.32 cm) sizes. It will be approximately 350 pages long as a 6x9, and 425 pages as a 5x8, which should give you a spine width of about 1" (2.5 cm) or 1.5" (3.8 cm), respectively. I am still working on some final format details, which is why the numbers are approximate. The back cover will have some text on it with a description of the book and some reviews; I'll add that stuff later, but for an artist, that means that the back side can be far less elaborate.