On Twitter yesterday, NK Jemisin said:

My immediate reaction was, “OMG, yes!” This is what I’ve been wanting. Permission to stop struggling to accomplish things every day. Permission to let go and not worry and not feel sad and scared. Permission to just kill monsters. Or build farms or take care of gardens or whatever non-real simulation thing I want to do. Permission to wander around Pandaria, my favorite land in World of Warcraft, if that is what I want to do.

Writing has been impossible lately. My imagination is broken. I have no stories left. NaNoWriMo starts in two days and first I was planning to finish one of the multiple novels I have underway. But they’re all stuck for a reason: I don’t know what happens next in them. Then I thought I’d start something new and fresh — it’s always easier to begin something than it is to persist through a murky middle. But I don’t have any ideas. Nothing fun is happening in my daydreams.

Next I thought maybe I’d just write fanfiction of my own books — scenes and short stories with characters I already know, no worrying about plot, just character and dialogue and moments in time. I even for a brief moment had Maggie and Max in my head, with Maggie getting annoyed at Max in December 2019, when he provides her with blueprints of a diner renovation that would improve all the little annoyances in her kitchen. How can she shut down for the three months it would take to get that work done? she demands, but he grimaces and suggests she schedule it for the spring. Yay, an idea! But that’s all it was, an idea of that one moment and it didn’t lead me to anything else.

The usual writing advice is just to persist. Keep thinking about it, keep sitting down at the computer, keep opening up the file and staring at the blank page. But I fill my blank pages with endless ruminations about my failures as a parent, what it means to have been so wrong about a relationship. To believe it was one thing — love and affection and appreciation of one another, a firm belief in the other person’s value and worth as a human being, the very definition of family — only to discover that all that appreciation was a one-way street. That while I thought my son was fantastic and interesting, he thought I was condescending and annoying and not even worth reaching out to when the world was burning down. When I called him from the desert, sick and scared and crying, and he didn’t call me back… well.

Can I tell you how much these ruminations do NOT serve me? They don’t serve me. I’m trying very hard — very, very, very hard — to stay out of that black hole, which means that I delete those words and close that file and move on to other things.

I am tempted, of course, to do that very thing right now. (In fact, I did, for about an hour.) Writing words and sharing them, even in the form of a blog that only a few people read, means accepting that other people will judge those words and, of course, the person behind them. Are you going to think I’m a bad mother? Are you going to think I’m over-sensitive? Do I need to care? A helpful friend this summer told me I was co-dependent for hurting so much and I should get help. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to imagine how that felt. Fortunately for my state of mind, around the same time the Best Sister-in-Law Ever (married to the Best Brother Ever) sent me the Best Email Ever. So you, oh, reader, can feel free to judge me for my over-sensitivity and my wallowing; I can pretty much guarantee that your judgement won’t be as harsh as my own anyway.

What does all this have to do with cover design? Well, I was eager to accept the internet’s granted permission to play video games. I truly was! Yay, video games! I actually started downloading WoW again, so I could go take care of my farm in Pandaria. But back in August, shortly after I posted my Daughter of Flame cover, I decided that my graphic design education needed a focus. My daily drawings (never actually daily) were entertaining but it didn’t feel like they were getting me anywhere, and I don’t have nearly enough book projects to keep me learning design via my own stories. So I made up a project, or rather, a series of them. I found a random title generator on the internet, generated a bunch of titles, and started making covers to go with those titles.

This is that project to date:

a pretend book cover
August 28 – I love what I did with the typography in this cover, but my first achievement was really changing the once-red dress on the figure to the green dress. I made her hair kind of crazy, too, using the sponge tool, I think.
September 6 – Real designers can probably do a cover in a day, but it was taking me close to a week. (Obviously, it wasn’t what I did full-time.) The figure was a free download, the background was a photo of my own, but the fog around her feet was what I was learning how to do.
September 7 – Um, no. This is a lousy cover. I kind of gave up. The owl, though, was pretty cool. It was a stock photo that I selected and then played with to try to get that drawn look. I just didn’t know enough to make what I was imagining work the way I wanted it to.
September 8 – I tried a second time with the same title, because I didn’t like giving up on it. Admittedly, it’s a lousy title — the person who names a book something so vague needs to get some marketing assistance. Still a lousy cover — what genre is this book, anyway?
September 10 – I’m not convinced this one works, but it was fun. It was the first time I really had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish from a story I had in mind. I don’t think I’d use it as is, but it’s a starting place.
September 21 – After my owl frustration, I spent several days playing with brushes, learning (not all that successfully) how to make fur and hair. I did the previously posted dragon picture during that week, too. Eleven days later I was ready to try a cover again. For this one, I used the Symmetry tool with a brush in Affinity Photo to draw the background image, then added some smoke with another brush.
September 25 – I was not at all satisfied with this one. I did a lot of different things — an overlay for those sparking lights, effects on the text, a color change on the girl’s hair, a flourish under the title, blend modes on the background — but eh.
September 27 – I spent a long time getting the color tones of the figure and the castle to match, plus making the castle usable as a background image by getting rid of evidence of modern life. (It was a stock photo). But I really wanted to get that flame style on the entire title and I really couldn’t figure out how to do so. Once I hit totally frustrated, I called it done and moved on. The point of the exercise wasn’t to make a perfect cover, after all — it was to make a lot of covers, learning something all the way.
September 30 – Loved this one. Loved it! Except maybe not the typography. I started out with color changing the character — her hair was pink, her shirt red, making her a good skill development exercise. Then I decided to give her skateboard some lightning, which I had just learned how to do. The typography wasn’t exactly an afterthought, but it could probably be improved.
October 3 – You’ll notice there’s no placeholder for an author name on this one — that’s because I finally just gave up on it. I did a head swap on the character — that was my starting place and the skill I wanted to develop — and I just couldn’t get it to feel realistic. Then I accidentally flattened the figure with an edge around her, which was a pain to try to mask, but I didn’t want to start over. I do like the sparkles in the sky, though, and the effect on the title. Still, this one is terrible. So it goes!
October 7 – A second try at the head swap and this time it was a full body swap — I let the girl keep her neck and gave her a mermaid’s tail. Some magic in one hand, some lightning in the other, some fancy borders — and honestly, I think this cover sucks. But the body swap flows pretty well, I think, and I like what I did to her glove (using the clone tool).
October 8 – Check out the author name. I was learning how to do a watercolor effect in Affinity Photo and I liked the way it turned out so much that I turned it into a cover and put my own name on it. I have no idea what story should go with this cover — or if any ever will — but I think it’s really pretty. I even like the type treatment & the font, despite thinking that font would be completely unusable as a cover font.
October 9 — And I love this one. Totally different, not like any cover I’ve ever seen, and with a kind of comic book look that suggests it’s going to be a comic book sort of story — maybe with superheroes? Or zombies? Definitely with attitude! It needs another blurb to go under the series name or maybe some graphic element there — maybe extending the lightning down. The stock photo in the background has been duplicated, inverted, blurred and blended using Color Dodge as the blend mode, with another duplicate layer on the top using Linear Burn as the blend mode. That makes the light areas blurry and the dark areas super-defined, for the comic book effect. If I was really going to use this as a cover, I’d probably re-do the typography, since it tells me nothing about the genre — it was sorta just thrown on there when I liked the image. (Having utterly failed to make a watercolor effect out of it, which is what I was trying to do.)
October 23 – Not a final cover, because I gave up on the typography. But the original character had sort of pinkish-gray hair and I changed her hair color and eye color. The background was a texture: I changed the colors, and used the clone tool and some painting to make it hint at being scenery behind her. I liked my tag line, though.
October 25 – So different! So probably not a real cover! But I stumbled across a link to art posted by the British Museum, free to use, and downloaded a grayscale image of a line drawing of gears from an old book. I selected the gears and turned it into a brush in Affinity. Now I can add gears to any image just by painting them on. This is actually a fairly useless achievement, since how often does one want to add gears to an image? But I made multiple versions of the gear, different sizes, different opacities, stacked them all together, did some layer blending and painting, and added a title from my list.
October 27 – Notice the ground that she’s standing on. That’s my pile of gears from the previous cover. I used the perspective tool to push it backwards and turn it into a surface. I spent a ridiculously long time trying to get a background to work, though. I painted in rocks. Used a selection from a stock photo to put in columns. Tried a night sky. Everything looked wrong. I’m now at the point where I know enough to know when I’m missing something, but not at the point where I know the answer right away. Still, I like my end result here. I would not be ashamed to have this cover on a story. (Another stupid title from the random title generator, though. Eventually, if I’m serious about doing the whole random list, I’m going to have to do one titled “Dogs and Goblins.” Um…”)
October 29 – The problem with this one, IMO, is that it doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. Also, I specifically wanted to create a science-fiction cover so that I could experiment with fonts for science fiction books but none of my random titles were particularly sci-fi. But this cover includes a head swap (seamless, IMO, although it might be cheating to have her half off the page), some smoke, text effects, layer blend modes, and use of the Tone Mapping persona in Affinity Photo, which is a ridiculously cool tool that took me months to discover. If I had a story that was, as my friend Tim suggested, “neo-noir with a side of Raymond Chandler,” I’d be pretty happy with this cover.
October 29 – And if I had written something that was cyberpunk except optimistic and fun, I’d be delighted with this cover. Truly, delighted. I’m pretty delighted with it anyway. I used a macro to change the colors, an overlay to add the faint green computer-ish lines, the ripple live filter on the reflected text, masks… I’m completely pleased with my work on this one. The starting place was to make a science fiction cover so I could experiment with science fiction fonts, but it so makes me wish I had a cyborg girl with attitude in a story. Any story. Also, though, in August, it was taking me a week to create a cover. Yesterday, I made two of them. Shine on, me.

And this bring us to today. Am I going to create a cover today? Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just going to play video games, the internet having given me permission to grieve for my son and my country and our world in whatever way gets me through the day.

But I am also going to pat myself on the back and acknowledge the shine I deserve for having created this portfolio of mostly lousy, sometimes great work in the past two months. I am halfway through my list of titles: I don’t want to stop now. Despite the temptation of video games and escapes from reality, I’m looking forward to what I’ll be able to do and how much I’ll know by the time I reach the end of my list. (Although I’m willing to bet the very last one will be either Gnome of Time, Nymphs And Foes, or the aforementioned Dogs and Goblins, none of which strike me as particularly good titles. I guess that’s the peril of a random title generator.)

Meanwhile, I’ve actually started another cover design project, which is maybe going to turn into something I share with other people some day? I got tired of re-inventing the wheel typographically. I like playing with fonts but I also wanted to create some cheat sheets for myself of fonts that look good together, specifically for book covers as opposed to web sites, and that are also genre-appropriate for given genres. The last two covers in my list are actually part of those genre tests. I’ve got multiple versions of Crown’s Power using all kinds of different fonts, most of which I rejected, while Chasing Destiny was my Roboto test. I used Roboto for the title (with some playing around with tracking and leading) and then tried out approximately nine or ten other fonts for the author name and tag line before settling on versions of Roboto.

My notes say:

Roboto  – Available on Google fonts. Roboto was designed for Android and is sort of a mix of styles; a rounded san serif that feels straightforward and simple. Per Wikipedia, Google was aiming for “modern, yet approachable” and initial reviews were mixed. But it’s everywhere and has the kind of clean lines that could easily work on a science-fiction or modern tech cover. (It might also work on contemporary romance if it was a geeky romance.) Because it’s used on interfaces (Android, Switch), it feels familiar. I’d say it’s not a noticeable font, but possibly a good choice for a cover where you want the art to stand out more than the type treatment.  

Pair with Lato, Josephin Sans, Rubik, or stick to a different weight of Roboto. 

Note: this is NOT Roboto Slab, which is a serif font and which doesn’t work for me. It looks more typewriter than tech. One source suggested pairing Roboto and Roboto Slab, but while that might work for a web page, it doesn’t work at all for a book cover, IMO. The Slab would be better for blocks of text, rather than display. 

See Chasing Destiny cover for Roboto example. 

I’m going to try to do one font a day from a fairly lengthy list of fonts I generated by reading all the articles on “best fonts for book cover design” on the first couple pages of Google’s search results. I’m hoping to end up with five to seven sets per genre — enough that I have plenty of flexibility and choice but not so much that I feel consistently overwhelmed by the thousands of font combinations that are available. It doesn’t feel like information I should share on my blog — admit it, even if you’ve read this far, you skimmed that block of italicized text, didn’t you? — but maybe I’ll make a new blog for indie author cover design tips. Or maybe I’ll turn it into a tiny ebook or something. Or maybe I’ll just have it as a useful tool for my own future fun in cover design.

Meanwhile, if you need permission to make it through the next few weeks/months by playing video games all day, you hereby have my permission. And NK Jemisin’s permission and her therapist’s permission, too. Go forth and conquer Azeroth! Or Animal Crossing or wherever your gaming takes you. But please vote first. (Um, for Biden-Harris. If you’re planning on voting for this guy, you might be codependent and should consider seeking help.)