When I was writing my independent military fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands, one of the major people involved was none other than Apex Publications founder Jason Sizemore. Not only did he do a developmental edit back in 2016, but he proofread the manuscript, formatted it into an eBook and print book, and put me in contact with cover designer Mikio Murikami. He said that the final cover equaled anything from one of the Big Five publishers.

Artwork by Matt Cowdery. Design by Mikio Murakami.

How did this cover happen? For starters, even though I didn’t decide to independently publish Battle until around August 2019, I had been considering it for some time. I knew it was important to land good blurbs from other authors — people bought my debut horror novel The Thing in the Woods because it had been endorsed by fellow Atlanta writer James R. Tuck and my horror-comedy novella Little People, Big Guns has been blurbed by horror greats Brian Keene and Wesley Southard. Although Jason was willing to blurb it and his name carries much weight in the publishing community, I was looking for someone well-known in the independent fantasy market and in particular someone who wrote novels similar to Battle. So I searched Amazon and ultimately contacted Jack Conner, author of The Atomic Sea, and he agreed to take a look. The Conner blurb is on the front where genre readers will look first, while the Sizemore blurb is on the back to further convince the curious. Why use only one endorsement when you can have two? j/k

Secondly, based on my experience browsing online or attending events with books for sale, many indie or small-press books have low-quality covers. The art is often obviously rendered or pixelated, not anything like the books from major publishers that have larger art budgets. Although websites like The Book Cover Designer have good-looking and relatively cheap pre-made covers that I’ve used for some of my indie projects, they also tend to be rather generic and I wanted something special. For as long as I was considering independently publishing Battle, I checked out potential cover artists at events like DragonCon or the Pancakes and Booze art shows in Atlanta. It was at DragonCon 2019 where I met Matt Cowdery, a West Coast artist who’d illustrated Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings card games. We emailed back and forth and over the next couple of months and he put together a beautiful cover. Although it was pricier than anything from The Book Cover Designer, people do judge books by their covers. Furthermore, according to writing podcasts I listen to, covers should signal to readers what genre they’re in. So not only did I hire an artist with experience in fantasy — I often describe the world of Wastelands as “The Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones” – I was sure to include airships (steampunk) and a cowboy-type with a Civil War rifle (Western) on the cover.

Once that was done, it was time for laying out the title, blurbs, etc. on the cover, since this wasn’t something Cowdery typically does. I thought about using Amazon’s built-in options, but Dave Schroeder from my writing group warned this could look rather generic. So I spoke with Jason and he recommended Murikami. Over Thanksgiving, Murikami gave me several possible cover configurations. He worked very rapidly and effectively, something I appreciate.

To sum up, to have the best possible cover you need to hire skilled people to do both the artwork and the cover design — these are typically separate people — and you will probably need to spend money to get the best. Cowdery and Murikami have done an excellent job with Battle and it is my intention to hire them for future books set in this world. Cowdery has already completed the art for the prequel e-novella “Son of Grendel,” which I hope to release in the first quarter of 2020, and Murikami is working on the layout.

Matthew W. Quinn is an Atlanta author of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Battle for the Wastelands is his first independent novel and his third published book after The Thing in the Woods and Little People, Big Guns.

(Would you like write a guest post about genre-related issues? Send me an email via my Contact page.)

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