Cover Workshop

General discussion on illustration, art, and the business of same.
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MJNL
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Cover Workshop

Postby MJNL » Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:37 am

Here you can post your would-be covers for critique. Doesn’t matter if it’s for a short story, collection, or novel.

Please only post images you have the rights to, and images you are sincerely intending to use in your self publishing. We don’t want to put up a bunch of cut-and-paste random images from the web in a facsimile of our “dream” covers. This is all about real, salable work.

Please let us know what kind of critique you’re looking for, and what stage you are in. If you’re only looking to make sure everything appears centered and balanced, that’s fine. If you want us to tear your cover a new one, that’s fine too.

I figured one thread for covers would be sufficient, instead of asking for a whole new sub-forum to go along with the writing one. But, who knows? We’ll see where this takes us.

This is a chance for all of the illustrators and writers to come together. Don’t be afraid to network, people!

Here are a few good starting points for critiquing a cover:

Color: Are the colors appealing? Do they clash? What kind of emotions do they invoke? Are those emotions representative of the type of story the cover is for?

Balance: Are the words in balance with the images? Does the cover feel top heavy? Bottom heavy?

Lighting: Are the shadows falling away from the light source, or do they appear to contradict the light source? Do all parts of the image share a light source, or do they look like they each have thier own light source? Is the image too dark? Too washed out?

Font: Are there too many fonts on the page? Too few? Are they appealing and professional?

Layering: Does the cover look like one cohesive image, or do the parts not look blended with the whole? Is there any fragmenting or pixilization around the boarders of an image?

Theme: Does the cover image properly convey the genre and theme of the book? Are there spaceships on a sword and sorcery cover? Are there rainbows and unicorns on a military scifi cover?

You do not have to adhere to this list. If there are other concerns you have, either as a critter or as a critique-ee, feel free to say so (critters: as long as it's within what the original poster has asked for).
Last edited by MJNL on Tue Dec 27, 2011 3:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby soulmirror » Sun Dec 04, 2011 2:36 pm

Marina, this was an excellent and very helpful (and fun!) idea for a thread! Thanks!!! wotf007

And your list of criteria is spot on too. Writers and artists will ALL benefit from this imo (even writers working with artists might be able to get some feedback or terminology they can take to their artist to voice concerns or issues etc rather than a mere "something doesn't look right")

And, just to state something that the illustrators know but may not be as familiar to writers here: there are indeed often many stages of near completion, where (especially in digital art) it's fairly easy to go back and "fix" a flaw or problem. Especially with fonts, titles, etc ... they're probably sitting on a separate "layer" from the main artwork, easily removed, or re-positioned, or re-sized etc.

So giving constructive criticism isn't like asking someone to repaint a whole canvas ... sometimes it's a five minute fix. Constructive criticism is helpful, it won't be popping anyone's balloon!

Also (and it's been commented on before) every IOTF winner will be asked to submit THREE DIFFERENT CONCEPTS for their story illustration for the WOTF anthology.
( I didn't know we'd be asked to do that.
It annoyed me that I couldn't just send my own one 'favourite' and I feared the art director would pick one I didn't like best, but she liked my fav too.
However: it wouldn't hurt if an artist could get feedback here about even rough concept sketches.
Sometimes the artist's pet concept may not be the one that sells the most books! )

Some of US were asked to give our feedback for the WOTF #27 cover art (if I recall right, you liked the femme fighter pilot they used, from the start, Meghan? I think it was my second choice, behind the ship sailing off the edge of the world, with huge femme statues?)

The point being: your idea will be good practice and good advice for us all, Marina ... and may deliver someone a great cover for their e-book or story !!!
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby MJNL » Mon Dec 05, 2011 8:25 am

Thank you, soulmirror. Thought it would be a nice thing to have around (might keep those who pro out or win around, too!).

Ooh, critting official illustrations! That would be fun, and would give us hopefuls a nice peek into the process. Perhaps if people want to workshop their final illustrations we should do it a bit more like the way we do the story crits? With people posting that they've got something, then having the exchanges done via PM. Because they're supposed to be secret, right? In terms of who's doing what, anyway. Good idea!
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby soulmirror » Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:02 pm

I'd be glad to offer feedback on anyone's contest entries (several of us here have made that offer before) or e-book covers or anything where anyone thinks feedback would be helpful. wotf008 All I can say is that I'll give an honest, constructive opinion based on taste and whatever technical insights I can (this of course from the guy who makes every finger look like a thumb or the gnarled root of an oak tree). Constructive criticism without undue pussyfooting etc. Better to hear the troof than submit something to the contest that doesn't do us any good (this of course from the guy who sent in some embarrassingly lame illustrations too. Someone shouldah slapped that dragon outtah my hand ...)

When it comes to artwork for e-books, EVERYBODY here has valuable feedback, in the sense that even if you don't know how to create art, we're ALL big fans and buyers of the SF/Fantasy genres, and we can all speak to what image would turn us on or turn us off.

I suppose we've all heard friends say that once they became WRITERS, they could no longer approach reading in the same way. But I think we can all still have as pure of a like/dislike response to cover art.
We ARE each other's audience, there.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

To get our cover art critique thing started here, let's look at this:

I just (finally) got my first little e-story up on Kindle/Amazon ... (whoo hoo me! It's fun!)

http://www.amazon.com/EXORCIST-EMILY-AGE-ebook/dp/B006HZJ2JW/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1323133287&sr=8-4

Image

I'm pretty happy with the art (though internal illustrations need to be figured out, for future things)

But I did have an unresolved issue I'd be glad to hear folks' feedback on:

Does the little blurb
"All she wants ... is one freaking pony"
add or subtract anyone's interest in slapping down their $.99 to buy the story?


----> Take the blurb away, and imo it's promising a rather spooky straight horror story vibe, visually.

versus

----> Keep the blurb, and it's a mix ... suggesting humour? Or ... something else.
But it dilutes the straight "scary" vibe.


wotf021

So, in your gut reaction ... which interests the audience/buyer/you more? The straight spooky, or the added "What exactly is this about?"

Like I said: We're all each other's target audiences, most likely. So every honest feedback helps suggest a "popularity" factor or not!
Last edited by soulmirror on Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby kyle » Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:09 pm

I personally like the blurb. The sense of humor would put it over the top for me, because it tells me that the story has a snarky quality to it that I would likely enjoy.

However, I found the blurb to recede too much into the artwork for me to have been likely to notice it in an online bookstore situation, and the font was hard enough to read that even at this size I didn't parse what it said until you specifically asked about it.

Otherwise, I'm very fond of the design.

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:43 pm

I'm gonna Me Too Kyle: the blurb is worth 99 cents by itself, but it's all but unreadable on the Amazon page.

Side note: I also think the Product Description on the Amazon page is amusing but a bit long-winded. Needs maybe a 10% trim.

Overall I like the cover, but the "Happy Birthday" candles are just a little too busy. I think plain candles would work just as well, and maybe let you emphasize the blurb more. Right now, "Happy Birthday" looks like the blurb.

And for some reason, the guy in the background reminds me of Judge Reinhold. Not that that means anything, but at first glance I thought this was some long lost Reinhold film.
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby soulmirror » Mon Dec 05, 2011 6:16 pm

Thanks for the comments so far, Kyle and Martin!

Since you both like the blurb but agree the blurb's hard to read, I'll think how to rework that!
No point having a selling point if it then is hard to see!

(And I guess there's a lesson there too: I can trip out creating it on a big PC screen -- but we still gotta remember where it will appear to the viewer!)

As for the birthday cake candles, I liked it but apparently I was probably still to too enthralled by the story's original title: "Happy Birthday Emily Angela, Age 5!" (Which told you NUTHIN') The new title is far better imo but the old one was still in my mind, I suppose.

A friend commented something similar to you, Martin: The HAPPY BIRTHDAY jumps out more than the title, and she thought "The Exorcist & Emily" was a recurring series, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY was this book's title!

An easy fix at least to that may be to simply desaturated/dull the colours so that Happy Birthday retreats ...

Again, thanks! That's the sort of objective feedback that should make this thread valuable to all!
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby MJNL » Tue Dec 06, 2011 9:24 am

Throw in another yay vote for the blurb. I really like it, actually. I've bought books based on cleaver one-liners before. Perhaps making it white with a more rigid font (something with sharper lines) would make it stand out better?

And the girl is so freaky looking, I love it--though she doesn't look five, but I don't think that matters.

I like the background, too. I think it gives a nice hectic feel to the whole piece. The large skull on the left looks a little too squished for my tastes--I like that it's distorted, like the priest, but it kind of feels crammed in there. The priest curves around the girl and flows within the frame, while the skull looks like it's being squashed by the frame, if that makes any sense.

And I actually like the happy birthday at the bottom--though I do agree that it stands out more than the title.
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby s_c_baker » Tue Dec 06, 2011 2:23 pm

[quote="MJNL"...I've bought books based on cleaver one-liners before. Perhaps making it white with a more rigid font (something with sharper lines) would make it stand out better?...[/quote]

Uh-oh, are we heading to pun city over here already? wotf001

I don't really have anything useful to add, though--I agree that the blurb is excellent and that the candles are distracting.

An easy fix at least to that may be to simply desaturated/dull the colours so that Happy Birthday retreats ...


Yes, that's it! They're too bright and clash with the overall muted tones of the image, I think is what does it.

To make the blurb easier to read, I would lend my weight to a cleaner font. I had to struggle to figure out what the word "freaking" said. A more opaque background for the text would help, too.

P.S.:
Throw in another yay vote for the blurb.

yea vote.
(You know what they say--you can take the man out of the writers, but... )
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby MJNL » Tue Dec 06, 2011 2:33 pm

Puns? If only. It's a wonder I ever send out readable manuscripts... My ultimate weakness has been revealed!
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby gower21 » Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:35 pm

I like the blurb. I would buy the story based on the cover and the cover blurb.

My question...not related to or in any way a critique: but is the girl in the picture supposed to be five? or is that just part of the fun as well.

As far as the product description I think you would do well to just list this sentence:

Emily Angela is about to unwrap a very unexpected birthday gift that has some dark and disturbing surprises waiting beneath its ribbons and bows.

For one it gives a hint about the story. It makes me anticipate what the story is about and it is short enough to make me want to take a look at the sample to see for myself if the story will work for me...but then again I'm a minimalist when it comes to these sorts of things.

When I look at Dean W Smith descriptions he only has one or two sentence about the story and the rest is about him as an author. I think you'd do better to have a short sentence about the book and then a short bio. But I'm such a no nothing about this part of publishing, so maybe some of the other more experienced writers will comment and I can learn from their suggestions too.

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby soulmirror » Tue Dec 06, 2011 7:34 pm

gower21 wrote:For one it gives a hint about the story. It makes me anticipate what the story is about and it is short enough to make me want to take a look at the sample to see for myself if the story will work for me...but then again I'm a minimalist when it comes to these sorts of things.


I can understand your comment about the shorter, minimalist approach too. I guess I was sort of going with the longer approach because it's such a short short story itself, so I took the opportunity to offer extra atmosphere (and hopefully entertainment) via the longer description AND offering added illustrations via "customer images" (as we recall, I'm still trying to get full understanding of how to use "internal images" ... as it is, both my internal jpegs are included, but removed themselves from their intended locations and loaded themselves as the first page, which also works imo. I suspect ... poultrygeese activity!)

I also offer this observation: the "Add a customer image" function could also be used as a sweet marketing tool to showcase your story or book to entice potential buyers (another form of showing them a "look inside" without it necessarily being inside)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/product-gallery/B006HZJ2JW/ref=cm_ciu_pdp_images_all

The little "roll over" comments are a real treat to come up with, if I do say so myself!

"Father Michelangelo. He's priest enough to look demonic evil straight in the eye, and tell it to go buy him a pack of cigarettes. But who's going to sell a five year old girl a pack of smokes?" wotf011
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby gower21 » Tue Dec 06, 2011 9:45 pm

I like the rollover stuff. It gives off a nice wicked, demented, and disturbing feel. And it would be a good marketing tool. I feel lucky to have you guys blazing the trail for all this stuff, so I'll have lots to think about when I'm ready to publish something.

This is a great thread. I like learning this kind of stuff.

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Rebecca Birch » Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:03 pm

Given the amazing quality of artwork in this thread, I'm leery to post my beginning, amateur, simplistic cover art.

wotf012

Won't learn anything without diving in, though, so have at it. Would you run away screaming from this cover?

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby soulmirror » Wed Dec 07, 2011 4:19 am

My reaction would be to offer that to my eye it's a little plain, just sort of flat black and red (and that the red around the title risks becoming sort of flat and lost)?

Now, I realize that the pure red and black may be thematically exactly what you want. I certainly don't know the (and i'm even guessing here) Japanese? Chinese ?

So I'm just shooting in the dark. But what if there were a pictorial element, very subdued, but just something to break up the black?

Image

Lanterns ... flowers ... a blurry face ... just another visual element?

But again -- just a shot in the dark. Minimalism and asceticism is an Eastern art style, definitely. So I'm probably way off base. Just a twelve - fifteen minute experiment to suggest an idea ...

IT NEEDS MORE DEMON-PONYS! wotf011
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Strycher » Wed Dec 07, 2011 6:08 am

I think that the graphic you're using in the center with the Asian characters needs to be a higher resolution. Currently, it looks blurry and slightly pixelated. Also, the title and by line don't seem to really go hand in hand, I would see what it looks like using the same font for both, but keeping the red on only the title.

I second soulmirror's suggestions of faint lanterns in the background. And I think that, if nothing else, adding a solid outline is a must. (Not necessarily the exact outline soulmirror did, but the same idea.)

I like the red/white/black.

I also have no artistic insight beyond getting a ribbon in grade school one time. wotf017

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Rebecca Birch » Wed Dec 07, 2011 7:31 am

Wow.

I wish I had a clue how to do that/find images. I looked around for free images, but didn't have any luck finding what I was looking for. Is this the sort of thing where it's better to just bite the bullet and buy stuff off iStockphoto?

I agree that the characters are not high resolution enough. I threw an "artistic effect" on them so it looked more purposeful than "wow, that's really fuzzy," but it didn't help enough. Of course, I'm also making my "artwork" on MS Power Point. Did I mention amateur and clueless?

Good things to look at and aim for. Thanks for the insights!

They need an "I'm not worthy" smiley!
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Strycher » Wed Dec 07, 2011 7:34 am

Do the Asian characters say something specific?

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Rebecca Birch » Wed Dec 07, 2011 7:38 am

The theory is that they also say Moon Lantern.

I put it into google translator and that's what it gave me. Given that I don't actually read/write/speak Chinese, I'm taking its word for it. Sort of hoping things can't go too far awry with only two words ...

wotf003
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Strycher » Wed Dec 07, 2011 7:44 am

Rebecca Birch wrote:The theory is that they also say Moon Lantern.

I put it into google translator and that's what it gave me. Given that I don't actually read/write/speak Chinese, I'm taking its word for it. Sort of hoping things can't go too far awry with only two words ...

wotf003


wotf019 Hopefully!

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby izanobu » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:05 am

Rebecca- I use Dreamstime a lot to find royalty-free images for very cheap and use those as the starting basis of my covers.

would something like this work for what you want? http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free- ... ge17094727
(image won't have a watermark when purchased, obviously)
Image

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby gower21 » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:21 am

Rebecca that's pretty good for a first (in my opinion) and in Power Point!! I like soulmirror's suggestion with the outlining and how he made your name more the tone of the reflection at the bottom. Also the characters do show up as blurry. I like the lanterns in the background and I'd stick with the red theme, unless you'd like to go with less busy.

This is so fun! I love looking at covers!!

What programs do you all use to create your covers?

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Rebecca Birch » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:32 am

izanobu wrote:Rebecca- I use Dreamstime a lot to find royalty-free images for very cheap and use those as the starting basis of my covers.


Checking out Dreamstime, too, thanks for the site recommendation, Annie. That image is close, but not quite. There are two lanterns in the story. One is a plain white globe and the other is red. I'm sure I'll find an image that works.

Comprehension of the licenses, on the other hand, is DIFFICULT. If I'm reading this right, I would need to get an extended use license in order to use it a "electronic item for sale" and then it would have a limited distribution.

But wait! If I read this "The high-resolution images that you download under the regular Royalty Free (RF) license may be used to make fine art prints, on a web site, in a magazine, newspaper, book or booklet, book cover, flyer, application software (apps) or any other advertising and promotional material, in either printed or electronic media, as long as the item in which the image appears does not contradict any of the restrictions below" carefully, it looks like a book cover in electronic media *is* okay.

That makes me feel better. Didn't realize I was going to need my pseudo-lawyer hat this morning. wotf004
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby izanobu » Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:30 am

Yeah, the RF license is good for up to 250,000 downloads and can be used for book covers. This doesn't matter with the lantern idea, but also make sure that if you are using a picture with people in it that it says "model release yes".

Dreamstime is a pretty good site. Fotolia is another I use on occasion.

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Rebecca Birch » Wed Dec 07, 2011 12:49 pm

I don't think I can overstate how helpful you all are!

I have one more question. There are numerous sizes of image available. I'm assuming that if I am creating a cover page which is supposed to be approx. 500x800 pixels that getting the image size closest to that would be fine, and that I don't need to get an extra big one, then shrink it to size for better resolution. True?

I did figure out my fuzzy characters, though, so thanks for keeping on me that it wasn't good enough!

wotf009
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby s_c_baker » Wed Dec 07, 2011 1:01 pm

I actually really liked Scott's revamp of your cover--it's still simple enough to appeal to my minimalistic aesthetic, but it looks (to be honest) like a "real" book cover. Your version is a bit too minimalistic!

Powerpoint!? Aieee! Go get yourself a free image editor, like GIMP.

As for the Chinese characters, I was trying to read them in Japanese, but (obviously) couldn't, because they aren't. The first one is definitely moon. Let me do some internet-dictionary-fu to find out.

Hmm, weirdly, Google Translate (which you used?) is giving me 月亮燈籠 (traditional characters) or 月亮灯笼 (simplified characters) instead of what you have on the cover. The first two characters are the same (I think), but not the last two, at all.

Dictionary-wise, 月亮 does mean "moon" and 燈籠 does mean "lantern," and what little I know of Chinese grammar suggests you can pretty much just slap things together to make more complicated phrases, so I think you're okay. If you really want to make certain I can ask my brother, who's fluent in Mandarin, or his wife, who's from China. ;)
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Rebecca Birch » Wed Dec 07, 2011 1:09 pm

s_c_baker wrote:I actually really liked Scott's revamp of your cover--it's still simple enough to appeal to my minimalistic aesthetic, but it looks (to be honest) like a "real" book cover. Your version is a bit too minimalistic!

Powerpoint!? Aieee! Go get yourself a free image editor, like GIMP.

As for the Chinese characters, I was trying to read them in Japanese, but (obviously) couldn't, because they aren't. The first one is definitely moon. Let me do some internet-dictionary-fu to find out, and if you really want to make certain I can ask my brother, who's fluent in Mandarin, or his wife, who's from China. ;)

Hmm, weirdly, Google Translate (which you used?) is giving me 月亮燈籠 (traditional characters) or 月亮灯笼 (simplified characters) instead of what you have on the cover. The first two characters are the same (I think), but not the last two, at all.


I liked Scott's revamp, too. I'm working with that sort of concept. wotf007

Oddly enough, when I fixed the fuzzy characters issue, I got the different translation that you got. I can only assume that I made a typo the first time, since I was using the same tool ... also Google Translate.

This is actually really fun to sink my teeth into. I did download GIMP, but it looks like it's going to require some learning curve to wrap my head around. I think my husband is of the opinion that I've lost my mind. He may be right, but it's been a pleasure doing it!

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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby s_c_baker » Wed Dec 07, 2011 1:20 pm

GIMP is a little weird. But I say this as a long-time Photoshop user, so I think half of my antipathy comes from all the keyboard shortcuts being different.

There are a few other nice programs out there but I can't remember what they're called. Maybe I just need to finagle my wife (who's the artistic one in our relationship) over here...

My own cover art would look a bit like a 4th-grader's stick figures, but not as well-rendered.
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Wed Dec 07, 2011 2:09 pm

s_c_baker wrote:There are a few other nice programs out there but I can't remember what they're called.


I'm pretty happy with Paint Shop Pro, which is generally around $100. And Amazon frequently has it on sale for $25.
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Re: Cover Work Shop

Postby izanobu » Wed Dec 07, 2011 2:17 pm

I prefer to have huge cover images and shrink them down. Generally what my cover guy gives me are .png files with about 1500x2250 for dimensions and I make the .jpg and thumbnails and whatever else I'll need off those.


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