Cover roughs are in for ‘Gnaw’! Which one, A or B?

Cover B: Designer says ‘A response to the frenetic energy of protagonist…unravelling and of the tenuous hold she has on her life. The rope has not snapped yet, potential is there to stop the unbearable tension of whether to tame boredom or whether destructive contact will succeed.'

Cover B: Designer says ‘A response to the frenetic energy of protagonist…unraveling and of the tenuous hold she has on her life. The rope has not snapped yet, potential is there to stop the unbearable tension of whether to tame boredom or whether destructive contact will succeed.’

Behold! Cover roughs for upcoming publication of Gnaw. I understand why I reached out to my sister apart from cottage industry mentality. Our ideas of psychological disturbance are very different. As writer is to editor, author is to cover designer (if that makes sense?) Mand as designer is the filter and the foil. You see, in my head psychological disturbance is a gravid thing, fecund, panicky. What I would have come up with as a person of words would have been…more words? Or all of the ideas represented in one busy jam-packed image fest? However, Mand has read the text and come up with something far more compelling, something I could never even conjure up as a cover image because the vacuum is exactly what nature abhors (as they say) and what my protagonist avoids at all costs. The designer has correctly read the subtext of unmanaged existentialism in this piece and has presented something minimalist that unsettles me very much. Take away the noise and what is left —blackness and a last tenuous hold on life. So, cover ‘B’ is the one I favour. I vote for cover ‘B’

I like cover ‘A’ too BUT two things jump out as challenges:

  1. ebooks are viewed cover-wise as thumbnails on retailers’ noisy interfaces. White is not an ideal backdrop in this context and the flesh colour of the typography (which has a particular CMYK breakdown in print control) can’t be controlled on multiple devices with RGB filters. Basically, digital, for better or worse, has smashed through the legacy standards and I need to be optimising here for the digital bookshelf, not the book-shop shelf, or both if possible.
  2. I fear potential readers will be misled that it is thriller or a ‘slasher horror’. They will not thank me for bringing them into the more real and discretely apocalyptic terrain of the mind if that is not what they are suspecting.


Cover A:  Designer says: ‘A visual response to the protagonist’s description of the ‘gnaw’, flesh coloured…trickle of blood alluded to throughout (bloodstream, in her blood etc.)'

Cover A: Designer says: ‘A visual response to the protagonist’s description of the ‘gnaw’, flesh coloured…trickle of blood alluded to throughout (bloodstream, in her blood etc.)’

Interesting that the designer singled out blood however. There is blood in this piece, yes, and there are the deeper connotations of what blood means, what you are born with, human condition and DNA but the theme in this story — and blood in this case — is linked very much to the outward manifestation of life at its best and worst… sexuality. The protagonist will draw ‘blood’ incidentally as she tries to control her own passions, but the impact of the invisible ‘institution’ is always nearby in safe routines — work, religion, TV, alcohol and absent love, faulty love and impossible love — situations that will stymie real change. The ‘Gnaw’ is the leaking in of unbridled potency, in her case sexuality, to civilised thinking and is perhaps even a slightly criminal instinct as judged by society. The primal aspect is key here, the suspicion being that human beings are still trying to evolve into something else, but are still animals on some level. Savage instincts are still psychologically resident the way perhaps (physically) we still have tail bones or wisdom teeth, things we don’t need, but have as reminders that we were once something else. It’s how we manage this that defines what kind of human being we are, or where we are personally on the evolutionary line.  As a writer my hunch is that society,  institution and law is a thin skin on the face of more chaotic form. It’s suspension of disbelief most of the time that keeps the world in order or peace.

Sexuality is the protagonist’s poison and saviour, so if the theme of sexuality is prominent too in this work then it’s the only element missing from the cover ‘B’, yet was present (indirectly) in cover ‘A’. But I’m nearly sure that I cannot have blood as the image on the cover, the erotic maybe, but that would be misleading too as it is sacrificed in this case for survival. So, is the imagery of cover ‘B’ enough to imply the content? Does it even need to? I don’t know how you even could impose the other themes on this cover ‘B’ without destroying the integrity of it.

Sundries, need to play around with the title being bigger and up higher perhaps, though I’m aware that this is exactly because all that black space is making me edgy (the intention of the designer?) Either way the designer has nailed the tension here. I am arrested.

For sport, and because I value the opinion people who read this blog, let’s do a poll. Help me out here. Which cover? A or B? Make a comment if you can, this would really help, all this working with no team is really weird for me. Would you enlarge the title on cover B? Place it elsewhere? Do something completely different? What does this image mean to you? Would you buy this ebook based on the cover?


Fellow writer/blogger Sean McCann has emulated the potential look of this cover in a sea of thumbnails. Food for thought. The title must increase, The first is at 'books' level. When you head down into genre fiction the thumbnail size seems to increase (so I magnified your image up a level, see second screenshot) 'making the case for quality, legible cover art more persuasive?'

Fellow writer/blogger Sean McCann has emulated the potential look of this cover in a sea of thumbnails. Food for thought. The title must increase, possibly author name too? 

17 thoughts on “Cover roughs are in for ‘Gnaw’! Which one, A or B?

  1. Dear Jennifer Sarah Brady,

    This e-book cover mullarkey fascinates me. No, that’s not the right word. Irritates the living…well, let’s not finish that sentence on a lady’s page eh?

    I’ve read that the size of these images on-screen are equivalent to a postage stamp, so I reduced your sis’s cover down to that size (yep, I actually fetched a stamp all the way from the other room, for comparison’s sake). The result? Your name is gone (but does it matter, especially if you’re not a brand name author yet, surely it’ll appear in text associated with the cover image?). As for ‘GNAW’, the ‘N’ and ‘A’ I could make out a stretch but the ‘G’ and ‘W’? Nope. That leaves the image, which is great at full size. However, at this mag it could be a fraying rope, yeah, but it could also be two dragons, attached to bungees, trying to fight each other. The danger with that is that, what with it being called ‘Gnaw’, people might think it is about dragons, attached to bungees, trying to fight each other. Maybe the book is about that, actually, I haven’t even checked (I will, I will), in which case, it’s the perfect cover.

    Your sis’s cover is great in itself, not just visually but the wording and the image are coherent: ‘gnaw’ and a rope, perfect. It’s the scaling that’s the issue, if (and I don’t usually trust what I read on the internet) Amazon’s images really are only the size of a postage stamp. Are they really?

    If they are, then seriously, what is the point of them at all? I’m hoping to self-publish a novel next year and I am racking my brains as to why I need to be paying out hundreds of pounds for someone to design me something that will be so small on-screen that nobody will be able to read my name, or the title of the book, possibly not even be able to interpret the image correctly.

    Oh yes, the other cover. No, for a variety of reasons. But I think you knew that already.



    ps – top bunk rools OK

    • Sean McCann, you are a bit of a gem and definitely a writer I see. Your comment is gold dust.You actually got a stamp and reduced the cover? That is more than I did, so you are officially a helper on this odd ‘team’ of one. Appreciated. Now, I too have this worry about imagery getting lost. The whole mini mini silvanian ebook thing, dinky covers, designers all over the world must be recoiling seeing their art looking like packaging shrivelled up on hot coals (ref: throwning crisp packets into the fire?). On the other hand, Nabokov in ‘Speak Memory’ idolises the miniature form of the lantern slide pre-projection for its shrunken clarity. But I must do something about this for sure thanks to your experiment with shrinkage. What to do though? Title must be bigger, name yes (but you are right, no-one cares when you are unbranded, but we must still keep our posture here). Dragons and bungee jumps is not a bad thing, and actually….well it doesn’t ‘Unrelate’ to the story??? Anyway, I will do the hons for you when you publish that novel and if I find out any other info I hope to be posting it here, thinks like categories, keywords etc. D’you know what’s quite funny too? My sis designed the National Postage Stamp several times, hahah, Maybe there is hope that she can convince them to take this on as the National Postage Stamp? With a HUGE title.
      Anyway, thanks for the comment, I appreciate it as I know life is busy, will look up your work.

      • It’s a fascinating discussion, I have to believe that the cover art has more of a life than a thumbnail on an e-reader, after all it’ll be part of the overall marketing of the story and to be used in blogs, twitter etc, otherwise the world of the cover art is dead. The use of the cover art would, I presume, be as much a part of your marketing and audience finding as the rest of your work so I definitely feel it still has a place. By the time someone has bought and downloaded your story isn’t the work of the cover effectively done, by then they’ll only be interested in the quality of the work?

        The two options you give both have merit and it’s fascinating to read the thought processes that went into both, and your own reaction to same. Without reading the story, yet, it’s impossible to say which captures the spirit of the story best but I do think ‘B’ is an excellent cover design, but that’s just me.

    • The sister here.

      The process:

      Stage 1
      Design presented, concept is key.

      Stage 2
      Design concept agreed, amendments made—type size, positioning, technical issues explored etc.,

      Stage 3
      Artwork presented in medium required for publication

      • Mand, that you? If so, yes, the process will be followed. That I do know. What do you think about the larger title? Does that bring you out in boils? Or are you expecting it? From my experience designers are always thwarted by some awful ham-fisted request…like this…up the title, up the author name (ahem, not cos I’ve a fat head, though a hard one) use Jennifer Brady (full name)…could the frazzled rope be moved up higher on the portrait format? Not sure if that would throw balance. What do you think?

  2. Jennifer,

    Just mailed you some screenshots of your design A thumbnail versus Amazon’s at similar magnification. Didn’t think I’d be able to send them in a comment box on WP.


    Sorry for taking you out of the loop by doing that. Would have been better to keep the conversation all in one place.

    I’m going to backtrack a bit. Having actually gone onto Amazon and had a delve around I can now speak from a more informed position. Once you step down a level from ‘books’ into one of the genres, the thumbnails seem to increase in size a bit, sufficiently to help make the case for quality, legible cover art.

    That said, I feel sure I have never ever been manipulated in a positive way by a book cover when picking one off the shelf. The effect is neutral, or bad. If there’s too much going on, if it all looks a bit hysterical, as is the case with many bestseller or thriller covers, I will be thinking they could have just dispensed with the title and put ‘This book is shit’ instead.

    I like Jennifer’s sister’s design. It’s subtle but effective. Not quite sure what the genre is but I detect a hint of psychological thriller, in which case a black background feels coherent?

    I’m reading a musty 1944 ‘Crab Apple Jelly’ by Frank O’Connor, simple plain green textured cover, author name and title on the spine, happy days.

    • I do take your point.

      My experience has always been with the world of physical books and physical bookshops so I’m fascinated with what you are doing Jen and hope to learn vicariously through your efforts.

      In the physical world you’re right, the presentation of the book can have a more negative than positive effect, a cover you find garish, a thick doorstep of a book against a slim volume with a cover that appeals to your own sensibilities and tastes. The cover is part of that first impression, especially if you know nothing about the author or it hasn’t been recommended to you. This, as far as I can see, is where the cover can play its part, if it doesn’t appeal to you you’re right you or I, or any of us, are more likely to put it down and move on. If we like it we might give it that little extra chance, read the blurb on the back, randomly open a page and read a few lines to get a taste of the style and language, whatever little tricks we all have when in a bookshop.

      Where my experience ends is in the new virtual shopping world and the results of your research are little disappointing as it seems one more indicator is being taken away that might help me decide whether I would like a particular book or not.

      But I suppose the new world is one of new opportunities so the task facing Jen is to see how best to utilise the assets available to her and convince someone she doesn’t know that her story will be worth reading. It is possible that outside of the Amazon lists the cover will have a life in blogs, twitter, facebook and many other places that her work will be able to find much better than me, I hope so.

      Good design is good design, I agree about the old paperbacks, and just hope the work that’s gone in to this project will get the success it deserves

      • Hi Colm, the new world is not so bad for authors, the old world was worse, maybe? I’m not sure how I will convince anyone to buy this work, but I think it is more than just the cover when it comes ebooks because of the algorithm in search engines, it will take a bit more than a fantastic cover to get visibility.

        This is how I’m sustaining my outlook for this (for when was there ever money in lit fiction?) I’m preparing this like someone preparing an exhibition or an installation. It’s a body of work that I own. Doing this feels like a natural part of the creativity that goes into writing in the first place, and would you believe me if I said I’m enjoying every bit of it? It would be fantastic to make loads of sales, but I’m not naive about that side of things though I do intend to show how hard it is to make any sale at all. That’ll be part of the vicarious experiment. Outside of Amazon lists? Yes, it does have a life of its own and already does via this comment even! It is part of the content I’m putting together overall in the interest of publishing. Lately I’ve been doing video edits for author in work, that’s been interesting, there’s a lot an author could do with film skills to bring their work to an audience, and that may even be more powerful than a cover as a vehicle of introduction….hmmmm….idea brewing!

    • Sean, I managed to get your research into the post below via edit/admin. Thanks for this, you did a bit of work for me there and I appreciate it. There’s hope if the title is enlarged. Not sure what my sister will think of that, but the screenshots should help. This is about ebooks so the experiment needs to stay close to that.

      • This has been gna…no, don’t say it, Sean.

        But it has. Just wondering if I’ve lost some res on the way down. I was just, partially selfishly, trying to have a rough look at what it might look like.

        Loaded straight to Amazon from The Sis’s file, the image might have better res? I don’t know. Just don’t want to screw your sis’s work up by me not handling the transition from Preview (on my Mac) to saving a screenshot as a jpg.

        That said, I do think the wording will need to be bigger. Shame really, as I like the image just as it is, the words more low-key versus the image, classier, but I think the body of opinion is that the potential buyer wants to see the title and author name on the cover (legibly so) when they are perusing thumbnails on Amazon.

        Probably caused enough trouble already so I’m going to leg it before The Sis appears behind me with a cocked Smith and Wesson, and a ‘step away from the keyboard, sonny, real slow…’

  3. Oh it has to be B – That great black space is so evocative of unseen horrors and terrors – Room 101 with the rats poised to GNAW at the slender thread of sanity – ‘The pursuing forms in darkness, and ‘long-drawn, distant screams’ of a vintage M.R. James tale – The id, ever ready to break free from its fragile governors, ego and superego – (A is great too – but it doesn’t provide quite the same frisson as B, I think?)

    • yeah, the black space, can be heaven, can be hell, nice when it’s the inside of your eyelids by choice but not nice if in an existential meltdown of a Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday or…what do you think about enlarging the title? Did you see the screenshots below showing the covers in situ from Sean McCann?

  4. Both covers are really cool and stylish and appealing. At the moment, I prefer A because it connects immediately and the title really sings out through the darkness. For me though the author name seems too small to register clearly and may be lost in the digital world. However, the green gnawed rope is quite stunning. Dark, compelling and beautifully written story meets edgy, evocative and captivating cover. I think this cover captures the essence of the story and lends it allure and mystery as well as a tinge of spook.
    I like B for different reasons. I wonder how it would work if instead of drops of blood there was just the one drop – one red glob to disturb the whiteness and anoint the peruser into Gnaw World? Just a thought. Avoid any Friday the 13th connotations.
    Anyway, both covers work well in very different ways and are exceptional as well as quite beautiful. Cover A would make me pick the work of the shelf or click on it online.

  5. Not entirely sure I get what kind of book this is for, but A conveys a potential event, whereas B conveys one that has already happened, which makes B a bit pedestrian. A also conveys a ragged state of mind or even potential violence. As an image, I find A more dramatic. A black background suggests crime / horror. If it were in a strong colour, I’d assume this was mainstream / literary fiction – light grey or light sky blue might do this. White would suggest to me that this is a spy thriller.
    I agree with all who’ve said that the font size needs to be larger for thumbnails.

    • Thanks Jeff. This is what I would call literary fiction, though if you know publishing and writing like I do, they do try to pigeon hole when there is sometimes no such agenda for any piece of writing. Your opinion is as per the designer’s! She also wanted A and I think is surprised by the popular vote for B (I include myself here). But it’s good to hear a voice on a par with designer’s voice! Title will deffo be bigger!

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