eBook Cover design: The Ninth Order

Here it is. The cover for my next novel, The Ninth Order. Look for it on Amazon and Smashwords in August 2011.

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The Ninth Order - book cover for fantasy novel by Ramsey Isler

This cover (which I designed myself) is the result of a week’s worth of Photoshopping and playing around with book cover concepts. I eventually settled on this idea because it fit the theme of the book: a mix of traditional fantasy and sci-fi elements. It features a leather book cover, adorned with aged metal corner ornaments. The center of the book features the symbol of The Ninth Order of Rezernaan stamped in bright, untarnished metal; immune to the effects of time.

Right now I’m only releasing my novels as eBooks, and cover design for eBooks is hard. It’s much different than designing for print. The biggest challenge is that eBook covers are most often seen as teeny tiny thumbnails, and rarely at their full resolution. That means what you design has to look good at 300 pixels wide, and oftentimes even smaller than that (Amazon’s thumbnails are often 100px wide, or smaller!). The only time readers will see the cover in all its glory is when they buy the book and see it on their PC, tablet, or eReader. And even then, you never know exactly what the reader will see (Kindles don’t even have color, so much of the design is lost). Plus, digital book readers have a handy feature that allows you to pick up reading right where you left off, so readers might only see your precious full-size cover once, and never again.

This is dramatically different than print books, where the cover/book jacket is a constant part of the reading experience. Every time you go to pick up that book, you see the cover. You feel the stamping and embossing. The cover is designed primarily as a marketing tool to entice you to pick it up, but it’s also an integrated part of the book and the act of reading it. Not so with eBooks. Once the marketing purpose is fulfilled, the cover takes a backseat.

So for eBooks, the cover design is most important for marketing. It’s the first and only image associated with your book, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s often seen in small scale (a scale which the author has no control of). Joel Friedlander at the Book Designer blog has a wonderful post on ebook successes and failures in the Kindle store that describes the issues designers and publishers face when trying to make covers for the digital platforms. Great print covers often make for horrible eBook covers because text and subtlety are lost in those tiny thumbnails, and it takes a lot of consideration to make a cover work at a variety of scales. Smart publishers are starting to design covers specifically for the eBook platforms; another sign that the eBook revolution is getting bigger.

Tor’s Short Stories

I’m starting to love short stories, in large part due to the website of one of the premier sci-fi/fantasy book publishers, Tor. Tor.com has a wonderful library of sci-fi/fantasy stories written by top-notch authors. These stories are offered for free on the Interwebs, and they are a great way to to get introduced to the work of an author without getting involved in the kind of time commitment a novel requires.

A number of big-name authors can be found on Tor’s site. John Scalzi has a wonderful short story called After the Coup which takes place in the same universe as his massively popular Old Man’s War series. One of my favorite Charles Stross pieces is Down on the Farm, an interesting urban fantasy tale that blends magic with mathematics. Master writer Neil Gaiman has a couple of stories on Tor, with Bitter Grounds being the most notable. Steven Gould has a story called Shade, which builds on the mythology of his famed Jumper series (you may recall the movie starring Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson).

I love all these stories, but Gould’s Shade was particularly remarkable. He wrote it back in 2008, so it’s far from new, but one of the great things about great stories is that they are timeless. Shade tells the story of young Xareed, an African boy in a refugee camp. The local government is in tatters, and rebel attacks are tearing the land and its people apart. Water is a scarce, valuable resource in the oppressive heat Xareed and his family live in. Xareed is brave, kind, and smart, but his situation is dire. His life takes an incredible turn when some extraordinary people appear offering help through equally extraordinary means.

Cover art for Shade, a story by Steven Gould. Illustrated by Eric Fortune

Tor’s stories are also paired with beautiful art by renowned fiction illustrators. This art for Shade was done by Eric Fortune.

Shade is a tale that blends current events and fiction in a way that makes you wish this kind of fantasy was actually reality. It’s just one sample of the kind of thought-provoking stories you’ll find on Tor’s website, and you won’t have to pay a dime to enjoy them.

Visit Tor.com

Matt Stover on Reddit

A couple of months ago, best-selling author Matthew Stover proclaimed his presence on the link-sharing geekfest known as Reddit, and graciously answered questions thrown at him from the unwashed masses. This had a great impact on me for several reasons.

Firstly, I’m an avid Redditor, and I love when semi-famous people I know of show up and proclaim their geekitude as well. It’s a great way to connect with your fanbase, and it’s not a bad promotional move either. If you’re a writer with any sort of name recognition or publishing success I’d recommend you consider this as a marketing option.

Secondly, I’m a huge fan of Matt Stover. I became familiar with his work through his Star Wars Novels. He wrote the novelization of the Revenge of the Sith movie, but he’s most known for writing a book called Traitor, which was a pivotal installment in the New Jedi Order series. I don’t want to sound too melodramatic, but this book changed my life. It was more than a sci-fi story — it was filled with complex, mature philosophy and raw emotion. The plot focuses on Han and Leia’s son Jacen, a young Jedi trying to find his place in the universe as he struggles with reconciling his Uncle Luke’s teachings with a violent and cruel alien enemy known as the Yuuzhan Vong. Jacen eventually becomes an (initially) unwilling student of Vergere, an avian alien companion of the Yuuzhan Vong who was once a member of the Old Jedi Order back before Palpatine took over. She takes Jacen on a far different spiritual journey than his Jedi teachings ever did — one that deals in many moral gray areas — and she does so through remarkably cruel tutelage. Throughout the book, you’re never quite sure what her motives are, but there’s a definite method to her madness.

Traitor inspired me to write a story about a young man in our world, struggling to understand existence via the instruction of a madman bent on escaping life as a mere mortal, or immortal. Matt Stover’s work inspired me to write The Remortal.

So, I was obviously tickled pink when I saw him pop up on Reddit and field questions about his life, his profession, and whatever else came up. What struck me most was how honest Stover was about how “bestseller” status doesn’t necessarily equate to an easy living as a writer. He’s a 2-time New York Times Bestseller who has written for the world’s most well-known sci-fi franchise. You’d think he’d be set, right? But so fast. As Stover wrote:

The things most conducive to writing is to be able to pay rent and buy food.

I have always had a day job. Writing has never provided sufficient income for me to retire from the job market. I’m applying for day jobs right now. I have tended bar, waited tables, worked as a fry-cook, a vacuum-clear salesman, an exterminator and I’m not even warmed up. If you have a job you can offer, post a note on my blog.

That’s life in SFF, buckaroo.

Now, Stover’s situation is a little different since most of the profits from his work go straight to LucasArts, but with other authors like Kevin J. Anderson and Tim Zahn enjoying much more “successful” careers, largely (though arguably) because of their work in the Star Wars expanded universe, this is still kind of sobering.

But Stover’s Reddit posts go beyond the topic and money and delve into life lessons, writing, and timeless advice. I particularly liked this tidbit on writer’s block

There is no such thing as Writer’s Block. There is such a thing as depression, and most writers suffer from it. Then everything you write looks like shit, so you can’t move forward. There is also exhaustion, which a lot of depressed people suffer from because the disease fucks with your sleep pattern.

Breaking it is easy. You just remind yourself that your work doesn’t suck, that it looks like shit only to you, and then you tell yourself “I don’t need a [nap, drink, gunshot to the head, whatever]. All I need is a good idea.”

Because that’s the truth.

Read Matt Stover’s IAmA posts here on Reddit.

The Remortal: Now on Amazon Kindle

I wrote a novel! Well, I’ve written a few novels, but this is the first one I’ve decided to release into the wild. The Remortal is a labor of love, and I’m hoping you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The book is available on all Kindle platforms — so that means if you have an iPhone, iPad, Android device, PC, Mac, or Kindle you can hit the Amazon store and check out the most amazing story you’ll read this year!!! (okay, maybe I’m hyping that a bit too much). The Remortal ebook is available for only $2.99 on Amazon. You can also check out a free sample.

Cover and plot synopsis below:

Telly is a homeless teenager struggling to survive on the streets of
Los Angeles, but he has just met a man that can make all of his dreams
come true. His rich new benefactor only asks for one thing in
return—something no one else has been able to do for two and a half
centuries.

He wants Telly to kill him.

The man with the death wish is named Van, and he offers Telly an
escape from the constant fear, hunger, and shame that have haunted him
during his homelessness. Telly thought he had Van all figured out,
until a chance encounter with a gun-wielding thug shows that bullets
don’t do Van the slightest bit of harm.

Van is much more than he seems; he’s an immortal seeking escape from a
world he now despises. He desires a higher plane of existence, but in
order to get there he must train someone to complete the grim ritual
that will free him from the confines of his immortal body. If Telly
can fulfill Van’s request, he will inherit Van’s wealth, strength, and
eternal youth. But he soon discovers that Van is a harsh teacher with
a questionable sense of morality, and there are other immortals who
believe Van’s plans for ascension could lead to something they’ve been
dreading for centuries: the birth of a wrathful god.

The Remortal: by Ramsey Isler