Case Study 89

Title: The Time Eater

Author: N. J. Thalmayer

Designer: N. J. Thalmayer

Genre: Fantasy

Graphics: Step back from your monitor a few paces and look at this cover. What do you see? I see text that is legible (the author name), text that is barely legible (the title), two spots of red above the title, and otherwise a blob of red and blue hues.

Now come close. Seated before my monitor I now can make out the title, though still with a little difficulty, I can make out a bit of the series tagline, and I can see that the red spots are eyes that appear to be set in the sort of mask worn at a masquerade. The red in the background now resolves itself into blocks that may be buildings, and the gray-blue area behind and above the author name looks like the rear of a statue.

This is a dark cover—not dark in the sense of looking forbidding but dark in the sense of poor illumination. None of the graphical elements stand out well. The proof is that at a distance one hardly can tell what things are, and close up things aren’t much clearer. One thing that is noticeable close up is that the graphics have a pasted-on look.

The statue isn’t a statue. It’s the back side of the protagonist. She isn’t part of the red background. She wasn’t drawn as an integral part of that image. She was pasted on. You can tell by the thin, wavy line of white around her and by the fact that her features are distinct while the features of the background are slightly blurred.

The description of the book at Amazon begins this way: “Her hands were born to hold a sword.” Let’s set aside the inapt phrasing (hands aren’t “born”) and turn to the cover. It shows a sword on the woman’s back. It’s not being held in either hand. Her left hand is seen free to the left, her right hand apparently is extended in front of her.

The sword is on her back but with no visible means of support. There is no scabbard, no thong, no strap. It just floats. That suggests that just as she was pasted on the red background, the sword was pasted on her back.

Perhaps fortunately for the designer, this faux pas is hard to see, given how dark the cover is. You have to look at an enlarged version to realize that the sword belies the opening line of the description. If the cover had been drawn brightly, the pasted-on-ness of the sword and the woman would have been obvious.

What about the red eyes in the mask? I suppose it’s not supposed to be a mask, but what is the face that the eyes belong to? It’s hard to tell, and it’s hard to tell where in space we’re to understand the face to be. It isn’t an integral part of the background. It doesn’t seem to be either above the buildings or in front of them.

If it were above, you’d expect it to partly obscured by the towering structures, but it’s not. If it were in front of the buildings, you’d expect it to obscure parts of them, but it doesn’t. It seems unrelated to its setting and so seems gratuitous. The eyes are meant to be frightening, but you don’t get the sense that they frighten the woman.

Typography: Not surprisingly, the poor graphics are paired with poor typography. If the font choices (there are two fonts here) do anything well, they tell the viewer what the book is not. It’s not non-fiction, it’s not romance, it’s not a police procedural or a historical novel. It’s either fantasy (which it is) or science fiction or post-apocalyptic dystopian. Of those three, the fonts most closely fit the first category, given their runic design.

Consider first the title. Three things are wrong with the font: its color, its kerning, and the font itself.

Here we have another example of the violation of a cardinal rule: don’t use red text against a dark background. The designer must have sensed that something was amiss, because he used thin off-white lines around the letters so they would stand out against the black background. The trouble is that they don’t stand out enough. Bright white would have been better than red, as would yellow or the blue of the author name.

Most of the letters of the title abut one another, for no clear gain. When a font is peculiar in design, as here, it’s important to let each letter breathe, for maximum comprehension. Pushing letters against one another works against that.

Wider kerning would not have overcome an innate problem with this font: some of its letters are clumsily drawn. The M is the best example. The crossing middle strokes make it look like an X rather than an M. The E isn’t much better, since it can be mistaken at first glance for an F. It’s one thing to use a font that may evoke a genre; it’s something else to use one that works against legibility.

The same font is used for the subtitle, but without a surrounding rule. It works better here because the blue color pops against the near-black background and because the letters don’t touch one another. That said, the letters could be kerned better (look at the L-E combination), and the subtitle is too small.

The title and subtitle should be rearranged with both being set in a different, less cluttered font but one that still implies the genre. The title should be in a single line where its first line now is, and the subtitle should be placed in a single line under it. Assuming the title will be in upper- and lowercase, the subtitle should be in small caps, for contrast. The two elements should be distinguished further by color, perhaps white or yellow for the title and the blue of the author name for the subtitle.

The author name certainly is large enough. In fact, it’s too large, its large caps being larger than the letters of the title. It should be reset as uniform small caps (not large and small caps) and on one line. It still would be easily readable, if left in light blue. Its present font is fine for the genre, and, unlike the font used in the title and subtitle, it’s legible.

Overall: This cover fails on multiple fronts. The graphics have an amateurish, pasted-on look. Too many elements are too dark and too vague. The typography isn’t much better, aside from the author name. The title is in the wrong font and the wrong color, adding to the general murkiness of the cover, and the subtitle is misplaced and too small to read.

Case Study 85

Title: Olde Robin Hood

Author: Kate Danley

Designer: Story Wrappers

Genre: Fantasy

Graphics: The “Olde” of the title refers to legends about Robin Hood that predate the story that has come down to us. The author invites the reader to “discover the man behind the myth, as you meet the Olde Robin Hood.” That doesn’t mean this is either history or historical fiction. It’s a book that reimagines stories that are older than the one commonly known. Thus the designation as fantasy.

Does the cover indicate that? Not really, thought “Olde” carries a sense different from “Old.” At least we know the book isn’t about Robin Hood on Social Security. Still, it’s not clear that this is fantasy rather than something else.

The image is very busy, partly because its elements lie on more than one level. The backmost part consists of a mottled green base and extensive filigree. The filigree may be an artistic tour de force—it truly is well drawn—but there is so much of it that it overpowers the cover. This is an instance where half as much would be twice as effective.

Placed one level higher are the author name and title. More on those below.

At still a higher level is the arrow, which is the only three-dimensional object on the cover. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand out well. The brown of the shaft is not well distinguished from other elements of the cover.

When the cover is first viewed at small size or from a distance, the arrow hardly is seen at all. The light-colored title catches the eye. It takes the viewer a moment to realize that within this jumble of angled shapes is a straight shape, and then it takes a further moment to realize, by moving the eyes to the upper end of the shape, that this is an arrow.

That’s a pity, because the arrow is well drawn and by rights ought to get more attention. But it has a further problem.

The shaft weaves in and out of the letters of the title, passing both above and below the E, behind the B, and across the H. This means some letters must be higher off the surface than others and must be considerably higher than the letters on which the shadow of the arrow falls.

Most viewers won’t perceive that irregularity, but they might sense, subconsciously, that something isn’t quite right about the arrow. Even if they don’t, the arrow’s greatest problem remains: it isn’t sufficiently prominent.

Typography: The title hardly can be faulted. It’s a piece of art in itself. Even if the font isn’t accurate to the period in which Robin Hood supposedly flourished, it looks as though it’s from his time. The shadows behind the letters raise them from the mottled surface, and, as I said, the arrow’s path makes it seem that the letters lie on different plains.

The letters at the upper left and lower right of the title have a distressed appearance. Only the large R and N seem free of encrustations. The variety gives the letters additional character (no pun intended). All in all, the title is effective.

The author name is in a modern font and, like the title, it rises above the background due to drop shadows. Whereas the shadows behind the letters of the title go in all directions, implying a light source straight out from the cover, the shadows for the author name all go to the upper right, indicating its light source is in the lower left. This is a lack of continuity that most people won’t see, but those who see it will take off a few points from the score.

The author name is set in a light blue-green that isn’t otherwise seen on the cover. It’s close to what is found elsewhere, but it’s not a match. That’s a discrepancy rather than a problem. The text’s color does make the author name easily visible, and it sits comfortably within a frame formed by the filigree.

That leaves the third textual element, which is missing entirely. The cover needs a tagline indicating genre or even a subtitle. This could be placed, in text smaller than the author name but in the same color, in a frame at the bottom center, where the densest ornament now resides.

Overall: This cover is done well, but parts of it are overdone. One gets a sense that the designer got carried away. Well, that’s better than having a cover that omits several necessary items—though this cover omits one, a genre indicator. If the filigree were less exuberant, and if the arrow were  more prominent, the cover would warrant no complaint.

Case Study 82

Title: The Book of Djinn

Author: P. K. Silverson

Designer: P. K. Silverson

Genre: Fantasy

Graphics: In Islamic mythology, a djinn is a spiritual creature that may be good or bad. Usually we see “djinn” anglicized as “genie” and think of a good genie in a lamp.

Adding a genie’s lamp might have been prudent for this cover. Doing so might have set the design on a course happier than the one taken. At least the genre would have been clear immediately. On the cover as it stands, one has to wonder. From the graphics alone, what is one to think? What genre comes to mind? Not a genie genre, in any case.

As it is, this cover’s design is wrong in every way. The title refers to “book” and to “djinn,” so you might expect to see a book or a genie or both, but the graphics don’t show—or even imply—either. The cat-like eyes don’t suggest a genie (if anything they suggest a cat), and nothing else on the cover suggests one.

Aside from the eyes and the blue background, the only other graphical element is lightning. Lightning normally isn’t associated with genies, at least not in popular imagination. When we think of a genie arising out of a lamp, he arises wreathed in smoke, not glowing in lightning.

The graphics have a pasted-on look, a sure indication that this is an amateur production. The eyes come too close to the edges, the red of the eyes clashes with the blue of the background, and the top and bottom of the cover are bounded with bars and lines that do nothing but distract.

Typography: The title has multiple faults. The smallest is that “of” should not be capitalized. As a rule, articles and prepositions should be lowercased, unless they begin a title.

A more serious fault is the color chosen for the title. The greenish cast prevents the words from standing out well against the blue. A bright yellow would have been better, yellow usually working well against blue. The designer apparently realized there was a legibility problem, for he added a black drop shadow to the letters, but that isn’t enough to rectify the poor color choice.

The author name has several problems. It too is in the wrong color. Just as bad, it is far too small. It ought to be in all caps at half again the size. Lastly, it should not be in italics, which should be reserved for emphasizing particular words. The proper way to emphasis an author name is to set it in a clean font at a large enough size. Italics not required.

Overall: This cover has graphical elements that serve no purpose, but the cover as a whole does serve a purpose. It is a reminder that most self-published authors should not try their hands at cover design. Such attempts habitually fall short. Sometimes, as here, they fail completely.

What good is a “free” cover design if it ends up being costly by driving buyers away? That is the worst kind of economy because it is counterproductive.

Case Study 79

Title: Eulalie and Washerwoman

Author: Malcolm R. Campbell

Designer: Jack Stollery

Genre: Fantasy

Graphics: The illustration is set off in a box surrounded by thin rules. Below the box is a line of dingbats, and below that line is a box containing the author name. Wide borders, in aquamarine, are on the four sides. I have no idea why.

The illustration is complex and should be as large as possible, for visibility’s sake. It ought to occupy the whole of the cover. The only text outside the illustration is the author name, which could have been placed inside. That would make the multiple rules and dingbats gratuitous. Even now they serve no evident purpose.

As for the illustration, it’s hard to make out what the various objects are, even when the illustration is seen at maximum size at Amazon.

On the right is a crocodile and on the left what may be a dog. Trotting next to the woman is a cat—but is that a woman at all? She (or it) has no legs. Immediately behind her is a yellow, black, and blue object that I can’t make out. Sometimes it looks like a golf tee, at other times like a short Phillips screwdriver. No doubt it’s something else, but what?

On the pathway are the digits 41144. They apparently aren’t a zip code. The story takes place in Florida, and that zip code, in real life, is found in Kentucky. The woman (or whatever) is approaching a railroad crossing, but there is no sign of a train. The trees suggest a swamp, but do train tracks run through swamps?

The illustration is well done technically, but it’s a jumble. It gives no indication of what the story may be or even what the genre is. It could be fantasy (which is how the author describes it) or horror or thriller or something else.

Typography: A gradient seems to have been applied to the words of the title. The letters are brightest at the upper left and dimmest at the lower right. Even the brightest letters aren’t particularly bright. On the whole, the illustration is dark, so a brighter title would provide welcome contrast. It might look best in yellow.

The brightest element of the illustration is the crescent moon. To accommodate it, odd spacing has been used for the title. The space between the first two lines is greater than between the last two. It would have been better to switch “Eulalie” and the moon, putting the latter above the former but leaving space for the tagline.

The tagline should be set in all caps in a sans serif font. Its present size is about right. It should be placed at the top, above the repositioned moon. It and the author name can remain in white.

The author name, lying outside the illustration and in its own box, draws too much attention to itself. It should be set in the same font as the tagline and should be moved to where the tagline now is. This presumes that the illustration is enlarged to fill the whole of the cover.

Overall: On this cover, it’s easy to fix the text but not so easy to fix the illustration. The crocodile can be taken to indicate danger; it works as a symbol. The dog can be taken to represent loyalty; it also works symbolically. The number on the pathway means nothing to anyone who hasn’t read the book and therefore it does nothing to recommend the book to a buyer.

This may be an example of an author insisting that things that will become plain in the reading be shown on the cover. The impulse is understandable, but it needs to be sublimated. What has meaning to an author often will have no meaning to anyone who hasn’t seen the manuscript.

Case Study 69

Title: The Etruscan Mysteries

Author: Darren Foulk

Designer: Alexandra Brandt

Genre: Adventure, fantasy

Graphics: This appears to be the first book of an intended series. It takes place in the eighteenth century and, according to the book description at Amazon, is  partly a travelogue, partly a historical novel, and includes elements of  fantasy and even horror. The author seems to have combined multiple genres. The cover illustration suggests at least some of them.

The upper half of the cover is in deep red tones. It shows the silhouette of a man in a cape, presumably the protagonist. He is standing partway up steps that lead to an Indiana Jones-style gaping mouth carved into what might be the entrance to a cave. The mouth is aglow, and above the entrance are flaring nostrils and equally glowing eyes.

The spookiness factor is clear, but the image itself is muddy. Of the three partitions of the cover—image, series frame, and title and author frame—the image is the part that stands out least, even though it is largest. That’s because it’s too dark.

One understands the designer’s desire to maximize tension, but it has come at the expense of giving the image its proper due. The cave is so dark that the silhouette doesn’t stand out sufficiently, even the part of it in front of the glowing mouth.

I would lighten all the elements of the image, other than the silhouette, which of course should remain black. The image would retain an impression of darkness without actually being dark. By being lighter, it would show off its details better, particularly encrustations on the rocky face that give the rock the appearance of a face. At the current small size it’s hard to tell, but the rock actually shows cheeks. They would show up better if the image were lighter.

Typography: The title and author name are in the same font, with the exception of “The.” The text is easily read, but the letters are not well kerned. This is more obvious in the title than in the author name, which has wide kerning.

There are few pairs of letters in the title with equal spacing, or so it seems. Look at the final E and S: they actually touch one another. There is more space between the I and the E than between the R and the I. On the top line, the E-T combination is tighter than the T-R combination. Similarly for the C-A and A-N combinations.

The author name doesn’t line up squarely under the title. It’s a little too wide. It’s also a little too close to the bottom. On the other hand, the first word of the title, “The,” appears in the font used for the series information. That’s fine, but it seems cramped, lying too close to the blue partition.

These problems could be resolved if the title were reduced in height by about a third. It’s larger than it needs to be for legibility, and a reduction in its size would help focus attention on the image. Once the title is made smaller, its letters would have more room to stretch out and breathe, and the author name and “The” could be spaced further from their respective edges.

The series information, which appears in the blue area, is illegible at thumbnail size. The font looks as though it belongs to the eighteenth century, which is good, but it is hard to read, which is not good. Perhaps it could be compressed horizontally so that its size could be boosted a few points.

To achieve that happily, it might be necessary to enlarge the blue area, which could be done at the expense of the area below if the title were made more compact.

Overall: This cover is not far from being first-rate. Each element is fine in substance, but each needs work. This is true especially of the image, which ought to be the focal point of the cover but isn’t, partly because of its dull tones but partly because of the too-large title, which draws attention away from the image.

Case Study 51

Title: The Moonstone

Author: Evelyne Contant

Designer: Boudesign

Genre: Fantasy

Graphics: Remove the text and filigree from the cover—then what do you have? A pendant suspended in space, against a hazy background. What genre does this imply? Probably none. It could imply fantasy, the genre this novel actually belongs to, but it could imply several other genres of fiction and might even imply a non-fiction genre, such as gemstone making. In other words, the cover doesn’t succeed in announcing what kind of book this is.

The most prominent part of the image isn’t the moonstone and isn’t its case or its chain. It’s the glow in the background, which draws attention to itself without setting off the pendant adequately.

And what about the chain? It disappears under the design that separates the image from the title. It would have been more effective if the chain had disappeared off the top of the cover, perhaps becoming progressively attenuated as it did so.

The moonstone itself fails to stand out against the background or even from its case. The background “haze” should have been a different color, less bright and less quick to fade into the black that occupies too much of the cover.

The strongest graphical elements are the four filigrees. Usually such devices act as partial frames, focusing attention on an object at their center, but here the three large filigrees seem to float aimlessly, while the fourth one, under the title, has no clear purpose except to indicate that the title isn’t the chain—a mistake few people are likely to make.

All four filigrees should be removed. By doing so, more space would be available for enlarging the pendant image and enlarging and rearranging the text.

Typography: Almost always the title is the largest text on a cover. The most common exception occurs where the author is famous and his name is enough to effect sales. Look at novels displayed at airport book stores. You’ll see that the ones in the eye-level racks sport tremendously large author names, with titles given secondary status.

But those are exceptions. On most covers, the largest text is found in the title.

Nt here. It may seem that “Enchantment” is the title, but actually it’s the series title. There are three books in the series, and this is the first. Its title isn’t “Enchantment” but “The Moonstone,” something that doesn’t become apparent until you look at the book’s sales page.

It would have been better to make “The Moonstone” large and “Enchantment” smaller and better yet to make it clear that “Enchantment” is the title of the series, using a line such as this: “Book 1 in the Enchantment Series.”

The author name is illegible at thumbnail size. Even at the sales page at Amazon it can’t be deciphered. You have to click on the cover to bring up a still larger image.

The author name ought to be as large as the present title. Since the title font is artistic, the font for the author name should be simple, preferably sans serif, and the text should be set in all caps, perhaps with the letters widely kerned. The new font should not have thick lines because the title font itself has lines that are not thick.

Overall: This cover may have taken the designer a fair amount of time to put together, but it gives the unfortunate impression of being slapdash. The four filigree elements, in particular, look as though they were pasted on quickly, with little thought about their purpose and how they might draw undue attention to themselves.

The cover’s greatest failing is not making clear the genre. To some it will say fantasy, but to others it will say romance or science fiction or something else. Someone might even mistake it for Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, the first widely-read detective novel.

This kind of oversight—not making genre clear—can be deadly for sales. If someone is looking for a fantasy novel but thinks this book falls into a different category, a sale will be lost.

Case Study 46

Title: Tale of the Music-Thief

Author: Earl T. Roske

Designer: Aubrey Watt

Genre: Fantasy

Graphics: I admit a bias. What attracted me to this cover was the lute. I play a similar-looking instrument, the baroque mandolino, and I pay attention when I see such instruments portrayed in art. Here the lute draws the eye even more than does the young woman, but both are nearly overpowered by the red glow of the forest.

The chief source of light is in the distance, but the lute doesn’t appear in shadow, as one might expect, but clearly has a separate light source highlighting it. And then there is a third light source, the glow around the crystal at the bottom. What does that represent?

I would leave out the crystal, even if that item appears in the story and plays a significant role. None of that can be known by a prospective purchaser, so for him the crystal and its glow add nothing. Likewise with the green framing at the top and bottom. The framing serves no obvious purpose, and it clashes in color with the red of the forest.

With those items removed, the title can be lowered, revealing more of the main part of the image. Similarly, the author name can be raised slightly, giving a little air between it and the woman’s head.

Typography: There seem to be two distinct fonts here, one used for the author name and the words “of the,” the other used for the remainder of the title, but even that remainder shows up in two variations. Notice how the letters in “Thief” differ in their strokes from those in “Tale” and “Music.” Each letter in “Thief” has an elongated serif—but why? That variant adds nothing to legibility.

It isn’t obvious why “of the” appears in a font slightly different from the rest of the title. Those little words are in off-white rather than the gold of the other three title words, and they aren’t centered vertically between “Tale” and “Music.” 

A final mystery is why the title includes a hyphen. You don’t see a hyphen in such terms as “car thief” or “jewel thief,” so why here? The hyphen is another gratuitous element.

The entire title should be in one font and in just one variant of that font (the one with fewer filigrees), while the author name shouldn’t be in its present font, which is too similar to the other one, but in a sans serif font and in a lighter tone, closer to white, in order to make the author name stand out more from the background.

Beyond all that, the three main title words should be reduced in size. They don’t need to be this large to be read, and in square inches they occupy more space than do the main elements of the graphics, the woman and the lute. While that size change is being made, “of the” should be boosted a couple of points.

Overall: The illustration is good, but it is surrounded by extraneous objects (the crystal and the framing) and cramped by text that is too close and too large. Despite these problems, the cover conveys the genre well enough.

Case Study 20

Title: End of the Wild

Author: Jason Taylor

Designer: Cakamura Studios

Genre: Fantasy

Graphics: This is a story about a young couple that finds itself shipwrecked on an island off the British Columbia coast. The island is populated by “legendary creatures” from native mythology. Does the cover convey that?

Not really. There is no indication, in the image, of shipwreck or island or strange creatures. (The tree-studded background could be part of a long, continental coast rather than an island.)

When I first saw the cover, I thought the book was a non-fiction account of a sailing adventure. In fact, the sailboat at rest in calm water is deceptive, because there is no such scene in the book. The very first paragraph has the boat’s hull breached by rocks, and within a few paragraph the boat sinks and the man and woman find themselves on the shore.

I suspect this was a case of the designer finding a pretty photo and settling for it. It’s easy to imagine how an illustrator might have worked up those initial paragraphs into a compelling cover, but perhaps the author was on a tight budget and couldn’t afford an illustrator.

Typography: Not a few outdoor-adventure books use thin fonts, such as Helvetica, with widely-spaced letters, as here. Nothing wrong with that, though nothing innovative either.

The title is legible enough, but the author’s first name gets lost in the mist on the hillside. It’s hard to say how to fix that problem while keeping the image.

Perhaps the first name could have been stacked atop the surname, thus making almost all the text flush right. (If the title lines were closer together, even the first word could have its own line, without forcing the last word of the title onto the light-colored water.)

Overall: The biggest problem with this cover is that it doesn’t suggest the genre. For that matter, it doesn’t even suggest that this is a novel.

Case Study 17

Title: Sealing Death

Author: Basil E. Bacorn

Designer: Basil E. Bacorn

Genre: Fantasy, young adult

Graphics: The graphic treatment here is, shall we say, minimalistic: a green, corrugated background on top of which lies a blue, textured splotch. The best I can do is to guess that the green represents grass and the blue a pond, though the green doesn’t look like grass, and the blue doesn’t look like water.

Whatever these items are supposed to be, in no way do they indicate death or even the book’s genre. At best they confuse or mislead the reader. It would have been better to use a cover without graphics at all, one with just a solid color. That would not have made for a good cover, but at least it would not have induced the wrong kinds of questions.

Typography: The title font seems to have been designed by someone who was having a bad day. It’s hard to imagine any situation in which the font would be appropriate. It certainly adds nothing here. The font’s odd serifs don’t say “fantasy” or “young adult” or even “death.” Even Helvetica would have been a better choice.

The author name appears in too small a size and too close to the bottom of the cover. It is preceded by “by,” a major gaffe. It likely is impossible to locate a book published by one of the Big 5 publishers that sticks “by” before an author’s name. There’s a reason for that: “by” adds nothing. The prospective reader already knows, from experience, that if a cover sports a person’s name—especially if that name is in sufficiently large letters—that person must be the author.

Overall: I should note that, at Amazon, the author identifies himself as a high school student. If a middle-aged writer had produced such a cover, I would have little hope of reformation, but most teenagers are capable of acquiring new skills. The author is to be commended just for being an author at his age, but he needs to learn that his words are unlikely to find an audience unless they are packaged reasonably well.

Case Study 9

Title: Gods Themselves

Author: Catherine Griffin

Designer: Deranged Doctor Design

Genres: Fantasy

Graphics: Each time I return to this cover, I have a sense that the top has been sliced away. It’s not so much that only half the compass appears. I think it’s that the filigree at the corners seems cut off. If the outer borders of those decorations were visible, then having part of the compass outside the frame wouldn’t be a problem. As it stands, the cover looks as though it’s the victim of someone who was inexpert in using the cropping tool.

That’s the only complaint I can levy against the graphics, which otherwise are quite fine. I mentioned in Case Study 5 that silhouettes are problematic because they usually fail to display action. Here they work, even though there is only a hint of action, with the man looking taut as though caught unawares, and the woman’s hair blowing in the breeze. They’re watching the pterosaur. The man’s hand is clenched. From his top hat we can take it that this story is set before 1870 or so, which means The Wizard of Oz hadn’t yet been written. If it had been, no doubt the man would be saying to the woman, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

The top hat, the compass, and the etching that lightly overlays the sky tells us that this is a steampunk novel. The pterosaur tells us that it has something to do with time travel. The silhouette suggests mystery or the unknown. All in all, a good use of symbolism.

Typography: The author’s name is set in a bar that lies atop the image and obscures the maze-like elements at the lower corners. The design of the bar doesn’t match the design of the rest of the cover, nor does its color come from the same palette. It would have been easy to work in a rectangle where her name would have seemed part of the whole rather than in conflict with the whole.

As for the font used for the author’s name, it has fairly strong serifs, and, while a sans serif font may not have been called for, given the era in which the story is set (Helvetica, for example, was released in 1957), I would have chosen a font with smaller serifs.

The font for the main title is unobjectionable, and the nesting of the two words works well. It’s difficult to know just how to place the words of a title when one is short and the other long, but the designer pulled it off here. But she and the author neglected one or two things: a subtitle and/or a tagline—probably the latter. As descriptive as the illustration is, it would have been helpful to have a few words that give a sense of what the reader might expect to find.

Overall: Despite a few weaknesses in design, this is a book I would have picked up had I come across it in a book store—even though it’s not a genre I otherwise have interest in. That makes me suspect that those who do like steampunk or fantasy stories would be inclined to do more than just pick up the book.