BLIND CONTEST! GUARANTEED PRIZE (WITH A LITTLE EXTRA THROWN IN, TO BOOT)!
Who's up for a challenge? A challenge that will give you a huge amount of creative freedom?
I'm turning to 99Designs to get a cover for both a print book AND an e-book. In addition, I want get some type of image that can be used for the interior cover page (whether that is simply the title and author name in the same font & design as on the cover itself, or whether there is also a grayscale graphic image along with that).
This is my first book, I don't intend for it to be my last. It's a self-publishing project, partly because I don't want to wait months/years to see it come to fruition, partly because I want the 'learning lab' experience of publishing my own work from start to finish, but mostly because I want to be the writer nobody's heard of who turns heads when folks read his work. The finished product may not be perfect, but it will be light years ahead of other books completely self-published by first-time authors. And that, my friends, is where YOU come in! I don't have a lot of working capital, but I have been selling off my possessions to invest in professional formatting and this cover. Together we're going to put something out there that makes agents and publishers call us! People are gonna read this, like it, refer it to their friends by word of mouth, rinse, and repeat. I want a designer who isn't scared of that, one who embraces being an integral part of making it happen.
Because this is completely self-published, there are some minor challenges. I need this contest to be completed in order to get the final formatting done, but I need the final formatting done to get the print cover completed (specifically, the thickness of the spine can't be determined until the number of pages is finalized). I'm starting with the cover. From what I gather, every contest has a period of tweaks and re-tweaks until the final design is reached. That will certainly be the case here - expect that! If you want to submit a design and that be that, then this isn't for you (and if it's not, that's okay).
The trim size of the print cover will be 6" x 9". Currently, there are approximately 300 MS Word pages in the manuscript (12 pt Georgia font, which - I THINK! - is also what will be utilized in the print version. I'm not sure how many pages that will translate to, or how thick the spine will need to be. As soon as I get a definitive measurement back from the formatting, I will pass that info on.
The title of the novel is "A Quarter 'til Life." My author name on the cover will be "M. Andrew Cockrell." As stated earlier, it's a Christian fiction novel. Because the main cast of characters are college students, some might be prone to label it a "new adult" or "young adult" book. However, I have intentionally written this one to have a broader appeal. A mom will read this and hand it off to her daughter, a youth minister will download it and then recommend it to his students (or vice-versa). Some of my beta readers have compared my writing to Karen Kingsbury (whoa, folks! slow your roll!) because of both the style and the aim at a broader appeal. I don't want a cover design that pigeonholes the book by looking too much like a young adult book.
The story is presented in flashback style. My second book will be in similar format, whether I continue that pattern beyond these two hasn't been determined. The chapter titles are actual dates on which the fictional events chronicled occur. The story goes from mid-August 1992 until January 2, 1993. It starts with a very brief scene in October to build curiosity and suspense, then goes back to the beginning. The last chapter, the epilogue, is 20 years later (and drops a major surprise on the readers).
The story chronicles the unlikely relationship of two main characters, Michael & Elizabeth. Through a crazy chain of events, Michael has ascended to the prominent role of quarterback on his university's football team that enters a new season with high expectations. Elizabeth's passions are music and theater, and she transfers in to the college as a sophomore. They meet when he helps her move in to her dorm and they hit it off from the very start. Besides the aforementioned obvious differences, there are some other contrasts and tensions that play out as well. Michael has always been straight-laced and by the rules and tentative, Elizabeth is much more free-spirited and adventurous and daring. Michael is recovering from two significant hurts: 1) Being cheated on by his previous girlfriend, a girl he began pursuing in 7th grade but who never returned his affection until their freshman year of college. They dated for less than a year before they broke up; and 2) the death of a good friend in a car accident, which happened two days after the break-up. Elizabeth is the final piece of the puzzle in Michael recovering and moving on from those emotional wounds. Elizabeth brings her own secret scars, namely her sometimes contentious relationship with a well-meaning but over-bearing mother, and a series of poor choices in her own previous relationships. One of the most poignant chapters of the story is when she confesses the details of her past to him, expecting that he will no longer want to continue dating her. Instead, she finds that nothing changes and he is no less committed to pursuing their relationship. That chapter sets the tone for a theme that is woven through the entire book: redemption is found in unlikely ways at unexpected times.
While football is a key element, this is not a football book. Football is used to drive the story along (particularly in short snippets at the beginning of some chapters which are in the form of radio broadcast summaries). And, football contributes to the tension of the story in three major ways: 1) the time commitment that it requires from Michael and the resulting sacrifices it requires for him and Elizabeth to have a relationship; 2) the pressure of success; and 3) Michael is a "redshirt" senior (he is a senior academically but a junior athletically) so he has to decide if he is going to return to play his final season of football next year. The title is a play on words that is based largely on these thematic elements, as the two main characters navigate the present while looking towards the future. [The original working title was "And Seasons Go," but a focus group liked "A Quarter 'til Life" better].
There are some other key "elements" to the story, which may or may not be helpful in cover design:
1) Michael asks Elizabeth to be his date for the homecoming dance by presenting her with a tiara headband, symbolizing how he views her as a princess.
2) Elizabeth is cast in the lead role of Maria in the theater department's production of "The Sound of Music." This adds tension to the story in a couple of ways. First, it adds to to the strain of a couple already working to carve time out for each other. Then, it becomes the source of the couple's first 'fight' when - after finally seeing the movie version - Michael objects to the romantic scenes that will play out three nights in a row in front of hundreds of audience members. The resolution to that conflict is another way in which redemption is demonstrated. In a grand gesture, Michael buys a large number of tickets to distribute to football team members who fill the first two rows of the auditorium on opening night.
3) The e.e. cummings poem, "I Carry Your Heart With Me," has a brief but prominent appearance. I have been unsuccessful in determining whether that particular work is one of his public domain poems or if it is still under copyright. Until that can be determined, I am treating its lyrics as off-limits (but the author and title could be incorporated if someone wanted to explore that).
To add some summary: 1) Michael decides NOT to return for his final year of football, opting to move on to the next season of life. 2) the football team has unprecedented success, going undefeated and winning the national championship at their level; and 3) in the epilogue - which is the emotional grand slam of the entire book (no apologies for mixing a baseball metaphor with the football theme) - the reader finds out that Michael and Elizabeth did not stay together as a couple. Elizabeth is at her mom's house, rummaging for a box hidden in a closet that contains the only tangible remnants of the relationship. The reader discovers that the relationship ended badly and completely. Then, through a mutual friend, they are able to reconnect, make amends, and even forge elements of a true friendship that weren't there in the beginning. Both are now married with children. Elizabeth looks through that box on the eve of the school's homecoming celebration, the 20th anniversary of that national championship. For the first time since the "last time," they will be in each other's presence again.
Now, to the specific design of the cover: I AM NOT SURE WHAT I WANT!!! The best idea among my inner-circle that has been offered hearkens to the aforementioned epilogue. That idea involves a box - possibly on a quilt or obvious bed cover - with some of its contents scattered outside of it. Some of the contents could be specific to the story (especially the headband tiara, a ticket to a Sound of Music production would be great, photos) and others could be mementos typical of any love relationship (hand-written notes, cards, etc.). I have experimented to try to make this work, and cannot. Someone suggested foregoing the quilt/bed cover background and just have the items on a dark background. I don't have the capability to make that happen. I know a couple of graphic designers, but their skills are not THAT advanced and there is a difference between graphic design and cover design. I need a cover designer. I need you!
ADDENDUM: There is one idea that was considered early on but was abandoned because it became too complicated for amateurs. Michael & Elizabeth often retreat to the steps of a building at the far corner of campus to enjoy time alone. He typically sits behind her on the steps and massages her shoulders, or sits beside her if the conversation is more serious. We ran into multiple challenges: we couldn't find an image of a college building or steps that seems to fit and we couldn't find 'models' who fit the bill as the main characters. Then, I don't know that I'd want the image to be from the front anyway, but if it's from behind then it's much harder to stage the characters to look photogenic and you need a background reminiscent of a college campus. There are just too many factors for amateurs to even begin contending with, especially to produce an image that we're not even sure we'd want to go with.
I have been advised not to get "married" to any single idea. And I am not. I want a cover that kicks 'a-sugar-sugar,' but I don't know what that is. In this sense, the designer has a lot of free reign to be creative. Some people like the idea of characters on the cover, others don't. (If you want to portray characters, know that Elizabeth has specific physical descriptions so you'll want to be fully aware of those). Some people like real photographs, others prefer illustrations. I am not sold on anything, or dead-set against specific things. I just know that I don't want the cover to limit the appeal to a too-narrow audience and I don't want any possible football element to dominate (80% of fiction readers are female, and most of the men who read likely aren't into sports). I tend to favor covers that are cleaner, not cluttered or busy. And I love creativity and originality (the world of book covers is so cliche, and maybe sometimes the market dictates that, but I appreciate those who can make something beautiful in a different way. Sometimes, simple is better. YOU are in charge; wow me! If it is too busy, or looks like you threw it together in five minutes with some fancy font on top of a generic stock photo, it probably won't move the needle on my affect meter.
Words are my medium, visual art/creativity is far from my strength. YOU are the artist. YOU are the one with the ability and vision to come up with the single-most critical element of the entire book publishing process. I am excited to see what YOU will do, what touches you'll add and what surprises you might pop on me that I hadn't even considered previously.