Cover Art Evolution – K’nat Trap

Every book I release has a cover that is produced by myself and my graphic designer brother, Byron. Since we are working in the Sci-Fi, Space Opera genre and in one particular universe, we try and have starships on the cover to get that fact across to future readers. We also have a certain style that we carry over from book to book so that readers get a visual clue that this new novel fits into the same universe as the last one they may have read. Being consistent with the branding helps readers find you and stick with you throughout your series.

All the covers start out with a concept doodle, by either myself or Byron. For K’nat Trap the original idea was mine and I imagined a K’nat starfighter being targeted by another fighter’s computer system or heads up display.

I didn’t have in mind any particular color but knew that the star field had to be blurred to suggest speed and that there had to be some kind of target reticule. The book’s title would be in the same font as the other series books and so would the author name.

The first thing I had to do was build the model of the K’nat Trap. That was already underway and after it was finished, I photographed it against a black felt background and sent the high definition image to Byron. He sucked it into his series book template in Photoshop and then added the text. He used a stock image for the target graphic while he worked on doing his own original version.

The green color was striking and it would stick with us for the whole process. I had a few suggestions for this version; punch up the brightness of the stars and the target. Also, we needed to start adding subtitles that declared the book to be a Star Saga story.

Now we’re getting somewhere! The image popped and the color was still working for us. Now to take out the stock image target and add Byron’s original version.

At this point I decided to try another color. The resulting experiment turned out to be too red and green or Christmas-like.

We tried again, this time going all red. The font changed to what we refer to as the bad guy font or Votainion font and it appears on the Devon’s Blade and The Blood Empress covers. Unfortunately, we felt it didn’t have the right impact so we went back to the regular series font. Byron also added some engine flare in blue.

I showed this one and a green one to some folks at work and they all seemed to prefer the old font an the green color. More comments indicated that the white lines in the target were distracting. So we changed things again, going back to green.

After studying this version I decided to call it done. It was eye-catching and it looked sharp. We could have kept tweaking but at some point you just have to pull back and let it be. This whole process took about a month for us to finish but of course building the model took many months and so did writing the book.




Making of a Cover – Corvette

One of the best parts about being a self-published author is getting to do your own covers. Most writers don’t want anything to do with the process. But for me, I see it as a great way to showcase my model building hobby. I’ve always built plastic models since the time I was a kid. When I was a teenager my buddies and I would scratch build our own models from cardboard and bits of broken kits we had on hand. They were pretty cool for the time but limited to what we could scrape together with our allowances. We drew hundreds of drawings of starships we never got around to building for a Sci-Fi epic I was slowly writing. Skip forward about thirty years and now I’m writing novels about those starships and those novels need cover art.

About the time I started writing these novels I picked up my scratch modeling hobby again only this time I could afford to make them the same way they used to be made in Hollywood when I was a kid. The only tough part now was figuring out how to arrange them on a cover in such a way that would make someone want to buy the book. For this I enlisted the talents of my graphic artist brother, Byron. Byron takes the elements of each model, combines them with cool backgrounds and effects and then overlays the titles on them. He makes the models come alive as if they were real.

For my latest novel, Corvette, it all started with a thumbnail I did in Gimp using a model of a Votainion warship that I already had and a stand in model for the yet to be built corvette.

I knew we were going with orange and blue for the main colors of this series so I used those colors for the titles. It’s crude but it lets Byron know what I want without actually drawing it. Sometimes I do start with sketched but this time I just hacked together stock images of similar models to get the idea across.

Meanwhile, I had to build the actual corvette model and you know, write the book. The model was scratch built using a drawing I did based on the SS Sokol model featured on other Star Saga novels. It was built to the same scale as the Votainion warship model – 1/350. Below you can see it coming together on my workbench some time last year. For a complete account of this build please check out this post.

The Votainion warship was sketched out years ago and built a few years back for the first few books of the series. Here’s what the original sketch looked like below.

Here is a shot of the larger model under construction. For a more detailed look at how I built this model please check out this post.

Here are both models being photographed against blue screen for the cover of Corvette. I use a Canon digital SLR to photograph the models in high resolution then hand off the images to Byron for Photoshoping.

This is the first attempt at the cover using the new corvette model and the older warship model. I chose a green background because in the novel, the sh

First version with new Corvette model. This was another Gimp thumbnail that I did and the colors are all washed out so we could focus on placement of the ships.


I decided to try a different direction, using the Gimp paint filter. I was hoping this would produce an image that looked painted. But after examining it we decided it made the Votainion warship look like it was sculpted out of clay. I also tried making the larger ship bigger and that didn’t quite look right either.

Below is Byron’s first green nebula and laser guns. Author name has the wrong font. I had to explain that the corvette used a rail gun instead of an energy gun so we would have to change the red lasers. Also, we wondered if the background needed to be green or not, so I had him try a blue background.


We tested the blue background with random folks and everyone seemed to prefer the green so we dropped blue.

The cover was nearly complete at this point when I realized three major issues. First of all, the corvette looked better at an angle in front of the warship for giving the cover depth. Secondly, the author name was in the wrong font. And thirdly, the rail gun rounds just didn’t pop.

After those changes were made, the cover seemed to pop right out and demand your attention. So we left it alone and went to press with it.

This process took the better part of a year to complete and was started about the same time the book. I had to build a model at the same time as I wrote the novel, which is not unusual and affords me a great visual aide while writing. I think the finished cover is one of our best yet and should help sell the novel and bring in readers to the series. If you purchase the paperback of the novel the cover really shines with a glossy cover.

Corvette is available to purchase Tuesday, March 21st from Amazon as a Kindle ebook and a paperback.

Corvette Cover Preview

I thought I’d try something different with this novella set before the start of the Star Saga. I wanted to see what it would look like if it were painted. The trouble is, I don’t have time to paint cover art, so I used my models and then applied a painted filter over them. What do you think? You might have to look at it on a larger monitor to see the paint effect.



Cover Reveal – The Rising

This past weekend the cover for my next released novel, The Rising has been finalized. I thought I’d share with you some of the final little tweaks we did to it. Big thanks to my brother Byron McConnell for once again pulling all the elements together in Photoshop and making them shine!

The Rising Cover 2-7-16

The above version had five important design changes. The First was the yellow flame out the back of the top fighter. The second was the new explosion. The third was the canopy glass on the bottom fighter, and the fourth change was the motion blur added to the green fighter and the bottom fighter. The fifth design change was to punch up the brightness of the stars.


In the above version we changed the color of the top fighter’s exhaust back to blue, realizing that the yellow didn’t fit our stated blue and orange color guide and it conflicted with the yellow of the green fighter’s leading edge. The two lower models didn’t have motion blur and looked static to me. Also the canopy glass was not yet applied to the bottom fighter. The explosion in this version was not as dynamic as the first one either. The stars are not as bright in this version and it was determined that when you looked at the cover in smaller sizes, the stars faded away entirely. 

The Rising Cover 2-15-16

For the final version of the cover we merged the best of the above versions into a single version. So now you have the blue flame of the top fighter, the more dynamic explosion and the motion blur of the middle and bottom fighters. The canopy glass on the bottom fighter is reflecting the explosion which makes it more realistic.

Here’s a quick look back at how the cover evolved over time from my original sketch.


My original sketch was inspired by model airplane box cover art from WWII which usually depicted aircraft dog fighting in dramatic fashion. I still had the series banner at the top the same way it appeared on the older coin covers.


Above we see a finished version of the initial sketch. We decided that the title should be on one line and that we didn’t need to keep the series banner. 


So I did this format change to make the textual parts more clean. All of the books in the Star Saga would now conform to this template for the cover title, saga title and author name.


I added a third fighter in the foreground to help add interest and show the fighter who shot down the green fighter. Now the battle depicts the good guys winning the engagement. The bottom fighter was eventually swapped out for a better model of the Vicker’s Victory fighter. Actually, both Alliance fighters would eventually be the same newly created plastic version with more details.

You can see what was involved with building the two models used on this cover in the Model Builds section of this blog.

Vickers Victory Fighter

Kiv-3 Starfighter Large

Cover Model – The Blood Empress

The cover of my novella The Blood Empress features a dual KIV-3 starfighter. This is actually a 1/48 scale plastic model scratch built specifically for this cover art. In addition to being a writer, I’m also a model builder. All the starships featured on my novel covers are original designs created specifically for my novels. In many cases they are taken from old drawings I and my friends did when we were kids. The designs have been modernized and my modeling skills have improved since childhood resulting in some pretty cool models.

This model started with some PVC tubes and model rocket nose cones.

The center section is complete with a 1/4 20 screw mount for holding the model up while its photographed.

Details and fins are made from plastic and various other model parts, known as greeblies.

Wings are built from sheet plastic and attached.

The final creation is then painted with acrylics and weathered with pastels. The paint scheme was based on a WWII German Messerschmidt.


The model is then put against a blue screen and photographed with a DSLR camera. I use a Canon camera and high intensity flood lights under blue gels to simulate sunlight. This image is then passed on to my graphic artist brother, Byron, who uses Photoshop to insert it into a scene for the cover. The background image is a modified NASA photo of Mars. He adds battle damage, markings and exhaust flames.

The Blood Empress 10-27-15 High Res

The final design is composed with a title and author name to make an eye catching cover with all the right elements to attract readers who enjoy Sci-Fi. I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at how I build a book cover. You can find detailed looks at all the spaceships I have built under the Model Builds menu of my website. You can buy The Blood Empress on Amazon Kindle.


Cover Art Search

I somehow got behind the ball on choosing cover art for my novel, The Blood Empress. So now I’m searching through DeviantArt for a suitable piece of cover art. So far, I’ve found two beautiful paintings that could work, but the artists are not returning my messages, so I’ll have to change plans again and do something with my models. Maybe one of these two artists will catch this post and return my queries.

Here is the first one. I’ve added titles to both just to see how they would look. These are nothing more than sketches to see how they might look. I’ve taken liberties with some of the art and framed them as needed.


This is the first one by Ula Mos, an artist from Poland.


This piece was done by Kris Cooper an artist from the US.

If I can’t get in touch with either of these fine artists this month, I’ll have to use my own work. Not idea for this one. There’s not enough time to commission a piece before I’d like to go to press on this novel.

In the meantime, I’m working on a two seat KIV-3 for use on this novel’s cover should the above artists not reply. This weekend I constructed the wings and started mounting the fuselages to the center section. My new 1/4 20 mounting system arrived and now I’m using it to complete the build on. The mount is from PanaVise, model 883-T.

My backup cover art plan is to use this model and the smaller KIV-3 model along with some NASA images of Mars to portray a desert world featured in the novel. Not as awesome as original art featuring the main character, but we go with what we have.



The Rising Cover Design

My cover artist and brother, Byron and I are designing the cover for my next novel, The Rising. It’s the second book of the Star Saga and we’re changing things up a bit from the first, fourth and seventh books. Sorry if that’s confusing. We’ve already released the first book in each of the three trilogy’s of the saga. Anyway, we’re going to make the entire background be a star field and do away with the marble slabs. It’s not that we didn’t like the slabs, its just that we think the second and third books in each trilogy should be different.

When viewed on the reader’s book shelf, the series will visually identify itself if the first book in each trilogy has the marble, concrete and steel look. The other two books in each trilogy will have star fields on their spines. How can you plan such an elaborate look for books that won’t be written for years into the future? Well, why not? I’m indie publishing this saga so I don’t have a marketing department telling me how to do things. All my paperbacks will match so that when the reader gets a new book and finishes reading it, it will look awesome next to the other books in the saga he’s already purchased.

Anyway, here’s the latest thumbnail of the redesign. We changed the layout of the starfighters to account for using all the front cover instead of just a narrow rectangle that we had with the marble top and bottom. So the fighters had to be moved into a new position.  Then we had to figure out how to word the title for Book 2. I think we’ll just be simple and direct with that. We still have the Star Saga banner at the top for continuity. You know right away that you are in the first trilogy of the saga by the blue color, same as Book 1. The fonts will all be better executed in the final version, but this gives us an idea of where we want to go. Compare the current version with the original pencil sketch I did months ago.



The models were scratch built by myself and photographed for this cover by Byron. He’ll be adding more Visual Effects to them including engine glow, explody stuff and motion blur. We were trying to emulate the model kit box art of our youth. I think we have achieved that. When the final design is ready, I think we’ll have an eye catching SF book cover that any interested reader will want to check out.

Work has already commenced on some of the models we’ll use for the Book 3 cover next year. If you want to check out posts related to building these models, you can click on the Model Builds link in the main menu of this website.



New Covers for Short Stories

I’ve been spending some time fixing up the ebook versions of my short stories this weekend. I only managed to finish four of them and upload them to Amazon. You should see the new covers appear early next week for them. While I’m in there fixing up things, I’m also turning off Kindle Select on all of them. It looks like come August, I’ll be able to move these stories to Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Kobo’s reader. This will increase my product catalog by 12 titles.

OchervaShortStory      RedAllenShortStory

SlagShortStory      TinStarShortStory


As well as putting new images on the covers, I’ve made the “spine” text reflect the correct Star Saga universe. This should lead to much less confusion in the market place. I’ve left the same marble background for these spines, to show that they are from the Starforgers Era. I really don’t think anyone notices these things, but I do. So far I’ve managed to use stock images and do very limited Gimping to them.


Starveyors Paperback Coming in June


Presenting the latest pdf proof of the Starveyors cover wrap-around. It’s nearly complete. We’re going to make the space scene a bit more Epic, but the overall design is pretty set now.

This week we’re proofing the interior pdf, trying to catch any last formatting and copy errors. I’ll be ordering a copy proof next Monday. With any luck, this paperback will be available by the end of June.


Cover Reveal – Star Series Omnibus

Time for another cover reveal. Today it’s the upcoming Star Series Omnibus edition. This is all three Star Series books – Starforgers, Starstrikers and Starveyors including three short stories, one of which has never been published before.

This cover is another outstanding design by my brother, Byron McConnell. He incorporated the design elements from all three books in the series. The book will be coming out later this month.