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

Making of a E-Book Cover Part 1

When the decision was made to put together an anthology of short stories the first thing I knew it needed was an eye-catching cover. The anthology would be e-book only, at least to start with and the cover needed to be something that portrayed what the stories were about.  It also had to look good on e-book readers from Droids and Kindles to iPads. My clutch cover designer for both of my previous books was my brother Byron. I started asking him to research ideas for the cover based on the Space Western stories featured in the book.

I had in mind Western movie posters and looked at dozens of them on the internet. But nothing was really grabbing my attention. Then Byron sent me a batch of posters that he found online and I started going through them. They were from the 1950’s and 60’s and featured foreign films as well as American films. One poster in particular stood out for me and you can see it below. The black hatted gunman with a pistol aimed right at the viewer.

I really liked the in-your-face attitude of the design and thought it would be perfect if the man were replaced by my black colored android called Eighty-eight. So I told Byron to see what he could come up with. His first sketch was done using Poser with a stock android model that he modified to suit my character.

I liked the android, especially the red glowing eyes but the tilt of the head and the distance of the body made it less intimidating than the original poster. He added a stock NASA picture of the actual surface of Mars, which looks remarkably like the deserts of Ocherva, where the stories take place. The font of the title was just a place holder.

We agreed to pull in closer on the android and darken it a bit to match Eighty-eight’s color. I started looking for a font that would suggest western without going too far, as was the case for many of the designs in Firefly. I drew a pencil sketch of how I saw the cover looking and sent it to Byron for use as a reference.

I added some font ideas to the sketch to get an idea of what the final version might look like. We knew the author’s name would be in the same font as Starstrikers, to maintain continuity as they both take place in the same SF universe. But the Western inspired title font had yet to be determined.

The next iteration from Byron was much closer to the final look. He added the second star in the sky and moved in closer on the body. He also used the font that I found that suggested a Western flavor without being too Western. Other improvements were the glowing gun and the android’s name/number on its chest.

This is where the cover settled for many weeks as I had friends look at it and offer suggestions. You may have remembered seeing the post here on the blog where I asked for comments from readers. I compiled a list of little suggestions and sent them on to Byron. The result was the final version of the cover that you see below.

Next up I will show the behind the scenes screen shots from Byron’s computer and let him explain his process.

Book Cover Thoughts

There is no denying that a lot of thought goes into designing a book cover.  From font type to cover art many elements have to converge into a design that makes the reader want to pick it up and that hopefully makes the reader proud to own it.  Many SF/F covers have elaborately painted scenes from the novel that bring the story to life.  Some have cutting edge visual effects or graphics that hint at the technical nature of the novel.

If the book is part of a series or set in a universe with multiple books, the challenge is to let the reader know that with graphic design and layout.  You may have a great one-off cover idea but if book two in the series looks like it is set in another universe, it could turn off the reader.  Consistency in design can breed reader familiarity and comfort.

When Byron and I talked about the design changes we would be making for the second edition of Starstrikers, we spent time considering how to make it fit into a three book series and how that series would fit into a multi-book universe.  What we came up with is both unique and hopefully familiar to my new and growing readership.

Starstrikers is the middle book of a three book series set in the Galaxy Collision universe.  The same universe will have short story anthologies and other novels set in it.  But the first trilogy of books will define the look and feel of them all.  So we had to come up with a defining style that would bind all of them into the same universe.

The first series in the GC universe is known as the Star Series.  Starforgers, Starstrikers and Starveyers.  Each novel is set during a different period of a century long galactic war. Starforgers is set at the start of the war, Starstrikers during the middle of the war and Starveyers is set after the war.  Each novel is also a complete unto itself story with an entirely different cast of characters.  But they are tied together by this epic war.

I have always envisioned these novels as being the book ends of the entire GC universe.  Each book defines the style of story telling that all the books in that particular time frame should have.  For instance, Starforgers is about the forging of a new political and military alliance. It takes place at a time when space travel was harder and more difficult.  The stories set in this time frame focus on rugged individuals who cherish their freedoms.  You might think of them like Westerns.  Space Westerns, to be exact.

While stories set in the Starstrikers time frame are more about military struggles and often feature soldiers or conflicts in general.  You might think of them more like war stories.  Because they are set during the middle of an intergalactic war, they more often resemble Military SF.

Starveyers stories are more hopeful and often have themes of prevailing over obstacles or coming together for the betterment of all.  Reconciliation is a big theme.  The two former enemies work together to repair the damages done by the long war.

So with all of that in mind, we decided to do the following:  Bombardier was chosen as the common font for the whole series.  It is used for the titles of the three Star Series books and it is used for the author name in all the other books in the series.  All three of the Star Series books have the same foundation look to them with the stars of space behind a coin of some kind.  The foundations change from Marble to Concrete to Metal representing the progression of architectural foundations that stand for the building of a galactic alliance.

Proposed Spine Art for Coin and Planet Series Books

This drawing shows possible layouts for the spines of the two major series of books set in the Galaxy Collision universe.  The Star Series is on the right and the Planet Series is on the left.  The Planet Series books all have planet names as their titles and are for the most part, set on a single world.  For students of the genre, they are known as Planetary Romances.  The first Planet Series book to come out will be Tyrmia.

You can see right away the common elements in booth series as they are set in the same universe.  The Planetary books will have different title fonts, in this case we use Alpha Modern Male and retain the Bombardier font for the author’s name.  Other similar elements are the planet icon where the Star Series books have a coin icon.  If a reader were to see these two books on the shelves next to each other, they would immediately see the connections between them.  That is the goal.  Reader recognition.


Here we see a mock-up of the new Starstrikers spine.  We’ve added the coin icon and enlarged the spine title to match the cover title.  The Press logo is independent of any books released by the imprint, so it will remain unchanged from books not in the GC universe.

Below is the final version of the Starstrikers cover compared with the first edition cover.  We loved the elements of the initial design, and we felt that they could be improved upon while still keeping the iconic look that we already enjoyed.  The first change was to cut the “From the Galaxy Collision Series” subtitle.  The biggest reason I had the subtitle was to avoid confusion with a web comic that was at the time called Star Strikers.  That comic has since changed it’s name and has enjoyed greater success, so it was less important to have the separation.  Now the only other entity that I know of with a similar name is a sports team from Australia – Star Strikers.  They probably won’t change their name, but they are not a SF novel, so they can keep it.  ;-)

With more room at the top of the book, we enlarged the title to give it more prominence.  Next we darkened the background and made it clear that it was more like concrete.  A crack was added because this book takes place in the middle of a war and things were not always going good for the heroes.

The coin was redone and toned down a bit so that it didn’t compete with the title for the attention of the reader’s eyes.  Because the coin is featured in the book, we made sure it was obvious that it represented the Starstrikers Special Forces team.  We were going to make the coin weathered and worn, but dropped the idea when I realized that the Starstrikers were meant to be a beacon of hope, so to have it weathered would have cast doubt on how effective they were.  Besides, have you ever tried to make a weathered coin?  It’s not easy.

The last element we improved on was the author’s name.  It was decided that the original font size was far too small to help establish a new author’s brand.  So we bumped it up.  The end result of making it bigger is that now you can read the name much easier from smaller, Kindle sized images like the ones above.

The final version of the second edition book cover is both iconic and meaningful and it sets the look and feel for the remaining two books in the Star Series and other books to come, set in the same universe.  This fall will see the release of Tyrmia, the first of the Planet Series books.  I’ll have more details about how Byron and I came up with it’s cover at a later date.