Saturday 1 May 2021

Critique Corner - April

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Welcome to our Discovering Diamonds feature, Critique Corner, where our cover design experts volunteer kind, expert, and constructive critiques to help our readers make the most of their cover designs. Since Discovering Diamonds began in 2017, Cathy Helms of and Tamian Wood of have been co-judging the monthly cover design competition for the site. And since their selected designs have been so well received, they would like to share with all the #DDRev's fans and followers, some pearls of wisdom from their combined 40 years in the cover design business - so, over to Cathy and Tamian...

This month we have a cover submitted by Susan Appleyard

Thanks for sharing your cover, Susan! We appreciate your participation.

Tamian's response:

My first thought on this cover is that it's quite dark and a bit... muddy(?)  I really struggled to figure out what the central focal point is, aside from the obvious, "something on fire". I had to zoom in quite significantly to make out what I think is a ghost and skeletal hands at the top of what I assume is a witches pire. If I got that right, kudos on a great concept. Those hands are a stroke of genius! I just think it needed to be larger, to fill the space, and make it easier to recognise the figure for what it is, especially at thumbnail size. The scale of the central figure could have been increased a good inch and a half by pulling the bottom of the fire down to just above the series title, and snugging it up to the bottom of the title, leaving just a touch of breathing space. (1/8"ish on either edge.)

Next, the font seems a little too modern, and... almost "fun" or "frivolous" and doesn't match the mood of the rest of the cover. Also, I've never been a fan of all centered all the same size text. Many times it can make a title more interesting to decrease the size of the linking words like "the", "and" "or", "of the" and such like. I will sometimes even change the font, or make the italic, to give it more interest. -- caveat: don't get too crazy with the overall number of different fonts! 

I also might have chosen a bit brighter yellow from the fire as the font colour just to make it stand out a touch more, but it's great that it's not all white text (a personal pet peeve of mine) Or... if you (or your designer) has the skill, a bit of a hint of a flame texture within the font would have really made it unique.

All pretty minor things that could have made this just a bit more intriguing.

Cathy? What say you?

Cathy’s Response:

My first comment is on the artwork – definitely takes me back to darker, medieval times. And I do want to know why and who is being burned at the stake in front of the ominous castle. The scene is mysterious, moody and menacing; easily drawing the eye in.

What can help give more of an impact is the font used for the title – something that is more fitting for historical fiction overall. The peachy fill color is also not as rich and fiery as it could be. I think the intent was to use one of the colors from the flames or smoky atmosphere around the central image – just not quite enough saturation of red in it to totally pull it off. I would go a tad brighter with the orange.

The font choice for the title itself could also be more serious too. It seems a bit playful to me, and I am fairly certain that this novel is not playful in the least (correct me if I’m wrong). So, I would recommend going with the Sabon font family (typically used on historical fiction covers) or something close to it. And Sabon pairs nicely with a simple sans serif for a little typography hierarchy/variation on a cover layout as well. The title should be the largest element on the cover, in almost every case, thus go a few point sizes larger so the title is easy to read at thumbnail size.

The series title ‘The Albigensian Crusade’ is nearly lost as the point size is far too small. I would suggest moving it to the top of the cover and increasing the point size. Line the left and right edges of the series title with the author’s name too for balance. Most of the typography on a cover should line up for good balance.

And one final note about font fill color choices – avoid using white or black for all or most of your typography – that is a common mistake made by non-designers. In this cover design, I might go with a light color for all of the copy, other than the title, picked out of the clouds and smoke – being sure to have enough contrast so it is all still easy to read over the background. White is often too harsh – you want the entire cover design to use the same color pallet – and feel like all of the elements blend together.

I took the liberty of playing around a bit with the typography and came up with this version:

I gave a slight increase in size to our person burning at the stake, centering the fire ring on the cover, being certain that the title did not quite touch the pole. And while zooming in on the person on fire, I did notice a hard line of reddish orange on the right side over the person – I’m assuming part of the flames added to the design that need to be blended out along the one side to correct. I also gave the title a dark drop shadow effect to allow it to stand out from the background a bit more (depth).

Overall, the original is a good design with beautiful and engaging artwork – the typography is good, but with a few tweaks, could give this cover that extra punch that might better attract more readers.

We do hope that our readers might pick up on a few tidbits of good design points while reading our commentary. And again, we thank our volunteer authors for willingly submitting their book covers for a free and no-strings-attached constructive critique of their designs. 

Until next time, be safe and be well!

Anyone wishing to submit their cover for our two graphic designers to critique, please contact either designer directly:

Tamian at

Cathy at

Due to their schedules, future critiques will be posted here once a month on  the day following the Cover and Book of the Month announcement (i.e the end of each month)  and often re-shared on Tamian and Cathy's individual blogs. as long as we have enough submissions.

Discovering Diamonds will not always be able to review the book selected for a cover critique and cannot, therefore, guarantee the quality of the text narrative.

Copyright Disclaimer

The Fair Use Doctrine of copyright law states that there is no copyright violation when a necessary portion of a work is presented as part of commentary or criticism of that work. Copyright restrictions on a book cover are further weakened by the fact that a cover is meant for exposure and advertising; while this is a critique article, the book covers and authors are still receiving exposure for potential new readers. The bottom line is that we, the designers offering free design critiques, are not liable for how any of the suggestions discussed in this blog may be used, interpreted or incorporated in published works. We have offered our help with no strings attached – use any of our suggestions at your own risk.

We will always supply a direct link to Amazon whom the authors/publishers have authorized to promote and sell the books we display on this blog. It is ultimately our goal to help authors better present and market their books – our area of expertise being design and marketing. However, we offer our professional input solely for the betterment of the authors who have willingly submitted their published book covers for our review. We do not accept any monetary compensation for the review.

Views Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in this blog entry are not necessarily held by Discovering Diamonds or any of its affiliated members. The opinions expressed in Critique Corner, while given by both formally educated and experienced graphic designers, are still open to interpretation by the best of those in the publishing business.


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