Gold! Gold, Gold, Gold... by Susan Price

I started with this >>>>.

I'd decided to get my Elfgift books out as indies. Originally they were published as part of Scholastic's 'Point Fantasy' series, but they'd been out of print for ages. People kept asking me where they could buy them.

Publishing the interior of a book isn't hard, with Createspace's help. The hard part is the cover. Hence this experiment. Since Elfgift is set in a fantasy Anglo-Saxon Dark Age-- yes, it's that kind of a book, a kind you either like or hate-- the lettering had to be suggestive of that. And I quite like the lettering. The font is 'Viking.' Not straight Viking-- I made some letters much larger and moved them about.

Since Elfgift is a sort of 'green man'-- yes, again, it's that kind of book-- I tried the 'peering through the forest leaves' idea. And abandoned it. Too fussy, too cluttered. Too difficult to bring off.

I thought: Less is more. It needs a font that lets you know it's set in the past. And a bit of barbaric splendour... It happens that, in the story, a burned and broken shield-decoration is brought to a character, as proof that his brother has been killed. So I got a wikimedia photo of one of the Sutton Hoo shield ornaments and came up with this.

Nearer the mark, I thought. Simpler. Clearer. But still not right. I asked my brother's advice. "Get rid of the red," he said. I'd chosen a red background and had experimented with overlays to change the tone, because I'd thought red was rich, royal-- y'know, barbaric splendour and all that.

He just pulled a face and said, cryptically, "Blue is the opposite of yellow." And true, a blue background would make any yellow look richer and yellower. A red background tends to kill it.

Thinking about making yellows richer got me thinking about making the gold shine and I soon became obsessed with making the lettering look as if it was made of gold. I followed a Photoshop tutorial by Steve Patterson, which you can find here on-line.

After much brain-bashing, I managed to produce this:--

I played about and experimented a lot more. I took a hint from the original publication and added the screamer line 'I choose the slain!' One of the characters is a Valkyrie, see. And the meaning of the word, Valkyrie is, 'Chooser of the Slain.'

I came up with this. I was still trying with the red.

Then I decided to make the shield fitting much bigger -- and while I was doing that, might as well try the background in dark blue.

I was very pleased with this at first. Now I have an actual paper copy in my hand, though, I'm not completely happy with it. Maybe I should have stuck with the original white lettering? Or maybe the gold should be a lot paler.

I can change it easily. I still have the master-copy with all its photo-shop layers. I can change the tints and shades of the gold and make it less red-gold and more white-gold. I can make my name plain white letters.

I like the size and position of the shield-fitting, but I can alter the placing of the screamer line.

Can't spare the time to mess about with it now, though, as I'm working on getting the sequel, Elf King out as well. And I'm finding the cover even more difficult.
Do I use this? It's based on the famous purse-lid from Sutton Hoo. The man between the wolves is often thought to be Odin, and Odin is a main character in Elf King. My brother took one look at it and said, "Silly face."

Well, yeah... I am always thrilled by this jewel. It whispers to me, 'mysterious past, ancient myth, fascinating archaeology...' But I can't deny that the man between wolves -- if they are wolves and not dogs, maybe even whippets -- has a silly face.

Or there's this. It's based on a helmet-plate from a swedish grave. The original shows (it's thought) one of the einherjar. They were the companions of Valkryries, though hardly anyone knows about them. The Valkyries chose the slain but the einherjar killed them. There is another helmet plate which shows an einherjar floating in the air and grasping the end of a spear which is held by another man. The
einherjar is directing the spear.

They were Odin's host, his ghost-warriors. The original plate (right) shows a bear standing behind the youth with a spear -- an armed bear, wearing a sword. He is probably meant to be a berserk, who were sometimes thought to turn into bears. (There's an argument about whether 'berserk' means 'bare of shirt' because they fought naked; or 'bear-shirt' because they were said to put on a bear skin and turn into bears.)

And how do we know that the youth on the helmet plate is an einherjar? Because he wears a horned helmet. I have banged on, here and on other blogs, about the fact that no viking ever wore a horned helmet-- except, that is, for the supernatural ones. There is a bronze figurine of a kneeling youth, dating from 'The Nordic Bronze Age.' He is some forgotten god because he wears a horned helmet. Though, in his case, the horns look more like bent lengths of gas-pipe. Yer ordinary mortal viking didn't wear horned helmets any more than we go about wearing halos.

I copied the youth on the helmet plate and flipped him over so there are two youth dancing back to back-- it refers to an incident in Elf King.

But I can't help thinking that the dancing youth looks rather silly too. Back to Photoshop?

Anyway, here's Elfgift, on sale at Amazon.

Only fair to warn people that the cover will be subject to change without notice.

Picture Credit: Figure from Sutton Hoo Shield, British Museum

© Johnbod


Chris Longmuir said…
I like the one with the blue background it hits you in the eye. But, I'm not keen on the screamer line, I think it detracts from the simplicity and as they say, less is more, but other folk might think differently.
Chris Longmuir said…
I'm assuming by screamer line you mean "I choose the slain".
Bill Kirton said…
This was a fascinating insight into your thought and work processes, Susan. You're obviously much fussier (i.e. professional) than I am. As I got to each version of the cover, I liked it and would have found it acceptable. On the other hand, I also agreed with your analysis of what changes were needed. Cover design is an enviable skill. I've only trusted myself once to create one, and soon replaced it with one from a proper designer.
Susan Price said…
Thanks to both -- and Chris, I shall look at that screamer with a beady-eye. Not saying that I will remove it, but feed-back is useful and I shall certainly consider it.
Lydia Bennet said…
Another helpful post as well as an insight into your creative and business processes! Good luck with the book.
Umberto Tosi said…
I'm wrestling with cover ideas myself right now: thanks for the insights. Your cover came out beautifully, with great appeal! Good luck with Elfgift!
I love the blue cover, and what you've done to the title looks good to me! Or do you mean the title printed darker than it looks online? If so, I guess you could try a white glow around it?

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