Explain your serial's banner design process to me

Alright - I've got more questions, this time to those with banners for their serial.

I'll be commissioning someone this weekend about designing something for me (if all goes well with hammering out a concept), but right now, all isn't going well because I haven't hammered out a concept.

To everyone who has and likes their serial, what steps did you go through to develop the concept? Did the artist handle most of the design? Did you come in already knowing what it should look like? Did you focus more on representing the serial's entire mood or a specific scene or... whatever else?

*likes their serial banner

Sorry - I'm a phone talker. I miss words every now then.

I liked my banner when I was just starting out - by now I think it's a bit too comic-y. But oh well.

I went to Artcorgi, picked an artist whose dark, apocalyptic style I liked, then told them exactly what I wanted on the banner, with sample pictures for postures etc. I'm just a control freak like that. I also hired a photographer for my first cover because no stock image remotely represented my vision.

I'll probably try and get a new banner done eventually. I think it gives readers the wrong impression about the story.

@Chrysalis - Well, let me just shimmy back to when you had the thrill of completely liking your banner.:)

It helps knowing that you picked someone who already had a foot in the door of the style you wanted, which... more or less has been what I'm trying to do. When it comes to what you wanted, though, where did you get the idea? You've got two people on your banner now; are they your main characters?

Yes, they're two of the 3 POV characters. I wanted both in an upside down position to reflect the 'Anathema' theme in some way, and because in his very first chapter, Radiant plummets from a skyscraper like that and hangs upside down when he activates his luminescent wings. And the destroyed cityline to reflect this is dark, pre-apocalyptic stuff.

My mind is very image focused. I get the best ideas while listening to music and watching story related scenes unfold like movie trailers in my head. Maybe that's why I always have such a clear vision for everything. Including that cover model that required her own photoshoot because no stock image came remotely close: http://de.tinypic.com/view.php?pic=11lqtlf&s=8#.VUeJMiG8PRY

It's still missing the forcefield and the gloomy background, but I suspect I won't be able to resist the urge to link the complete cover when it's done. :D All of this was 100% the vision in my head as well. All the way down to hair length, posture and facial expression.

@Chrysalis - Alright, two things.

First, goddammit, I was already obsessing enough over what the people on Fiverr were capable of. I am now drooling over the samples on ArtCorgi and will pretty much be using them exclusively for the 'official' art now. I will offset this by living in a box and swearing off food.

Second, how did the artist work with you on interpreting your notes? I know you said you were specific so I doubt you did a lot of "Just fill it in with whatever works," but how much back and forth went on?

Wait, no, I lied: third, on ArtCorgi, did you go to the Book Cover category or Facebook Cover category? 'Cause the Facebook one is in the right shape, but I' m not sure if that's... well, important.

Hah, living in a box and swearing off food is how I pay my editor and cover artist. Join the club! xD

I think I picked the Facebook thing, then in the text box explained it was actually a blog banner and gave the exact measurements. And Simone, who founded Artcorgi, worked as a middlewoman between me and the artist and made sure everything was correctly interpreted and changed accordingly (which is why I love Artcorgi, Simone rocks). I got two samples, one very early draft that I gave feedback on, then again an almost complete version that I feedbacked on.

And I was very specific about everything. Even the color of the sky. I basically wrote a wall of text for the artist with the initial order and attached about 4 image files for the wing shape, for Dancer's pose / appearance and Radiant's appearance.

@Chrysalis - Ah-ha! That makes a relieving amount of sense! Okay, I feel a lot better about navigating the process. The part I still have to learn now, however, as someone with an extremely flexible concept who's hoping to have the artist's expertise come through, but who also doesn't want to do a "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there" path to a bad investment, how to approach with a general idea.


In my experience so far - after having worked with 2 cover artists, 1 photographer, one editor and having talked to a few more editors:

State your vision as clearly as possible and see if they'll protest. There's two kinds of artists:

1) Wants to have every detail defined by you to be sure you'll be content with the end product.

2) Will tell you they have decades of experience, thus you should just give them a general idea and then trust them. And if they have the credentials, you probably can. But you can still (gently) protest if you don't like something. Do it. In the end, it's YOUR project, and you pay for it.

I had an artist I as friends with online do a picture that I instantly saw as a style i wanted as a cover. I need to get around to slicing it the way I wanted for a banner.

I think I know what I want to do for my banner now. Holy crap, everyone. Talking it out really does help, and I give a massive recommendation to picking through posters and covers with the same feel as yours (I say 'posters' because so many of my influences come from film).

My big question now is what to do about copyright. Not mine over the image, but... Anyone who's read even the first few paragraphs of TOKoR knows Starbucks is damn near a regular character in its own right. I'm wondering how obscure the logo has to be. I'm pretty sure I can use the Starbucks shade of green, but I may stop there so I don't step on any toes.

Also, I feel the time has come to add a big ol' "STARBUCKS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW IT EXISTS" disclaimer on my 'About' page.

I sat down with my co-writer, Keith Aksland, and talked with him about a vision for a stark, visual representation of the bleak tone and setting of the story we were writing. From there, we went looking for freely available Public Domain imagery of arctic and antarctic locations.

I talked about the need to use the visual, visceral clash of blood on the snow, and he did some minor brush wizardry with photoshop to do a blood trail. I've stalked game in Canadian winters before, so I know what blood on snow looks like. Took about five tries and an hour to come up with something we both liked, but after that, we had a simple, clear visual image:

Blood on the snow, trailing off into a forbidding white arctic expanse.

Entire process was perhaps two hours, and half of that was just finding suitable imagery.

My advice for authors looking to do the same is really think about the impressions you want to distill. There's some excellent banners up on TopWebFiction right now, that tell you a huge amount about the story at a glance:

"The Gods Are Bastards" (banner here), is my personal favorite. Clean, direct, one glance at that font and coloring and you know it's a western.

"Anathema" (banner here) is damn near perfection for the banner space. Ultra clean, just enough visual space to represent some interesting character illustrations, and the rest is up for the reader to click on and find out.

"The Zombie Knight" (banner here): Not my favorite, but the tagline is catchy and the skull illustration is doing okay with the resolution it has.

"Pact" (banner here): This one is alright. I think it needs a clearer palette, the muddy colors make it hard at a glance to tell what I'm looking at. But the details are interesting. Unfortunately the tattoos look like crazy veins instead of trees, but there's not much to be done about that in that size limitation.


In turn, there's a few banners up there that I am, uh, less charitable about.

"Citadel" is stark, but a bit boring.

"Super Powereds" is in some sore need of a revamp, in my opinion.

"Midnight Moonlight": Make that bottom text bigger, and you're golden. You have a great banner waiting to happen there but trying to read that red-on-black text when it is so small is painful. Give your text a pixel border, something to make it a little easier to read overall.

That's all for now. There's a few others I rather really like and dislike, but they're not displaying at the moment on the site.

@PatrickRochefort - That's a fantastic breakdown. Thank you for going into detail, because it also reminds me that I'm going to need a somewhat smaller size for the TWF banner (someday, people will even see it!), so the details I want to preserve while cropping have to be placed accordingly.

TGaB does give me an immediate feel of vhat it's about. Twisted Cogs too, if I might add: it's immediately steampunk and artistically ornate (which is what the main focus of the story is). And daaaaaamn. Anathema cropped really well. Honestly, I like the crop job there more than the full banner; the crop makes it feel more intimate.

When I get a few drafts going, I'm going to float them by you folks. Who better?

Wow. I had no idea anyone liked my cropped banner. Thanks, guys! Though, I still think it's too comic-y for how dark and mature audience oriented the story is.

tartra, a generic green face that looks likethe starbucks logo without actually BEING the starbucks logo.

I worked with Mahasim, a fellow author here on Webfictionguide, to make my header idea a reality. I had a chat with her about whether she was open to it, negotiated price (half paid with reception of initial sketch, then half on completion), then provided a document with about four pages of info/particulars, as well as reference images. The doc was inspired by the art requests that I've seen made for magic cards (they have card idea in mind, they give artists a page or several pages of notes with ideas for what is to match the card).

In the document, I detailed:

Basic info - dimensions (1015 x 276), intent (header image for the story Twig), that I would want to put the title in one corner, and that I hoped to have future images done in the same style later.

Abstract elements - basic, broad-strokes intent and elements. (Children, rain, trees, darkness/contrast of light and dark, ambiguous blood and flesh)

Action - the scene, described. Setting, characters, what's going on. This was a few paragraphs.

Layout and details - Scale, framing, emphasis. This was a couple paragraphs.

Characters - each child got a few paragraphs to note the essential elements. A few references images were included to note clothing style and features.

Reference images - I finished by including a few images that I felt were close to what I was going for.

I was worried it was a little too particular, but she seemed to like that I'd done it. We had a few rounds of discussion over a set number of drafts (she set limit at two reworks/passes) - Mahasim was very cooperative and helpful, I felt like I had an easy time communicating what I wanted. The only issue was Mahasim having difficulty doing the rain, as it was a first for her, and the regular interaction between us tripped me up a few times as it tended to happen when I was in the middle of other stuff (writing, etc).

I'm eager to work with her again, but alas, she's busy with school. Would like to do my TWF banner and a few more header images. I like working with those in the community - the Pact banner was done by an artist & fan who was doing Pact fanart.

@Alexander.Hollins - What I might do is have a green circle with just the eyes and smile of the Starbucks mermaid (oof, that sounds creepy). That's about as far as I feel comfortable pushing it, even though Starbucks should totally be paying me for how much love they get.

@Wildbow - I've noticed that being very specific and have lots of notes or references makes the artist feel so much more comfortable. There's always the risk of every client being 'that client', and failing to draw whatever's in that person's head can sour any other possible working relationship they might have. Knowing exactly what you want, even when it starts to feel nitpicky, is - in my experience - much better than under-explaining. It helps to throw in a quick, "Let me know if something doesn't fit properly" so they don't feel boxed in.

Haha! 'How to Train Your Artist'.

Also, bow, thaaaaank yooooou for finally adding Twig to your signature. I kept wanting to bring it up 'cause it was driving me crazy!

I'd added it, but it didn't go through because signatures are a max of two lines.

Yeah, I didn't want to be that flaky customer that I read about on some blogs and sites.

I drew my own banner, I wanted to showcase the main characters and the setting, I felt like I did a pretty good job. It also helped to show what the reader was getting in to regarding the serial being illustrated.

Oh, and I will say, on the working with artists, no matter how specific you are, it won't match what you asked for exactly, and when it doesnt, look at it before correcting. Some of my favorite stuff has been from misunderstandings (I work with an artist on the webcomics we do constantly. we've actually had plot happen from stuff that was screwed up and missed, heh)