Book Cover Competition #1

by August Wainwright on March 14, 2013

In honor of the US hardcover and paperback release of Hugh Howey’s WOOL earlier this week, I’m going to dedicate the inaugural episode of the Cover Competition to Hugh and the work he’s been doing in the name of all indie writers.

If you haven’t already heard about Hugh and WOOL, go read the article at IndieReader that explains his new deal with Simon & Schuster.

So, today we’ll be looking at covers from two books currently holding down spots at the top of the sci-fi lists, the aforementioned WOOL by Hugh Howey and The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Greg Bear, and others.

As of this writing, WOOL is currently #2 in sci-fi and The Mongoliad is #4.

Let’s take a look at both covers.


First up is WOOL by Hugh Howey.

This is the new cover design that coincides with the national release of the hardcover and paperback versions. Not to be too hard on Hugh, but this new design is far better than the old ones he was using. And I think he’d agree with that.

This new version was made for print covers but has been scaled down to use as the cover for the digital versions as well.

What I really like about this cover is the complete lack of genre identity, which is usually something I would tell authors NOT to do. It reminds me of the cover for the book Prey by Michael Crichton, which I also really liked.

But with WOOL, it works. WOOL is a sci-fi novel – let me repeat that – this is a sci-fi book called “WOOL”. The title, the tagline on the cover (If the lies don’t kill you, the truth will), and the cover design itself all play into this mysterious presentation that is devoid of any specifics towards what you’ll find inside. Everything on this cover is ambiguous and leaves me wondering.

Everything except for the hot-like-lava, blood orange eruption that’s going on. That’s the part which is crystal clear. Now I know, at least partially, what I’m in for. This is not ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ we’re dealing with here.

On his site, Hugh published a few other covers that were being considered for the redesign.

I like both of these covers individually. Both are extremely simple layouts that use good font size, good font placement, and have great texture and overall feel. But is that feel the one Hugh was hoping for? Considering he didn’t choose either design, it’s safe to assume the answer is no.

And I can see why. The first cover has great texture and the image is very haunting. It has no problem keeping your attention. But, where as the original makes me wonder what I’m in for, this cover screams Horror to me. I’m already imagining a certain experience looking at this cover.

The second option that was turned down is even better, in my opinion. I absolutely love the pre-pixelation-era “pixelation” (for lack of a better word) at the top. Gives it an Orwellian quality in my opinion. It’s the small details like that which will take a cover from really good to absolutely amazing. The font is bold, yet simple. The textures and the atmosphere are perfect.

This would be an amazing image to use for a book cover, video game ad, or movie poster. One thing to note, on really close inspection, the mountain area in the background seems to be a lower resolution image that was cut out, as compared to the foreground. I’m sure that if this design was chosen, the issue would have been fixed. I know that’s picking out a very small detail to bring up, but that’s how close I thought these two designs for WOOL were. I was splitting hairs.

But, after staring at both for far too long, I decided the final version was the better of the two. Just barely. It’s a more visually striking cover and, because of the fact it breaks so many rules, it really makes me wonder about what I’m going to find inside. Overall, great cover.


WOOL by Hugh Howey Cover Review

Pros: visually striking, genre-appropriate but leaves me wondering what the hell I’m in for, good font selection, great movement, texture and overall atmosphere

Cons: a little difficult to read the text in spots, not sure it will look great on non full-color readers, might be considered too “violent” of an image in some ways (note: not a problem for me)

Overall Score (out of 10): 9.0


Next is The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson and others.

The Mongoliad is also in the sci-fi category and was an experiment in story telling where, readers subscribed to the story and were then delivered episodes. It sounds very similar to what Amazon is now doing with their Serials program.

This is a good cover, not only as an ebook but I could easily picture this one on bookshelves.

The imagery does an excellent job of setting both the theme of the book and the larger overall genre.

I’m usually not a huge fan of over-the-top title fonts. Most of the time, simplicity rules, and an elaborate font might be loved by one person and hated by another. Readability is sometimes an issue as well. But the treatment of the title on this cover works, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, there are some design decision here that don’t work.

First is the author name section. I understand that jamming seven different author names onto one cover can be a daunting task. But this just looks like an afterthought. The font doesn’t work, the spacing is bad, and there’s even some blur issues.

My main issue with the cover is that it’s essentially two different cover designs that have been mashed together. First, there’s the helm in the background. It lends an ominous look and has great detail and texture. Then at the bottom, we’ve got the horde of warriors on horseback with severed heads on their pikes. Individually, I really enjoy both elements. Together – they just don’t work that well. Let’s compare this cover with the cover of the third book of the Mongoliad series:

This is a much better overall design. We have the same genre-specific design, a single visual element, great color and texture, and the font treatments, color, and spacing are all much better than book one.

Everything jumps off this cover, where as, on book one, a few of the elements seem to sink into the background.

Just take a second and look at the handling of the author names between these two covers. Big difference.

I think the authors of the Mongoliad series would be well served to go back and update the covers of the first two books in the series to match the styling and effects of book three. It is a much better overall book cover. I’ll also say that the cover for book three was served up as an ad on my Kindle Fire and it enticed me to click through and learn about the book. I’m not sure the cover for the first would have done the same.


The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Erik Bear, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Joseph Brassey, & Copper Moo

Pros: Imagery is both genre-specific and does a good job of setting the theme of the book, title font treatment works well, good imagery and textures

Cons: Too many visual elements, lack of contrast in colors, bad spacing and layout of author names section

Overall Score (out of 10): 7.9



So what are your thoughts? Both are good, but which cover do you like better? Leave a comment below.

You can purchase Hugh Howey’s WOOL by clicking HERE
You can purchase Neal Stephenson’s The Mongoliad by clicking HERE

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