Tag Archives: jon contino

A Weird Fiction Cover Design Intervention

On Twitter this April, I went on a rant about cover design, specifically targeting indie authors and small press houses within the Lovecraftian and weird fiction genres. Both are genres of which I am proud to be a part, but as of late I’ve found myself disappointed when it comes to the quality of the book cover designs. Fellow author S. Lee Benedict suggested I expand on this topic here, and it’s a good idea…

...and here we go.

This isn’t the first time I have written about cover design; you can read my previous post, ‘Building A Better Book Cover’ over here. Cover design is something of a passion for me. I’ve been a professional designer for 16 years working on everything from software, branding, advertising, book covers, and a variety of promotional materials. I believe good design is important, and I know it’s important to fans and readers.

So, here’s our situation. I feel like Lovecraftian and weird fiction literature needs a cover design intervention. Honestly, that statement could apply to much, much more than just those two categories; but these days I am closest to those genres, so they get the brunt of my focus. I’m not fond of publically shaming. So, don’t expect me to call out specific examples of bad design. However, with a little searching, you can easily see what I mean.

It’s not that indie authors or small publishers start out with a desire to make awful covers. Sit in on any self-publishing panel at a convention and every author will readily admit it’s worth spending the money on an illustration for your cover. And, many books with terrible covers start with a great illustration. They’re on point for tone and mood, and often a good step in the right direction, but they completely miss the mark when it comes to typography and design. Strange font choices abound, bad effects mar legibility, and bizarre distortions plague the shelves. At best it’s boring, at worst it’s completely illegible. (And it tends to skew towards the latter, unfortunately.) It’s like someone put all their effort into illustration and completely forgot that paying attention to the cover’s typography and design is just as important as having great art. Those three concepts are the pillars of good design. Everything in a book cover plays off of one another; bad typography can forever mar a beautiful illustration.

“…paying attention to the cover’s typography and design is just as important as having great art.”

If indie authors and small presses were more honest with themselves, they’d know when a cover is done vs. done right. It’s not hard to compare; solid examples are everywhere. And it wouldn’t take much to improve; basic typography operates under a set of rules, and a few typography classes at a local college would go a long way to learning the ins and outs. If that’s hard to swing, sit down with a Skillshare class. Jon Contino, the illustrator who did the lettering for my books, offers a Skillshare class on Illustration and Lettering: A Hands-on Approach to Label Design that is excellent. If you’re looking for books on the subject start with The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. It’s commonly called “the Typographer’s Bible,” and it’s a good (if not dense) place to start. Also, look into Ellen Lupton’s fantastic Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students; it’s a practical guide on the rules of typography and how to break them effectively and creatively,

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

As I mentioned in my post, ‘Building a Better Book Cover,’ Chip Kidd, one of the greatest book cover designers living today, has said, “A book cover is a distillation. It is a haiku of the story.” I love that quote. He’s not wrong; bad cover design does a disservice to the writing it represents. It detracts when it should enhance, it lies when it should entice.

But there is a silver lining! I know quite a few authors who have taken the time and put in the effort and have made strides in cover design. Word Horde is a great weird fiction press that does wonderful work, and Laird Barron’s novels often have fantastic covers. Recent strides have been made by larger print houses as well; Victor laValle’s Ballad of Black Tom (Tor) and Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft County (Harper) were recent standouts in the genre. So well designed covers in weird fiction are out there. Publishers, designers, and authors should study what those books do right and strive towards emulating their successes.

Weird fiction book covers

I believe weird fiction is one of the most exciting and imaginative genres to be writing in today. It pushes at the edges of speculative fiction as a whole and continues to broaden its reach. It’s only reasonable to desire that the covers of the great work being produced should live up to the potential within the pages. We all want these books to continue to attract new readers for decades to come, and a well-designed cover goes a long way to doing just that.

Red Litten World arrives October 6th, 2015

First Look: Red Litten World Trade Paperback

Well, well, well, look what arrived in the mail last Friday… behold, the first look at the Red Litten World trade paperback! (Okay, technically, it’s the second look, since subscribers to my newsletter got the first look on Tuesday. You can join their illustrious ranks and get access to content early, just sign up here.)

Watch the Periscope capture above (apologies for the quiet-ish sound) or just check out the images with my commentary below. I’m so excited for everyone to see this. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well the trade paperback turned out. It feels so good in hand.

Red Litten World - Trade Paperback
Red Litten World trade paperback

I’m super proud how well this turned out. Every time I start the arduous process of laying out a novel, I feel like I get better and better. Red Litten World is my biggest book yet, each tome is 400 pages on the dot. (For a comparison, Old Broken Road (the smallest) is 356 pages long and The Stars Were Right comes in at 364 pages.)

The Bell Forging Cycle series
The three books in the Bell Forging Cycle

The series is looking incredible, and I really have Jon Contino to thank for that. The consistency between covers is stunning, and as you can tell the three look absolutely wonderful sitting next to one another on the shelf. Jon’s lettering has a lot to do with that. As always the work is fabulous.

Just like in the interior of Old Broken Road there are stars illustrations breaking up paragraph breaks. These are the same hand-drawn stars done by Illustrator Sean Cumiskey for the Bell Caravans patch. They look great in the book, I love seeing them in print. Returning to form, the glyph atop the chapter titles was drawn by Lovecraft himself, just like the elder sign we saw on The Stars Were Right. Like the titles themselves, this will be a motif that will continue through the rest of the series.

Red Litten World interior
Left – title page, Right Top – chapter titles, Right Bottom – paragraph breaks

There’s a special surprise inside for paperback owners only, but I’m not going to go into details about it here. I’m going to keep that under wrap for now, that said, I’m sure it’ll leak eventually. As with everything in the Bell Forging Cycle it’s always layers upon layers, often the biggest secrets are hidden in the background.

I can’t wait for this to get into everyone’s hands! Red Litten World arrives Tuesday, October 6th, 2015. EBook readers, you can pre-order it today for Kindle, Kobo, or Apple iBooks and have it delivered on launch day!

Hold onto your butts. We’re getting close!

Red Litten World Cover Reveal

The Red Litten World Cover Reveal

Hooray! It is June 4th! As I promised it’s time to reveal the cover of my next novel: The Bell Forging Cycle, Book III: Red Litten World. Let’s get to it:

Red Litten World by K. M. Alexander

The city of Lovat is dying. It just doesn’t know it yet. Trapped behind blockades, its citizens starve. Only the wealthiest can afford to snatch up what food does slip through, leaving the poor jostling for scraps. But money only goes so far. Inside their gleaming towers, the well-fed elevated are being killed off one-by-one.

Caravan Master Waldo Bell—only a few months removed from the harrowing events along the Broken Road—just wants to keep his head down and be left alone while he waits for the blockades to break. But when familiar symbols written in blood appear at a crime scene and an old debt comes calling, Wal finds himself thrust into chaos.

Now, forced onto Lovat’s blood-soaked upper levels, Wal faces his most dangerous challenge yet: within a city on the verge of self-destruction, he must fight to save not only his own life—but the life of every Lovatine struggling below.


Isn’t it lovely? Once again, Jon Contino returned to lend his considerable talents by creating the lettering for Red Litten World. I’ve always been an admirer and fan of Jon’s work and there is something with his focused Arts and Crafts approach that captures the feel of the Bell Forging series. He nails that looming sense of unease prevalent throughout but adds an undercurrent of approachability which I really appreciate. As always, I am honored to have his help. Thanks a ton, Jon.

The background image comes once again from the late 19th-century french artist, Gustav Doré. (Sensing a theme, perhaps?) I love Dore’s work, and I’ve used his illustrations on the last two covers as well. This time the engraving was selected from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, in this case, Inferno. There Minos stands, centers on the lounging former Cretan king, Minos, now judge of the damned at the gates of hell. As with the previous books in the series, this illustration was selected specifically for Red Litten World. There’s a hint on the cover at what lies inside the pages.

I like scattering Easter Eggs throughout my work, and not only in prose. Each of these little details add to the overall experience when a reader picks up one of the Bell Forging Cycle novels. From the choice of the background image, to the little symbols I place along the spine. Everything is selected to give readers a little more depth should they go looking.

So there it is! The cover for Red Litten World is revealed! I think it fits perfectly within the series while bringing its own unique look. Check out how great Red Litten World looks in a lineup with the other two books:

The Bell Forging Cycle

Perfect right? Red Litten World is due out later this year and there will be a launch announcement coming soon along with a sample chapter. I cannot wait to get this into your hands. I think you’re going to love this one.

What do you think of the new cover? Which cover is you favorite of the series so far and why? Leave a comment. Let me know!

Red Litten World Cover Reveal

Red Litten World Cover Reveal Is Coming June 4th

The date has been set, the stars have aligned, and it is time. The cover reveal for Red Litten World, book three of The Bell Forging Cycle, is coming June 4th, 2015. One again the incredibly talented Jon Contino is back with some beautiful hand lettering. After seeing his incredible work for the covers of The Stars Were Right and Old Broken Road, you’ve probably detected a theme beginning to form for the series. I’d wager you can sorta guess what this cover will look like… or can you. [Cue dramatic music.]

“…legend said that it had come from a mysterious inner realm beneath the red-litten world—a black realm of peculiar-sensed beings which had no light at all, but which had great civilisations and mighty gods…”

H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, The Mound

As with all big announcements and cover reveals, folks who subscribe to my newsletter will be the first people who get a glimpse at the new cover. Why not join those brave and noble few and… sign up today →.

Old Broken Road

Behold, The First Print Proof For Old Broken Road!

If you’re not following me on Instagram you probably missed the news. Today, the first print proof for Old Broken Road arrived! I didn’t have time to record a video like I did when The Stars Were Right print proof arrived, but I did take some time to snap a few photos.

Old Broken Road cover detail

It turned out looking fantastic. Yet again, I am blow away by how good the cover look. The lettering—illustrated by Jon Contino—works perfect. Nails the mood. Check it out below sitting next to The Stars Were Right. Starting to look like a series!

Old Broken Road and The Stars Were Right side by side

I’m also introducing some fun little details in this go-around. There’s a new symbol leading each chapter and on the spine. Also there are some star illustrations, drawn by Sean Cumiskey, separating sections within chapters. They look fantastic. Add a nice level of polish, don’t you think?

Old Broken Road, Spine and Star Details

All in all, it’s turned out pretty swanky! What do you think? Leave a comment below, or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. There’s a lot more to come, new swag, new free backgrounds, and even a new giveaway all leading up to the launch of Old Broken Road on October 14th!

The “Old Broken Road” Cover Reveal!

Let’s cut to the chase; as promised here’s your first glance at the cover for Old Broken Road, the sequel to The Stars Were Right:

Old Broken Road

Caravan master Waldo Bell faces a new horror, one year after his experiences in The Stars Were Right. Wal and his friends make a desperate decision that sends them on a journey down the Broken Road, where death and madness await. There they fight for sanity and survival as a crawling chaos hunts for new victims.

I am really proud of this one. There’s a lot of similarities between this and The Stars Were Right and a lot of subtle nuances that help set it apart. As a result it helps unify the series while still keeping each individual story separate. They also look really good next to one another.

Once again, a huge thanks to Jon Contino for his help with the lettering. Jon is a master at hand lettering and has done work for Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, The National, and brands like Ford, Jameson, and Nike. I’m honored he was willing to help me out with these covers. In my opinion, his lettering is what carries the tone. You should check out more of his work over at his site.

As with The Stars Were Right I’m using an old etching by Gustav Doré as the background. I have always been a fan of Doré’s work. His attention to detail is amazing for etching. There’s something masterful in his approach. If you want to see the full piece: “Rizpah’s Kindness toward the Dead” you can check it out over at Wikimedia.

Let me know what you think of the cover in the comments! Old Broken Road is due out later this year and will be available in trade paperback and on all eReader devices. Sign up for my newsletter and be one of the first to know when it launches!