At the moment, I’m designing a cover for my interactive pirate fantasy adventure, Scarlet Sails – the same Scarlet Sails that placed 7th in the Interactive Fiction Comp 2015, and has since been edited so much that it’s now twice as long (mainly due to greater branching – you can actually play almost the same game if you like, except it’s better written now). One of the conditions of the competition is that the game must be available for free, so although the game was as good as I could make it at the time, I’m highly motivated to make the post-comp version significantly bigger and better. Having a different cover (and a significantly higher word count with various completely new chapters) sends a clear message that it’s worth paying a few dollars for a whole lot of extra content.
The original cover was made by using a public-domain skull and crossbones and adding a red background:
It was always perfectly obvious how the cover was created, and that no artist was involved, but it also communicated the basic points of the story rather well: pirates, clichés, and violence. It worked well in any size, too.
This is the current version of the new cover (it comes in various dimensions depending on the device):
In fact, since posting those images I made the woman darker and got rid of the distant flag altogether:
The woman is darker because sixteen years ago, when I first conceived this world, it was in part a reaction against the white man-dominated fantasy worlds I’d grown up with (and that I still love), and I was living in Indonesia – a land of 13,000 tropical islands, and roughly as many different cultures – at the time.
So, dark skin was important. Part of the reason the image originally appealed is because it was black and white, so she could theoretically be any skin tone. I tried a darker tone originally but was afraid it obscured her features so I overcompensated in the other direction. Today I tried a bit darker, and I think it works. She may get darker in later drafts; we’ll see.
These are the three main images the picture is built from (I took several hours finding them on shutterstock, and discarding many others for various reasons – obviously the ones I used were paid for and therefore had the watermarks taken off legally):
By three different artists 🙂
The cover image journey also involved these ladies (who are a tad too sexy and/or Freudian, and implausibly dressed and built, but nonetheless portray piracy and fun and non-realistic adventure violence rather well):
And then I kept looking, and I found these:
Even sassier and more fantastic.
The same problems kept cropping up over and over again: Artists who drew men didn’t tend to draw women (and vice versa). There were only a few dark-skinned pirates (either in photographs or artwork) – although to be fair, I was only about 100 pages through 500 shutterstock pages of images (the skin-tone colour is what led me to the wood-cutting style of illustration). And often when a picture captured the attitude of the book perfectly it fell down in another area eg the cover I’ve worked on above works well proportionally, has both a man and a woman (in the story, you can pick your gender) in a similar style, and has a sense of nautical adventure – but the actual pirate symbol has to be tacked on. And there’s not much sense of fun.
I really love the red-head with the eyepatch and I suspect I’ll change either her hair colour or the text to imply darker skin*, and use her as a splashscreen image (it displays briefly just before the game begins). Or possibly start over, and make her the entire cover image.
I’d certainly still consider using the women with the cutlass over her shoulder as a cover, especially if I could darken her skin and/or add a dress-up scene into the story (in the world of interactive fiction, anyone who saw a cover like that would expect it!)
*It’s possible for dark-skinned people to have red hair, but rare (especially for that wavy style). It’s more likely to be done with magic, in which case it would be referenced in the text.