Mystery and History

Mystery and history live together in perfect harmony, but not on book covers because they’re hard as heck to do with found objects.

Since none of you took my hint — okay beg — to give me a time period and title for our past mystery, I’m going to have to do this on my own. You brought this on yourselves, don’t make me do that again.I’m going to go with three fairly standard times.  I am not going to use render, but I am probably going to use Filter Forge.

So, let’s go for

Medieval (to early renaissance, no one makes the distinction that fine for signaling)

Death in the Scriptorium

Nineteenth Century to early twentieth:

A Well Mannered Murder

And a WWII one:

Loose Lips Kill

They will all be written by our old friend Ima Nidiot, because she’s prolific that way.

Because I know the limits of Pixabay my first look for Death in the scriptorium was (actually, because I haven’t duck duck gone on this computer, since I use it rarely for searches) on bing for royalty free illuminated manuscript sites.  If you’re likely to use these a lot, you might bookmark this site.  (One of the links is dead, but the other one seems fine.)

I ran a search on this one (because it has the easiest terms, other than the vanished one) and decided to go fancy, since it’s death in a scriptorium (aka, place where manuscripts get copied.)

Note that if you go there, you can find images perhaps more appropriate to your book.  Since I didn’t have a book, I was playing it simply on “does this look pretty”.

So we have this:Add. 10341, f.31v

Now let’s make it a cover.  To begin with the proportions are wrong. Second, we need to find a place to slap our title that won’t get eaten with background stuff.  So, let’s be ruthless with this lovely image.

I do my images 6×9 which is fatter than the Amazon requirement.  I was reading a book on covers and the author pointed out that if you use the Amazon digital size, your books looks skinnier and that all the books that do that are indie, no budget and usually digital only.  It’s a matter of subconscious signaling, so I changed it.

I made it the right size, straightened it half a degree (I had to use a grid. It looked tilted to me, but turned out not to be even a full degree.


I used the background color of the letters at 20% opacity to sort of create the erase effect they used on parchment.  Since I’m not doing this for pay (yes, I’m really mercenary) I wasn’t willing to spend time seeing if filter forge has a water-stain filter to make it mo’ better.  Also, if I were doing this for pay I would have preserved that lovely P enclosure (though there is the issue of people then trying to read it so I’d have to experiment a while to get an effect that preserves it, but it’s not something that will confuse people.  I more or less randomly picked an ornate/looks calligraphic font already installed, in this case Andrade.  There are probably better free ones and if you’re doing something like this as a series, you might want to search.

However, let me point out this would “do” and most people would not realize it wasn’t a custom cover:

death in the scriptorium

For A Well Mannered murder, I went to Pixabay and searched for vintage woman.

You’re spoiled for choice, but I decided to go with something that comes with background and border.

girl-2675490Now that’s a lovely illustration but not the slightest bit ominous.  So let’s see what we can do?

a well mannered murder

I admit the splash of blood behind the title can be omitted and it’s probably gratuitous, but sometimes a girl just likes a bit of blood in her murder.  The font is called parsel tongue and is free for commercial use, and JUST a little more ominous than your average art noveau font.

Now for Loose Lips Kill…  Back to pixabay.

Since I meant a book set in England, and couldn’t find anything from the blitz, I went looking for sepia, and found this.


which does look fairly vintage.  Now I need a woman, preferably not incredibly easy to see features, because Pixabay you can never be sure they got model release.  (If you’re doing this for reals, it might be easier to go to a pay site and check that they have a model release, okay?


from the fact this says model, it’s probably okay, but I’m going to mess with it so it’s blurry.

And sepia it. And cut out the girl. (Though this background is perfect for espionage, btw.)


Not my best effort, and Draven will point out it needs shadows (and he’s right. I am however very late for my first coffee, so… sorry, it will do.

Next week: What do you do with alternate history?


  1. since Saarah poked me… this is about 20 min in Photoshop.

    here’s a version with a little more blur and some grain

        1. Its excellent. Even knowing the two sources, it looks like a photograph. The blur looks like motion.

          Drop a robot spider in there, and its the cover the book I just finished. Put her next to a canal in Amsterdam for even more win.

      1. My experience with Gimp makes it seem that “how” is not the biggest issue. It’s doing it often enough that you can do it well. That and learning all the terms-of-the-art (use the ‘blur’ filter to sharpen? Well, OK).

  2. I love that you threw in the “impossible” over-the-shoulder shot with a live model. Really rubs it in for those intellectual Ahhhtistic types.

  3. Alternate-History hinges on two questions:

    Which history?
    What’s Different?

    Pick a title and build a cover that answers both questions succinctly and sets a visual tone corresponding to the story. So let’s do an Urban-Fantasy Noir set in ’30s California (Cagney, Bogart, Bacal, Hammett, Chandler (but he was more ’40s).

    Title: “Pan is Dead”

    Cover: Deco style print of a large early-20th-c. car, approaching the viewer from Lower Left (this image can be reversed for the Japanese and Hebrew editions: base of spine is the visual anchorpoint). Standing nearly the full height of the other edge of the cover is the silhouette of a shapely woman as though backlit by the headlights. She’s dressed more or less like Jessica Rabbit, but moderately-sized horns come up above her hairline. The leg sticking out through the high cut in her dress is digitigrade, and hooved.

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