And Now, the Cover to Redshirts

Irene Gallo, Tor’s art director, tells the story of this cover over at, including showing off some alternative covers. Go take a look while I write up my own comments here. This post will be updated with those comments within the hour.


Okay. Here’s what I think of this cover:

I love love love love love it.

Why do I love it? Let me count the ways.

1. The title of the book is Redshirts. What should the cover be? I mean, duh, this is not rocket science. It’s simple, iconic and obvious in the best way.

2. Also, the cover looks almost exactly like I imagined it should look like in my head.

3. But it actually looks better than I imagined it in my head, because I am not an art designer or an art director, whereas Irene Gallo and Peter Lutjen are, and this is what they do. I love it when reality is better than what you imagined.

4. And aside from any of this, I think this is a magnificent piece of commercial art. Book covers are advertisements, both to readers and to booksellers. This cover works because it’s clear from the cover what you’re getting in the book, and you can see the thing from across a crowded real world bookstore — or in a tiny thumbnail on your favorite online bookstore. It’s an eye-catcher, and if you know what a “red shirt” is, and almost everyone does at this point, it’ll make you smile.

In short: Love love love love love it. I really could not be happier with this cover.

That said, I also love these alternate, rejected covers. In the article I linked to above, Peter Lutjen explains the idea behind these, and why he fiddled with these before going back to the idea of an actual red shirt. I think these covers are fantastic and very clever (I’m particularly fond of the middle one), but I don’t think they do what the final cover does, which is have the ability to grab you from across the room.

I also think that if Tor ever decides to try to spin the book to a non-science fiction crowd, say in a trade paperback edition for hipsters, these covers are the way to go. My brain is already calling these my “Michael Chabon covers,” with no disrespect to Chabon, who as far as I know has never shied away from his science fiction nerd tendencies. But you see what I’m getting at here. Be that as it may, each of these covers is smart, engaging and witty, and I really adore them all. I just like the final cover more.

And thus this is, for a commercial author, the best of all possible cover art situations: Four exceptionally cool cover treatments, with the best being the final art.

I like my life. I like my job. I like my publisher. And I need to send both Irene and Peter a big-ass fruit basket.

(Also: If you haven’t gone over to the article already, here’s another reason to do so: the jacket flap synopsis is over there.)

76 Comments on “And Now, the Cover to Redshirts”

  1. Having read the Tor link, I can’t wait to read the story! It sounds damn good, and the cover is just the icing on the cake.

  2. Been looking forward to this since you read an excerpt at your Seattle appearance. Will there be actual Redshirt t-shirts in the offing?

  3. It’s a great name though GC – John really rocks the unexpected-jagged-consonant-but-that-IS-my-real-name like nobody else since Asimov.

  4. I’m just glad it not yet another ‘spaceships around a planet’ cover.
    Will they ever learn?
    …… uhhh I guess they did, this time.

  5. Looks interesting, and based on the plot thumbnail, it sounds like it’ll be a fun read. Adding that to the to-buy list.

  6. Matt:
    It’s a concept, not a final. I suspect if they wanted it for a final, they would take pains to keep it from looking exactly like a previous cover.

  7. You know… it was relatively clear from the title what this book was poking fun at – but the description at the end of article takes what sounds like a funny one-liner joke and turns it into an idea intriguing enough actually to carry a whole novel. I’ve got to say… I’m hooked. I look forward to adding this to my “To read” list.

  8. It’s perfect, even without spaceships and lasers, though I suppose later on, Tor could release a special spaceships and lasers edition.
    In Seattle, when you read from the book and had the audience guess the title, you said that it might change because you thought it might be too “on the nose.” I’m glad you didn’t change it, and I like the fact that Peter Lutjen went through the same thought process with the cover art.

  9. One of the posters in the Tor thread suggested a promotional T-shirt to go along with the book, and I strongly agree with that suggestion. Please, PLEASE make it so :)

  10. Awesome cover. Between that and the synopsis, I’m looking forward to this one even more. Can’t wait to see what the German edition will look like, but I suspect I already know :)

  11. I’m an old-line Trekkie* — yes, TREKKIE; I will not use the PC Trekker — and I love both the cover and the sell-copy and am off to put it in my Amazon cart RIGHT NOW! BTW, congrats on the name above the title!

    *From The Dark Times. From Before STAR WARS even existed…

  12. This cover is some high quality advertising art. Fast, clean, iconic, and cheap.

    For those that don’t work in the business, a book design has to tell a complex story to a potential reader, sell them on the the idea well enough for them to pick up the book (where the back cover copy is suppose to close the deal), and it has to do all that in less than a second. Anyone who thinks this is easy should try doing it for a living.

    A big round of applause to Peter and Irene from the print finisher in the back row.

    Now, can we talk about kerning? ;-)

    I’d be really surprised if Tor didn’t make up red, blue, and gold UU shirts as a relatively cheap marketing tool. They be great advertising, especially at most sci-fi cons.

  13. Hey Scalzi – any idea if you have an audiobook performer signed yet?

    I’m hoping for the obvious. He’d knock it into a parallel dimension where Scalzi has no beard and is a wuss.

  14. Congratulations. Funny, from the blurb, the 2 outside alternate covers make sense, but I didn’t see how Plastic James Bond on the middle alternate fit in.
    Can’t wait to read it and find out…

  15. Saith Dave Branson, “It’s perfect, even without spaceships and lasers, though I suppose later on, Tor could release a special spaceships and lasers edition.”

    No, that’s the German translation.

  16. Bleah – did someone leak?

    John – go search Amazon ebooks on your title. It’s not yours, but the art and title are weirdly resonant on an item that was released August 2011.

  17. @dglnjGL:

    I realize that the previous spaceships and lasers cover was the German translation of Fuzzy Nation. I just thought that Tor could learn from and capitalize upon the German publisher’s innovation.

  18. That is a very spiff cover, though I admit to being distracted by wondering whether the character ever sees any sunlight at *all*, because on this computer it looks like vampire-levels of pale.

  19. The fact that it’s a photo and not a painting of a spaceship already says crossover marketing to me, even if the “shirt” version isn’t quite as hipsterish as the other options.

  20. Great cover. Want the book. Really want the shirt, which should arrive at the same time as the book hits the stores, so I can wear the shirt to the gym and say “Go and buy the book!”.

    Also, wearing a red shirt on Friday is a minor solidarity-with-the-troops thing.

  21. Jennifer Davis Ewing: yes, but you have to admit you’re not that common, and given the premise it may well be that the protag literally never gets out of the ship!

  22. I am looking forward to the book. Really, very much. Next summer is far too long to wait, imo.

  23. I can just imagine that if the shirts are marketed, then at the first panel at the first con you go to after the release, you will be looking out at an audience of nothing but red shirts. Which will be weird, because that will mean that they will all be dead by the end of the panel. ;-)

  24. The cover is perfect. I am looking forward to the whole book, having heard the first part at one of your readings. I am sure what we have here is another Scalzi masterpiece.

  25. Wow. Love both the cover and the synopsis (this may be the 1st book of yours that I read. I love your blog writing but haven’t read any of your books. Yet!).

    My sister, a sorta Luddite, has no idea of what a Red Shirt means even though she’s watched the original Star Trek. This will definitely help me to explain it to her.

  26. 1. I really hope it’s okay to judge this book by its cover. Because the book will be so awesome if it is as good as the cover promises.

    2. Absolutely the right premise to make the title as prominent as it is on the final design. The title is going to grab anyone who knows what the term means. The lack of prominence of the title is the biggest drawback of the three alternate designs.

  27. So the manuscript and cover are done, why do we have to wait so long to get this? Waiting is always so hard. T-shirts are obviously a no brainer for this. Very excited to see the final product.

  28. Yeah I wouldn’t say “everyone” knows what a redshirt is. While nerd culture has definitely permeated everywhere, I don’t think it’s soaked through everything. I could be wrong.

  29. Love it. Wonderfully minimal. Also, I think it’s interesting that even the final cover design does not skew as explicitly scifi as all of your previous books. It’s actually a happy medium between the more “literary” (but secretly scifi) rejected covers 1 and 2, and the extremely scifi covers of the Old Man’s War series. Seems like your publisher is feeling confident about your projected sales and cross-over appeal.

  30. A few questions about the typeset parts of this, as I don’t have any about the design itself, which is in its way conservative but certainly functional while not lacking a dollop of personality (the automotive equivalent might be a Volvo 1800ES two-door Sport Wagon of the early 1970s):

    This is the first Scalzi novel that I’m aware of with a one-sentence or one-phrase synopsis on the cover itself – did you get to write it, or only approve it?

    Is the phrase “They were expendable” meant to evoke the 1945 movie of that title, or is this coincidental/unavoidable?

    Will Unitarian Universalist church people (who sometimes refer to themselves as UU’s) see that shirt logo and think it’s about them somehow? (Or was the name of the federation-equivalent chosen for that resemblance in the first place? I guess the novel will tell us- )

  31. That is a fantastic cover. If I didn’t already know who you were and I saw this book, I would pick it up and read a few pages, which is how I decide if I’m going to buy a book by someone I don’t know. Reminds me a lot of the cover for “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” which I bought forthwith after seeing the cover, picking up the book and reading a couple pages (“Johannes Cabal the Detective,” too, though it was in a giveaway box — but I bought “Johannes Cabal the Necromancer” later!).

  32. Will the novel have the subtitle? Interestingly, image on your site has no subtitle, but the one on Tor’s site does say “A Novel with Three Codas” below the title.

    i catalog books and other items at a library, so I notice these things… And I’ll need to know for book ordering purposes…

  33. I think the one here (no subtitle) looks better. The one on the Tor website looks just-a-mite cluttered.

    I look forward to finding out if the toothpaste-whiteness of the shirt wearer is part of the character description or just a slip-up by the artist. I suspect the former, and for some reason I picture this character looking like Biff from Chris Hallbeck’s cartoon.

  34. Do you know what’s sad?

    The silly Germans will use laser-firing spacecrafts for the cover as they always do with your books.

    Sometime I could hate them for – although I’m German by myself!

  35. Great cover John. That would be an awesome shirt to own. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of shirt I’d expect to see Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) of Big Bang Theory wearing.

  36. To be fair, the German cover of this book will actually have a laser-shooting spaceship wearing a red shirt.

  37. I dunno. If you go without the subtitle, I will have to assume that the book has fewer than three codas, which would certainly make the book less than what I bargained for. ;-)

  38. @Ed Greaves,

    I could easily see Wil Wheaton offering Sheldon a red shirt as a Christmas or birthday present and Sheldon completely missing/ignoring the implication.

  39. John, I love it. I promise to buy it next year.
    Will you tell us where we can purchase the t-shirts early? Tor is missing a Golden opportunity if they don’t tie these in for early word of mouth. And they’re smart people.
    Thanks for the early peek at the cover.

  40. I think that’s a dickee under the shirt, not skin. Or a mock-turtle. Which is good, because I don’t like tight tee-shirt collars. I do like half-sleeves rather than miniscule sleeves. And pockets should be large enough to hold, say, a Burton USA Passport folder.

  41. It’s rare that I “eagerly” await a book these days but I have to admit I’ve put Redshirts in the “eager” category.

  42. I don’t say this very often. I’m dying to read this story. If it’s half as good as Android Dreams it will be worth the wait. (damn, did I say the same thing as Jimmy?)

  43. I clicked over to read the cover copy and I am REALLY looking forward to reading this. (I should admit that one of my favorite Next Gen episodes ever was “Lower Decks,” which was all about a bunch of ensigns. That was played straight, though. Parody is even better.)

  44. That cover really grabs you by the shirt.

    I am loving the concept of Redshirts. A starship story from the point of view of those lowest on the totem pole.

    I do really like the three alternate covers too. The one on the left with the the little retro spacemen figurines reminds me of the awesome covers for some of Philip Palmer’s pulpy sci-fi books (Version 43, Red Claw).

  45. This book looks like a winner. I enjoy books like this, and I’m sure John has written a great one.

    Slightly OT:
    I assume it till come out in hardback, then paperback. I hope I didn’t overlook this above

    My question: Why do publishers release hardbacks first, and then paperbacks months later? Is the profit from hardbacks the incentive, or is there that great a demand for hardbacks over paperbacks.

  46. Given THAT cover, this will be one to get as a physical book. Well worth the shelf space.
    (Aside: one of the disadvantages of eReaders (cough, Kindle) is that the over art is sort-of non-existent).

    And sign me up for a promotional red shirt

  47. Hi John,

    I’m a sometimes-to-occasionally-frequent-visitor, this might be the first time I’ve commented in your blog. We exchanged messages about a year ago, back before I created my “Divine Diddly” blog (I’m aka “Sean D.”). I think I may have asked you for some tips and your preferences about basic formatting when writing fiction.

    Great cover! I’d like to think that I would gladly purchase an actual Red Shirt – with that design and logo – but I’ll have to wait and see how things turn out for Andrew Dahl. I look forward to reading “Red Shirts”! Compared to the variations, the selected cover is much more effective in every way. Simplicity is key. A little pizazz to spice it up but not so much that it’s riddled with distracting images or shapes. Very fitting or, I should say, it’s a great fit. Wrinkles and all.

    Feel free to stop by Divine Diddly any time…

    …although I’m a professional musician – I recently earned my doctor of music degree from the University of Illinois – I enjoy writing fiction as a hobby, albeit I keep my fiction writings to myself (so far). The blog is a great way to write about… anything! Lately, my posts have been gravitating toward science, astronomy, and technology.

    The most recent fascination:

    Will CERN confirm in their upcoming retest that muon neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light?

    The FTL findings that they announced on 22 September resulted in an uproar of mixed responses. They recently started a retest, though it’d be nice if someone else, somewhere else, tested it.

    (Dr. D.)

  48. Great article, but here’s something else. I know you can be very very funny – and bring the affectionate snark when extracting the urine from hoary genre cliches. I don’t need a cover nudging me in the ribs to understand that a novel called Redshirts may contain traces of nuts. In book design, as in life, there’s a line where being too clever is really really dumb.

  49. John – I really enjoyed your reading from ‘Redshirts’ at the release of ‘Fuzzy Nation’ back in May. Glad you kept the title. Maybe TOR could release this book on your birthday, too! (although earlier would be good, too!) :)

    I add my voice to the rest – there needs to be a shirt line – at least a red version of the UU logo. Wil Wheaton needs to read the audio book. And the shirt needs to be on The Big Bang Theory.

  50. Question about the cover: why the gold collar? If trying to evoke the Star Trek expendables, would black have been better, or was it _too_ evocative of Trek for a novel not set in that universe? Looking forward to it.

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