When I meet readers at book signings or lectures, they often have comments or questions about my book covers. Many people are under the impression that an author gets to choose their own cover, and with a self-published book, that is indeed the case. But with traditionally published books, the author usually has little or no say. I’m not sure my experience with publishers and book covers is typical, but here is the story behind my covers.
The Kingsley House
How (Not) to Have a Perfect Wedding
In retrospect, it was probably naïve of me to expect a novel about a wedding to be categorized as anything other than chicklit, and for marketing purposes, the catfight brides image may work better than my wedding cake idea. Nevertheless, some readers do ask me why there is a catfight on the cover when there is no such episode in the book.
Most of all, I was deeply hurt that no one at the publishing house had thought it necessary or even courteous to inform me the cover had been changed. In the end, the big box buyer did not purchase the book.
The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare
I made all these objections to the publisher. I pointed out that in the novel Anne doesn’t even pick up a pen until she is in her mid-thirties, married and the mother of three children, whereas the girl on this cover looks about sixteen. Nor does the image agree with the publisher’s own back cover copy that describes Anne as “smart, witty, resourceful,” the setting as the “rough-and-tumble world of London’s theaters,” and the overall theme as the story of a marriage “born of passion and strained by ambition.” The publisher did relent insofar as to change the original background of rose-draped columns to leaded windows and added a crackle finish to make the girl look “older.” I don’t think either change helped much.
I will never know how many readers and reviewers have bypassed this book because of its cover. I especially thank those male readers who got past the sappy image and wrote to say how much they enjoyed the book. On the other hand, some female readers do find it pretty, and since historical fiction sells primarily to women, that was most likely the publisher’s intent. But shouldn’t it be possible to create a cover that is both appealing and reflective of the story? What is so far-fetched about that?
Sanctuary is a story of secrets, redemption, and the healing power of art and nature as the lives of three women converge at a rundown New England estate. It is also my first self-published novel, which means I got to design the cover. Nevertheless, even with the creative and technical help of Kira, Dane and my husband, Eric, it was easier said than done.
First, since a major part of the storyline revolves around the weekly bird walks at the estate, I wanted a bird on the cover and spent weeks searching the Internet for a suitable image. However, in addition to birders, other characters in the novel include artists and actors, and the story has a dark side. Most of the images available on the Internet were too simplistic to convey the novel’s complexity.
The Coloring Scroll
The Passion of Hubert
Creating a cover for a new book is even more challenging when you’re traveling the Caribbean on a 35’ sailboat. Originally, I hoped to find a vintage photograph of a mother and two daughters, one smiling, one scowling, to represent the estranged sisters in the book. So while our engine was being rebuilt in Puerto Rico, I scoured stock photo sites. Such a trio proved elusive, however, and three individual photos became the next option.
Two turned up quickly: Fern as a 1950s homemaker and Claire as a glowing college grad. Maya took a few more days, but I knew this spunky little tap dancer was her the minute she popped up. In the novel, the tutu was turquoise, but a slight rewording would make the text exactly match the photograph.
When I sent the photos to my art director, aka our daughter Kira, she gave it another twist. “Can we make Maya’s tutu red?” she asked. “It’s more her personality than blue.” Enter my director of photography, aka our son Dane, and the magic of Photoshop. While we island hopped from Puerto Rico to Antigua to Grenada and Kira experimented with layouts, Dane colored Maya’s tutu scarlet and created a living-room curtain background to mimic the setting in the book. He also added borders and aged all three photos for a more retro look.
The process took four months overall, not bad considering our communications were frequently interrupted by having limited or no wi-fi. During that time we also covered approximately 1,400 miles, weathered three hurricanes, and continued the never-ending task of maintaining a cruising boat. I hope Fern, Claire and Maya would approve the result.