Should You Judge a Book By Its Cover?

If the cat sits tear it…

For the last week or so I’ve been trying to work up a design for the book cover for my debut novel, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes. Having got a number of suggestions back from designers, I spread them all out neatly on the floor so I could do a compare and contrast exercise. Jerry must have strong opinions as he scattered them and then shred one. Clearly, he doesn’t appreciate the work and thought that’s gone into them. Or maybe he was just aiming to get my attention. He succeeded.

I rescued the remaining designs and asked my daughter what she thought. She dismissed most of them. Okay, all of them. They were either too dull, too cluttered, or only showed the WW2 side. Because the story is intergenerational it covers not just contemporary romance, but travels back to 1939 and it is really difficult to bring that together in a picture. We tried with letters etc, which links the two generations, and how Hannah, the younger protagonist, discovers the secrets of her Great Aunt Maud, but again they didn’t stand out, particularly when looking at a thumbnail, which is how most people will come across the book.

Robyn, my editor said I needed to consider the market, the tones and fonts that work and subject matter, and pushed a link through for the top lesbian romance and women’s fiction, where it could also fit. I took the hint that what we had wasn’t hitting the mark. Well, it wasn’t really a hint, but hey, I can wear my big girl pants.

So back to the drawing board, I mean computer. I downloaded a free piece of software called gimp, which is like a free version of photoshop. Seriously, that’s the name they decided to go with? They could have just called it IMP, image manipulation programme, and we would have just nodded our heads. Especially as I have been struggling with how to use the masks. No, I don’t want to go down this side line.

Eventually after some suggestions from a close friend, I worked on an alternative that seemed to hit the market (it features a young woman), and hints at the conflict – she’s wearing pearls, which seems a more old-fashioned style and also has a paper crane tattoo. It also has a strong visual impact which I was aiming for.

“No,” my daughter said, “that’s not Maud, and I can’t imagine Hannah wearing pearls.”

“The cover is not supposed to portray the characters completely, just intrigue the reader enough to pick up the book, or scroll down to read the blurb and hopefully decide they’ll download it.” I replied. My editor agreed with my daughter, saying it was an Audrey Hepburn knock off, so it hit the reject pile too.

The challenge got me thinking though. Do the covers have to be a literal translation of the characters? I know a lot of them don’t, particularly traditionally published fiction. If someone is described as really tall, or quite boyish/butch looking I don’t really expect to see two femmes together on the cover, but that does seem to be the norm. Because I like data, I did a quick straw poll. Of the eleven covers in the top fifty paid lesbian romance on Amazon that show two women together, nine were of two femmes together and the other two covers you couldn’t tell.

Would it put me off completely though, and do I feel disappointed? No, not if I’ve enjoyed the book. One of my favourite authors is Olivia Waite and the cover characters don’t look like they’re described in the books at all; they are definitely pitched within the romance genre showing two characters who happen to be female and very femme. Does it matter? I guess if I didn’t like the books that would be another mark against it, but I will happily pre-order whatever she has in the feminine pursuits series, irrespective of the cover, because I love her writing style and her characters.

Does it bug you if the people on the cover are very different from how you imagine them, or as they are described?

Excuse me, I need to get back to yet more cover design ideas.

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