What is it about a book that makes it catch the eye? That instant before you have processed the words, when you are reacting visually to the overall look of the cover…
It’s a question that has occupied psychologists, publishers and writers since before Penguin placed that small, iconic bird on its first cover. What works? Which colours, layouts, fonts? Should a writer, or a genre, have an instantly identifiable style?
Think of John Irving. In my head, I see the block lettering and simple imagery of the 1990s editions.
Penguin Classics: do you see the orange version, with the old typeface? The Grapes of Wrath. Pygmalion. The Great Gatsby. Or do you picture the black ones, with classical paintings on the covers? The Odyssey. Animal Farm. Pride and Prejudice.
According to psychologists, the feeling of recognition is vital. Well known authors – those with a strong brand identity – are marketed with covers that give prominence to their name. Once the font size and layout is agreed, it is used consistently across all their books. This helps the reader recognise a favourite author even before they have fully processed the words. If you see a familiar pattern of colour, text and layout, your hand is already reaching for the book.
So what of us new writers? We have no name recognition, no ‘brand identity’. How do we ensure, among the hundreds and thousands of books that are on offer, that our book is seen?
One way is to get a publishing deal with a major publisher. This offers the reader certain guarantees. The expert reader (and we are all experts in our favourite genres and writers) knows what they are looking for. They know which publishers they can rely on to offer books that are likely to match their interests.
My book is a love story, set in Regency England, and I am lucky to have been offered a contract with the world’s leading publisher of romance fiction, Mills & Boon. Mills & Boon is a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd, and operates as a division of HarperCollins. This means they are good at what they do. They have been doing it successfully all around the word for a long, long time. It also means that I, as an unknown writer, get a leg up at the very start of my career.
My book fits perfectly with their Regency series, which has its own unique look, logo, colour scheme, cover style. They use real models, wearing historically accurate clothing in appropriate settings, for the covers.
Recently I was asked to complete a Fact Sheet for the art & design team, who would be working on my cover. I had to choose a key scene and describe the people, the place, and the time. Of course I went for the Waltzing scene. It is pivotal in the story – a moment of bliss for my hero and heroine. I linked to my pinned pictures of ballrooms, gowns and knee-breeches, and included my description of her gown, the ballroom and, of course, the physical description of both Adam and Charlotte.
I’m delighted with the result. Charlotte is just as beautiful as I’d imagined her, but it is a quiet sort of beauty. Adam is tall, handsome and lean, which is spot-on. The background is right too – just as grand as I imagined the ballroom at Chadcombe. The only problem is that, in the original scene, they waltzed at night-time, in candlelight, but this may have been too much for a cover shoot!
The publisher has also written a blurb for the back cover. It does, I think, give a good sense of the central conflict – Adam needs to marry for money, and Henrietta is wealthier than Charlotte. It is not quite accurate to describe poor Charlotte as ‘penniless’, but it gets the point across, I suppose.
As to how it all unfolds – How does Adam start to look beyond the flirtatious Henrietta to her quiet cousin? How does Charlotte’s opinion of him change over time? What impact does their first kiss have on the course of events? Well, perhaps you’ll read the book to find out.
I hope that you, at least, enjoy the cover! Oh, and there may be another version along in a while – this is the North American cover.
Cover images copyright © 2017 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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