How I Chose a Cover Design

When I begin writing a novel I have the story fairly well thought out in advance.  I don’t mean I have the characters developed and know how they’ll interact, but I have a subject in mind and a basic plot.  These two things, plot and subject matter, should definitely influence any author’s choice of cover design.  I’m going to use my two novels here as examples.  The cover choice in each was reached in very different ways.

The cover art for The Sound of Caissons (available soon!) was decided before I began rewriting the novel last year.  I had been looking at it hanging on the wall above my desk for a long time.  It was a 1920s photo of a horse-drawn gun section (with caisson) taken at Fort Sill, OK.  I had found it among my father’s papers and had it framed.  So from the time I started the reorganization and rewrite of this long novel, I could clearly see this photo being used in some way on the cover.  It is sort of sepia-tone.  From time to time as I worked on the novel I looked at it, wondering how it was going to work on a 6 x 9 book cover.  I imagined it set on a bright gold background.  There had to be a touch of red, the artillery color, somewhere.  I looked at other book covers for ideas.  But I always knew it was the ideal image for this story.

When I got near the end of probably my third edit and had incorporated my editor’s corrections/suggestions, I knew I was getting close to making that phone call to CreateSpace that would start the publication process.  I had the photograph removed from the frame and, at the appropriate time, mailed it to the Design team, along with my various ideas about using it as a wrap-around from front to back cover, and some color suggestions.

Believe me, I am no designer—but I know when I like something and when I don’t.  The CS team sent me back two ideas to choose from.  It took only a minute to realize neither one would do.  I took my time studying them and, like a dummy, suddenly understood that it was not possible for the horses pulling the weapon up the hill to be used like a cut-out on my perfectly imagined gold background!  The photograph laid on this book cover was dark, gloomy and boring!  There was no sign of red anywhere.  There were dark bands at top and bottom of one of the choices—and I thought a-ha!  Make those a deep vibrant red, the title in red, and we were on our way.  Although we had to go back and forth with digital images several more times, the day arrived when I downloaded a version, took one look at it and sent off my approval—it is smashing!  That’s the best way of describing it, and I couldn’t be happier.  I hope it tells the prospective reader that this is a serious book for both sexes, not merely a romance novel.  Although there is plenty of romance in it!

The cover for The Lees of Menokin came about entirely differently.  Early on in the preparation of this novel it occurred to me to have some 18th century handwriting as background on the cover.  I eventually chose a letter Francis Lee wrote to Jefferson, got permission from the Pennsylvania Historical Society to use it, and set it aside until it was time to mail it to BookSurge (the predecessor of CreateSpace).  Shortly after that I left on a Florida vacation with my family, but I took my new laptop with me so I could continue to communicate with the format and design team.  I received the cover image choices while there.  My initial reaction was immediately negative to the font they had chosen for the title.  My daughter looked at it and exclaimed how wonderful it was!  We decided not to say anything, and one by one, I asked the five other adults with us for their opinion.  To a person they said it was a great choice.  So I was persuaded to go with this majority  opinion.  If you have a copy of the book you know the font is an old-fashioned script and we used it in chapter headings also.  Now I love it, and know that it, along with the cover’s pastel shading, are a perfect complement to Francis Lee’s 1775 letter to his friend, Thomas Jefferson.

Lesson:  Take your time with your book’s cover, think about it while writing the story, discuss it with others, and don’t skimp on the cost of getting it right.  In most cases, the cover sells, or not, the book.