Saturday, January 11, 2014

The perils of being different: Illustrating In Heaven's Shadow

"In Heaven's Shadow," my Civil War/ghost story/fantasy, comes out next month (February 6th), and the publisher and I are still trying to figure out the perfect cover that best captures what the book is, as well as that will intrigue and attract readers. Covers are soooo important. You don't want to give the wrong impression and have disappointed readers slam you in the reviews; nor do you want to tailor it so narrowly to one audience that you leave out other people who might be attracted to the subject matter. There are ever so many internet memes going around laughing at classics that have been repackaged under really horrid covers from clueless publishers, or poking fun at old-fashioned covers that nonetheless did their jobs back in the day. The last thing you want is people laughing at your cover, or using it for an excuse to check out some other title.

So what to do? This book, like many books that are finding significant audiences these days, does not fit into the conventional pigeonholes that most publishers use to try and market their offerings. You know: romance, fantasy (pick a flavor!), chick lit, YA, or what-have-you. Cross-genre stuff and mash-ups often do extraordinarily well, but it does leave the cover artist and the marketing team in a quandary. Should they tailor it just to the fantasy crowd? Will too "gushy" a cover turn off the men looking for something new? Will people think it's paranormal romance if you put a ghost on the cover? Aaaagh! It's enough to send the whole team screaming into the night.

I very much appreciate my publisher's efforts to get the cover exactly right. "In Heaven's Shadow" is not a romance but it is a beautiful love story. It is not paranormal, but it has ghosts. It is a highly accurate depiction of the Civil War era but it is not, strictly, historical fiction. It is very much historical fantasy. You could even call it magic realism. Soooo, dear readers, if you were to choose what attracts you to a particular genre, what would you choose on the cover? What would draw you into a particular book if, say, you were looking for fantasy, or something historical, or romantic without the cooties? Would you, the pure historical reader, be turned off by an added fantasy element, or go with it so long as the era is properly portrayed?

Just askin'. I love this book. I want it to do well. But I begin to see why so many agents LOVED the writing and the premise and, indeed, the book, but didn't think they could sell it. Because they couldn't categorize it neatly. Because it didn't "fit" the norms. It wasn't the same as all the other "hot" books out there. And that's a rotten shame, because so many books don't fit neatly into the round holes and yet are great books. Thank you, Taliesin Publishing, for looking beyond the round holes at a slightly square book! Or maybe octagonal...

I hope--I really hope!--we can nail the cover, because I, for one, do judge a book partly by its cover, and have passed by good reads because of rotten cover art. So tell me, folks, what would turn you off? What would turn you on (keep it clean!). What about a cover makes you "look inside"?


Christie Maurer said...

I, too, love historical fantasy. This idea is strictly off the top of my head. Maybe stress the historical aspect with a "period" color for the cover, I see a dull red in my mind, and in the middle a sepia photo in a period frame--like you'd find in an old family trunk--of the hero and heroine in a conventional Civil War pose, him in a chair, her with a hand on his shoulder, maybe he reaches up and touches her hand. The ghost could appear as if it were a flaw or a developing error in the photo? Background in the photo could be a furnished room (sofa, draperies...) People in photos looked rather grim at that time, but the gesture shows devotion.

I'm sure you and your team will come up with something great! I look forward to reading the book.

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

That's funny, Christie, because both of those concepts were among those that were considering, including the woman in the chair reaching up to touch him behind her. Also, a sepia-toned cover of the farmhouse, but in my opinion that one looked too much like horror. I am about to post up the final. I look forward to your thoughts on it!

Christie Maurer said...

After I posted, I realized my comment was too late and you'd already have picked a cover.

I had cataract surgery on my right eye a week ago and I see VERY clearly with that eye while the left is fuzzy and a different focus. Very disconcerting! It's hard to figure out what I am seeing.

With that in mind...
I like the contrast between yellow and blues and the misty blue ghostly images of the Civil War. From your description, I hadn't realized the soldiers were Southern. The typeface on Heavenly was too subtle for me to pick up, but it might work subliminally.

Hope the cover works and you get lots of sales. I look forward to buying it.

Anonymous said...

And I'm thankful, Sue, that you brought In Heaven's Shadow to Taliesin Publishing. I LOVE this story, and I so hope it does well. I'm so excited to see what sort of response we get with it, and I hope we were able to pull off just the right touch with the cover that will attract fans of multiple genres to your story.