It’s the first thing you’re attracted to as a reader, especially if the author is unknown to you.
You should be able to tell at a glance what the genre is. Take historical fiction, which is what I love writing. Clues are in the font chosen, the style of dress and make-up; if there’s a woman on the cover, her age. If her features and hair look right for the period or if she’s too ‘fluffy’ or simply too young to be your heroine.
If she’s travelling on a ship, a train or a plane, and you want them on the cover (hopefully, not all at once) it’s important that they, too, convey the correct period of the story. When you look at a cover that attracts you, you should subconsciously absorb the atmosphere of the story and setting of the book, which might lead you to open up your purse.
With the first cover of my debut novel, Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers Trilogy, beginning in 1913, the designer amazingly picked out a perfect ‘Annie’ for me. She is young and beautiful, but with downcast eyes, giving the impression she’s a little apprehensive of the long journey to Melbourne before her. And so she should be, the trouble she gets into! The ship I asked the designer to use was a photograph of the Orsova, the very one my own grandparents sailed on when they went to Australia in the same year. So all I had to do was ask him to tweak here and there, but basically I was thrilled at the first proof.
Book 2, Juliet’s Story, set in the present day, was a real problem. Juliet sails to Australia to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps, only she has a secret reason why she really wants to go. To be more adventurous she sails on a freighter. The brief to the same designer was for an attractive middle-aged woman who looked as though she could be a businesswoman, with long dark wavy hair, in holiday clothes.
The designer sent through a profile of a woman in her forties with the long dark wavy hair. And there it ended. Oh, this one was strong-looking, all right. Rather too severe. Her nose was too big and her chin was too square and she was bare of make-up. Yet I didn’t dislike her. On the contrary, I felt she could be my Juliet with some work. I so badly wanted to love the cover the way I did with Annie. The publishers and I went backwards and forwards several times but it was never quite right. And the container ship the designer used was one that apparently passengers wouldn’t be allowed to travel on.
I had a search on ‘Dreamtime’ and ‘Shutterstock’ at the dozens of pages of middle-aged women on holiday, until my eyes went funny. I found the same woman the designer had used, but with four different positions and expressions. I picked a three-quarter angle where she’s giving the hint of a Mona Lisa smile, and asked that make-up and nail polish should be added – oh, and a pearl earring. Then I picked another container ship that was nicer to look at, and voila…job done.
Heart in my mouth I ‘unveiled’ the final proof of the cover. Bingo! Juliet looked stunning. And the container ship looked quite romantic against the sunset colours the designer had chosen for the sea and sky.
Now, he’s got to pick a third young woman for Kitty’s Story. She’s only seventeen when it opens in 1941. Plus I need a military aeroplane and a troopship in the background, as Kitty is on her way to Cairo.
That shouldn’t be too difficult for the designer…should it?