I have no problem recalling my first Milford, 2011, because I went into surgery the next week. Though “not a lotta people know that”. Anyway minus the kidney [ see same quote] I then did three years of clinical trial and two more of followup checks, so that my first novel, Ashamet, got published in 2015, after that publisher enquired about it. That’s one pattern of events I could do without, since this second book will follow neurosurgery in 2020, only this time I gave in and admitted it was cancer. Still, my thanks go to the small number of people who didn’t gossip when I preferred to ignore it.
But finally we get to the point. Ashamet’s original cover was a monochrome cityscape, everything in unreal silhouette. I liked it a lot, still do, not least because the vaguely ‘Arabian Nights’ appearance was closer to the [unseen] backstory than anyone but me recognised. But then the American publisher put it up for an American fantasy award, and the judges’ feedback included the immortal words, “a very good book, but it’s not fantasy”. Apparantly I’d committed LBTGQ, or whatever acronym was about at the time – who knew? I thought I’d simply asked the eternal ‘What if…’ question that’s at the root of every story, then followed it to its logical conclusion. [These days I have to wonder what reaction I’d get, given the current fiction-climate.]
So that first cover became a muscular warrior, but it kept the original black perimeter, and lo and behold, what had been mysterious and exotic in a silhouette suddenly looked more violent. In the end we replaced the black with red; the warrior still said exotic, but the background now said something more like conflict, maybe with a hint of opulence and even romance. In other words, it signalled a subgenre, but a different aspect of the book.
My second novel, out soon now from Elsewhen Press, is more SF [sorta] but in its own way tells the same cover-related story. Once again it follows cancer surgery, and once again the cover art developed, rather than ending at its first attempt. [Elsewhen Press were also nice enough to ask for a reaction rather than sticking to the contract, which can leave the choice in their hands as is normally the case.] And once more colour was a factor; not a warning against black so much as a warning to consider what message a colour choice can send?
When asked, I’d suggested using two ‘lonely’ planets as cover art, which was fine, only I quibbled at the first attempt, and at the black ‘space’ background. Once more it suggested more violence than I wanted – this ‘hero’ is more tongue in cheek, and hopefully less ‘epic’. I also thought it wouldn’t translate well into a postage-stamp-sized ebook illustration; too much would simply be swallowed up, especially by the black. And so the final cover has less black and more, or maybe somewhat brighter, colours, even though it’s touches rather than solid blocks.
So what have I learned?
1 To ask what message the cover, and especially its colour scheme, send to the reader; or what else might they expect of the story if I get it wrong, and
2 what artwork stays vivid when it shrinks to the ebook artwork; can I still read the title and author name; does the cover’s message still come across or is it lost in fog?
Because I also know, from a reader viewpoint, that if that happens people will be unlikely to even open those books, however good they might be, and all those thousands of words will be wasted?
Terry Jackman began writing nonfiction, more by accident than design, before eventually tackling fiction. These days she’ runs ‘s recently retired from running the BSFA Orbit groups and edits-for-hire between writing and the day job. She also runs the occasional convention workshop, and is strange enough that she actually enjoys moderating panels.