Creating Medieval Romance Novel CoversThe phrase "You can't tell a book by its cover" makes the correct assumption that many people DO judge books by their cover. Having a perfect cover for a book can often be the difference between people ignoring it and people picking it up to learn more. When I prepared to start self-publishing my medieval romance novels, therefore, I paid a lot of attention to the cover images. Even people buying books online are drawn in by a great cover. I know this has happened to me personally, and I've heard from many other people that they are much more likely to click if they are drawn to the cover.
So, how did I go about choosing the final covers for my medieval novels?
Let's go back six years ago. At that time I had six novels done. They were simply Word documents on my computer, with no covers at all. Around that time I began investigating self-publishing options for my BellaOnline editors. I wanted to test out a print run with each publisher to see what the quality level was for the finished printed book. I needed a book to use as my test case. I decided to use my medieval novels since they were done and of the proper length. I had the text for the inside of the book, and now I needed cover images to test out the color saturation and quality level of the printing process.
Traditionally romance novels have hand drawn images of a hero and heroine gazing lustfully at each other. I am not an artist, so I couldn't draw images. I do have waist length hair and a collection of medieval outfits. I also own swords. So I decided to take photos of myself and superimpose them over photos of English landscapes I had taken on my travels there.
So, for example, my very first book was Badge of Honor and to the right is the image of me with my sword, in medieval garb, walking along a path. The path is a field I visited in England, located near Stonehenge. I showed the image from the back so that the reader could imagine themselves in that place. It always annoys me when the face of her heroine looks nothing like I would have imagined it. I want to have that creativity open to me, to envision the character the way I want. Yes the hair color is set - I describe the heroines' hair color for each novel. The rest, though, is up to the reader.
One could say the cover is "pretty" - but what does it really convey about the story itself? The green wrapped hilt is barely visible at this size, and she's walking into a generic landscape. So from a "what is this story about" sense it gives very little detail.
With the second book, I followed in the same pathway. I chose another one of my favorite medieval outfits. I chose another one of my swords. I gave the heroine a different look to suit the book, and I put her on a traditional "high way" which again is near Stonehenge. I loved this location. This background - in a larger form - is the desktop background image for my laptop (without the woman on it).
I gave these covers a "canvas" look as well to give it a softer, old time feel. I did enjoy the process a lot, and liked the feeling that the reader was there with the heroine, looking over her shoulder, seeing what she would see.
Again though in the sense of the cover giving a hint at the book's message, there is nothing here. It's simply an English landscape, and I'm not even sure if the "English" message comes across strongly.
Creating Memories, book #3, also had a background which I adored. This twisted tangle of trees and roots was taken near Stonehenge again. The maze of images fits in perfectly with the storyline, that the heroine is struggling with a mixture of confusing emotions and memories and trying to make sense of them. I gave her hair a softer feel, and a generally more romantic look, as in this case she thinks of herself as a quiet peaceful person.
There's an anacrhonism here - she should have had her arms fully covered. I was considering altering that when the book would actually go to press. Again, these were just for testing purposes.
This at least does give a sense of the confusion and wildness she feels in her heart.
Trusting in Faith. This is the cathedral at St. Albans, a lovely medieval building. This time I gave the heroine a more formal look, with cascading braids. However, it's a fairly subtle look and I'm not sure it even shows up well on the cover. If it's always going to be me from the back, the hair is always going to look pretty much the same.
Also, my hair is just one color. This means I can't do the photos for any of my heroines with ebony, or blonde, or red, or other colored hair.
This cover gives a sense that religion might be involved somehow, which is helpful.
That's exactly the issue I hit when I did A Sense of Duty. The heroine's hair in that story was NOT auburn. Therefore I couldn't take a photo of me from the back and use it. I didn't want to start photoshopping the hair color - hair is an intricate blend of colors and it would look fairly odd if I tried to just slide the hue set to make it a new color. So I had to go with a head covering.
Also, I hadn't gotten any good photos of English coastline when I was in England. So I had to go with a Rhode Island coastline I had taken a photo of. I enjoyed the image a lot, but it was now not authentic. I can be a stickler for authenticity so creating this cover began to amplify the doubts I had about continuing on this path for covers.
By the time I got to Seeking the Truth, I had given up on wanting to have myself on the cover. There's also the challenge that I donate my hair to charity every 2 years - so my hair is only waist length during the ending part of each cycle. So unless I wanted to wait two years, my hair would be too short to be the model. So I used an image of standing stones with a path wending through them. This was fascinating to me - but to most people, when they saw it at thumbnail size, they had no idea what it was. It wasn't doing its job at drawing people in.
One of my next novels, Looking Back, featured a blonde heroine. So again I would have been completely stuck. I suppose I could start tracking down friends with waist length hair and using them, or hiring professional models, but I was simply getting the strong feeling that this path was not one I wanted to continue pursuing. There were too many reasons it was troublesome.
The situation really became clear to me when I received a promotional email from a romance novelist. She was releasing her books in ebook form and was sending along the new covers she was going to use. They featured the "traditional" man-holding-woman style of cover. I was completely turned off by those images. The man looked like he was 30, and the girl looked like she was 12. My initial reaction was that he was a pedophile. I realized that if I reacted so strongly negatively to the image, that undoubtedly others would have the same feeling when looking at other images. A young girl might think the heroine looked like an "ancient mommy" and not want to read about it. An older woman might think the heroine looked like a "tiny baby" and have no interest. A reader could think the woman's skin was too pale, or too dark, or the lips too large, or the eyes too tiny. We all have very individual ideas about beauty.
In the end, a key feature of most novels is that the reader identifies with the main character and in a way "becomes her" (or him) during the course of reading the story. A common theme when a person then sees a movie version is that they then think "That's not what I thought she should look like." We build very personal, indivdual ideas in our minds about what the characters are like, based on our internal desires and traits. I like that personal connection very much. Again it's a main reason I was only showing my heroines from the back. When I had the strong gut reaction against the "pedophile" cover I realized I wanted at all costs to avoid that type of reaction with my own novels.
So I turned to Debi Gardiner, a talented graphic designer I know. I wanted her to create covers for me which spoke strongly about the messages of my books. Where a traditional heroine-on-cover layout just says "Look - Pretty Landscape" Debi's hand crafted images could be rich with symbolism. She can convey all sorts of subtle details about the characters in the way she creates her images. Here is background on each of the book covers we've created so far! You can click on each one to get the full details of that cover's construction.
While on one level I do miss one or two of those landscape images, I think especially at thumbnail size the landscapes became a blur that had little emotional impact. Since that thumbnail size is how most readers will see them, it's important that the reader's attention is grabbed clearly at that point. Here are just a few of the side by side images to help illustrate that point. As much as I might have enjoyed the landscapes at large size, in thumbnail form they lose their impact. The icons, however, are crisp and clear and meaningful. The subtle details of their design are still there and clear.
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