Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lorri Covers It

At my own suggestion, I thought that an occasional Cover Review would mix things up a bit, with a take on The Good, The Mediocre and The Unfathomable.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have read of the value of a great cover when marketing a book. I happen to agree (to a point) with this advice, but admit to becoming heartily sick of the much repeated ye-ancient-fonte lettering on Historical Fiction books, to say nothing of the overdone bodice-ripper covers on countless Historical Romance novels. When I come to think of it, I’d rather take that dollar when each of the aforementioned is released to the world – I’ll be worth a small fortune in a very short space of time!

The main criteria for determining what makes a great book cover lies in it being appropriate to the subject matter, followed closely by its eye-catching quality as it sits on the shelf in wait for its new owner. When browsing the shelves of a library or bookshop, or when trawling Amazon for a next great read, it is the cover that first catches the eye of the prospective reader. The cover tells us so much about what lies hidden inside before we read a single word of the synopsis, doesn’t it?

I have selected Historical Fiction as my first month’s Cover Review genre, and it goes something like this…


Dominion by C. J. Sansom

If I was to say “I believe I’d like to read a 1950s English spy thriller” and saw this cover, I would look no further! The beautifully designed picture screams fog, London, intrigue and perhaps a little sex at me - before I even look at the title and author. Turning the book over, the first few lines confirm that I am indeed holding “an absorbing, thoughtful, spy-politico thriller set in the fog-ridden London of 1952” [sic]. It certainly catches the eye in its artful simplicity, and the clever use of lettering is a joy for this old calligrapher to behold. (If you want to know how to letter on velum, I’ve been trained – true!)
This book cover is just divine, and while I know nothing of the author or the subject matter, I would be tempted to buy it on its presentation alone.


Merivel by Rose Tremain

I have heard a lot of good things about Rose Tremain as an author, but I would be hard pressed to linger over this particular cover. My first impression was that it was perhaps Medieval or even earlier, although the timepiece and figure hidden among bland colours and ill defined illustrations is at odds with this. The synopsis tells of the 17th century seduction of a doctor and courtier leaving the English Court for Versailles, but only when I read of the French Court did the cover make any sense at all. Had I been in a bookshop, the opportunity to make the connection would have been lost at first glance.


A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Unless Maximilien Robespierre was a 1980’s New Yorker, I wouldn’t at first glance know what this book was about. Whosoever decided to evoke images of the works of Jacqueline Sussan or Sidney Sheldon should be horsewhipped for this, because it detracts totally from what promises to be a brilliant read about the French Revolution. Not only is the lettering totally inappropriate, but the tricolour could be one of a number of European countries if the reader was ignorant of the order of the red-white-blue configuration. No; Hilary Mantel’s great talent has been undermined by this sorry excuse for a book cover and the publisher should be ashamed!


  1. I totally agree with what you say re: covers: they speak volumes about the books they represent (no pun intended :P ) and I indeed often am drawn to a book because of the messages its cover passes to me.

  2. I can't imagine what they were thinking when they designed Hilary's cover for that version of her book urgh!

  3. Oh and I forgot to say: This is a great idea for special feature! :D Well done, Lorri!

  4. I agree with everything you said. The cover made me want to read Dominion. I'm more interested in France, though those aren't my favorite periods, but the covers diminished my interest.

  5. This article has confirmed all that I have been told by other authors. As I am at the stage of designing my cover for my debut book, your point of view has been fortuitous. I am of the opinion that it is possible to be drawn to a book by its cover; Paula Lofting, Steven A. McKay, Prue Batten, and Simon Turney to name but a few, have covers to their books which totally represent their content.

  6. I'm no expert on the 17th Century, but I do know that those frock coats and periwigs are firmly rooted in that era. Merivel, although I have not read it, is pure English Civil War era (or a little later) to me. It most certainly is not "medieval or earlier" and I daresay most readers are smart enough to pick up on that.

    As for Hilary Mantel, she could re-write the phone book and I would read it, regardless of the cover. However, I'm confident enough to know that I recognise a French tricolour when I see one.

    As a reader, I read the synopsis before anything else.

  7. I actually like all three covers. The last thing that the Mantel cover says to me is "1980's New York." To each his own, of course, but I don't see anything on the Mantel cover that's reminiscent of Sidney Sheldon or Jacqueline Susann. As for the flag, I don't know what most European flags look like (sadly), but the first thing I would think upon seeing this one was "France."

  8. I think that this shows that less is more. The cover of Merivel is a clever concept but doesn't work well as an image. It also shows that we should never assume much knowledge about the period of the book from the reader. But the more I think about it I also wonder about Dominion. I bet some younger readers would not realise what the setting was (those London taxis are long rusted away) and I wonder if they would fully understand the message it was trying to convey. Martin Lake

  9. The over all presentation of the book is vital. All you have to do is look at Amazon and see all the book cover layouts that are offered to the authors to use. The majority of them are bad. Pity really. And when you go into a book store you can't deny that the first thing that stands out is the cover. That is why booksellers face them out. I know....I worked in a bookstore. It's part of yes, the layout is vital. Also, the cover sets the tone for the theme of the story (or should do so). Gives us a visual....if you will. Good post, Lorri. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Some authors will definitely have the advantageous position of being heavily famous-(or infamous) and will no matter what the cover looks like always sell books. I am definitely drawn to a book by it's cover first, but I will make exceptions for those that I know are great authors. Interesting concept for a feature Lorri, thanks for doing this post

  11. My favorite cover this season is hands-down, Ginger Myrick's cover on "A Work of Art." I agree with Stephanie as to cover layouts on Amazon. I do use Cover Creator for my books, which works fine on ebooks where the spine is not relevant, and frankly, sucks on trade paperbacks if they are to be displayed on shelves. I do not care for the covers on Mantel's books generally, and for that, I blame the publisher. It did not stop me from enthusiastically buying Wolf Hall. There are some attractive covers out there ((the one on the YA Marie Stuart bio The Wild Queen comes to mind)which totally misrepresent the content (as does the title of this rather tame and sometimes tedious account of Marie Stuart's youth). And when publishers force a cover on a historical fiction author which displays a historical inaccuracy (such as meeting of Elizabeth I and Marie Stuart or a Cleopatra in spandex) they do the author a grave disservice. Just sayin'!

  12. Hi all!
    The cover of Merivel pictured above is not the one I was reviewing LOL (Sorry)
    Seems there are more than one. The one I referred to was very wishy washy and you can see it best at:

    Louise, I am so pleased that this has confirmed what you were thinking. As indy authors, we are the lucky ones in that we have control over our book covers, and with an indy cover designer, our dreams can come to fruition.
    Martinlakewriting, you definitely have a point about the young identifying with the old London taxis, but I think that's where the blend of a great back cover and front cover come in.
    As authors, we are always trying to do our best to attract new readers. An established author's book (Cornwell, Cussler et al)only needs the author's name on the front to attract sales (the comment about reading the phone book if it's by Mantel is a great example of this). Everybody else (and that's a large number) has about 1.5 seconds to hold to eye and convey everything required for the prospective reader to look further.
    This is where Linda's comment about misrepresentation comes to the fore, because authors will win no fans if they subliminal betray new readers.
    I took a look at Ginger Myrick's cover and I love it! Any others you are particularly taken with?????

  13. That is NOT the Mantel cover on my copy of the book, which shows an 18th century man. The cover on my copy is better than the one shown, but the above cover is probably for the US market.

  14. You know what i think this post has attracted the most comments. Lorri this is definitely going to prove a popular feature of The Review Group