This January, I finished revising my third novel, a historical one, as different in feel from the first two I’ve written, as the second was from the first.
It’s about a Ukrainian peasant farmwife, who shortly after her husband joins the Tsar’s army has to escape with their six children, because the enemy-the Germans and the Austrians—are about to invade. During the next fourteen years, she will endure the trials of a refugee camp, the dreaded typhus, her daughter’s doomed love, the Bolshevik revolution, a civil war and the Polish occupation.
(An aside: I stumbled across this painting by Oleksander Murashko. The peasant farmwife in my novel is a lot younger than the old woman here but the sentiment in the painting spoke to me. I hadn’t heard of this artist, considered to be Ukraine’s finest at the turn of the twentieth century. He won a Gold Medal at the Munich Exposition in 1909 for his painting, Carousel. A patriotic Ukrainian, he was taken from his house in 1919 by a street gang and shot in the back. He was 44.)
Judging A Book By Its Cover
Getting my novel edited is next along with looking for a book cover design. I’ve made a date with an editor, and I’ve been examining once again what makes a good book cover. That whole cliché, you can’t judge a book by its cover, I believe is wrong. I do judge a book by its cover. Don’t you?
A good book cover gives a clue not only about the story, but also about the quality of the writing inside. If the cover’s been hastily thrown together, the reader will likely assume the story suffers from the same lack of care.
A Little Research
When I researched book cover designs online, I found a number of opinions. Chip Kidd, the Random House designer behind bestseller Jurassic Park and many others, is one who emphasizes the value of a good cover.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Another book cover designer I checked out was C.S. Richardson, the creative director at Random House who designed the fabulous book jacket of Madeleine Thien’s award-winning book Do Not Say We Have Nothing. His book cover design got my attention. It was both pretty and engaging.
Did I buy the book because of its cover? Maybe.
I bought the novel because:
- I loved the cover.
- I read an earlier book by the author, Madeleine Thien, Simple Recipes, a superb collection of short stories.
- Her novel is about a Chinese family around the time of the Tiananmen massacre. My husband and I had visited China shortly after that horrendous event, so I was curious to know more.
- It had won the prestigious Giller award.
Even with reasons 2-4 listed above, I can say that if the cover had been poorly conceived, and I’d only read the first few pages, I might’ve put it back on the shelf, as this novel is not an easy read. Award-winning books are a mixed bag. There have been many that have disappointed me.
The Cover as Deal-Maker
C.S. Richardson says in the following video, “No book cover…has ever clinched the deal.”I agree with him there, but a lousy cover will also bring down sales. If it’s not appealing, the reader won’t pick up the book in the bookstore or stop to examine its first pages online.
When I checked out Madeleine Thien’s novel online, I was surprised to find a number of different book covers. If a book cover isn’t that critical, why are there so many different versions? I happen to like each one, though the one above is still my favourite.
What I’m Looking For
So, for the cover for my third novel, I’ll be looking for one that conveys a sense of what the cover of Madeine Thien’s story expresses: a story of a family caught up in their country’s struggles with an authoritarian power, their helplessness, but also their resilience. I also want a cover that reflects a story set in Russia during wartime in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s a tall order.
Stay tuned. If you have thoughts on this subject, I’d love to read them.
- A Year of Unexpected Delights and Frustrations!
- An Author’s Nightmare