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How to Get a Fabulous Cover

Needless to say, the title is tongue-in-cheek. I don’t really know. And although in the main I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate, I’ve had some clinkers along the way (someday, perhaps if I’m under the influence of some inebriate, I’ll share the horrors of the second edition of Safe Word with you).

But I do think that I blundered into doing it right when I played what small part I had, in collaboration with the fantastic cover artists at New American Library, during the period when they were dreaming up this beauty for my forthcoming historical romance, The Edge of Impropriety (due out this November — available for pre-order now).

And as the cover design process was interesting (that aspect of it I was party to), I thought I’d share it with you.

Of course I had an entirely different notion of the cover I wanted.

I wanted (it probably goes without saying) a “fine arts” cover to go with the cover of The Slightest Provocation, which was a detail from Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of Margaret, Countess of Blessington.

Here’s the original:

And here’s the cover:

And here’s the painting (an Ingres odalisque) I wanted then to use for The Edge of Impropriety. I was thinking of a detail — about to the middle of her back, with perhaps the image reversed… so that you’d have the front portrait view of The Slightest Provocation answered, as it were, by a back portrait view.

Do I know what I’m talking about? Hardly.

But it’s what I thought I wanted. And it’s what I sent my editor.

Well, it is a pretty spectacular painting, isn’t it? So you can imagine how disappointed I was when my editor wrote back and said that the art department had decided that a “fine arts” cover wouldn’t work, and they’d be creating one themselves (I still don’t know, btw, why they thought it wouldn’t work, but I do know — and actually never doubted — that they know what they’re doing.)

And in any case, I had a book to finish (because this was happening — in case you wondered — before I’d submitted my manuscript). I had a double romance plot and a family story to manage, and no time to worry about anything but finishing the book.

So when the editor said that what the art department needed “some images of clothing and basic description of hair length etc,” I threw together the following brain dump, sent it in an email, and went back to agonizing over my draft:

Marina [I wrote] looks like the woman on the cover of THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION (because her life is adapted from that woman’s life), only it’s 7 years later so she’s a little more mature, a little bustier. She’s tall and has long thick, dark hair and heavy-lidded green-gray eyes.[…] Here’s a quote from my text (actually it’s already on the cutting room floor) that describes her: “her hair fell dark and abundant over lovely shoulders and heavy breasts…. In society, she wore her hair swept smoothly back into imposing rolls and chignons. [He…] felt a wave of tenderness, almost protectiveness, to see the mass of wild little corkscrew curls spilled out on the lace-trimmed pillows.” And here’s another: “Tall and stately. Voluptuous. With dark hair, very rich and thick, and kind of heavy-lidded eyes[….] Rather a haughty look […]and a very knowing, rather ironic turn to her smile.

I know [I continued] that you’re not using fine art but this painting (the original for the cover of Candice Hern’s In the Thrill of the Night) gives a sense (or Ingres’ sense) of the female evening dress of the/romantic period, and particularly of the hairstyles: this one too, but not as pretty. Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels takes place circa the same year as The Edge of Impropriety , and when she discusses it at Word Wenches, she shows this painting and she links to these fashion plates (what’s interesting is that when artists painted fashionable women they seemed to dispense with a lot of the hideous trendy froufrou of those years, and I hope we can too).

Neither of the quotes from my manuscript made it to the version I hope you’ll be reading in November (or before that, if you win my upcoming contest). But I think you can see the busy-ness of my mind at work, creating a character, a world, and a look.

And I like to think that the cover artists saw it too — because how else to account for them capturing so much of what I was thinking, including the Ingres over-the-shoulder back view.

So, did I help with the process that went into creating this lovely cover?

I’ll never know. What do you think?

1 Comment

  1. I must say, after purchasing the book the other day, I do love this cover–I was wondering what the detail of the painting was (I study 19th century art). And, I know I’m weird, but the *texture* of the cover itself is just so nice and …hefty feeling somehow. I get so sick of romance fiction covers. I mean, really, do I want to walk around with cheesy half-naked folk on my book? Do I want to have nothing but the author’s name emblazoned on one side (title in tiny font) and her picture on beaming smugly from the other? No. No, I do not.

    And Almost A Gentleman, which I read the other night, is so thoughtfully written (and by thoughtful, I mean deep consideration of the psychology and motivations of the characters–which, by the way, I appreciate) that its new cover does it somewhat of an injustice. But then, I’m an art historian who reads romantica books on subways, so I suppose I’m doubly persnickety about my covers and want them always to reflect the quality of the prose within.

    Can’t wait to read it; and keep up the high-quality writing! Pip pip.

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