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Plymouth, Devon, United Kingdom
West Country author, winner of Piatkus Entice award for historical fiction 2012.

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Judging a Book by its Cover

We all do it, to some degree or another, I think. I've put books back on the shelf without reading the blurb, simply because the picture on the front has made me wince, or given me what might have been the wrong impression of the work inside the cover. (I'll never know, of course, but that's the point of this post.) 

For those who've followed my progress with "the-book-formerly-known-as-Saturday's-Child," Now Maid of Oaklands Manor, you will be familiar with the way I have worried about the cover and what it might look like; to refresh your memory I have mentioned it in this post. I told myself it was silly to worry, and that it would all be absolutely fine. I should point out that Piatkus Entice have been nothing but wonderful throughout this exciting but scary process, and have listened to my concerns, and responded quickly and professionally, but with a very personal touch. This post in no way intends to suggest otherwise, but I'm keeping this record of the ups and downs of writing and publication, and this was (temporarily) one of the downs. 

The other week they sent me the cover. Oh dear. What it immediately said to me was: "1930: cheerful farm girl Sally meets a handsome, widowed landowner and becomes nanny to his children. What happens next is both hilarious and touching!"
 All of which is fine, and I might very well buy a book with that blurb, but this book is about a tiny, dark-haired slip of a girl who, in 1912, arrives at the house where her mother used to be in service to take up a similar position in the scullery. She doesn't have a nice time of it, frankly, and before long she ends up in Holloway women's prison, before spending the second half of the book entangled with diamond thieves, blackmailers and spies. 
Bearing all that in mind, this is the cover that was suggested:

Along with this picture was a note that invited my thoughts, so after about half hour of swallowing tears (yes, tears, how silly is that?!) of disappointment and frustration, I replied to the e-mail with this: 

Thank you for sending me the cover for the book. I understand I have no say in the design, and I'm not well versed in what sells well, but I must confess I'm disappointed. Lizzy is mentioned several times to be slender and with a lot of thick, dark hair, and this girl is round-faced, cheerful and blonde, and clearly not a maid. I have also  described the driveway that leads right up to the front door quite distinctly, and there are no steps

After signing off with an apology for replying with such a negative note, I hit 'send' and then sat back feeling quite sick, wondering what I'd done, and how they would respond to a newbie like myself questioning their judgement. 

I needn't have worried. Within minutes they responded and invited me to find some Google images of a suitable girl, and an idea of the kind of entrance to the house I was thinking of, so that they could find the right image in their stock. I was delighted to do so, and when I sent the images I also mentioned that I would be happy with the back view of a girl, holding a suitcase, and facing the house. I have never liked photographs of the characters on the covers of books, but was prepared to accept whatever they sent back, because I felt I had pushed my luck a little too far, and, frankly, anything was better that than chirpy blonde! 

Once again, my fears were groundless. This is what I received back after a day or two spent biting my already shredded nails:

So this, ladies and gentlepongs, is the cover of my very first published novel! Piatkus listened, responded, and this is a cover I can really be proud of which is vital, I think, for a first novel. I've loved all the covers for the collections in which my short stories have appeared, but this ... well, this is all mine!

In other news, I was featured in Writers' Forum this month, after an interview with Sally Quilford , and the PR people at work were alerted to it because I mentioned Plymouth University! It was a lovely piece, and so exciting to buy a copy at WH Smiths - I got so distracted in the queue this random guy behind me had to nudge me to move forward. I wanted to brandish the magazine in his face and squeak "that's me, that is!" but he didn't look the type to appreciate it, so I just shuffled forward and kept my grin (and my squeaks) to myself.

Still working on Lady of No Man's Land, and simultaneously noting plot points for Daughter of Dark River Farm (book 3 in the series). All very exciting, and keeping me busy!

Thank you for reading, as always please feel free to comment either here, or on the Facebook link when I post it. 


Celai Anderson said...

So impressed! Nuff said xxx

Celia Anderson said...

Did I mention I can't spell my own name after 6pm?

Terri Nixon said...

Haha!! Well it made me laugh, anyway! And thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

I will discount a book by its cover although I always feel very guilty. After all, that most famous adage says not to judge a book by its cover, but to me, the cover MUST complement the title and the fonts and artwork must go hand in hand with the image that the title conjures up.
I do however read the blurb first and I then look at the cover so all is not lost, but for some weird reason, I never feel 'settled' with the book in my hand.
However, you persevered with your vision of the artwork and it paid off. The artwork now complements the title and your hard work

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