Wednesday, 4 July 2012

That's not how I imagined it! A quick look at a book cover

One of the most important things to remember, as an author, about the cover of your book is that it isn't a picture of a scene or of the characters in your book.

In a previous blog post, I argued that,
Your book cover has two jobs:
  1. To represent the type of book it is.
  2. To grab the attention of a potential reader.
A few weeks ago, I came across a cover that perfectly illustrated this principle. The cover is for Caitlen Rubino-Bradway's wonderful middle-grade novel, Ordinary Magic.

Here's the cover:

And here's blurb from the cover flap about the book:

In a world where having magical abilities is considered normal, Abigail Hale's life is about to become a lot more interesting. That's because Abby has just been judged an "ord" —someone without any magic. None. Zero. Zilch!

Fortunately, Abby enrolls in a school that prepares young ords for getting along in the world despite their unmagical disability. [...]

The cover is clearly meant to show Abby standing in front of her new school. It captures the wonder and magic of the world perfectly, and it reaches out exactly to its target audience.

However, let's look at the description of the school from the book:

Dad parked the carpet right in front of a large building on an unusually empty street. [...] Carved into the paving stones was ward upon spell upon curse. [...] The school was square, and built out of dark-brown bricks. It was smaller then the buildings around it, only four stories tall, with a glass structure on top that gleamed so brightly under the sun it hurt to look. There was a fence all the way around the building, with bars on the first-floor windows and thick, strong shutters on the upper windows. The main entrance was barred by a sturdy gate that stretched above our heads, then arched into a short tunnel, revealing a courtyard beyond.

And so on.

In the book, the school is clearly in the middle of a large city, surrounded by other buildings. It is fenced and barred (for safety), with a courtyard.

On the cover, it's in the middle of the countryside, or at least in extensive grounds, with no other buildings around. There are no fences or bars.

In other words, the cover does not show a picture of a location or scene in the book. It's not "accurate", and it would be very tempting for the author to protest and ask for it to be changed. It would also be wrong.

It's very easy, as a writer, to react to a cover by thinking, That's not how I imagined it! That's not what my character looks like! But it really doesn't matter.

What matters is that the cover feels right for the book. That it stands out on the shelf. That it catches the attention of exactly the right audience, and it tells them what kind of book they're going to get. If it does, and if they are the right reader, there's a good chance they'll pick it up and try it.

That's the point of a good cover.

Buy Ordinary Magic: Indiebound | Barnes and Noble |

Credits: The cover illustration for Ordinary Magic is by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac. The cover design is by Donna Mark.

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