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Judging a Cover By Its Book

By Mari Christie
June 1, 2021

A couple of years after publication of my novel, Blind Tribute, I found myself not judging the book by its cover, but rather judging the cover by its book. While the novel is a compelling tale of a newsman in the American Civil War, the cover spoke only vaguely of journalism, with subtle nods to the war and no indication of the context of the story. Since I am a designer by trade and develop all my own covers, I was in a position to change it at my leisure.

The first cover was an homage to the man on whom the main character is based, my great-great uncle, Percy Whaley, a world-renowned journalist from about the 1930s. He was a famous enough figure to have warranted a caricature (or two), and I borrowed one to superimpose over a fictional Civil War era news page. The half-page photo on the “newspaper page” is an artist’s sketch of the battle of Fort Sumter, the headline reads “First Shots Fired at Fort Sumter,” and pictures of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis appear within the text. While there are parts of this cover I love—my great-great uncle being one of them—it is too subtle for the marketplace, too cryptic in its messaging, and not immediately descriptive of the content nor the genre.

Sometime later, when I was looking for visual representations of my main character online, I came upon the public domain painting by Carl Bloch, “The actor Kristian Mantzius in his study.” Every detail of this painting spoke to me of the main character of Blind Tribute, from the style of desk to the view out the window to the remains of breakfast on the table. The man in the painting just was Harry Wentworth, contemplating his next newspaper column in his study at Riverwood.

I spent some months thinking about that picture and how I might use it to revamp my cover, but it wasn’t until I accidentally hit upon a collection of Kurz & Allison prints from the 1890s in the Library of Congress, that I found the right inspiration, a lithograph of the Battle of Franklin. This was in some wise equivalent to the Sumter picture from the earlier cover, but it was colorized and showed people and more physical action.

The top picture in the retooled cover shows Harry Wentworth as a writer engaged in contemplation, as I see him in my mind’s eye, and the bottom picture represents what he is thinking about in his musings. Tying the two together is a piece of torn newspaper, which is both a literal and symbolic reference. I did some color correction and touching up to make the two paintings better complement each other, and cropped to my own advantage, using resulting white space for a review quote. I kept both the antique-looking newspaper page and the typewriter font from the earlier cover, but in a much-reduced role.

To my mind, the new cover is warmer and friendlier, to start, but also more classical in feel—like the language in the book. It feels more literary in flavor. The pictures themselves denote far more of what the book is about and what the reader can expect, and not only because of the Confederate and Union flags. This is, in part, a book about thinking, most especially thinking about war. Showing a man engaged in contemplation is appropriate to the milieu, as is a scene in the thick of battle.

So, after all that, I ended with a cover I much prefer, that seems to sell more books, and which is much more representative of the story. Now that I have replaced the cover, I am much happier to have readers judge my book by it.

Mari Christie
Written by Mari Christie

Mari Anne Christie writes second chances for scarred souls. Her book, Blind Tribute, is a multi-award winner in American historical fiction, and she writes historical romance as Mariana Gabrielle. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her two cats.

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