When I first started actively pursuing my dream of being a full-time fiction writer, long ago, self-publishing was called Vanity Publishing. It meant that the author paid *a lot of money* (I don’t know how much, but it was always referred to as a lot of money) to have their book published. These Vanity Presses did not have distribution avenues, and the author was stuck hawking their wares out of the trunks of their cars or on corners of streets (I saw this). There was a lot of stigma attached, because these Vanity authors were often people who did other things that made them a lot of money and hadn’t taken the time to learn the craft of writing. Writers who wrote for a living did not have the kind of money to engage in Vanity Publishing.
Vanity Publishing then meant there hadn’t been editorial oversight, and the cover graphics were often limited and home-made looking. In short, it wasn’t a professional looking product, and let’s face it—readers judge books by their covers.
Fast forward to today. Self-publishing can be free. Anyone can put something up on Amazon for zero dollars. However, many indie authors, who are hybrid, or have worked in other writing fields, know the steps that are required to make a quality product. I looked at the marketplace for around five years before I published. And I knew my cover would be critical.
Covers are designed to telegraph to the reader multiple things: the genre, the tone, the characters. Comedies now have illustrated covers, as opposed to literary novels, which have a bleak tonal landscape to convey its seriousness. Historical fiction often incorporates a sepia toned photograph or artifacts, something that ties it to the content inside.
When I wrote A LADY’S REVENGE, my debut historical romance novel, I hired a developmental editor, a copy editor, and a cover designer. I invested in formatting software. I bought ISBNs. I copyrighted my material. It’s expensive to do it this way, but I wanted a quality product, as those early Vanity Publishers haunt my dreams.
I knew the cover that I wanted. Historical romance covers are dominated by fabric. While still referred to as “bodice rippers”—many current historical romance covers feature only the heroine in her beautiful dress with a beautiful background. So I needed a luxurious background, and gobs of fabric. But since my historical romances are also about women’s boxing, I knew my heroine needed to stand out. She’s a prickly alpha heroine—not a common trope in historical romance—so I knew I wanted her to be giving her cool, challenging stare to the reader, while wrapping her hands, ready to fight. She’s a lady in the streets, and an amateur boxing enthusiast in the illegal fighting arenas.
My second book was more confusing for me. THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH is a historical romance, the follow-up to A LADY’S REVENGE, but it is a very different book. The tone is different, the romance is different, and the cover needed to be different. We tried having the heroine, Bess Abbott, front and center, but this book is about everyday folk, so there would be no oodles of fabric. I could never find a model that looked quite right, as the heroine is a professional boxer, which means she isn’t particularly pretty. Nothing fit. And so we left the blacksmith’s shop empty, which, if you have read the book, actually works with the action. You can imagine that Os just stepped away for a minute to help Bess find Violet. But it resembles a historical fiction cover far more than it resembles a romance cover.
I’m partial to THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH myself. Not because of the cover, as the cover for A LADY’S REVENGE is a stunner, but because of the content. It’s a book I needed to write, so maybe that will always be my favored one—at least until the next one comes along, right?
Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay.