David Lawrence-Young

David Lawrence-Young – Never Judge a Book by its Cover

The above axiom is a well-known piece of advice, and it also implies that book covers are important. This is very true. Authors should do their maximum to make sure they have a say in what sort of cover the publisher wishes to put on their books. After all, the author knows what the book is about and which aspects of it are important.



David Lawrence-Young

When your average reader enters a bookshop, what is he looking for? A specific title? A particular author? A certain genre? Whatever it is, you want to make sure that it is your book that catches his eye. How can you do this? Have a sexy blonde on the cover? A dramatic title? Have brilliant artwork or have an action-filled picture? Whatever you choose, you must make sure your book stands out and the cover, especially if it is illustrated, reflects the contents of the book.

An example of this occurred to me recently with my latest novel, Mary Norton- Soldier Girl. This story (partly based on the truth) is about an abused teenage girl who runs away from home in 1642, disguises herself in her brother’s clothes and joins King Charles I’s Royalist army as a soldier. Unfortunately, the publisher or cover artist hadn’t read the book and had my heroine set against an American Civil War background 200 years later. It was complete with Union and Confederate flags flying all over the place. It was quickly changed, and the new cover can be now seen on amazon.com/co.uk.

Photo Tolpuddle cover

My knowledge and experience about covers stems from the time my first historical novel Tolpuddle was published in 2001. The cover was a disaster! IT would have easily won the prize for the ‘Worst Book Cover of the Year’ had such an event existed. It was an insipid browny-pink and included a line-drawing that wasn’t very close to much of the story, and it also was adorned with some phrases which had absolutely nothing to do with the story itself! I asked the publisher to change the cover, and he promised he would. He didn’t, and one year later he went out of business. Was this a coincidence?

One of the problems of illustrating historical novels is that many of the classic pictures of historical figures are copyright. This means that if you wish to have the iconic portrait of Shakespeare, Henry VIII or the Mona Lisa on your cover, you will have to pay for the honour.

In this digital day and age it is easy to get round this problem. I wanted to use the classical picture of Guy Fawkes for my novel, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, but owing to the costs of doing so, the publisher circumvented this problem by taking the classic portrait of this 17th century terrorist and changing it digitally so that the man was still easily recognizable, but that it was no longer the original portrait.

Photo Sail Away cover

But a good picture isn’t enough. The cover must reflect the spirit of the book. In my novel, Sail Away from Botany Bay, about the first group of convicts who managed to escape from the convict colony and return to London, the initial cover showed the well-dressed group sailing in a perfectly calm sea as if they were on a Sunday afternoon pleasure trip. Nothing could have been further from the truth. They were dressed in rags and had to fight against frighteningly stormy seas.

Luckily, in this e-mail era the publisher and I were able to ping-pong this cover back and forth until I said that it matched the true nature of this daring story about escaping fugitives.

Finally, the writing and the title must be printed in such a way that it is easy to read. This is especially true when referring to the spine – the part of the book most people see first. Just because a book is about an historical topic, it doesn’t mean that the font used should be very ‘curly’ or in Gothic style. Your book browsers don’t have time for this. They want to know immediately if your book is worth picking up to read the blurb and the first page or two.

Next time I’ll talk about titles and blurbs and how they can help you increase your sales.

David Lawrence-Young

View my author page at AMAZON


David Lawrence-Young

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