C is for Cover Codes

As a first-time independent author, I am experiencing the trial-by-fire method of learning about the writing world. Wisely, I’ve surrounded myself with competent, successful, wizened writers who have been immensely helpful. Thank God.

But there’s one area where I’m floundering a bit.

My cover.

My mother raised me on historical romance novels covered by paintings of women in varying degrees of undress being held in odd positions by men with even less clothing on. No, actually, she didn’t let me read those. She gave me the ones with the beautiful covers, usually of women in spectacular (and fully closed) gowns or breathtaking settings with lots of flowers and pretty things.

Mom was no fool. She knew the cover code. She knew those other books didn’t have the types of scenes that I in my pubescence needed to read. She knew I loved the history and the romance, and I had no need for the, pardon my saying, stroke-by-stroke descriptions in the books she read.

Book covers have a code. What we now call sweet romances or clean romances reflect that in their cover photography. Now that I’m on the verge of releasing my first book, Shadow of the Portico, I have to consider the message I’m putting out on my cover. And I have to do a hundred other things as well. Make it stand out. Explain what the heck a portico is. Perhaps show my main character, Giovanni.

This last requirement has kept me up very late looking at pictures of handsome men. Not that I mind terribly looking at handsome men. But too much of a good thing, etc.

I have to get his image right, because you, the reader, will use my image of Giovanni to inform what you see in your mind when you read about him. When he wiggles his brows. When he flashes his gorgeous smile. When Sarah gazes at his Michelangelo lips. When he puts on a shirt on over his long, lean, gracefully muscular olive-skinned torso…

But I digress.

I’m beginning to think Giovanni won’t make the cover, and that just breaks my heart. I’ll keep searching for him.

I’ll almost certainly have a portico on the cover. Bologna is known for its porticos — columned, covered walkways, sometimes called arcades. My character Niccolo can often be found lurking in the shadows of porticos, waiting for Emilia to walk by.


A portico, perhaps one that would look lovely on the cover of my book. (Photo from The Telegraph: i.telegraph.co.uk)

Have you ever really looked at the covers of books? Have you deciphered the code? Ever notice that there are a lot of disembodied male torsos? They are pleasant to look at, but I don’t really read those books. Besides, that’s not how I see my book. That’s certainly not how I see Giovanni. He’s dressed all the time, except once, when Sarah catches him putting a shirt on. That’s it.

I need to learn the code. I need to learn what message to put out there. I need to make it pop so it doesn’t become a wallflower among books. Color and beauty. The right photos, the right fonts, the right graphic filters, the right verbiage, the right Giovanni.

Let’s face it, we do judge books by their covers.


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