Authors and Book Covers

One of the biggest moments an author has waiting for a book to be released is seeing the cover for the first time.  Part of it may simply be that at that moment, publication seems real.  It’s the first step toward holding the actual, physical book in your hand.  It’s also the moment when the world a writer has been imagining for so long suddenly takes on a real, physical appearance.  And maybe that’s why authors often have mixed feelings about their covers, beyond the esthetics of what is and isn’t attractive.  This is the point where someone else begins interpreting their vision.

Every reader, of course, creates a different world in their imagination as they interact with a book, perhaps seeing themselves as the protagonist, using details from their own lives and what is familiar to them when imagining a setting, and that will just as obviously be very different from what the writer has seen so clearly all this time.  The cover, however, is such a significant interpretation, one that influences how the reader will begin to imagine these people and this place before they even see the author’s words, that it’s no wonder authors have such strong feelings about them, can even feel violated if the cover turns out not to be entirely what they had in mind.

When my first novel, Without Wings, was published, I was able to make arrangements for one of my students to submit a design that was ultimately accepted.  We discussed some details.   I’ve always loved wrapped covers, where an image begins on the front and continues to the back, and we agreed that watercolors, her favorite medium, would be appropriate for a painting she would complete that would be the basic design for the cover. She was also familiar with the premise of the book and its primary themes. Beyond that, I said nothing else.  I wanted her to have an opportunity to create her own vision.

A couple weeks later, when she showed me the design, I was utterly speechless.  In fact I was so quiet, my student was afraid I was disappointed in her work.  What she had prepared was, of course, different from the way I had imagined the cover myself.   Like most writers, I think, I’d begun to develop an impression about what that should be before the manuscript was even complete.  Still, her design seemed so utterly perfect, even down to the soft kinds of colors I prefer and a rural landscape that was so reminiscent of my own house and property, I felt as though my student had somehow entered my mind.

When I was working on The Tapestry Baby, a novel that is just now on the verge of being released, I began thinking about a cover very early in my writing.  I knew what my title would be from the very start, and the notion of what a tapestry baby could be evoked all kinds of visual images as I wrote.  Once more I imagined a cover done in watercolors with blues and greens, the shades dearest to me, as it primary colors. They would be swirled together, with a faint image of a baby in the background, staring out through the colors.  This image became so firmly ingrained in my mind, I was prepared to be disappointed when I saw the real cover.

This week I received an e-mail with my cover design.  While it is, of course, completely different from the way I imagined it, once more, like my first novel, it seems to me absolutely perfect.  Standing in my kitchen and looking at the image for the first time on my cell phone,  I found myself shouting over and over again, “It’s gorgeous,” even though no one was with me to see it.  And the cover is.  Esthetically it is simply a beautiful design, with lovely, subtle colors, and full of so much detail, down to the wrinkles on the baby’s wrists.  While everything about the cover is so different from the way I had imagined it, once more I felt as though the artist, this time a woman I had never met, had entered my imagination. Taking the shadows from leaves, a detail that is connected to an especially important scene in the novel, and using them to create a subtle tapestry background, then putting a very real-looking baby at the bottom, combines images from the book in a way that just seems right. I haven’t been able to stop looking at it.  So here it is, the perfect cover!








About carolewaterhouse

A creative writing professor at California University of Pennsylvania, Carole Waterhouse is the author of two novels, The Tapestry Baby and Without Wings, and a collection of short stories, The Paradise Ranch. Her fiction has appeared in Arnazella, Artful Dodge, Baybury Review, Ceilidh, Eureka Literary Magazine, Forum, Half Tones to Jubilee, Massachusetts Review, Minnetonka Review, Oracle: The Brewton-Parker College Review, Parting Gifts, Pointed Circle, Potpourri, Seems, Spout, The Armchair Aesthete, The Griffin, The Styles, Tucumari Literary Review, Turnrow, and X-Connect. A previous newspaper reporter, she has published essays in an anthology, Horse Crazy: Women and the Horses They Love, and Equus Spirit Magazine. Her book reviews have appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Press, and The New York Times Book Review.
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4 Responses to Authors and Book Covers

  1. gsb3 says:

    hi, carole. i enjoy your blog very much for your insight, wisdom, experience and knowledge about writing. the only problem i have in this post is that you assume that “authors” all have printed books. although i have not had a printed book published., i have my own blog on wordpress for my poetry, and i have published poems in various formats other than my own book. also, i do not have characters in most of my poems (because i don’t write novels), so i would’t put people on the cover. please don’t assume that all aiuthors are novelists. thanks. beyond that, keep doing what you’re doing. you have a great blog and provide a great service to the writing comunity!

    • I’m so sorry!!! I probably should have chosen my words more carefully and just said “novelists” rather than “authors.” I have a tremendous respect for writers of all genres, but especially poets. That’s an area of writing where I simply don’t have any talent. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between the visual and the verbal and am especially fond of works that merge the two together. You’ve given me an idea for a topic I’ll address sometime soon that may take some of the ideas here and address them with more sensitivity to other forms of writing. In the meantime, I congratulate you on your own success.

  2. Dear Carole,
    I’m just over visiting because I’m one of your new reviewers from Pump Up Your Books. What an inspiring blog of entries you have! I so appreciate your insights and intellectual “conversations” which are so refreshing.
    I’ll be hosting your Book Tour on June 27th on my website/blog at: “The Bookish Dame Reviews”

    Your new book cover is fantastic. I look forward to having an interview with you for your Tour. Meanwhile, I’ll be checking back with you to see what’s on your mind…


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