Many a guru might have said that, when I was preparing Irish Firebrands for publication in paperback.
But the gurus’ advice also has waxed contradictory:
- You want name recognition VS Your name should be smaller than the title
- The font should reflect the genre VS Fancy fonts are too hard to read
- Cover art should indicate the genre VS Don’t clutter the cover with representational art
- Copy what the best-sellers are doing VS Your cover should not look like a clone or a rip-off
Eventually, self-publishing advice columns end up invoking the big kahuna:
- Don’t use your own artwork; hire a professional designer, for professional results.
Like many independents, I don’t have the discretionary income to splash out on “professional” services. Moreover, I’ve seen a lot of crummy-looking professional covers on books put out by the big traditional publishing houses. So, that sent the big kahuna packing.
Irish Firebrands crosses a half-dozen genre lines, but I had to settle on one – Romance, Contemporary – to put it into a BISAC category. Unfortunately, the covers of most romance novels are what I call the “B&B” type (Biceps and Bosoms); and whereas body parts do have a role to play in Irish Firebrands, their public exhibition is not exactly my cuppa tea. Also, I did not want the book to blend in, when the story had so much more to say.
What’s more, I wanted something that communicated “Irish,” but that avoided outright paddywhackery. That eliminated shamrocks and anything else that was green.
One of the themes in Irish Firebrands is of the religious/spiritual/inspirational sort. Many Irish High Crosses feature carved panels that illustrate stories from scripture, so a Celtic cross seemed like a good candidate for cover art. Celtic crosses fall into the category of stela (or stele), a stone slab that’s erected for some commemorative purpose, and many Irish grave markers are adorned with Celtic crosses. This funerary art function dovetailed with the occupation of one of the main characters: professional genealogist.
I also wanted colors that reinforced the association with fire. So, I found a public domain photo of a Celtic cross at sunset, which I cropped and modified for hue, saturation, brightness and contrast, and then sent it to a relative to convert into a digital painting for the front cover. Reproduction on a screen just doesn’t do his painting justice (although a CRT renders it more faithfully than an LCD does).
Books that have to do with Irish subjects often sport cover fonts calculated to evoke a Celtic flavor: many use Tolkien or American Uncial – so many, indeed, their use also has acquired (for me, at least), the paddywhackery cliché. Besides, at a distance their oddly-shaped characters can make for difficult reading. I wanted something decorative that would still be legible from, oh, say, ten feet away. I settled on Daniela, a not-quite-italic, calligraphic font that has some eye-catching capital letters.
I tinted the words to approximate the color of the background at the position they would appear on the front cover, and on the back, I made them come as close as possible to the color of the ruby in the claddagh ring (another Irish reference point that also figures in the story) which accompanies the back cover blurb. The black lettering on the spine serendipitously came out with a texture that suggests charred wood – harking back to the eponymous Firebrands.
Here’s the Gesamtkunstwerk that resulted. (Click on it for a closeup.)
What ideas informed your decisions for the cover of your book?
* Nope, that’s not a typo. 😉