I don’t play fantasy sports (real sports either for the record), but as a reader and writer I participate in something similar—fantasy casting. I bet you do too. Certain novels just read like movies, filling my head with images of people, places and situations so vivid that I might be watching the action unfold on a screen. I know EXACTLY who I’d like to see play particular characters in some of my favorite novels but, sadly, no one inHollywood ever rings me up when they are making a movie out of a book and says “cast this baby for us.”

Hence the fantasy casting.  Because when real-life constraints—money, an actor’s age, and/or even whether he/she is still among the living—are set aside I can have any book made into a movie starring precisely who I envision in each role. Bliss.

Of course my fantasy cast is not your fantasy cast. And that’s another upside from my point of view. If I prefer Glenda Jackson asElizabeth I (a role she nailed on the BBC before many of you were born) and you prefer Cate Blanchett that’s just fine. We can each pop some popcorn, pull up our respective hassocks, settle down with the very same book in hand and watch the action on the tiny screens in our head featuring our choice. It’s a fantasy remember 🙂

But for some reason while I’ve been busy casting other writer’s historical novels I never thought about a fantasy cast for The Sister Queens . . . until yesterday. That’s when a pair of talented writer friends (Lydia Netzer and Nancy Bilyeau) pointed out how cinemographic my novel is and started making casting suggestions of their own.

Next thing you knew we had a pretty good list going. I knew it was time to share, and more than that to solicit readers’ opinions. So, in a sort of “We’ll show you our if you show us yours” gesture, I am putting our current fantasy casting ideas out on the table and counting on you to reciprocate. Who do you see playing Louis IX? Eleanor? Jean? The Dragon of Castile? DO TELL (that’s what comments sections are made for)!

Fantasy Cast, The Sister Queens
A Starter List Courtesy of Sophie, Lydia and Nancy

Marguerite: (I’ll admit I see my eldest daughter in this role so thank heavens for the suggestions of others) Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan, Keira Knightly

Eleanor: (Again my second daughter plays this role in my head): Miranda Otto (remember current age is no impediment), Anna Kendrick, Hailee Steinfeld (right age for start of book but later?), Rooney Mara, Dakota Fanning

Blanche of Castile:  Dame Judy Dench, Virna Lisi

Louis IX: Julian Sands (when he was younger), Rupert Penry-Jones (ditto. Or he could play Henry as he currently is), Keith Ledger (told you we included the dead), Alex Pettfer, Raymond Coulthard, Douglas Booth (if he isn’t playing Jean)

Jean de Joinville:  Douglas Booth (if you didn’t see him in the recent Masterpiece Great Expectations, click the link—it will be apparent why he is my first choice), Kit Harington (you know, Jon Snow in Game of Thrones), a younger Joseph Fiennes (particular if his brother played Henry), Henry Cavill, Jamie Bell (right age for the start of the action but later?), Jeremy Irvine, Orlando Bloom (who might also play Louis if he put in those contacts he wore for Legolas)

Henry III:  Michael Fassbender (yeah he is too good looking – so?), Seth Green, Daniel Auteuil (in younger days), Sean Bean (and for once he wouldn’t have to DIE in a movie), Johnny Lee Miller, Rupert Penry-Jones.

 

One day after release of The Sister Queens I am offering absolution to those who don’t find it their cup of tea.   Come on over to A Bookish Affair and receive official permission to love me but not my book. 

And speaking of loving me . . .  pop over to Between the Sheets for your daily dose of Sophie facts.  I share with Heather my advice for aspiring authors, and explain why I am a character junkie.

When I became active on social media and started blogging I promised myself I was never going to use those tools to say “buy my book.”  I made this vow primarily because such direct shilling makes me profoundly uncomfortable when I am on the receiving end of it.

Now, with the launch of my debut novel. The Sister Queens, only 2-weeks away (March 6th), and knowing as I do how important it is to sell well in the two weeks after the book debuts there is a considerable amount of temptation to break my word.  As an individual who embraces “historical” values, however, I still believe “a man’s word is his bond” (ditto a woman’s word).  So what to do?  Make all the new friends I’ve made on twitter, facebook and through this website feel uncomfortable by hitting them up?  Or remain silent and possibly miss sales?

As I tend to do whenever faced with unpalatable choices, I’ve imagined a third option (darn creative types, always imagining things).  So today, and without breaking any promises, I am asking you to tell someone else to buy my book.  You don’t have to spend a dime of your own money on The Sister Queens if you don’t want to, but please consider suggesting or recommending it to someone else.

How, you may ask, can I do that when I’ve never read The Sister Queens?  Ah, but here’s the beauty of my suggestion—I didn’t specify WHO you should tell.  If you suspect, based on your virtual acquaintance with me, that I am only good for 140 character quips and I probably should have stuck to Twitter, then recommend The Sister Queens to your mother-in-law, that lady in the next cubicle at work who talks too loudly on her phone about matters of personal hygiene, or any other person you are not particularly crazy about.  Sale for me; revenge for you.

If, on the other hand, anything I’ve said in this forum or elsewhere has resonated with you or made you think, “that woman can write,” then please mention The Sister Queens to a friend.  It won’t cost you anything and you will be doing me a big favor.  Heck you might be doing your book-mad friend a favor too.

Whatever our personal relationship with our sisters one thing cannot be denied – they have shaped who we are.  They have given us a personality trait, an ambition, a talent, a tolerance that we would not have had but for knowing them.  They have given us a “gift”—even if, in some cases, at the time it was bestowed that gift may have seemed a burden not a blessing.

Next week I want to hear from you about the gifts your sisters have given you.  And, to encourage you to share (while celebrating the one-month-to-release mark for my novel), there will be giveaway involved.

But today I want to write about one of the gifts my sister gave me.  My sister gave me this writing career.  Yes, I know that with my debut novel just about to hit shelves it is a tad premature to declare that I have a “C”areer in writing.  Forgive me that for the moment.  What I am trying to say is my sister gave me permission to be a writer.  More than that she gave me a push.

Once upon a time I was a lawyer—an antitrust litigator to be precise, not that it matters really.  I’d wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little girl.  Dream realized (check).  I should have been happy.  I wasn’t.  I was casting about for something to be next.  Asking a question I hadn’t asked in a very long time, “what do I want to be when I grow up.”  I think that’s a much tougher question when you already ARE grown up.  So much of who you think you are is wrapped up in your professional success.  The idea of making a change is scary.  Major anxiety. Major.  I can’t do major anxiety without my sister.  I am betting over the years there have been times she has fervently wished that I could.  But if I am going to obsess, stress out, or break down I am going to call my sister.  Doubtless this particular existential crisis involved multiple calls (my sister really should have been getting combat pay), but I remember THE call.

“Writer” wasn’t on the table for “next job” consideration.  But what is or isn’t “on the table” doesn’t stop my sister (and I am betting it doesn’t stop yours either)  Sisters speak wisdom unexpectedly.

“I know you are making up a story right now in your head,” my sister said.  She was right of course and, because she knows me better than anyone, better than I know myself, I didn’t deny it.  “Whatever that story is,” she said, “pick up your dictaphone and start saying it out loud.”

My husband, children and I were leaving on a beach vacation, I took my dictaphone with me like my sister told me to.  I dictated scenes at the seaside.  Later, at home, I used the voice-activated feature to dictate while I washed floors.  Most infamously (at least in my family) I dictated a scene in the frozen food section of my local grocery store while a clerk looked suspiciously on (industrial spy anyone?).  The book that resulted from my sister’s words snagged my agent.  My agent found me my audience.

My sister was uniquely qualified to give me this gift (and my life as a writer is one of the greatest dream-come-true gifts of my life).  She knew I was a storyteller.  She’s a large part of the reason I became one.  As children we had a forty-five-minute walk to school (yes, one way but NOT uphill both ways).  I filled that time by weaving “continuing sagas” (the more sensational the better, I fear) for my travel companions.  I still remember a sci-fi tale of a color coded world, but the salient point here is that my sister alone (discounting our walking companions who went on to lives and places unknown) was privy to this side of me.  In school (high school and college) I was known as more of an essayist – and occasionally a poet – NOT one of those people who constantly wrote fiction and squirreled it away.  As I went on to be a mild-mannered (ha) lawyer nobody around me knew about the “other” Sophie.  I, myself, may even have temporarily forgotten my passion for storytelling.  But a sister never forgets.

So thank you sis.  In case I haven’t said it before, in case the dedication in my book didn’t make it clear—I owe you one.  A big one.

Do you know a writer with a book coming out via a traditional publisher?  Even if you are a writer yourself there is something you many not know if you have yet to be published.  Something you should know if you want to support published friends.

All sales are not created equal.  Even if they are sales of the same title, in the same format for the same price.  This is something I didn’t know this time last year.

Interested in learning why it’s important to order or shop for friends’ books early? Come on over to From the Write Angle and read my blog on the subject.  Your writer friends will thank you.

The pre-order is the "heavy hitter" of all book sales

 

 

In honor of the arrival of 2012 I am taking a look back at my very first year of blogging—2011.  Here are the five blog posts—some written for “From the Write Angle” others for my personal blog—that I consider my best work.

The top of my list HAS to be “Voice, It’s Not Just for Manuscripts Anymore” discussing how essential it is for writers to infuse their query letters (the letters they use to try to attract a literary agent) with their unique voice.

I would posit that snagging an agent with a good query is NOT merely about what you say but is equally about HOW you say it. For those of you who have seen “The King’s Speech” (and if you haven’t, forget reading my post and get yourself that DVD) think of the moment at Westminster Abbey when Geoffrey Rush (playing speech therapist Lionel Logue) asks Colin Firth’s George VI of England, “Why should I waste my time listening to you?’ The King’s answer. . . “Because I have a voice.” If you want agents to listen to you, to pay attention to the punchy mini-synopsis of your oh-so-clever plot that you spent a gazillion drafts perfecting, then you’d better let the voice that imbues your manuscript sing out from your query letter as well. 

Number two is “Give me A Little Kiss — Sex and the Historical Novelist,” in which I discuss and defend the place of sex in straight historical novels (not just historical romances).

The inclusion of sex in historical novels is neither good nor bad in a vacuum.  It’s not the sexual content that determines whether a particular scene works—it’s whether that scene (sex or otherwise) has a REASON for being in the novel.  Tossing in an orgy (or even a kiss) into your work of historical fiction without a solid reason is a bad idea.  The scene will feel “added on,” and gratuitous sex is no more acceptable in a novel than gratuitous dialogue.

At number three I have selected my reflection on the very act of blogging itself and how it can become a digital distraction from the author’s most important task—writing books:

Blogging takes an enormous amount of time compared to most on-line community participation. A tweet is a quip; a facebook post can be a couple of sentences or a useful link. A blog requires topic selection, thoughtful analysis and a couple of hundred solid words in support of your argument.

So if blogging is such a huge time-suck, why do we do it?

 Blog number four tackles the question of why our sisters (or more broadly our siblings) are NOT very much like us.

I’ve certainly had moments when I’ve thought how can my sister and I have had such a different experience of the same childhood or how could we have played the same games (together), walked to the same school (together) and heard the same family stories and yet turned out so very differently? If you have a sibling chances are you’ve had such thoughts as well.  At the heart of my questions lay the idea that nurture shapes people, and since my sister and I were raised in the same environment that should have made us similar.

Turns out that’s just dead wrong when it comes to siblings.  Being raised in the same environment helps to make us different.

And finally, sitting at number five, is the first blog I ever wrote—“Not THAT Sophie.”  This one is all about the marketing lessons I learned from a teething toy.  Half-a-year after I wrote it, as I struggle to build my author brand, I still marvel at the power of Sophie the Giraffe.  And yes, she STILL comes up before I do in an Amazon search and she continues to top the ranks of baby items.

Coming behind a rubber toy in a “suggested search” list is a humbling experience. But when I looked more closely at Sophie G, I realized I could learn a thing or two. Sophie is NUMBER ONE in the Amazon “Baby” bestseller rankings (we will not discuss how far from number one I am on any list presently). She gets an average of 4.5 stars from reviewers. And she is able to command some serious cash for a figure only 7” tall. In fact, a single giraffe teether costs $7.00 more than a copy of my novel. Wow (hint to readers, buy the book – I don’t care if you chew on it).

Sophie G is obviously doing something right. Here’s what I think. . .

 Happy New Year all!!!

Writers are always looking for ways to get under their characters’ skins.  Only fully realized characters have the ability to make books come to life and please readers.  That means knowing far more about each of our characters than readers ever will.  We have to “wear” our characters (no, not in a “Silence of the Lambs” way).  We have to be able to react instinctively as them to plot points and events in our novels as they arise.

The first step as a historical writer is, of course, historical research.  We research, research, and research waiting for that “genesis moment”—the moment when a character’s voice sounds inside our head for the first time.  After the “genesis moment” writers have varying techniques for getting to know their characters better (questionnaires, lists of character history and details, etc).

I’ve decided to play a board game with mine.  Here, live, on the blog. No kidding.

This year for Christmas my elementary-aged son received “The Ungame.”  Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it, I hadn’t either until recently when he started talking about it after playing with a friend.  My son is a fairly reticent child – reserved even.  So when he came home enthusiastically raving about a game that was all about talking, sharing opinions and feeling, and learning about your fellow players I knew it would be making an appearance under our tree.

As of this writing I have played The Ungame three times.  I love the darn thing.  It has asked me to reflect upon and answer some pretty significant questions (“What would you do if you were told you were going to die soon?”).  I’ve even learned some new things about the man I’ve been married to for more than two decades—a man whose sentences I am fully capable of finishing (though he doesn’t like that so much).

So this morning I thought why not play with my sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence?  Before I begin I hereby declare that I have the actual game board on my desk, that I will be rolling actual dice, and that I will be selecting the top card off the pile (a shuffled pile) when the game requires any player to draw a card.  Here goes:

[Sophie—the startling orange game piece—rolls]: 5!  That’s an Ungame spot.  I get to ask another player a question.

Marguerite, what comes to your mind when you think about your childhood?

[Marguerite of Provence, Queen of France]:

The landscape of Provence; the Court of my father, Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence; and, of course, my sisters.  I thought all families were as happy as ours and all courts were as warm and hospitable. [Sighs]

Shall I roll next?

[Eleanor of Provence, Queen of England]:

No Marguerite! It is my turn.  We are going clockwise.

[Eleanor—royal purple—rolls]: 6!  That’s MightyMountain.  Hm, Eleanor has to talk about a time she’s felt challenged by something.

My most recent challenge was acting as Regent of England for nearly ten-months while His Majesty was inGascony.  My appointment was outside of English custom and I wanted to do such a good job that none could afterward question the wisdom of Henry’s choice.  My largest task was raising money to keep Henry and his troops in the field, and to pay the French to stay out of the conflict.  I ended up paying Alphonse of Poitiers (Louis IX ofFrance’s brother) over three-thousand pounds sterling from my own allowance to keep him out of the war.

 Your turn Marguerite.

 [Marguerite—playing black—rolls]: 1.  An Ungame spot.  Marguerite draws a question card.

 Sophie, to whom can you turn if you need to be comforted?

 [Me]:

Doubtless like you, my mind turns immediately to my sister.  She’s always loved me unconditionally.  If I need to hear a kind word she will provide it—of course if I have a stern word coming she’ll provide that too but only after comforting me.

[All ladies laugh.  Sophie rolls again]: 2.  An Ungame spot.

[Sophie]:

Marguerite, what is something you want people to remember about you?

[Marguerite]:

That I saved my husband Louis from captivity and likely death in theHoly Land.  Because I am quiet and try always to behave in a ladylike manner I fear that people underestimate my will and my ability to act decisively when such action is needed.

[Eleanor rolls]: 5.  An Ungame  spot.

Marguerite, if you have ever felt ‘brokenhearted’ talk about it.

[Marguerite, hesitates, casts Eleanor a meaningful look, then speaks]:

I have been heartbroken more than once.  Early in my marriage I believed myself in love with my husband—I was certainly infatuated.  Between the demands of his mother and his God, Louis drew further and further away from me, leaving me very lonely.  So Louis broke my heart first, but perhaps nothing is more heartbreaking than the death of a child and I have had that sorrow.

[Marguerite rolls]: 2.  Takes a card.

Eleanor, talk about the most loving person you know.

[Eleanor]:

Without doubt my husband Henry.  It makes me furious how harshly people judge him.  He is no statesman—though it pains me to say it—but he is such a good husband and father.  He is entirely faithful to me.  There has never been even the rumor of a royal mistress.  And he wants me to be happy.  He can be a worrier, as during my pregnancy with Edmund when he ordered 1000 tapers kept burning before Saint Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury and another 1,000 at St. Augustine’s, all for the delivery of a second son and my safety.  But what woman could fail to see the love underlying such concern?  As for the children, Henry is besotted with them.  Absolutely besotted.

By the way, am I winning this game?  How do we know who wins?

[Me]: 

There is no “winner” in The Ungame.  It’s an un-competitive learning game.

[Eleanor]:

Pshaw, everything in life has winners and losers.  [Turning to Marguerite]  But if I must tie then I am happy to do so with my sister The Queen of France.

[Marguerite inclines her head, graciously]

[Me]:

 On that happy note I declare our game at an end.  Who is in favor of some wine and sugar-coated aniseeds?

Once upon a time I was young.  No, honestly.  Then as now I was a history nerd—big time.  In fact (trivia alert), I was the first member of my graduating class to declare a major in history.  Anyway, one day the younger me was given a postcard by her Woman’s History professor.  A postcard showing the black and white image of Belva Lockwood.  This image as a matter of fact.

It took me a while to discover the importance of this gift, delivered, as I remember it, with no real explanation beyond the mild-mannered comment, “I thought you might like this.”  With age and distance I now realize my professor gave me the postcard to galvanize me to action; to make me angry—not at him but at the way history was taught and who got left out.  You see Belva Lockwood was the first woman to have her name on the ballot for President of the United States (yes, I know Victoria Woodhull “ran” but her name did not appear on official ballots and votes for her were never tallied).  She was also the first woman to be admitted to practice before the Supreme Court (though mind you she had to write to President Grant just to get the law diploma she’d earned and it took an act of Congress to see her admitted before the High Court).  But I’d never heard of her.

That DID make me angry, and it also made me think.  Just what does a woman have to do to be noticed, historically speaking?  Give birth to a King?  Have her head chopped off?  How can that be when there were so many women throughout history who did so much more?  Even today, Belva remains only the tip of the “over-looked” iceberg.  And because we continue to under-represent women in history and underestimate their activities readers—both of non-fiction history and historical fiction—often think writers get it WRONG when they accurately report what historical female characters did.

I recently saw an example of this in a book review.  A reviewer took Author X to task because her female main-character pressed her right to rule her own territories.  “How dare the author suggest,” and I am paraphrasing here, “that a woman in the Middle Ages would assert such authority, or would even have the desire to rule in her own right!”  The reviewer went on to castigate Author X for imposing modern feminist ideas on long dead women.  But the truth is plenty of women held territory (and titles) in their own right during the time period of the author’s book.  The reviewer was just wrong—likely because he/she had never heard of such women.  I remember wondering what said reviewer would make of the fact that my main characters’ uncle, Thomas of Savoy, was Count of Flanders only by marriage and lost that title when his wife died and her title passed to her SISTER.  My guess is the particular reviewer would think that bit of history was made-up, feminist-revisionism as well.

It is time to recognize, as consumers of history and historical fiction, that women have filled many, varied, roles throughout the centuries—even if we haven’t always heard about them.  Some women did extra-ordinary things with those roles (e.g. just like male rulers, some female rulers were better at it than others), but the fact women held such roles wasn’t, in and of itself, necessarily as extraordinary as modern audiences seem to think.  In each period of history we need to look at the specific facts rather than relying on broad assumptions.  For example, to assume things were necessarily better for women later in history than they were earlier is to incorrectly posit a linear progression in women’s rights and opportunities.

I am happy to say that, imo, there’s a lot of really wonderful historical fiction celebrating women who have been historically overlooked these days.  There are also fabulous books that examine “big name” historical women in new ways—as more than “ornaments of royal courts” or “mothers of kings.”  Personally, I am very interested in telling the stories of women who are more obscure than they deserve to be.  Probably because of that darned postcard.  When I stumbled upon a footnote in a history of Notre Dame de Paris about Marguerite of Provence (her image is carved over Notre Dame’s Portal Rouge) and her sisters I had a Belva Lockwood moment.  Clearly these young women (all of whom made significant political marriages) were celebrities of the High Middle Ages.  Marguerite and Eleanor were the queens of France andEngland for heaven’s sake!  Yet I had never heard of them.  I made up my mind right then to tell their story.

I wish Professor T was alive today.  I’d send him a copy of my book and I’d put the Belva Lockwood postcard in it—as an excellent bookmark and a thank you of sorts.

You know what drives me crazy (currently)?  How much of what passes for author interaction at social media sites these days resembles spam.

I made the connection while clearing out the spam comments at this blog.  They almost all start out the same, with a sentence that looks like the writer (probably a bot) might actually have read my blog post—“I enjoyed this post. This topic is really very interesting. . .”—then they turn into self-serving sales drivel.  While I was gleefully emptying the spam folder it occurred to me that I’ve been seeing lots of this same sort of “let me say a polite thing about you so I can talk about ME, ME, ME” stuff on twitter, in on-line writing groups, and on facebook lately.

Frankly, it’s cheesing me off.

It’s gotten particularly bad in writing and reading related facebook groups.  When I join a group devoted to say “Lovers of Mysteries with Dogs as Their Main Character” (okay I made that one up, but I don’t want to point fingers at actual groups or communities) I expect folks therein to share information on good books with doggy detectives, or links to websites to help me in researching or writing same.  Instead what I am getting these days are nearly naked advertisements—“My book ‘It’s a Dog Eat Dog World’ just got a super-duper review at ‘Dog books R us!’ Read it here. Or better still buy my book here, or here, or here.”  This is just annoying.  If I want advertisements there are plenty running along the top or side of every darn website I visit.  “Come on fellow writers,” I want to scream, “you’ve got a personal facebook page, probably an author FB page, and doubtless an author website to share good reviews and ‘buy it now’ links.”  The essence of communities and/or shared-interest groups (like FB “bookclub” pages) is dialogue—even in the virtual world.

A hybrid of “boast posters” are the folks who share EVERY blog post they’ve ever written or will ever write to a facebook group, or to twitter, irrespective of whether it’s on topic.  Sure, if someone has written a post that is germane to the topic of a group or comment thread (or touches on one of the subjects that they assume people follow them on twitter to hear about) then posting that link is a worthy public service.  But if a blogger is just slapping up everything he can think of to increase his name recognition then he should spare us and save himself the time (because pretty soon I for one am going to stop looking at his posts because I already KNOW what they will say – some version of “look at me.”)

As a writer I understand where this behavior has its roots.  There is a great deal of pressure on writers today to market our own work, and very specifically to have a presence in the virtual world.  If writers join any community of like-minded people as part of “building an internet presence,” however, I firmly believe they should try to interact in a genuine, non-agenda-driven, manner.  And just for the record the interaction is neither effective nor genuine when it amounts to commenting on topics started by others in true spam form (“I am fascinated by cocker spaniels but for a really great blog on poodles, more specifically MY poodles, click here”).  I think spam-types fail to recognize a basic truth – all on-line presence is NOT equal and, specifically, an annoying presence seldom sells a book.

If you are a spammer not a genuine community member you are wasting your time—at least as far as I am concerned.  Because the truth is, when I have my “reader hat” on, I buy two kinds of books: 1) those receiving notable reviews or buzz from reviewers I trust (whether that’s a “R”eviewer in the print or digital media or a guy I sit next to on the bus every morning and discuss books with); and 2) books written by friends (folks I’ve gotten to know through writers conferences, through on-line communities and through their blogs).  You are no friend of mine if you spam me.

Readers, what do you think?  When you join a “readers” or “lovers” group on line (as in “mystery lovers” that was NOT meant to be an X-rated comment) do you expect to encounter posts/comments that are nakedly self promotional?  When you do see them do they bother you or do you merely consider it a convenient way to discover new books in a particular genre?  Am I must imagining a sudden spike in such spam-like posts (after all I am a writer and I do have an overactive imagination), or have you noticed a similar phenomenon?

Have you ever walked into a bookstore, picked up a historical novel set in renaissance Italy and thought “my goodness WHAT is this headless woman on the cover wearing?  Her gown is SO obviously Tudor!”  Yeah, me too.  And here’s the thing, before I started writing historical fiction I might have drawn some erroneous conclusions based on such a book cover.

First, I might have concluded that “author X” hadn’t done her research or just didn’t care that her cover model was wearing a gown from the wrong period.  Since becoming an author I’ve learned that this is probably not the case.  Shall I tell you a secret?  Authors have VERY limited influence on the covers of their books.

I am NOT saying that good publishers don’t seek author input before holding a cover conference.  My editor asked me for examples of existing covers that I loved as well as examples of covers I didn’t like.  She encouraged me to explain why I felt as I did.  She also asked me to collect images from fine art imbued with the feeling I wanted my cover to have, and to submit descriptions and pictures of what my 13th century sisters might have worn.

What I AM saying is my cover was still a big surprise when I saw it.  So if you LOVE the cover of The Sister Queens, I am glad but, please, give credit where it is due.  I did not create the cover painting (you should be thankful for this – profoundly thankful), the cover artist did.  And folks in the design department picked that gorgeous lettering.  So send your warm and fuzzy thoughts (or compliments) their way.  And if you HATE the cover of my book (or any author’s book) please spare me a note upbraiding me.

This leads me to the second flawed conclusion I might have drawn back in my “fan-but-not-a-writer” days: covers exist to accurately portray a period of history, or a scene from a book.  Nope.  Sorry.  Some covers may do those things, but covers in general are designed for one reason and one reason alone – to sell books. This is precisely why authors don’t (and probably shouldn’t) design them.

I never viewed covers as sales tools until I signed my book contract.  But believe me once you have a book coming out selling books is foremost in your mind.  I want to sell books, and more than that, I want to sell books to people who are not ME.   Therefore, what I would personally like to see on the cover of my book runs a distant second to what a majority of book-buying, cash-carrying potential readers will find attractive.  And the truth is I am not in a position to predict what will catch the eye of the average book buyer.  I am not trained to do that, nor have I conducted studies or otherwise made it my business to keep my fingers on the pulse of such things. The folks in my publisher’s art and design departments, on the other hand, ARE in a position to predict what will make a reader reach out and lift The Sister Queens off a table full of books all looking for a home.  They have been designing covers for years.  That’s why design departments and not authors get the final say over what book covers looks like.

Perhaps the folks designing the cover for a historical novel know that a certain color gown makes books jump off the shelf and into readers’ hands, so they use that color even if it may not be precisely “period.”  They might even (gasp) put Tudor gowns on non-Tudor-era women because books about Tudors sell like hotcakes and they are hoping to entice readers of Tudor historical fiction to pick up, and ultimately try, something new.  Who can say?  As an author I certainly can’t.  And as a reader I am now careful to examine covers with a different eye than I did in my pre-writing days—I may still judge the book by its cover, but I no longer judge that book’s author.

Authors are in the business of writing books, design and art departments are in the business of covering them.