I have already written about the travails of finding the “perfect title” for my new book, Forever Gentleman—a process that took several years. Thankfully, obtaining the “perfect cover” for my book didn’t take near as long, but still, the process was far from simple.
To begin, I had in mind what I wanted to see on the cover, but putting it into words was not particularly easy. Unlike Nathan Sinclair, the protagonist in my book, I am no great artist. I liked drawing very much as a child and remember getting a nice compliment from my teacher in 6th grade about a crayon drawing of a ship burning at sea. But, that was the highlight of my art career, as sports began consuming my life more and more, and I never pursued another art class in school or anywhere else.
Book Cover Concept: All The Moving Parts
So, sketching the design I wanted was a bit of a challenge. I could see the design perfectly clear in my mind, but getting the publisher to appreciate that design proved difficult. Since there are three main characters in my book (Nathan, Regina and Jocelyn), I felt the cover should reflect a man and two women—one blonde and one brunette. Nathan is also a gifted pianist, so I naturally wanted a piano somewhere on the cover. And, since much of the story takes place in magnificent homes lavishly furnished, I figured it would be a good to include in the background a beautiful interior or exterior of such a property. Plus, I had once come across another book cover where barely visible notes of piano sheet music were beautifully portrayed as a background to the scene depicted (I even spent about twenty hours unsuccessfully trying to find that cover online). So, I communicated all of this conflicting and haphazard information to my publisher. As you might imagine, there was a lot of head scratching with the publisher on how to pull off this feat.
After patiently reviewing my hieroglyphics, the publisher indicated that it would be nearly impossible to recreate in a workable fashion all of the ideas I had, but an attempt was made nonetheless. I might add that the first attempt was a disaster. It was so bad that I was too embarrassed to show it to anyone, especially my wife. My wife, who had become my most ardent supporter for the book, would have reversed field and cast the manuscript in the fire, realizing the cover would discourage even the most sympathetic reader from ever opening the book. In fact, after further efforts, I despaired that the publisher would ever come close to capturing the “perfect cover.”
I then took the daring step of contacting someone outside the publisher’s office—a contract book cover artist—to come up with an alternative cover that I would then pass on to the publisher. I shared my somewhat toned-down ideas with this new artist and got back an initial rendering that was significantly better than the publisher’s, but still far from what I was hoping for.
In this creative stupor, I went back to the drawing board. I had written the brief synopsis of the book which is now featured on the back cover and as I was reflecting on the synopsis, an idea came to me. I needed the cover to reflect a major theme of the work: that Nathan Sinclair was caught between two diametrically opposed worlds—a world of brilliance and beauty and a world of poverty and despair.
Suddenly, it all seemed so simple.
That was the underlying landscape for the story, the contrast of worlds that existed in Victorian England.
Energized, I began sorting through 19th century art, looking for paintings which would depict each extreme. I shared this idea with the publisher and received a much more positive view than before. The publisher sent some paintings for me to consider; they weren’t bad, but they didn’t resonate with me. So, I kept looking on my own and finally found a painting that conveyed the opulence of society in exactly the way I wanted. The painting is called “Scene de Bal,” by Victor Gabriel Gilbert. Gilbert was a French artist who was born in 1847 who gained acclaim for realism in his work; my research suggests that the painting was likely completed in the early 1870’s. I loved how the painting displayed the aristocracy dancing in the middle of a beautiful ballroom, conveying a world of beauty and light.
The next task was to find a painting of the opposite world—one of despair and suffering. After reviewing several such compositions submitted by the publisher, I found one that was, once again, exactly what I was looking for. It displayed a woman rendering aid to a homeless boy—fulfilling an underlying theme in the book (this painting is aptly named “Homeless,” painted in 1890 by Thomas Kennington).
I was delighted to have found two paintings (in the public domain) which provided the perfect contrast in worlds in Victorian England. I sent them to the publisher and suggested that both paintings be displayed on the cover—imagining nothing more creative than the top half showing the fine life and the bottom half displaying misery.
The Book Cover Comes Together
The very next day I received the new proposed cover from the publisher. I was thrilled. The publisher had placed each painting in a sphere—as if to portray the two “worlds”. I was also delighted with the surrounding colors and the use of Edwardian script for the title. All of sudden, I had the “perfect cover” to go along with the “perfect title” (see my earlier blog “What’s in a Title?” which chronicles my travails in coming up with right title). Everything had come together.
Now, you may ask, what happened with the cover that the contract artist prepared for me. Well, I will show it to you now.
May I ask, dear reader, which version you prefer? My thirteen-year old daughter prefers the latter.