I took a break from my novel in progress last weekend to do some marketing for the first. As I worked on the cover for The Winter Queen, I realized that the images I was exploring were doing double-duty. My first goal was to create an appealing illustration with the power to still a potential web-surfer’s finger long enough to let her read the pitch for my novel. But as I worked to crystalize the image in my mind into the art that appeared on my screen, I realized that the picture I was trying to create needed to do more than just sparkle as a flash of editorial eye candy. I wanted it to reflect the same kind of powerful symbols I’d woven into my tale. I’ll save myself a thousand words here and ask you to take a look:
The deepest stories have meaning that can be distilled on multiple levels, and I’ve tried to get the icons in this art to work in the same way. To the bottom left of the design is Ian, (one of the twin protagonists in my portrait of a marriage in crisis) who stands with arms crossed in front of his Winter Queen Cafe. The brick-colored city behind him serves not only as a visual echo of the Portland, Maine location he moves his wife to, but of the urban environment that reflects Ian’s true nature, and that will ultimately compel him to abandon Maine and return to NYC.
Anna stands with arms open to the right, in a welcoming gesture that greets “Lazarus,” the prescient pup that serves as the narrative bellwether in my tale. It is Anna’s openness to change that ultimately leads to the personal growth that allows her to claim the Maine landscape she stands in front of as her permanent home.
Above them all floats “The Winter Queen,” in a portrait that’s working triple duty as:
1) Ian’s cafe logo, described in the book as an illustration of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, known as “The Winter Queen,” and the woman that both his hometown of Cape Elizabeth and his cafe is named for.
2) The narrative portrait of Anna, graced with the heart locket that plays a recurring role in the book as an emblem of her marriage - the gift Ian first gives her when they fall in love and that ultimately leads to her discovery of his duplicity. The heart also tells romance fans that the themes they’re after in their stories will be showcased in mine.
3) The symbolic portrait of Anna, the woman who has embraced Maine’s cold climate as the place that reveals her own strengths and weaknesses with the same austere and honest beauty reflected in the bare trees that brave winter skies.
Whether you illustrate or design your own book cover or direct another to do the same, I’d recommend thinking about both the immediate marketing power of your cover and it’s ability to serve as a symbol for the true meaning of your tale. The best covers do both.