Covers: should images be historically accurate?

Historically accurate costumes?

Is it historically accurate to wear a tablecloth over a Regency gown?Those who follow this blog will know that I often bang on about cover failings. I want my covers to be historically accurate. For me that means: no Regency heroes with beards or designer stubble; no twirling round the dance floor wearing knee-high boots; ladies in Regency costume that isn’t swathed in a tablecloth (see left); and hairstyles and accessories appropriate for the period.

It also helps if the cover models look vaguely like the characters in my story, but that’s a rant for another day 😉

Historically accurate backgrounds?

Life Guards on horseback with Wellington Arch in background, not historically accurate for 1814I’ve recently been mocking up a cover for a book I’m writing. It’s set in London in the period between Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814 and his return the following spring. My hero is a serving soldier who’s enjoying his first leave for 5 years.

I thought it could be good to show uniformed soldiers in the background on my cover. I found the image shown right.

Great image for a Regency cover, yes?

1850s photo of Wellington Arch showing equestrian statue of WellingtonI’d say not. The Life Guards’ parade uniforms haven’t changed much, if at all, so they’re accurate enough. And it’s true that the Wellington Arch was built to commemorate the victories against Napoleon. But not until the late 1820s. What’s more, the bronze on the top of it dates from 1912. Originally, a colossal equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington sat on top of the arch, as shown in this photograph from the 1850s.

girl facing a red question mark on blackboard

So I don’t feel I can use this image on my cover. It’s not historically accurate for 1814. (Channelling my inner Dame Isadora here?)
But am I the only one who would care?
Would it bother you?

I remember here my independent bookseller’s advice. He said that covers should be clear, concise and beautiful, in order to have more impact. He didn’t say they should be historically accurate. In fact, he didn’t say anything about accuracy at all.

Pedants require accuracy. What do readers require ???

Partly, I think, it’s a question of unknown unknowns (© D Rumsfeld?). Some writers don’t think about unknown unknowns at all. I recently met racoons in a medieval romance set in England. The author was not British. Did it ever occur to her to check whether England had racoons? It surely couldn’t have, or she wouldn’t have put them in. Classic case of the unknown unknown.exclamation mark in fire

Pedants check out whether a particular monument/frock/hairstyle has the right date. Most people wouldn’t think to do so. They’d probably assume an image was accurate enough. And might not care if it was wrong.clock showing just after half past 12

After all, how long does the average book buyer spend looking at a cover? Not more than a few seconds. And how closely do they look? Is it more about overall impression—my bookseller’s impact—than the components of the image? Am I making a rod for my own back by striving for historical accuracy?

Current covers and historically accurate costumes (not)

I have a hard time finding acceptable female models for my covers. To my mind, her costume should be right for the period. And her hairstyle. And her make-up should be pretty much invisible. Yet loads of successful books breach the rules I’ve been trying to apply. Look at this screenshot (taken 26 Feb) from Amazon’s “Hot New Releases in Regency Historical Romance”. [Click to enlarge a bit.]

Screenshot 2021-02-26 of Amazon's Hot New Regency Releases

Regency? Really?

Wow, those skirts! Some of them look to be in need of a Victorian crinoline, don’t they?

Yet these are clearly successful stories. Readers must like them. They’re numbers 11-25 in the Hot New Regency [sic] Releases so they are definitely selling. (I haven’t shown you a screenshot of the “Best Sellers in Regency Historical Romance” because a large proportion of those are Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books which do use historically accurate costumes. Well done Netflix and Julia Quinn’s publishers.)

Conclusion?

one girl whispers into another girl's ear - impactIt looks like impact may be much more important to book buyers than being historically accurate.

So should I ditch my inner pedant and put the Life Guards and the Wellington Arch onto the cover of a book set in 1814?

Should I go for designer stubble and big swirling skirts that might help sell my Regency stories? it would certainly make finding cover models easier.

What would you, as reader and book buyer, advise me to do? And what attracts you to a Regency cover?

Joanna Maitland, author

Joanna, a perplexed pedant

Reading the Shorter Romantic Novel Short List

A couple of weeks ago I splurged with glee over this. Libertà is sponsoring the award for the shorter romantic novel this year and the short list was out!

As it happened, I hadn’t read any of them, so added them all to my TBR list, in the full expectation of some cracking reads, when time allowed. And then life got complicated.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Shorter Romantic Novel

Well, make that disastrous.

There was a water leak in my road. Actually, more of a small fountain. It continued to flow for the best part of twenty-four hours. My basement flooded.

(Not for the first time. And yes, last time it was also down to the utility company which provides my water.) Continue reading

Making Covers Work for You, the Author

Snape: Shouldn't you be writing right now?Good covers are massively important and buyers, increasingly, rely on visuals (the cover) rather than the blurb. That was the latest advice from an independent bookseller at a Society of Authors virtual meeting in early 2021. The bookseller recommended authors aim for clear, concise, beautiful covers, with fewer words and, hence, more impact.

Professor Snape (left) may not be beautiful—and that’s not a cover, either—but he’s certainly clear and concise. And if he made you feel guilty, he’s had impact, too 😉

Criteria for Good Commercial Fiction Covers

exclamation mark in fireApart from being clear, concise and beautiful, a Good Commercial Fiction Cover Will…

  1. make the genre clear immediately
  2. represent aspects of the story to draw the potential buyer in
  3. shout out the title
  4. shout out the author’s name
  5. work well in thumbnail
  6. and SELL THE BOOK

That’s a pretty tall order and lots of covers fail it. Not only self-published covers, either.

This blog (based on a recent presentation I did for the Society of Authors) aims to help self-published authors work with cover designers like me to get clear, concise and beautiful covers that will sell the authors’ books. Continue reading

Shorter Romantic Novel Award

I meant to use my next blog to cover a few hints on Finding Your Voice but the short list for the Shorter Romantic Novel Award elbowed it out of the way. (In case you didn’t know, the Romantic Novelists’ Association announced the short list for their suite of awards for romantic fiction last Monday.) For Libertà Books are sponsoring that award again this year.

As you may imagine, the whole hive are proud enthusiasts for the genre, both as writers and readers. So many, many congratulations to our short listers.

The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award

A Will, a Wish and a Wedding, Kate Hardy, Mills & Boon True Love
The Warrior Knight and the Widow, Ella Matthews, Mills & Boon Historical
The Day That Changed Everything, Catherine Miller, Bookouture
Second Chance for the Single Mum, Sophie Pembroke, Mills & Boon True Love
The Return of the Disappearing Duke, Lara Temple, Mills & Boon Historical
Cinderella and the Surgeon, Scarlet Wilson, Mills & Boon Medical Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1850 : the Lady’s Riding Habit

Berrington Hall stables with lady's riding habitIn this occasional series on costume, we’ve featured a lot of day wear, but never what ladies wore when they went riding. The image above shows the Berrington Hall stables and a green riding habit on a mannequin. The waist is around the normal place and it doesn’t have full upper sleeves, so it probably dates from the late 1820s or early 1830s though it could be Victorian.

The development of the riding habit

Judging by the Paris prints, the riding habit changed a lot in the early part of the 19th century. In the Regency period, they looked pretty much like pelisses, except with much more skirt. Here are two, dating from 1816 and 1817, courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum collection.

1816 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1816 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1817 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1817 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Author’s Voice, And Spies: Can They Help?

author's voiceThis week, four things have conspired to make me think again about the author’s voice. First, a friend asked me a question about some editorial revisions he had received. Then I started the second draft of a new book and found myself uncertain about my own voice. Was it too – well – romantic? There will be romance in this book (actually series) but not for a long time after Chapter One.

Author's voiceOn top of that, a very good friend strongly recommended a novel. Excited, I bought it at once. I’m a great fan of her own books and we very often love the same authors. But I am really struggling to get into it. I admit I put it down and walk away a lot. Which pleases the cat. We will discuss it when next we zoom. AAARGH!

And then I started reading a book about spies. Continue reading

Formatting front matter: hints for independent publishers

essential front matter: copyright symbol on computer key

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A while ago, I blogged about formatting ebook text. Quite a lot of people found it useful. So, as I promised then, I’m doing a follow-on blog about front matter—recommendations about what to include and how best to format it.

As with my previous post, these recommendations are based on how I format front matter for ebooks. You—or your book designer—may want to do things differently. Your choice. You have a good reason for doing it your way, don’t you?

Front Matter: what is it?

It does what it says on the tin 😉

Front matter is everything that comes in front of the text of the work.

Some of it is essential.
And some of it is optional.

Essential front matter consists of a title page and a copyright page.

Optional front matter can include any or all of: Continue reading

A Happy New Year, or is it? Kill the doomscrolling

La Dolce VitaI don’t usually make resolutions, but this New Year I have. And it’s one I need to keep if I am to enjoy the next twelve months.

The problem is I am spending far too much time worrying about the State of the World. I cannot stop looking at the news, online articles and other people’s (often ill-informed) opinions. I have even been waking up in the early hours and switching on my phone, to see if I have missed something of vital importance. Which I haven’t, of course.

Apparently, this is Doomscrolling

woman surrounded by social media icons, doomscrolling

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Endlessly scrolling through your phone or laptop for bad news and overdosing on negativity. I have discovered plenty of information from scientists and medical experts about this phenomenon online. It’s not new, but became much more prevalent in 2020.

So it’s not just me, then Continue reading

Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 12 conclusion

CHRISTMAS MYSTERY by Sophie Weston: EPISODE 12 Conclusion
Missed the start? Click here to read from episode 1

The nurse lived a good way out and insisted on taking them in for a drink to celebrate the New Year. As it turned out, this included a substantial ham sandwich which Patrick snarfed down like a starving wolf.

“Wonderful,” he said. “Busy day. First chance to eat.”

The nurse beamed and waved them off with a care package of goodies from the meal she was preparing to see in the New Year.

In the car on the way back, Liv relaxed, even when Patrick said, “Why didn’t you tell me to drive you to the Food Bank?”

She was surprised. “You were completely immersed in your research. I didn’t want to break your concentration.”

“Hrrmph.” Continue reading

Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 12 Part 1

CHRISTMAS MYSTERY by Sophie Weston: EPISODE 12 Part 1
Missed the start? Click here to read from episode 1

blue and silver christmas tree

The nurse was instantly alert. “Does he want to hurt you?”

“I don’t know,” said Liv. “And I don’t know why he’s following me. I don’t even know who he is.”

Except that the daring, athletic cyclist was definitely not Francis. That was a relief in one way. But only a small way. She could feel the hamster wheel of panic start up again. She breathed carefully.

I can deal with this. I CAN DEAL WITH THIS. 

But she felt as if her bones had turned to netting and her stomach cramped.

The nurse stayed cool and stuck to the important stuff. “He’s followed you before?” Continue reading