Historically accurate costumes?
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?
I’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?
I’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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.)
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?