Judging a book by its cover

My first novel, Reynardine, published in 1989, has recently been reissued as an e-book, along with other titles. The original jacket featured a painting of the heroine in a glowering, overcast landscape with a darkly-handsome hero on horseback staring moodily at her. It is very obviously a romantic novel.

Cut now to the 2015 e-book cover, a photograph of the head and shoulders of a woman in seventeenth century dress, seen from the back. The hero is nowhere to be seen. No landscape and you can’t see the woman’s face. Yet it is mysterious and elegant and still somehow signals romance and adventure.

I was thrilled when I learned that my backlist was to be re-jacketed for e-book publication. Not only did this give readers access to novels that had gone out of print, I also hugely enjoyed discussing with my editor how they should be presented to a twenty-first century readership. All the e-book covers feature a woman but in none of them are her features explicit. Instead, there’s a profile or the back of a neck or a pair of clasped hands. And a glimpse of a gown of embroidered or flowered fabric, a strand of pearls, a pair of gloves, or – in one of my favourite images, for Till The Day Goes Down, set in the sixteenth century – a row of crystal beads and a ruby pendant.

All the covers state that a woman is at the heart of the story. They create atmosphere but allow the reader to picture in her own mind the features of the characters. You infer the setting through that lace frock or chic little black hat or white-gloved hand lightly balanced on a green silk-clad hip. The flowing lettering and the deftly-sketched border framing the images help to convey that the novels are set in the past. The colours, sepias and muted ochres, pinks and blues, do likewise. The dress of the women, and their stance, give an impression of confidence and poise.

I love them. I want to be that woman on the cover of The Dark-Eyed Girls, in her plum-coloured, close-fitted lace gown with matching gloves and silver bracelet. In my imagination, I’d be going to some sophisticated party where I’d sip cocktails and dance with a good-looking stranger. And that’s what a book cover is all about. Conjuring intrigue, telling a story.