By Piper Huguley
For years, I was not very interested in covers. As a reader, I’m all about the blurb, not the look of the book. I read the back cover make a decision about whether or not I should read further. I was not interested in covers. Ask my buddy Julie Hilton Steele. Or my Spelman colleague who teaches visual critical analysis. I didn’t care.
However, as writer, I became aware of how important covers were to other people as a part of marketing. Then I became interested. When I had a story that I thought people would want to read, I despaired that I would find the right cover for what I could afford to pay.
I wanted people, not objects. I’ve heard the wisdom before from others that having people on the cover limits the readers’ imagination. Even worse, there’s a belief that having people on the cover might limit the audience. That non-ethnic covers, in particular, sell better. Still, I was willing to take the risk. I wanted people.
African American authors have a careworn joke about the same couple from stock images keep ending up on various covers—an alarming phenomenon that can be likened to some other woman wearing the same dress that you have on. Yikes. A group of us had contemplated pooling our money and getting a photographer, models and costumes to avoid this particular problem. Since I write historicals, I knew my costumes for the models would be more expensive than anyone else’s. Where in the world would I be able to find a cover that would be suitable for my stories?
Then, one day, my friend Vanessa Riley casually brought up Designcrowd.com. I could pick a price level for a book cover design. Then, I could provide a description and let designers all over the world compete for the project and select a winner. That sounded promising to me, even though I still wasn’t sure how historical African American people would look. Honestly, some of the designs came in looking very strange. There was one that came in at the beginning for The Preacher’s Promise, but Amanda looked middle-aged. March resembled a waif from a developing nation stuck in the middle of a cotton field. There was no depiction of Virgil at all. I tried to work with this designer to make some changes, but it never felt right.
Another designer, (I’ll call him Divo) submitted a lovely design but refused to make any changes. He refused to show me how the back cover would look. Once he left me a message: “Do you know what it’s like to work, and work and not get paid any money for it?” Well, yeah buddy, I actually do. Thank you very much.
I tried to get more information or changes from Divo, but he would not budge. Well, that was it. I would have to settle for him and just learn how to be very assertive for my covers for however many books I would write for the Milford College series. The contest closed. So in the morning of the next day, I prepared to select Divo as the winner.
I opened my account to deal with Divo and saw Virgil and Amanda staring at me, beckoning me to come into their world. I couldn’t breathe. Something had grabbed me in my throat. Where had this come from? This design had slipped in before the deadline. The cover, from an artist in Sri Lanka, said everything that I wanted to say. My story would be about a proud, dignified Christian couple who fell in love. They would be willing to look you in the eye, confident about who they were in building a proud academic tradition. They would not be stereotypes, not caricatures, but human beings who deserved to make choices about who they came to love.
I first saw my cover and knew that God was involved. Particularly Virgil on the cover of The Preacher’s Promise. How else do you explain how an artist half way around the world knew my heart so completely? All I said after the blurb was that the characters had to have clothes on. I did not even explain in the description what I wanted him to look like, but his look–bearded, stern and sexy–was exactly how I thought of him.
I asked the artist to do another cover for The Lawyer’s Luck, and he did. This time, in addition to the blurb I said, make the heroine look like Lupita Nyong’o, but not quite. And he did that too. He even put the horse in he blurb on the cover!
The third time, my cover artist was a lot busier. I like to think that I had some part in that. Yet still, he came up with another throat grabber for The Mayor’s Mission. All I’ll say is that the cover is not of a couple this time, but it is still amazing. Wow. So by divine intervention, I have the covers that I’ve always wanted. Now, I am going about the business of writing stories that are worthy of them.
Not everyone likes the covers, just as not everyone likes my stories. However, the covers have helped me to fulfill a dream. They have allowed me the capacity to show my characters in the way that I’ve sought to show them on paper– as fully human, proud Americans of faith who made the choice to fall in love with one another.
To celebrate my first guest chef post here on Petit Fours and Hot Tamales, I’m giving away an e-copy of The Preacher’s Promise to a lucky commenter!
Journey to Milford, Georgia and follow the development of an academic tradition across time…. The Lawyer’s Luck is now available in Kindle e-book, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Print copies are available on Amazon. The Preacher’s Promise is now available on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes. It will be available in print on Amazon in mid-August.
Book one in Piper Huguley’s new 19th century historical series, The Preacher’s Promise, in the “Home to Milford College” series was published in July 2014. She is also the author of “Migrations of the Heart,” a five-book series of inspirational historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters. Book one in the series, A Virtuous Ruby won the Golden Rose contest in Historical Romance in 2013 and is a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. Book four in the series, A Champion’s Heart, was a Golden Heart finalist in 2013.
She blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.
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