The Cover Story

Happy Ever After has sailed through the structural editing process and is now waiting to be copyedited – which means I need to think about all the other tasks that need to be completed in order to get it onto the virtual bookshelves in October. Highest on that list is the cover.

Like I did with Wish You Were Here, I’ll be going to all digital platforms and print on demand with this one – so we’ll need a back cover, and a spine, as well as a front cover that will look great as a thumbnail.

While ideally, I’d like Happy Ever After to have a similar look on the virtual shelf to my other books, there are a couple of key differences between this book and my others –  my protagonist is 50 and has grown up children. Plus the storyline is definitely more mature.  The style is different and the cover needs to reflect that.

You’ll notice that the cover design for each of these is similar. The font is the same and water features on each – as do legs. The protagonists are all in their late 20s or early 30s and looking to make that first big commitment.

Wish You Were Here is a little different.  When the story starts my protagonist, Maxine (Max) Henderson, is married.

When we did the cover for this we really wanted to show a sense of place – the fictional village of Brookford in the Cotswolds. I think we absolutely did that. We also wanted something that wasn’t as light and breezy as the Melbourne girls series – Max’s story is a deeper than that. With Max I’m also straying into what is known as “food-lit”. It is, however, still very much a love story.

Out now

Happy Ever After also falls into the food-lit genre. It’s set mostly in suburban Sydney with a key location in Kate and Neil’s story being the Royal Botanic Gardens – specifically the Moreton Bay Fig that sits high and proud above the Opera House. That’s it below.

The light in my photo is too bright and harsh, but I did, however, find the pic below on deposit photos. It’s not my tree, but it is the gardens. If only I could find a great upper image it could almost be perfect.

deposit photos

What about a face?

When I look at the top-selling contemporary romance books on Amazon, virtually all have a picture of either the gorgeous guy, the thoughtful heroine, or the happy couple – all stock photos.

I get that this immediately tells the reader that there are romantic elements within, but it throws me off because very often the image on the front cover is nothing like the person between the covers. It’s just a random twenty-something woman.

Just as I haven’t wanted a random twenty or thirty-something face on my cover, nor do I want a random fifty-something. The reasons are the same – none look like Kate.

I contemplated finding an image of someone sitting thoughtfully looking out at…what? Their life? Their loves? Out to sea? Nope, that didn’t work for me either. It’s been done and done and done. And Kate never ever gazes out to sea. It’s not her thing. She’s more likely to be found baking or with her head in a book. And yes, I’ve looked for those images too.

What else is out there?

I got scientific about it and researched best selling women’s fiction on Amazon and their “also boughts” ie what people who bought these books also bought.

As opposed to contemporary romance, contemporary fiction tends not to have the stock image of a person on the cover. If there is a person it’s often in profile, from the back or illustrated. I like these examples by Sheila O’Flanagan.

The exceptions are historical stories – such as these below – where the image provides a real sense of the time, place and style.

Another popular format is the single image and clean font. This is especially effective for those books that are a bit twisty. Good examples are these ones by Liane Moriarty…

and these ones by Jane Fallon… As an aside, Jane Fallon has nailed her look.

The mix of cursive and print works well in these ones by Jane Green.

The English market tends to lean towards illustrations – think Marian Keyes,  Cathy Kelly, Jo Jo Moyes.

As for the authors I’d identify with most? I hate that question, but would probably say Erica James, Elizabeth Noble, Jill Mansell and Debbie Johnson. Maybe even Cathy Kelly. These are the ones I’m most likely to run out and buy to read too.

Like the examples above, their covers always seem to be more frivolous than the story is. Below are the covers from their most recent books.

Aussie authors I identify with are Rachael Johns, Lisa Ireland, Josephine Moon, Helene Young and Jenn McLeod.

So where does all of this leave me? No flipping idea. I won’t be going the way of the illustration. Perhaps a cross between what Jane Fallon and Jane Green are doing? Perhaps something like Sheila O’Flanagan? I love “Letters To Iris”, so maybe something like the vintage image I’ve used as the lead pic to this post? I’m writing in a different style, so maybe I show that in my cover?

Or do I persevere and try and find an image to match a location shot to fit in with my other books?

Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Wish You Were Here: Unveiling the Cover


It’s here: the cover for Wish You Were here.

I love it- and when you get to know Max better, and get to know Brookford better, I hope that you’ll love it too…

Jacinda May has done a fabulous job- both in the design and in dealing with my requests for revisions: picture changes here, font changes there.

The challenge of getting the emotional feel of an entire book into a cover design is a tough one. Although there are some emotional scenes in her story, Max is, overall, an optimistic person- and I wanted that to come through in the cover. Likewise, although there is physical movement, Brookford and the countryside is part of Max. I wanted that to come through too. I think it does.

Now I have my cover I can pop it on Amazon for pre-sale, but there’s still plenty to do before publishing date. I should get my copy edit back soon, then it’s proofreading, file conversion and number allocation (ISBN and CiP- I’ll tell you about them later) to go.

Why I pay for stock photos…

Depositphotos_70713707_original copy
The image I purchased for Big Girls Don’t Cry

You know how I told you the other day about how I’m in the middle of the cover design process? It occurred to me that there was one aspect I didn’t talk too much about: images- not just what to use, but whether they can be used.

I’m a creative, and don’t give my work away for free- although reserve the right to do so if I choose. That’s why I pay for every photo that I use on my blogs- unless it’s a photo that I’ve taken myself (most on and anyways are my own images).

There are plenty of stock photo companies out there with image packages available. I’ve purchased image packs from Shutterstock, istock and Dreamstime in the past, but now mostly use Deposit Photos.

I sign up to appsumo and wait for their annual offer on deposit photos image packs. Last time I bought three packs of 100 images for around $100 in total. It’s worth signing up and keeping an eye out for the specials. There’s no timeframe within which you need to download the images, and they look better than the photos I take.

The thing is, most images you purchase will be licensed for particular purposes. Deposit Photos do a great job of showing what’s allowed under a standard license and what you must buy an extended license for. In short, if you intend you use the image to make money, you probably should be buying the extended license- although I’m not a lawyer, so please do your own research and seek your own advice.

When it comes to book covers, it’s all a tad confusing. One line states that a standard license is sufficient for a book cover, but further down it also states that an extended license is required for ebooks that are offered for resale or distribution.

As I said before, I’m not a lawyer (so naturally nothing in this post is intended to be used as legal advice), so when it comes to images I intend using on my covers, I play it safe and but the extended license. It costs more (I paid $89 for the extended license for the image I used on Big Girls Don’t Cry, and prices do vary) but I know I have the rights to use it- and that peace of mind is worth the extra expense. Besides, I know that I’m helping another creative pay their bills- and as creatives, that’s what we all aspire to.

How to choose a cover design…

Path through bluebell woods in early morning sunrise

Wish You Were Here is now safely off being copy edited- which means I need to think about all the other millions of tasks that need to be completed in order to get it onto the virtual bookshelves at the end of October. Highest on that list is the cover.

I’ve developed a good relationship with the freelance designer I used for Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry, but Wish You Were Here is different- we’re going almost immediately to print on demand with this one- as well as all digital platforms- so there are different specifications required for the cover. For starters, she’ll need to design a back cover, and a spine, as well as a front cover that will look great as a thumbnail. Also, the print version of the cover won’t be able to be nailed down until the file is converted and we know how many pages there will be. Yep, I agree- it all sounds a tad too hard.Big Girls Don't Cry

So, what do I tell my designer? As much as I can. The more information she knows about the book, the genre, the location, the themes, the characters, the better. The basic specs are relatively easy:

  • Title: Wish You Were Here
  • Author: Joanne Tracey
  • Tagline: yet to be determined
  • Notes on text: Please use same fonts as on Big Girls, but switch the size so my name is larger than the title this time.
  • Front cover to be 2500 pixels tall, 1563 pixels wide and no more than 2MB.

As for the rest, I’m after a cover that’s in a similar style and theme to Big Girls Don’t Cry. I want it to have the same sense of place. Where I used one of my own photos in the cover for Big Girls (a Balinese rice field), I can’t for Wish You Were Here. The book is largely set in a fictional village named Brookford in The Cotswolds.

Early morning view looking across to Chalford

Brookford could be an amalgam of any of the villages we visited when we were over there last year, but it’s somewhere near Cirencester and Stroud, close to Sapperton and Frampton Mansell.


I tried to take some photos of the landscape in and around the farmhouse we stayed out just outside of Chalford- and some of the cottages- but the light was so dull and flat, that none of my pictures are usable as high res images. I wanted that soft light that warms the yellow of the Cotswold stone- on both the houses and the stone walls.  I need the light to show promise and the potential of a happy ending.

As a result, I suspect I’ll need to purchase extended licence stock photos instead. But again, of what? There’s a pivotal and emotional scene set in a bluebell wood that I’d like to capture the moment and mood of…

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

The book is also partly set in Queenstown- a place where I have plenty of great landscape shots- all in good light- yet, that’s only part of the story and this is contemporary women’s fiction- not travel.

Like I did last time , I went searching for covers- what else is out there? What’s been winning the contests? What’s coming up on my Amazon searches? What can I pin to my pinterest covers board? (If you want to know how else I use pinterest in my writing, check out this post).

I googled the top contemporary romance books on Amazon and saw absolutely nothing that I ended up pinning. I checked out last year’s winners  of the Romance Australia cover contests and pinned a couple. Tears of the Cheetah won best romantic suspense cover. It’s a lovely cover, but it tells me nothing about the book or genre other than where it’s set. It could be a travel book. Luna Tango won the contemporary category. I love everything about that cover. This year’s winners are here.



Next up was best-selling Aussie contemporary writers. I liked Rachel John’s covers, but again, didn’t get that sense of place I was after. The ones who do that best are the rural romance girls. The majority of covers I pinned were in that genre.

One thing, though, they all had in common was a picture of a person- or persons. I get that this immediately tells the reader that there are romantic elements within, but it causes me even more indecision.

In a not very scientific poll, I asked the question of Facebook and Twitter friends: do you like people on the front of your books? Generally the answer was no, yet there is virtually nothing on the romance shelves that doesn’t have a picture of either the gorgeous guy, the thoughtful heroine, or the happy couple. People say it turns them off, yet this is what readers seem to be buying.

Escape Publishing, in particular, have a thing about showing full faces (see Evan and Darcy on the pinboard), Momentum (for Pan Macmillan) do the same (see The Peppercorn Project on the pinboard). It obviously works for them, but do I want to put a pre-conceived picture of Max and Richie into my reader’s minds? I’m not sure about that.

The other questions Jacinda usually asks  in order to get a feel for the story and the design are:

  • What are some of the most powerful/ important scenes/ ideas of the book?
  • What feeling are you trying to get across in the book? (Name 3 emotions you would describe your book as)
  • Is there an item or concept that is thematic in the piece?
  • What’s your target market?

As for the answers to these? Well, that would be too much of a spoiler alert!

Sunrise near Frampton Mansell
Sunrise near Frampton Mansell