Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

Helena is represented by Laurie Blum Guest at the Re-Naissance Agency.

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Cover Reveal: Rebels against Tyrrany

This week, the first book in my new series went to the publisher. 
It seemed like a good opportunity to “reveal” the cover to future readers and discuss the process of cover design.

Covers can kill – novels, I mean. Nothing, studies have shown, is more influential in enticing a potential reader to pick up a book while browsing in a bookstore than an “attractive” cover – and nothing is more likely to put a potential reader off than a “bad” cover.  A good cover will attract readers that would never buy the book based on subject, title or author, and a bad cover will make the very people who would love a particular book scorn it.  Covers matter!

But -- aside from "attractive" being highly subjective -- being “attractive” isn’t enough. 

Beautiful -- but would it sell books?

A cover that is “attractive” (even in the advertising sense of the word) may get a browsing reader to read the cover blurb, but if the picture has nothing to do with the content, they are likely to put the book down again. There is no point having a vampire or a half-naked woman on the cover of your book if the book isn’t about vampires or beautiful women in sexual situations.

When I first started publishing novels, I let the publisher design the cover, thinking they were the professionals and they would understand the market much better than I.

Big mistake.

When it comes to historical fiction, it is vitally important to immediately evoke the time period of a novel because you discredit yourself instantly if you get it wrong. Publishers, however, are not historians. They don’t know the difference between 11th and 16th-century armor, or between a Spitfire and a Piper Cub.
Crusaders in plate armor? I don't think so!

So I now “design” my own covers, by which I mean I select the overall thematic components, and then hire a professional graphic designer to do the fine work essential to make the image look as good as anything a major publishing house can produce.

Most "advice" I have read about selecting cover says: "look what everyone else in your genre is doing and copy them." Well, if I write what everyone else is writing and don't have anything new to add, then that the way my covers should indeed be designed. As a reader, if I see another cover with actors in period costumes with their heads cut off, I will feel nauseous and certainly NOT buy the book precisely because the cover looks like the last 13 million books that have been published.

As someone who values creativity in writing, I also value creative covers. I do not want my covers to look like every other historical fiction book that has been dumped on the market over the last 10 years. So, no headless actors in period costumes. No empty helmets. No cartoon characters leaning on their swords. (Why any self-respecting knight would blunt his sword tip by driving it into the ground and then leaning on it is beyond my low brain capacity.)

I wanted images that would look realistic yet could be composed to reflect the content. For the Jerusalem Trilogy, I also wanted the reader to get progressively closer to the main character. On the cover of the first book, Knight of Jerusalem, Balian is shown from the back quart and his face is mostly hidden by his helmet, while Jerusalem dominates the picture. In the second book, Defender of Jerusalem, he is charging at the reader, but still obscured by his helmet while Jerusalem is more distant, receding. In the third book, Envoy of Jerusalem, the reader finally sees Balian head on and Jerusalem is lost. Instead, Balian separates the antagonists Saladin and Richard the Lionheart, while the Christian captives being driven into slavery form the background.

With the Last Crusader Kingdom, I sought to juxtapose Frankish secular power (represented by a castle) with Greek ecclesiastical power (represented by a Greek Orthodox church), and between them the symbol of change ― a fresh wind blowing ― in the form of a sailing ship bearing the crosses of Ibelin.

Now, however, I wanted a sharp change in style to signal that this is a new series, not just a continuation of the previous books (even if there is some overlap in characters!).

I wanted to connect with the period in which the book is set, the 13th century, by using images that remind the reader of the wonderfully evocative, colorful and often whimsical manuscript illustrations of the Middle Ages.  


Indeed, I initially looked for real manuscript illustrations that might reflect the contents of the book. I experimented with using one of these, but the effect was something entirely too violent. (I also subsequently changed the title.)

So I ended up asking my amazing graphic designer to develop an “illumination” that was completely original. This had to show knights jousting (an important element of the plot) and it had to show an Ibelin taking on an Imperial knight (symbolical of their overall stance rather than an event), but it also had to hint at the love-story that is also an important aspect of this book.  All without being too cluttered! The result:

The back cover, on the other hand, is devoted entirely to the relationship between the two main characters. Here's the back cover image without the text.

Next week I will open the cover to tell you more about the content of the novel. You can help me chose the back cover blurb, however, by taking part in a survey at: https://www.facebook.com/HelenaPSchrader/

 Meanwhile, enjoy my published novels:

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                          Buy now!

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