Covering a Rainless Year

A couple weekends back, as Jim and I were registering for a coin show, I was

Romance Novel Cover?

slightly startled to see a copy of my novel Child of a Rainless Year looking up at me from the table.  Then enlightenment hit.  We were meeting our friend, Michael Wester.  Michael is very fond of this particular novel and often brings copies for me to sign so he can give them to various people.

Me to Jim: Ah!  Michael must be here.  I thought I’d seen him ahead of us.

Coin Show Official (not quite catching what I was saying): Someone left a book here.

Me: Probably a friend of ours.  I wrote that book.

CSO (interested but obviously confused, for good reason): I think someone left this book.

Me: Yes.  I think a friend of ours did.  I wrote that book.  He really likes it.

CSO: Oh!  You really wrote it?

Me (reaching for wallet): I did.  Want to see my ID?

CSO: That’s really neat.  I don’t meet many authors. [Pauses to look at cover with expression of mild regret.] I wouldn’t have read this one.  I don’t read this stuff.

Me: What do you read?

CSO: Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Me: This is Fantasy.  It’s set here in New Mexico.

CSO (looking newly interested): Oh!  I thought it was a romance novel.

Well, about that time Michael showed up, reclaimed his book, and, after exchanging a few more words with the CSO, we wandered off.  (Jim and Michael both collect coins.  I just go along to hang out with them.)

However, I couldn’t quite let go of that conversation.  It haunted me through the following week.  I found myself wondering how many potential readers – even those who already liked some aspect of my books – hadn’t picked up the novel because the cover made it seem as if I’d wandered somewhere they didn’t want to go.

Certainly, the jacket copy for the hardcover edition didn’t help.  It begins with the killer word “middle-aged” and doesn’t really get provocative until the end of the second paragraph with the line “…as a condition of being allowed to adopt her, Mira’s foster parents had agreed to change their names, move to another state, and never ask why.”

The cover for the paperback did a lot better.  It opens with “Art teacher Mira Fenn’s life was curiously lacking in color until the day she learned of a mysterious inheritance from her birthmother…”  Still, to get to that point, the reader would need to not be turned away by the cover art.  (I should note that the novel also came out in trade paperback, but for reasons of sanity I’m not going to get into the variations on that cover.)

And, especially for this novel, it is very odd cover art indeed.  In some senses, it provides a perfectly accurate representation of the opening scene.  However, for a book that has as its opening line “Color is the great magic,” it is remarkably drab.  The dominant shades are muddy blues and browns.  The only flash of brilliant color – a red shawl – is occluded by the title (and on the paperback the title and the author’s name).

It’s a fine painting.  It’s an accurate illustration.  However, to me, it says nothing at all about the book.  And, yeah, I don’t blame the Coin Show Official for thinking it was a romance novel.  I’d go even further and say an old-fashioned romance novel.

On the mass market edition, the background parts of the cover are done in tannish-orange stripes – not distinct stripes, like those on a zebra or tiger, but muted stripes that blend into mud.  The text fades into this, so the wonderful review quote from Library Journal, a quote that might let the reader know this isn’t a romance novel, is nearly unreadable.

Let me share what Library Journal said with you: “A tale of the Southwest filled with memorable characters, brilliant splashes of color, and, at the forefront, an unforgettable woman imbued with a desire to know the truth about her heritage.  Lovers of magical realism should relish this powerfully written tale of art and life.”

I know from other comments to these wanderings that Child of a Rainless Year has found enthusiastic readers despite the cover.  However, I’m curious…

Did the cover draw you in or push you away?  If you didn’t know my work, would you think “romance novel”?  If you were to put a new cover on the book, what would you choose?  Let your imaginations run wild!

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15 Responses to “Covering a Rainless Year”

  1. Peter Says:

    Put me down under push away/romance novel, and I was already familiar with your work (owned all your novels, had you on my “buy in hardcover” list). My initial glee at seeing a new hardcover by you on the shelf was rather dimmed by a look at the cover/dustjacket blurb. My initial reaction, as I recall, was “Oh, she’s branching out into romance. Well, not really my thing, but she writes a good book, so I’ll pick it up in paperback in a year or so.”

    Kicked myself when I finally read the paperback later…

  2. Dominique Says:

    I didn’t mind this cover, and I loved this book. I didn’t think it was a romance novel, but that may be because I know that you don’t write romance so it’s difficult to say…

  3. Chad Merkley Says:

    I haven’t read it yet. I actually have a copy checked out from the library right now, but I haven’t started it. I’ve seen it on the library shelf many times. It’s appearance isn’t very appealing to me, but it’s not so much the cover art as it is the fonts used in the title. Somehow, they just look kind of shallow and frivolous. It’s like it’s trying to be retro and interesting, but failing. So I never picked it up before.

    So I judged a book by its cover. I know authors have next to no control over what the finished book looks like, but it has to have a huge effect on sales and reviews. Sometimes, the way a book looks, or even knowing it’s from a certain publisher or imprint, affects my expectations about that book. I know that I often tend to avoid “cheap” or “silly” looking books just based on appearance (unless I’m in the mood for spaceships blowing up, in which case that’s what I look for on the cover).

    I have to wonder if there’s a relation between our reactions to book’s appearance and our responses and reactions to ebooks, which really don’t have a cover or physical existence for us to respond to.

  4. Sally Says:

    I despised this cover at first sight, the more so because I love the book. (After some thought I’m not sure I’d call it a Romance cover, though–more a general women’s book or chick lit. Still not something I’d usually pick up).

    I think it gave Child a nasty kick in the teeth straight off the bat. Makes me mad; can you tell!?

    If (let it be so!) you’ve got a chance at a different cover it needs, I think, to reflect the spirit of the book, rather than illustrate a scene (which simply makes me think the original illustrator read part of the first chapter and then knocked out the illustration). Off the top of my head, the words I come up with for that spirit are: colors; liminal space, the sense of vision. To give form to that you’ve got a lot to choose from: teleidoscopes (both the objects and the views through them); painted lady houses; cats of all sizes; mirrors; a horse and carriage (seen from the back); mazes; the gallows in the plaza; possibly art brushes….

    An example: a teleidoscope view (focused down so that the center of the cover is one pane, for clarity) of, say, the brightly painted, opening door of the house. Or the same sort of view of one of the colorful trim details Mira paints on the house, an upward stretching leopard, say, with maybe the title painted in to fit around the cat. But ask me another time and I’d come up with something else.

  5. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I just saw it and said to myself, “Ooo, a new Jane Lindskold in mass market paperback!” And picked it up without further thought. If it’s a new book by an author I really like, I don’t give much thought to the cover. There have been so many times that I’ve thought a cover had little to do with the story, have been inaccurate, and so forth, that I don’t pay attention to it — unless it’s by an author whose work I don’t know yet. Then, yeah, the cover makes a difference. Hell, in that case, the fonts on the spine make a difference, too! If I hadn’t already been thoroughly besotted with Jane’s work, I probably wouldn’t have picked the book up if it had been anywhere but in the science fiction/fantasy section.
    If I were doing the cover, I would have done something at least a little bit surreal. I think probably if it were, for example, the woman looking into a mirror, I would have done a sort of wide, curving stripe through some of the image, with the part inside the stripe in color, and the rest greyscale, or vice-versa.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    Thanks for the suggestions… I know I’m the worst person to try and illustrate my own work. A complication these days is that so much bookselling — no matter the format — is done on-line. Therefore, simpler is automatically thought to be better because the assumption is people are going on the small image.

    Me? I always click to see it larger, so I’m not sure if this applies.

    • Chad Merkley Says:

      I finished reading it last night. Beautiful writing, Jane. I really enjoyed it. The ideas about relating to a parent and parental expectations really struck me (The same theme kind of comes up in 13 Orphans and sequels, too). I reccomended it to my mom. I’m curioius to see how she reacts to it.

      There were so many images that could have gone onto the cover; while the one used was important to the story, I would have thought an image of the house or a kaleidoscope would have reflected the story better.

      I still blame the font used on the spine for not picking it up earlier. It looks like the sign for a 50′s themed diner.

  7. Rick Walter Says:

    I’m especially fond of RAINLESS YEAR, have read it twice, and this is the cover I’ve always known … so I have difficulty shifting gears and imagining a new one.
    But I’m not sure my experience is typical — I’d heard Jane discuss it in a library talk, and it immediately sounded weird and numinous, like nothing I’d ever read. So I bought a hardback copy from Jane herself and remember minutely scrutinizing the jacket painting: I was especially intrigued by the B & W mirror image and the enigmatic half-face of the child voyeur … all relevant impressions that tugged me right into the book.
    But I wonder if I’d have given it a second look if I hadn’t heard Jane’s talk. Maybe not. So what would I suggest for a revised cover? First, I’d keep the lady’s bare back, but I would add a couple of floating, hovering “guardians” … a hint of supernatural eroticism à la LeFanu’s CARMILLA.

  8. Paul Says:

    I would have read it in any case, simply because I read all your books. The cover wouldn’t have given me any idea what it was about, but I’m not sure what cover would have. Your stories are not generic fantasies and, for that reason, the publisher probably doesn’t know what kind of cover art to go for. If your books would fit into any neat pigeon-holes, it would have no problem. But many of the cover ideas listed above would probably have worked better.

  9. shibiku Says:

    I love this book. I’m trying to think of what would or would not make me pick up a book if all I had to go on was the cover. It’s weird for me because having done so much academic research recently, where I’m picking up books from the library that have been rebound with the same limited set of beige, red, and blue hard covers, it’s about looking inside the book and seeing if it’s what I’m looking for. I try to extend that same courtesy to fiction, because I love some books with some truly awful covers.

    But I also understand that we just don’t function that way most of the time. Cover art sold dime novels as much as the stories inside of them did, after all. We have a lot of visual expectations tied to books, and whether I think that’s unfair or not doesn’t change the culture.

    So, all that aside, looking at my copy of the book, even if I wasn’t familiar with your work, I don’t think I’d take it for a romance. Romances have some pretty standard visual cues on their covers, and while that isn’t universally the case, it’s those cues that tell me “romance.” There’s also something a little unsettling about not being able to see her eyes, especially with the extra face in the mirror, which definitely does not say “romance”. I honestly tend to like covers that are less about trying to capture a scene from the book, but that more abstractly represent the themes of the book. A dark feminine silhouette (small, placed offset towards a lower corner) against a colorful backdrop (the house? Northern NM scenery done in outlandish colors?) would work for me. I would probably also choose a more assertive typeface for the title, especially given the style of the typface your name is in. The current one kind of achieves some prominence with the shadowed underlining, but I find the overall effect a little weird. I would focus on something that looks good in black to match the silhouette against the colors.

  10. Tom MacCarrol Says:

    Let me say up front, I love it. The cover does show an important scene from early on, but the muddy tones it’s done in are a bit of a turn-off for the not-already-a-fan. My take on an alternate?

    I’d kind of see the House featured prominently-the ornate,overblown Victorian style, silhouetted against the horizon, strongly hinting at the iconic ‘haunted house’ image w/o actually coming out and saying so- partly in monochrome {B&W?) and partly in the ‘riot-of-colors’ paint scheme. An apt illustration of the ‘foot in both worlds’ nature of liminal space. Just a thought

  11. Patricia Kemp Says:

    I just finished this book – the first of yours I’ve read – and I was completely captivated, finished it in a day and a half. It was not what I expected from the cover, but the title intrigued me, as well as the setting since i live in Colorado and I have been through Las Vegas many times and I understand what a rainless year can be. Still, the cover and the font do not do the book justice. Perhaps something that exemplifies New Mexico, or Las Vegas in particular, with some hint of the dualities? The windmill overlaying the Plaza perhaps?

    Loved the book. Looking for more, now.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    Thanks for the later comments… I’ll keep coming back to check in!

  13. Phineas Says:

    The cover isn’t enough to push me away. The rather high ebook price ($9.99 on the Kindle) on the other hand . . .

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