Book Cover Love Part 1: Non-romance edition

One of the things we dream about when writing a book is what the cover will look like. I don’t know how it works at other publishers, but at Entangled, authors are sent a form they can fill in with their ideas. For a debutante like me, it’s a very cool and fun experience. Obviously it’s down to the cover designers and marketing department to decide which ideas might actually make for a salable cover. Anyway, I’ve seen the mock-up and I can’t wait to be able to share the finished product.

Meanwhile, all this has me thinking of book covers in general and what appeals to me as a reader. I thought it might be fun to do a post highlighting some of my favorite cover art. I’ll do romance next week and other stuff this week. Why that way round? Well, I got a few new followers after last week’s post, which made me feel like I need a thematic stepping stone between it and the probable fest of purple, fuchsia and heaving bosoms (both male and female) that will be next week’s romance covers post. Ease ’em in gently, I always say.

The wonder by Emma Donoghue: Find on Goodreads.

Wonderful historical novel about an English nurse who goes to a tiny Irish village “to observe what some are claiming as a medical anomaly or a miracle – a girl said to have survived without food for months.” I loved this way more than “Room”. As for the cover, I own this on kindle but I regret not buying the hardback just so I can physically hold this artwork. The colors, particularly the use of gold, are stunning and the cover as a whole is so evocative of what’s inside; a bleak yet haunting story of how people can transform each other’s lives.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter: Find on Goodreads

How can you not be intrigued by this cover? I want this framed and displayed on my wall. For the two people in the world who haven’t read Angela Carter yet, she wrote magical realism often with a distinctly Gothic twist. The angel on the front cover is actually a circus performer named “Fevvers” and she’s one of my favorite protagonists in all of literature. She’s warm, earthy, and unstoppable. But is she really part swan? You’ll have to read to find out.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters: Find on Goodreads.

This cover has caused me so much trouble over the years. I bought the paperback shortly after it came out and I can’t tell you how many people raised their eyebrows. Shout out to the octogenarian who took one look at the cover, scanned the blurb, then announced in a loud voice to the room at large, “Sex, sex, sex. That’s all this generation ever thinks about.” Tipping the Velvet is an odyssey through the Victorian sexual underworld. If you don’t care for explicit sex scenes, maybe give it a miss, but for the rest of us, it’s a tour de force.

The North Water by Ian McGuire: Find on Goodreads.

This is the fourth historical novel to appear on this list, so I guess we know what my wheelhouse is. I love the simplicity of this cover. The blues contrasted with the black and white. Somehow the blue is both land and sea. I never even noticed the polar bear until today. As for the book, it’s gritty, unrelenting, and almost entirely populated by men doing traditionally “manly” things (whaling, murdering each other etc). None of this would usually be my thing, yet somehow I was riveted and had this finished in a couple of sittings.”

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: Find on Goodreads.

Bit of a change of pace for this Young Adult satire of the beauty industry. My kindle copy is virtually all highlights because I snort-laughed my way through this tale of a group of beauty queens whose plane crashes on a desert island. Why does this cover work? I guess there’s a hot blonde to stare at if that’s your thing, but for me it was the ammo belt filled with lipstick. Whoever came up with this concept, they sold me the book, for which I thank them.

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty.: Find on Goodreads.

If you’re scared of dying or death, I highly recommend anything by Caitlin Doughty, including her Ask A Mortician YouTube videos. I devoured “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, her memoir about the funeral industry, but I might not have tried “From Here to Eternity”, which is about her search for cultures with healthier attitudes to death than the western one, had it not been for this cover with its dramatic color contrasts. Something about putting flowers on a skull immediately renders said skull 95% less scary. Which is basically what Caitlin Doughty does in a nutshell.

I hope you enjoyed this blatant excuse to post gorgeous cover art as much as I did. I hope you’ll come back for next week’s look at romance novels.

Recommended for Acquisition: A Lesson in how not to conduct yourself.


There’s so much great advice about how to write your query, but what happens when you actually get recommended for acquisition? How should you respond? What are the pitfalls? For it is a truth universally acknowledged that all new writers make mistakes but it isn’t necessarily true that we learn from them.

Learn from me. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Allow me to tell you a story.

The Literary Equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade

There’s a particular publisher I won’t name. They’re wonderful and have published some of my absolute favourite romances in recent years. I sent a query to an editor there. She requested the full, read it, and then loved it. She recommended it to the acquisitions board for publication, at which point they sent me an email asking me to send anything else I’d written with a synopsis.

This is where things start to go a bit wrong. Usually, when engaging with industry professionals, I research things. I make sure each communication is as well written and well thought out as possible. But I’d just been recommended for acquisition for the first time. I was excited.

How many mistakes did I then make? Let me count the ways.

Julia’s mistake 1: I immediately responded to the email. Let me repeat that: I immediately responded. I did not take a breath. I did not stop to consider. I just answered.

What Julia Learned: At the beginning of the post, I mentioned how much information there is online to help you craft a query. I spend ages reading this advice. I wrote countless drafts. I sent my first attempt to a critique partner and then I rewrote the whole thing again. Aspiring writers spend so much time on that initial contact. It doesn’t make sense to do any less when responding to the chief editor of a major publisher. Everything you write is a chance to show your ability.

I think I was worried that if I didn’t immediately respond, I might be perceived as rude or amateurish. The opposite is true. Editors are busy people. This one was probably relieved to have dealt with me for the day. I doubt she was hopping up and down with excitement to see my name pop up in her inbox ten seconds later.

Julia’s mistake 2: About ten minutes later, I remembered something I’d forgotten to include. So, I sent a second email.

What Julia Learned: If you rush to respond, you will forget something. Make yourself wait. Even if you write your response immediately, read it over, and decide that it’s perfect, make yourself wait at least 24 hours. There were now two emails from me waiting in that editor’s inbox neither of which I’d spent enough time crafting.

Julia’s mistake 3: I then read the publishing company’s requirements for a synopsis. Turned out they like a long synopsis. I’d sent one that was two pages. So, I wrote a new synopsis which I thought was rather good, and send it to them in yet another email.

What Julia Learned: Oh my god, read the publisher’s guidelines for things like your synopsis and manuscript formatting before you send your first response. Before. I hadn’t and there were now three rushed, overly-excited emails waiting in the editor’s inbox.

Then Comes Rejection

The editor got back to me after she’d met with the acquisitions board and delivered a kind, very encouraging rejection. She said they’d all loved the manuscript and that I was a wonderful writer. She then cited market forces as the reason they were passing. I was devastated. I’m good with constructive criticism. Tell me you think chapter six needs to be rewritten from a different point of view or you think my characters aren’t behaving consistently and I’m good to go. Tell me that you love my novel but that you don’t want to publish it and I’m not sure what to do with myself. There was nothing for me to fix. Or so I thought. I trunked the manuscript while I tried to figure out what went wrong. I was uneasily aware that the barrage of emails probably hadn’t helped but I told myself they couldn’t be a major factor.

What Julia Learned: Of course it’s a major factor. If you’re writing in a genre that isn’t currently flying off the shelves (and I’m told historicals are tricky these days), everything else matters much more than it ordinarily would. That editor is trying to find well-written books that her company can make money from. An author who’s ill-prepared and unprofessional (even in my rather cutesy, enthusiastic way) is a liability. Was I going to be like that all the time? Would I always fill her inbox with a gazillion responses, obliging her to sift through them for the one that I actually wanted her to take as my final answer? Would I always be disorganised? Did that mean I’d be unreliable?

So don’t be like old Julia. Be like new Julia. Consider long and hard before you click send. Also, be like Mr. T and follow your dreams, fool.