Today I’m welcoming Virginia King to talk about how she chose the title and cover for her latest book. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Virginia.
Many authors say that in the process of creating a book, the writing is the easy part. It’s choosing titles and covers where the real work begins.
I was writing a collection of stories re-imagined from the folktales that inspired the modern prequel to my mystery series, Laying Ghosts.
A strange message. A deserted beach house. A shocking incident from the past …
When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the chilling events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.
The folktales form a standalone collection but also a companion to Laying Ghosts. I was going through the usual torture of choosing a title when my mystery author friend Ellen Seltz offered to help. She asked for details of the stories in the collection. One involves the 250-year-old murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’. Ellen found a phrase in the following stanza from the original ballad:
He pierced her body till the blood it did flow,
Then into the grave her body did throw.
He covered her body, then home he did run,
Leaving none but birds her death to mourn.
Ellen suggested None but Birds for the title of the collection and I was thrilled. It had the right amount of mystery and suspense, while hinting at the dark themes in the stories. But because the collection is a companion to Laying Ghosts, I settled on a variation that gives both titles a similar word pattern: Leaving Birds.
Yay, I had my title. Hurdle one vaulted – with panache. Next came the cover. That should be easy given I had my subject on a plate: birds. Then followed the battle of the birds!
Photos or Illustrations?
Covers guide readers to the genre of the book. All the books in my Selkie Moon Series contain mystical clues inspired by folklore, but the mysteries are modern so the covers are a compilation of photographic elements to reflect this. Leaving Birds is not strictly part of the series and it’s a mix of traditional and modern stories, more closely linked to folklore. Should I use an illustrative style of cover so that the reader would recognise the ‘folktale’ genre?
Conducting a Cover Poll
To get other opinions, I polled the subscribers to my Myth Mystery & Mayhem newsletter. Showing them the following two stock images, I asked: Do you prefer a photographic or illustrative cover for Leaving Birds, a folktale companion for Laying Ghosts? These images are samples of two different styles of cover, not the final cover. The theme of the collection is the loneliness of death, and the cover will be black and white.
How Readers Voted
The almost 100 votes were 65/35 in favour of the photographic image. Then I worried that the pop of red had skewed the vote. If I’d removed it from the illustrative cover, the samples would have been more equal. But the red had an unexpected role to play.
Photographic voters liked:
- Herons, because they’re regal and mystical
- The drama of the spooky mood
- The sense of eeriness and mystery
- Imagining a great black bird surveying a graveyard
- The single bird and lack of colour being barren and solitary like death
- Crows, because they’re linked to death
Illustrative voters liked:
- The pop of red against the stark background
- The colourful bird suggesting a ray of hope in the loneliness
- The bird’s wings suggesting a soul soaring away
- The handwriting feeling personal, dated and creepy
- The celebration of a life departed instead of the gloominess of death
Taking Care with Stock Images
The two concepts are both stock images which could be used as they are. But Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer says that a good cover is not just a stock image with titles added. It is the compilation of images and graphic effects that create a design. Also, if you use a stock image as it is, you’re likely to see it on other covers.
Playing with Cover Concepts
Taking into account the mood of the folktale collection and the feedback from readers, I briefed my cover designer. We tried a different photo of a lonely bird – a seagull on a chimney – as well as the original heron image. And we blended some handwriting into the background like the illustrative sample.
As much as I loved the lonely seagull in the stock photo, when I saw it as a cover it just didn’t evoke the powerful mood created by the hunched heron. The handwriting also didn’t fit as well with the gull. The battle of the birds was over. We had a winner. And although I was committed to a black and white cover as a companion to Laying Ghosts, I asked my designer to try out some red on the handwriting – for that pop of colour some of my readers had liked in the illustrative sample.
Cover Reveal: Leaving Birds
Here’s the final cover of Leaving Birds, a standalone collection of creepy folktales with adult themes, and a companion to the modern ghost story Laying Ghosts.
Leaving Birds contains:
- ‘The Woman with Hair of Gold’ – retold from a Russian folktale
- ‘Peig’s Place’ – a modern ghost story re-imagined from an Irish folktale
- ‘Polly’s Folly’ – the possibly true events behind the murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’
- ‘Serendipity Rules’ – the newspaper report that inspired the plot of Laying Ghosts
If you like to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of books and how they’re written, Leaving Birds also contains insights into how each story inspired the writing of Laying Ghosts.
Laying Ghosts is available:
- at your preferred store (with Leaving Birds as a free download at the end): https://www.books2read.com/u/38DEy6
- as a free download on Virginia’s website: http://www.selkiemoon.com/
Leaving Birds is available:
Follow Virginia on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries
In the Selkie Moon Mystery Series, Virginia King gets to explore far-flung places full of secrets where Selkie delves into psychological clues tangled up in the local mythology.
Before Selkie Moon invaded her life, Virginia was a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, the author of over 50 children’s books, an audio-book producer, a workshop presenter and a prize-winning publisher. These days she lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband, where she disappears each day into Selkie Moon’s latest mystery. Bliss.