Marsha Canham's Blog

January 3, 2011

Judging books by their covers

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 3:29 pm

I read an interesting blog this morning by Terry Odell wherein she goes through the evolution of making a new cover for an ebook.  Being the shameless hussy that I am, I thought I would do something similar to explain why I have changed the cover for China Rose.

Cover art is a crap shoot, whether for print books or ebooks, and especially for romance books.  In the 70’s, the hot clinch was all the rage, with bare-chested studs holding long-haired wenches draped over their arms in a pose suggesting imminent ravaging.  Some were done well, some gave the appearance of one character staring up the other’s nostrils to check for boogers.  Most of the wenches had exaggerated bosoms and enough hair flying around to give Rapunzel a run for her money…on one infamous cover the heroine even had three arms.  The heros, until Fabio came along, were mostly dark haired, sinister-looking, brooding hunks of muscle and sculpted, hairless chests.  None of them had facial hair cuz it was all on their heads in long, flowing manes.

With the 80’s came stepbacks.  Readers were getting a little antsy about sitting on subways and buses reading from a book with two semi-naked, groping people on the front.  The fronts then became discreetly flowered (hear that, Dell art department?  DISCREETLY flowered) and the naked/semi-naked artwork went inside.  I won’t put my sphincter through the Forty F**king Flowers whine again, so I will use the revamped cover as an example:

Morgan Kane did the inside art for UTDM, as well as Through A Dark Mist, and In the Shadow of Midnight.  Unfortunately the publishers hold the copyright for both the inside and outside artwork, so when an out of print book gets revived as an ebook, a new cover comes with the territory.

When Julie Ortolon first prodded me in the butt about doing something with my four out of print books, I wasn’t all that familiar with the world of ebooks.  Thanks to a bit of handholding and the birth of BacklistEbooks, we soon discovered 80 or 90 other authors all trying to figure out this brave new world together.

My first experiment was with China Rose.  I actually liked the original cover on the print version, and because it was my first book, it has always held a special place of honor on my shelves and in my heart.

Coming up with a cover for the ebook version was again, new territory for me, and in my head I wanted to do something without the standard romance clinch, and *gasp* perhaps with a china rose on the cover.  Hah.  Searched and searched and no china roses that caught my eye.  So I went to the next best thing…a real rose, but that brought back shades of Forty F**king Flowers, so I looked for a semi-nautical background suggesting the time period etc. and came up with this:


Subtle, didn’t scream romance, but as I’ve noticed over the months, didn’t scream anything at all.  Ironic as it seems, skin seems to be back in fashion, at least for romance books.  I’m guessing it’s because the ereaders keep the cover private, no need to hide it in a sleeve on the bus or subway. And skin spells romance.  Hunky men and gorgeous wenches with flowing hair once again spell historical romances.  Even cover models are starting to see new possibilities in this brave new world.  Instead of sitting around waiting for art departments to call for a cover shoot, they’re doing their own and offering up the art to ebook authors frantically searching the web for the ideal “romance” cover.  Jimmy Thomas has gone to extraordinary measures to fill this niche and I myself have used three of his photos for covers.

So that brings me back to China Rose.  The first cover I did myself and one that I still like.  However.  It sort of stands out–or doesn’t stand out in this case–as being too subtle.  It does not say “romance” when you look at it, and face it folks, romance is what I write, what I love to write, what my readers want to read.

Thus the overhaul.  I wanted some skin this time around, but I also wanted to keep the rose for obvious reasons.  I found this stock photo a couple of months back and thought it a beauty but wasn’t sure what to do with it.

Lots of skin…maybe too much…but the rose was there and I liked her hands on his back..suggestive without smacking you over the head with a frying pan and screaming ROMANCE.  Fading it out was the next step…enough to keep the skin showing, and enough to let the title show up clearly.

Loverly.  But it didn’t say:  Historical…so I rummaged around in my paint shop program and found the frigate I had used for Swept Away.


But it was dark and made the pic muddy when merged, so I had to blot out the background:

Poifect.  When combined, and the two layers fiddled with to get the right balance of fade and colour, I ended up with this…

Add the title, couple of pithy little blurbs and…voila:

Only took me about four hours *snort*, but I like the finished product.  Has skin, has my ship, has my rose *g*

I guess I sit back now and see if it makes a difference in reader appeal.  Comments welcome, of course.






  1. Marsha – happy to ‘inspire’ your post, and you’re definitely talented on both sides of the production fence. I had to rely on my very talented son to work on my new cover.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

    Comment by Terry Odell — January 3, 2011 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

  2. I love the new cover. You are good!

    Comment by Susana — January 3, 2011 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  3. I love the new cover you designed for CHINA ROSE. You are a genius. I am blessed to have a good friend like you who is willing to help and advise.

    Comment by Virginia Henley — January 3, 2011 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

  4. Very nice. I am awed. What program did you use? Photoshop?

    Comment by Juliet — January 3, 2011 @ 6:54 pm | Reply

  5. Juliet…my old trusty Paint Shop Pro. Love it.

    Comment by marshacanham — January 3, 2011 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

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