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  • Writer's pictureVanessa King

The Cover Story

Before A CERTAIN APPEAL, my only experience with the book cover process was secondhand, via another gal in the book club I was in while living in Brooklyn. If memory serves, when she was having her book published, she was given three images to choose from, and…that was about it. She wasn’t even guaranteed the image she preferred; she figured they’d only asked her opinion to be polite.

So when it came time to come up with ideas for my own cover, I was prepared. Like a proper writer, I had devoted hours of my creative time to not-writing: in this case, compiling a Pinterest board devoted to my work in progress. I had a few, actually, two I created as references for settings, which were subsequently consumed by the internet and never seen again, and a third for cover ideas. That board was filled with photos of the Eastern Columbia Building in LA, which will make sense when you read my book, vintage posters from Moulin Rouge, lithe, sweeping figures on Art Deco prints, and illustration after illustration of showgirls and burlesquers. After all, there was no question the cover would be illustrated (have you been in a bookstore in the past four years?), it was simply a matter of what style would be employed.

I sent the board to my acquiring editor while we brainstormed ideas for a new title

(fun fact, this project’s working title was POP A PASTIE, but the powers that be determined that was too risqué. Then, during this brainstorming session, either my editor or my agent said something along the lines of, “being so wrong, it’s right,” and my dumb brain connected that to a single from the 1999 classic, Coyote Ugly: “The Right Kind of Wrong,” which as we all know, wasn't even the real banger of that soundtrack; that honor goes to "Cant Fight the Moonlight." Then, because I can’t not make a movie reference when one comes to mind, I volunteered that little tidbit, and my editor said, “YES!” and inside my dumb, dumb brain, I screamed, “NO!” But that was the title of the book until my agent came up with the fabulous A CERTAIN APPEAL, a moment of genius for which I am eternally grateful. My brain, however, remains relentless in its unnecessary contributions and has submitted no shortage of nonsense in the year since.)

and she was delighted! And when she moved on from her role at Putnam and my project was handed to her assistant, she, too, liked the very through collection of images and passed it along to the design team.

So I was a little surprised when the first draft of my cover was this:

To be clear, this is a solid cover sketch. We have the New York City skyline to set the scene. Behind that is a sun, meant to suggest a decorative sunburst that appears on a specific building in the book. There’s a feather boa—I may have even mentioned that in a chat with my editor; I don’t know, my brain is garbage as well as laden with pop-culture. But in any case, that boa's on-theme.

AND we have a couple who are clearly in the enemies stage of a good ol’ fashioned “enemies to lovers” plot. She appears to be Pam in an early season of The Office. He’s late 90’s David Boreanaz, and as an original run Buffy fan, I respect this choice.

However, my protagonist isn’t a Pam. She’s a receptionist by day, but Bennet keeps it glam onstage and off. She dresses like a pinup, not the Dundie winner for "Whitest Sneakers" (though Bennet too would have felt God in that Chili’s that night). While we're on the subject of shoes, it is worth pointing out that even in this early stage her pumps are *glittery*, which is a fabulous, subtle nod to her Kitten Caboodle persona.

Additionally, the positioning of the characters didn’t accurately depict their relationship at any point in the book. Not to get spoiler-y, but they’re never “back-to-back” hateful. There’s always a certain amount of-- hmm, how to put this...horny intrigue at work. If they ever were back-to-back, Bennet would be trying to figure out how to situate her butt against his, maybe shimmy a little, just to see what he’d do. Darcy would be stoic about it, offer some commentary comparing her to a bear relieving a back itch against a signpost, but definitely into it. Just a little character insight ;)

You're welcome.

So, feedback time. My agent and I had a 45 minute conversation about what we liked, what we thought needed tweaking, and then she was off composing an impressively diplomatic email on the subject. She even included specific images, like the Art Deco sunburst that inspired the one I included in the book, and the theatrical poster for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which was a solid contribution from my dumb, movie-referencing brain. Great job, brain!

We each designed our own covers, too, though we didn’t send them to the publisher, because that would have been obnoxious, and besides, I can’t draw hands; there was no need to be showing those nice people a haunting depiction of a wasp-waisted showgirl with lobster claws. There just wasn’t.

Round Two: We're getting there! The font is prefect, and check it out: they're facing one another. Bennet is at a canonically accurate level of va-va-voom and her hair is wavy, also as described (I did end up asking for different styling). Alas, Darcy remains an unimpressed slab of suit without any back muscle to speak of (accuracy first!), and I'm not seeing intrigue, randy or otherwise. Any way we can get some of that to come across?

We also asked that the feathers directly off Bennet’s backside be lowered, lest they appear to be coming from her rear. (Right? Now that I mention it, you can't unsee it.)

Also, have you noticed that that SHE IS STEPPING ON HIS FOOT? Reader, I SQUEALED. This was PERFECTION. I’m abusing the all-caps here, but it was a MOMENT.

Shout out to that unexpected color scheme, btw. Slate does not get enough love in general, and is especially rare in the Romance world. The pink is playful, though pairing it with the off-red dress is a little Steel Magnolias:

Note: Maybe another dress color, please?

Next up: LOOK AT THIS MAN! A disinterested slab of besuited Boreanaz no more, this is the moment the starchy hero is becoming unstarched and it is everything. This is THEM.

The skyline…well, it matches his shoes (which match his belt because Darcy was raised right) but it’s a bit abrasive. Idea: change it to the lighter gold in the title? Also, her forehead is grazing eight-head territory. Perhaps bring down the hairline? Changing her hairstyle to something less Grecian, more rockabilly could do the trick…(DENIED, btw. Totally fine; I'd been humored plenty.)

Two more versions followed with tiny changes: one with stars around the couple, and another featuring lines around the title and a foil treatment on the title and my name. We went with the lines and foil, but elected against having stars around the couple to keep the cover from getting too busy.

Another draft had the addition of the book's tagline (which will be replaced with a suitably breathless blurb should one be submitted), as well as us requesting a touch more definition/texture on the feathers. Then we had it: THE FINAL COVER!

Look at those li'l errant feathers! The textured flyaways coming off the bigger ones! What's not to love? Also, it's a novel, as per the upper lefthand corner.

A novel, which just so happens to be available for presale ;)

And that's the cover story! Clearly, people will have very different experiences with their cover process. I had the good fortune of a talented and receptive designer in Sara Long at Putnam, as well as the foresight not to be writing YA in the early '10s where cover art was presented in a series of stock photos and my opinion was only invited as a courtesy. No, I spent that time writing a New Adult novel, a genre we all know exists nowhere but in the hearts of writers and whatever drawer they have for un-sellable manuscripts. But I digress.

I love this cover. I love this book! I love that you can buy it--have I mentioned you can buy it? Go buy it! And I love that I can stop obsessing over feathers and fonts and illustrated hairstyles and who it is my MCs most closely resemble here (that would be age-appropriate versions of Kathryn Hahn and Michael Schoeffling, for those playing along at home).

Pop a pastie, loves!


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1 Comment

Shay Tibbs
Shay Tibbs
Mar 18, 2021

This is just PERFECT! I was already excited to read it, but I'm a total sucker for behind the scenes goodness like this - thank you for sharing!

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