Word Wenches

September 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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Last week, a great writer pal of mine, Mary Jo Putney, seen here at left, asked if I would “guest blog” on a great site for historical and romance novel buffs:  Word Wenches.  MJ and some other terrific scribes like Jo Beverly and Patricia Rice have been posting their musings, thoughts, notions, and passionate opinions about their work and the writer’s craft for a couple of years, now, and are considered among the best practitioners of the blogging craft on the Web.

I had a great time and after my stint, was granted an “HWW:”  an Honorary Word Wench award, which to my mind is to be highly prized…

MJ and I decided I was vastly qualified to do a riff on a subject close to my heart: how much covers can make or break a book, a situation that is particularly true when it comes to historical versus romance fiction.

As I said in the Word Wench piece (and elaborated here on a blog post of my own entitled A Tale of Two Covers regarding my forth-coming Wicked Company), what I find so fascinating is the way books are truly categorized by their covers.  Readers obviously take their cues from the images depicted on the front of a book. Here are two radically different approaches to editions of the first novel I ever wrote, Island of the Swans.

Island of the SwansThe new Sourcebooks Landmark trade paperback cover on the left incorporates the actual 18th c. portrait of the heroine, Jane Maxwell, 4th Duchess of Gordon by George Romney, hanging now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The Bantam mass market paperback cover on the right used modern models and classic poses used to promote romance fiction.

Romance readers know what they like and expect, and the same holds true for lovers of historical novels.  If the covers don’t match the content, readers can, rightly, become highly incensed—and I don’t blame them.  As with Island of the Swans and Wicked Company, my other novels always include a love story, but each one also centers on the question “What were the women doing in history?”   To answer that query, the books by necessity must be extensively researched as to the role of a very small segment of the population–women who earned their own keep in a day far removed from our own.

The idea that a few, talented and brave females longed for self-expression in various fields that were then the exclusive provenance of men is also central to the dual story historical/contemporary titles I’ve written:  A Cottage by the Sea, Midnight on Julia Street, and A Light on the Veranda.

From the earliest days of my career when I held at Readership in British-American History at the hallowed Huntington Library in San Marino, California, I’ve been fascinated by “professional women” in the 18th and 19th centuries and have chosen to tell the stories of female politicians, artists, writers, and musicians—all based on composites of women who really lived and plied their various crafts for money.

The problem was, the books I wrote in the 1980’s and 90’s as full-on historical novels about these “famous-but-forgotten” women of history were often saddled with some God-awful covers during the period when nearly every historical was thought to have a better chance in the marketplace if it emphasized the romance more than the history.

But bless Sourcebooks/Landmark for creating a “look” this time around that matches the contents of my historicals, so that hardcore romance readers can steer clear of them if they so chose, and lovers of historical fiction (who don’t object to a love story threaded through the narrative) might give them a try!

May all the readers of both the Word Wenches blog and my own blog feel so inclined October 1, when the new cover of Wicked Company–originally given an equally misleading earlier incarnation–hits the stands this time around looking like this…

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instead of this….