Cover advice: Dauntless Hearts

Updated: 2 days ago

Apropos of this thread on Covercritics.


So we're looking at a very technically competent cover that certainly looks like a period romance.


But romance is one of those genres where you have to nail your particular setting and tone very exactly. The audience knows to a very precise degree what they’re interested in and they identify it at a glance.


This book is set in the Regency, which is its own firm and popular sub-genre of historical romance, but the cover does not read as having that setting/sub-genre at a glance. Thus a significant number of its potential readers are going to skip past it as they browse.


That's for a few of reasons, not all of them obvious so I'll go through them.


First of all, let me help bring to light the overall issue by splitting the cover in half:



There's the basic problem - the top half, on the left. This area is all the eye takes in at a glance - or even with a fair amount of attention - and nothing about it actually says 'Regency'. It looks more redolent of The Little House on The Prairie.


I and others on Covercritics guessed 'Amish romance' at first glance. That's interesting because the costume isn't actually very Amish - what's setting off that reference point isn't the costume so much as the sky.


Background, atmosphere and colour


Basically big blue photographic skies which dominate the background are a trope of Amish romance covers:



Let's compare that trope to some Regency romance covers:



I've included covers across a range of authors past and present, high- and low-brow (for want of a better phrase), well-known and not etc to show that while there's variation, the rules are still pretty tight. Regency covers have covers with girls in sumptuous interiors, or if outside with bits of Georgian architecture visible behind them.


It's crazy really, but book covers have such a precise language, nowhere more so than on romance novels - and the kind of sky featured on the current cover just isn't in the right language.


When I look really closely I can see that this current background includes period-appropriate parts (a manicured landscape of box edges and noble oaks) but the problem is that this part of the background is almost invisible underneath the title/byline area.


So the first big note is that the background needs to be changed for something more fitting of setting/genre.


Now let's take a look at the model.



Costume


Something else we see in the examples of Regency romance covers above is the primacy of costume. The dress is so all-important that some of these covers even hard-crop out the girls' faces to further centre the dress and what it signals to us about the setting.


Most Regency romance covers will feature evening-wear to tie to the genre tropes of there being lots of dancing and balls. But I've included three above which show heroines in simpler, humbler day-wear.


For the book in question here, it sounds like it's a step away from the high-society ballroom stuff and features a story/setting that is more humble, rustic and sweet. But we still need to have those Regency touchstones of costume.


Currently, the cover has lost that, as we saw above. The girl reads more Laura Ingalls Wilder than Georgette Heyer. The first thing to work out is whether the problem is just the use on the cover, or the basic image.


Here's the stock image:


OK, that seems usable. It's not got the strongest Regency vibes in the world. It's got some details to be aware of as potentially misleading. E.g. while the bonnet is fact period-accurate (actually Kate Winslet wore one similar in Sense and Sensibility, I remember) it looks very much like a 20s cloche. The pinstripe blue cotton of the dress brings the Prairie or the Victorian to mind ahead of the Regency. But the Empire-line waist, long gloves and richly woven shawl draped in that particular way do a lot to redress that. Overall I'd say this stock image can work for your book, so long as the element are working hard to make up those bits of lost ground.


It's not necessarily easy to find the perfect stock with the perfect vibe for the book - usually one has to find something that's 70 - 80% of the way there and find ways to make up or any areas that are a little lacking.



So these are your two issues to resolve: you need to make visible the details of the model's costume that most say 'Regency'; and you need to find a background more fitting to the Regency atmosphere, and make sure all the Regency details of that are also on display.


With a quick play around, this is what I've got (excuse the watermarks and lo-res-ness, this is an example of how the composition and colouring should broadly be handled rather than refined work):



I've done a version with a painted bg and a photographic bg. In both cases these are quick grabs of the first image I could find that broadly fits the bill to demonstrate how even without careful work getting the broad strokes immediately helps place your book better.


Let's have a run-through of the decisions here.


In both cases, I've reduced the size of the model image to make sure the details of waist, gloves and shawl are sitting comfortably above the title area and therefore visible. It might seem a compromise to reduce the size of the hero image, but I don't think you're losing anything here. The important thing about your heroine (for the purposes of the cover) isn't her face, after all. Again, look at how the example covers mostly used model images - to maximise the view of their dress, not face.


Secondly I've found backgrounds that feels more fitting for Regency cover tropes and made sure its key details are also nice and clearly framed by the areas of type.


I've specifically sought something that speaks to what I get from the book's synopsis - rustic, picturesque, sweet, simple. Some might protest at using an oil-painting look background for a photographic model shot. I think you get away with it as long as the palettes tie them together. Here the colour and texture of the model's bonnet ties to the trees and ground colour/texture so it all feels cohesive. I think it's worth it in terms of bringing in that period picturesque-ness really firmly.


I've worked on both in terms of light and tinting to bring them together and to give a generally soft feel. One issue with the existing cover is that it feels very sharp (another point which makes us think 'Amish romance' - because it feels modern). For historical romance, a softness of line and light is better.


These are only a quick proof-of-concept roughs. These specific backgrounds could probably be improved upon, but hopefully they demonstrate the broad qualities to look for in a background in contrast to the current stock.


If I now compare the original to my quick redo hopefully everything I've been talking about will stand out clearly:



And if I bring these down to thumbnail...



In addition to the points I've already gone over, the original suffers from one other significant issue - one that's really common with non-professional covers actually - it's too dark and muddy of tone. This is a problem especially when the images appear as thumbnails (which is of course how 99% or potential readers will encounter a book). The cover disappears into an unattractive, uninviting swamp of dark shades, especially inappropriate for a light romance.


Typography


Finally just a note on fonts. I've stuck close to the existing title treatment. I think that's something that's already working well.


In the example Regency romance covers we see a mix of approaches: some use a cursive typography and some and a printed look. The Bridgerton branding even uses a sans-serif, which is pretty bold for a historical romance. I think that's to deliberately remove itself from the world of traditional Regency romance somewhat and look slightly edgy.


I don't think we want to go that far. I think a traditional printed serif typeface with a few little bespoke edits is probably a good balance.


But I would definitely advocate for cursive in one place - for the tagline. The use of a single all-caps serif font on the current cover make it look much too stern and the font doesn't suit the tone of the tagline.


I've also rearranged the word-order because I think it's better not to open on the word 'heartbreak' if the novel in question is more light and optimistic than it is tragic, but that's obviously more a copy decision than a design one.


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