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a cover story
how my debut novel got its cover
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

It is both odd and fitting that the one thing that could have the biggest influence on my book's success is something I really had nothing to do with.

Odd, because as authors we want to think that our hard work and talent is what will put us, and our books, over the top. Because we want to think that we know best. That because the idea is ours and the writing is ours, that we know how best to title the book and market it and select a cover image that is the truest expression of what we're trying to say. Because we want to think we're in control.

Fitting, because all those things I just said are not true.

Certainly everyone's experience is different. There are some authors who control every aspect of their book's production and publication and distribution. (Usually either they're either already famous or they're self-publishing, but they're out there.) I've read long, long comment trails online from aspiring authors who bristle with fury at the very idea that someone else might presume to tell them their novel would benefit from a different title, or a different cover. This is a valid point of view.

It is not mine.

Potential readers judge a book by its cover, no doubt about it. If you're walking past the New Fiction table at Borders, what else can you judge on? Your eye isn't drawn by the quality of the prose itself, not at first. It's the cover. That's why they exist. You may not shop the shelves at all -- you may choose your reading material by recommendation, by reviews, by some other criterion -- but if you do, the cover image is going to play some role in your decision-making.

Which is why I am pleased as all get-out that my cover looks like this:


Not something I would have chosen myself. Not something that was even on my mind. Not something that was anything like the modern-looking close-up images of gleaming silver pots and bright blue stove burners and boxy white windows that I sent in large batches to the art department when I was asked what I thought the cover should look like.

And yet, I think it's perfect.

It's an arresting image, one that requires a second look, and sometimes the second look is all it takes to convert casual interest into a purchase decision. The yellow-gold of the border is eye-catching, and the red POPS, especially among a long row of books tricked out in pale blues or soft pinks or elegant but muted grays. The image says "food" and it says "woman" and the shadows give you a hint of something more hidden or sinister, and all this is very fitting for the book that's inside.

It wasn't what I asked for, or what I thought I wanted. But I am completely and fully in love with it. And judging from the early reactions -- as soon as the cover appeared in Shelf Awareness a couple of weeks back, I've gotten buckets of positive e-mails -- readers may be falling in love with it too.

(And if you're interested in more about the cover of The Kitchen Daughter -- specifically, whether it's debuting in hardcover or paperback -- you can read the other half of my cover story over at Writer Unboxed.)


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


state of excitement
books that, years later, keep on bookin'
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 11.5.03

agent, rapidly
the second annual literary agent blog roundup
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 11.5.07


candy green gustavson
10.4.10 @ 6:19a

...eye-catching cover, perfect accessory to wear with the title!

jason gilmore
10.4.10 @ 10:50a

Wow, your reign as my hero continues. That cover looks great. I'm very proud of you and can't wait to read it.

jael mchenry
10.7.10 @ 10:37p

You guys are too awesome! I am very lucky, and very excited.

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