Friday, May 2, 2008

Cover Story: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran recently posted over at about the development process that went into creating the cover for her next book, The Heretic Queen, which is due to be released this coming September. I found the post really interesting, so I asked Michelle for permission to repost it here on Historical Tapestry. I hope you all find it interesting as well!

Also, please note the link to the contest page at Michelle's website where you can win a book, some chocolates and some jewellery. Am I the only who who burst into 'these are a few of my favourite things' when you see that combination?

Thanks for allowing us to repost Michelle!


As some of you know, my first novel debuted in July 2007 with a beautiful cover painted by the artist Doug Fryer. I was so enamored with this cover that I contacted the artist and purchased the original painting as a memento of my debut.

However, Doug retired from making book covers, so for my second book, The Heretic Queen, my editor decided to use an image from my protagonist's tomb. The protagonist of my novel is Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti, as is often the case in my publishing house -- sorry, I didn't choose the name, she was born with it!). Nefertari's tomb in the Valley of the Queens is one of the most spectacular ever found, and my editor decided on the image of a wing for the front cover.

You would think a wing would be a simple image to procure. After all, how possessive can someone be over the rights to something that was painted (and not even particularly well) over three thousand years ago? But it turns out that the Getty, which owns the photo, wasn't parting with their wing, and so Crown had to hire an artist to recreate it.

The resulting image is, if not breathtaking, certainly unique. Two colorful stripes were added to the top and bottom of the cover to give the book a more ancient feel, but I argued that it looked more Native American than Egyptian, and thus began a long debate. My editor, who I adored and loved, had left Crown to move to CA, and thankfully, my new editor agreed with me. So what was the catch? The galleys were already going to production, and no one wanted the job of approaching the art department and asking - no, begging - to change the cover.

I suggested replacing the colorful stripes with something more "Egyptiany" that would let readers know what the book was about without having to turn over the cover. Hieroglyphics were a possibility, and so were lotus blossoms, but there needed to be a good reason for the art department to go back and change it (not just that the author and editor don't like it -- yes, those are not good enough reasons!). So I had an epiphany inspired by a comment my editor made when she said that if we used hieroglyphics, we had to make sure they didn't translate into something terrible, like "I enjoy sunbathing naked" or "the pharaoh has a big arse."

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are both logographic and alphabetic. But some clever font-makers produced a purely phonetic hieroglyphic alphabet based on real hieroglyphics. I wondered if we might be able to use that font to create a meaningful phrase somewhere on the book, then hold a contest for readers who wished to translate that phrase. Now, my editor had the reason she needed to approach the art department, and after telling the wonderful Jennifer O'Connor about my idea (who also worked on the cover for Nefertiti), the change was made and this strip was added to the bottom in place of the colorful strips of 20th century African cloth.
The cover that was the result of that change is below (notice the hieroglyphics on the bottom, which are much bigger in real life). And now, this is one of the contests being held to promote it.

The actual cover will be darker, and the wingtips, title and hieroglyphics will be in gold foil (an expensive addition that publishers like to use sparingly). It's been a long journey for a single cover, and it took a great many people to make it happen. Just goes to show how much unseen work goes into every detail of a book before it even hits the shelves!

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