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Friday Speak Out!: How I Got a Book Cover I Loved

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by Nancy Hayes Kilgore


When I signed with Sunbury Press for my latest novel, BITTER MAGIC, I was given the option of using the publisher’s cover designer or choosing my own. Either way I could work with the artist to help shape the design.

This is one of the perks of working with an independent publisher, and I was pleased, since I, like most of us authors, have a real emotional investment in how my cover looks.

BITTER MAGIC is inspired by the story of Isobel Gowdie, whose witchcraft confession in 17th century Scotland, is one of the most famous of recorded confessions. The novel brings you into a world immersed in both religion and magic, a world where conflicting beliefs trigger wars and witch hunts. I wanted a cover that would evoke mystery, religion, enchantment, and a touch of danger.

I dug in, studying lots of covers, both my publisher’s and others online. I looked at my Pinterest pins for 17th century Scotland – misty landscapes, old castles, spooky antique woodcuts of witches and gallows and stakes. On Pinterest I also had a collection of photographs and illustrations of crows. In her historical confession, Isobel claimed she could shape shift and turn herself into a crow, and this was part of the story in BITTER MAGIC. Some of my pictures featured a perching crow holding a sprig of red rowan berries. The rowan tree, with its bright red berries, represents, in BITTER MAGIC, and in mythology, a place where the veil between the worlds is thin. In my book, this is where Isobel first meets her fairy guide.

While on Pinterest, I discovered a category for book covers. And here were some that I loved. They were on the website of Sara Oliver, an award-winning designer.

Sara’s designs, many of them for books about magic or fairy tales, were striking. They combined a delicacy of color and style and evoked enchantment and mystery. I immediately wrote to her, and we started working together.

Sara went to work, and we emailed back and forth. I sent her my pictures and ideas, and she came up with a few renderings. She created her own rendering of a crow clasping a sprig of rowan berries. She tried it with the crow on a Celtic cross, from an image I’d sent, but that put the crow at the top of the design instead of the center where I wanted it, so she went back to the drawing board.

She sent me another rendering, this time with the crow perched on a sheaf of wheat. This one had a vivid dark green background, the sinister-looking crow perched in the center, and the blood-red rowan berries in its beak. I loved Sara’s filigree gold border and the title’s font, Birion. It conjured the image of legend and myth I was looking for along with a hint of bloodshed. I thought it was perfect, and now everyone I show it to, including my publisher, agrees.

* * *
Nancy Hayes Kilgore, winner of the Vermont Writers Prize, is the author of two other novels, Wild Mountain (Green Writers Press, 2017,) and Sea Level (RCWMS, 2011,) a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year. Her new novel, Bitter Magic, comes from Milford House in August. She has published in a She Writes Press anthology, in Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Vermont Magazine, The Bottle Imp, and on Vermont Public Radio. Nancy is a graduate of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars and holds a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling. She is a former parish pastor, a psychotherapist, a writing coach, and leads workshops on creative writing and spirituality. Find her online at nancykilgore.com.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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