I’m often asked why it takes so long for a book to go on sale after the writer hands over her manuscript to the publisher. Just one example: I sent off my initial manuscript of Empress of the Nile to Susanna Porter, my editor at Random House, in mid-October 2021. Its publication date has been set for sixteen months later — Feb. 28, 2023, to be exact. At first glance, that does indeed seem like a sizeable chunk of time. Actually, though, it’s not really that long when you consider the many steps that have to be taken, both by the publishing house and author, before it’s ready for readers.
Of those steps, one of the most essential — after the editing and rewriting are finished — is the design of the cover. A good cover is all-important because, simply put, it’s the reader’s first contact with the book. To succeed, a cover must capture the book’s spirit in a glance and help make a connection with its potential readers before they read a single word.
Of the covers of my nine books, I’ve liked several, some not so much. Waiting to see the first iteration of a cover is always a nervous-making experience for me. But when Susanna emailed the initial design of Empress in May, my attack of nerves was gone in a flash. I responded almost instantly: “I can’t tell you how much I love this!! It’s by far the best cover of any of my books!” I meant every word. What I liked most was the cover’s main feature — an up-close, eye-catching photograph of the book’s protagonist, the archaeologist Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, copying hieroglyphs in a tomb near Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.
As I soon discovered, however, the cover’s design process was far from finished. After input about its effectiveness from various departments at Random House, prominently including the sales department, the book’s title was enlarged on the cover to bring more attention to it. But that still wasn’t the end. After several additional, even more dramatic tweaks, the final version was approved last month. It features a bolder typeface, moves the subtitle to the top, and darkens the background around the image of Christiane to make the photo pop. The results, in my opinion, are stunning. So that you can see what I’m talking about, I’ve included all three versions of the cover. Which one is your favorite?