IWSG—Books covers and writing about real people


It’s time for the November meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which convenes the first Wednesday of every month. This month I’m a little insecure about my book covers and the long-hiatused project I’m giving a near-complete-reworking.

My first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan, releases 7 November and is now available for pre-order. I initially had cold feet after creating my cover, but came back to being proud of it. However, I can’t help but feel that some people might find the two book covers I designed to be too amateurish, not modern or trendy enough, not good enough to make people want to buy the books.

I admit I’m not the world’s most professional or experienced artist, but I really felt those two books in particular were so personal, they’d be done most justice by my own vision for the cover. And sometimes a whimsical, simplistic image is what a book needs, more than a glossy image in line with modern tastes and sensibilities. I love hand-illustrated covers, and just don’t feel moved by many modern digital images. Seriously, how many times do we have to see a headless woman, a headless bare chest, the almost-kiss, a generic lovey-dovey couple, a girl in a big poufy dress, or a closeup on a mouth or crotch?

I’m actually considering eventually upgrading those two covers to something digital, though only if I really like and trust the artist enough to create something close to my hand-illustrated originals. I’d never smile and pretend to love yet another headless bare chest or generic cover model.


I’m also a little nervous over rewriting my long-hiatused alternative history, which I began at 16 and did some more work on at 21. As an adult, it’s so obvious the original narration style was an awkward gimmick which took the focus away from the actual main characters. But beyond the usual awkwardness which comes with starting to write about new characters, there’s also the awkwardness of writing about real people.

I never wrote fanfiction for precisely that reason, because even the mere thought of writing about real people made me feel really awkward and self-conscious. I’d also hate to think anyone would accuse my alternative history of being no more than a long piece of fanfiction, simply because it tells the story I wish had really happened. The story has to be true to who these people actually were, while being a wholly original piece of fiction that picks up where these people’s stories ended in real life.


I have to keep reminding myself this story was inspired from a place of love and respect for that beautiful, innocent young man who didn’t deserve to be forever thirteen, murdered a month before his 14th birthday as though he were the lowest scum on Earth just because he was born to the wrong parents in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of the last Tsar’s five children, I’ve always had a soft spot for Aleksey because he was the youngest, so sickly, the victim of centuries of back-and-forth royal intermarriage, denied the chance to grow up and prove himself as a kind-hearted reformer instead of some out of touch autocrat like his father and grandfather. (Not to mention the fact that I’ve always related better to men than women, and preferred male friends to female.)

There have been so many books, both historical fiction and non-fiction, about the four Grand Duchesses, but little Alyosha seems to be left out in the cold precisely because he was so young and sickly. Many people fatalistically assume he would’ve died young anyway. But hemophilia wasn’t an automatic early death sentence, as shown by other royal hemophiliacs who lived into adulthood, such as Prince Leopold of England, Prince Waldemar of Prussia, and Prince Alfonso of Spain. And since I’m the one creating this story, why shouldn’t I make my hero one of the lucky ones?


13 thoughts on “IWSG—Books covers and writing about real people

  1. I’ve heard book industry insiders say good covers sell books, but it’s also important to note good covers can only sell so many books–good books is really what sells books. And multiple books by the same author available and priced reasonably. So much is subjective though; what makes a “good” cover or story? When you self-publish, they are all such personal decisions. I hope you find the best fit for your work!


  2. First impressions can make or discourage a sale. If a cover looks too amateurish, the book browser might pass by that book in favor of the cover that looks more professional. The logical conclusion in cases like these might be that if the cover comes across poorly that maybe the content of the book will be of similar caliber. Test marketing prior to publication is probably a good thing to try. At least you can get some general idea how people will react. Good packaging can sell a bad product, but a bad product is a warning to the consumer that they might want to avoid future releases. Poor packaging makes the job of marketing more difficult, but if customers like what you’re selling they are apt to come back for more regardless of what the packaging is like.

    Tossing It Out


  3. I think the fact that you do your covers makes them unique. Wherever I see them, I’ll know they are yours. They stand out, which is a good thing when many covers can look the same nowadays.


  4. I’m bad. I so judge a book by its cover first, then I’ll double check reviews. So if you can get lots of great reviews it won’t matter in end. Do what you feel is right though. It’s your story.

    Write any character the way you think they should be written. People like underdogs.


  5. I really like your new blog design – looking good! 🙂

    I definitely judge books by their covers, I have to say. But I do also check out reviews or at least ratings before buying a book even if it has a stunning cover.


  6. That’s awesome that you can change your covers as you go. You can also edit your book even after it’s been posted out there. Traditionally published authors don’t have that luxury.


  7. I like how you personalized your covers. I feel like I’ve gotten to know so much about you, your writing, and your interests from your blog posts and excerpts, as well as from Jakob Flew the Fiend Away. My books always feel too personal, but the ones that are really close to my heart are drawer manuscripts, and I don’t know if I’ll pull those out for revisions.


  8. I noticed your cover as I scrolled down here and saw it at Alex’s too. It’s eye-catching and to me indicates that Lyuba and Ivan’s love story is a classic one. Congrats on the release!

    Ooh, I love the idea of creating an alternat histroy for Aleksey. If passion for the story has stayed with you, you must write it.


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