RAILWAY NOVEL: First Reactions are Vital

Thu, Feb 19th, 2015 4:16:54 pm

          When Arsenal Pulp Press sent me samples for the cover of my book, I was startled by their difference from covers for similar works. The samples had brash, trendy lettering in neon pink and lime green. I was hoping for a noble face of a Chinese worker (see one of my favorite covers, for BECKY CHAN (a novel set in Hong Kong, below), but high quality images for men of that era couldn't be found.
          Eventually, I signed off on the cover, which was close to the samples. I grew to like the design. It signals that my story is different. It's about coolies, not Chinese-Canadian families. It tries to convey the Taishan dialect. It involves a character of mixed Chinese/First Nations blood.
          My one regret is that the last "r" in "superior" on the cover obscures the dog on the tracks.
          Want to know what I mean by "different?" Look at the five covers for Chinese-Canadian historical fiction below. You'll find these features:

1.   Somber covers for serious stories.
2.   Authors' names are small.
3.   "China" is used. There is Chinese furnishings and designs. There are Chinese women: in a rice field, or in Chinese dress.
4.   Chinese faces are small, if not averted or cut-off.
5.   Nostalgia for the past.

          These covers relied on (1) curiosity about things historical and Chinese, and (2) interest in serious stories.
          The cover for THE SUPERIOR MAN relies on an interest in history and on people recognizing the author's name. The bright colors and large, playful font attract the gaze, especially those of a younger audience. The historic photo hints at the story (not China!) because the railroad is strong in the Canadian imagination.
          How do you readers pick your books? Is it the "look" of the cover, advice from others (friends, writers' blurbs, best-seller lists), or your interest in a topic or author?

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