The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
Front and Back Covers

Monday, June 13, 2011

Judging A Book By Its Cover

My historical novel, The Flight of the Sorceress, currently an E-book, will soon be released by Wild Child Publishing in print. Sales so far have been modest. The cover, shown here is essentially colorless, of a Roman frieze depicting the conquest of Rome over Britannia. I chose it originally because it symbolized not only the victory of an imperial force over an indigenous people but the gender connotation. Rome, the victor, is masculine, while Britannia, the vanquished is depicted as feminine. Indeed, many of the Celts who resisted Roman conquest were female and my novels protagonists are dominantly female. So the metaphor was apt.

But as we head for a print version of Flight of the Sorceress, I have come to realize that good metaphors do not necessarily make for good covers. That old sop, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” may be true enough, but readers do buy books based upon the covers. And you can’t judge a book until you read it. So the first step is to get the potential buyer to pick it up. Color helps there.

Although my editor, Marci Baun, and I have reached a consensus: The Flight of the Sorceress needs a new cover, front and back, this make-over has proved to be no easy task. We have honed down our goal. We want a picture, preferably a stock photo that includes a young, pretty redheaded woman, who might represent Glenys, the heroine of the story. The picture must be time-sensitive, as the story is set in the fifth century A.D.

My search involved several key words: Woman, Druid, Sorceress, Celt, Roman, ancient, classical, priestess, alchemist, Goddess, antiquity. I searched Google. I looked at all the stock photo sites. Then, when I found something that might be appropriate, I confronted
copyright issues.

But I started with a big mistake —Photobucket. A lot of people put pictures up on Photobucket. The site requires that the posting person have copyrights, but that doesn’t mean much because the site doesn’t seem to police the postings. You will find the same picture being used on several different websites. You frequently will not find any reference to copyright holders. Are these photos in the public domain? Can you use them as a cover picture on your book? Do you want to test the issue by getting a lawyer letter and then deciding whether to pull back all your print versions, or to fight it out and spend way more than you’ll ever make on your book? Here are some nice photos that I found on Photobucket but couldn’t use because there was inadequate copyright information.

 Maybe you can negotiate. Pay a licensing fee after the fact of printing. It is possible. But that lawyer the copyright holder has paid to enforce the copyright wants to prove his worth and knows he has you over a barrel. On the other hand, the copyright holder is getting a lot of free exposure for her work. Good book cover exposure can’t ever hurt, and the better the book does, the better known the copyright holder of the cover rights will be.

Marci and I looked as a couple of very nice potential cover photos. 
They are the work of fine artists. 

Licenses for these images as book 
covers are prohibitive. 

I looked at a stock photo site for a rendition of Pharos, the Alexandria lighthouse and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The copyright agent that licenses rights wanted over two hundred Euros for the rights. It’s a standard, non-negotiable fee, regardless of print run, likely sales, or any economic reality I can see. Crazy.

So that brought me down to stock photos.Stock photos though are no panacea. Though there are literally thousands available, many simply show up as too contemporary. Facial expressions are frequently inappropriate. Poses seem contrived. Costumes, where they exist at all, are garish, or the women look like whores. Some are cartoonish. Some are kitsch. Wrong messages abound. 

I looked at,,, and, I spent hours plowing through their trash photos. It was like I was the victim of some crime and the cops set me down with twenty-five years worth of mug shots. But the alternative is to hire an artist. I’ve done that.  I even supplied a cover photo to help it along. It cost me around $500 and that was in 2001. I think that cover could have come out better. But it was also a big chuck of change considering that I made 1000 sales in total.

I know we need a new cover for The Flight of the Sorceress. I know it will improve sales. So here is the rough outline of what we came up with. Obviously, it will be tweaked. Go ahead. Judge the book by this cover. Does this work with the title, and what you know about the book? Let me know what you think. 


  1. I like where the cover art is heading. Ancient, mystical, mysterious...very good. :)

  2. Have you considered just adding color to the existing cover? If the statuary were left as is, with the border and title in Roman Imperial purple, and the author name in white (on the purple border), I think you would have a cover with enough eye-grab. And no new license problems.

    Just a suggestion.

  3. Have you tried Maybe you can find something that wouldn't be too expensive by an artist trying to get a foot in somebodies door?

  4. It's beautiful.

    Although I can't help wondering whether the owl is is delivering mail or if she's sending something. I see a mystical woman with an owl and can't help thinking Harry Potter, especially since my family has decided to watch all of the movies now that they're beginning to show the trailer for The Deathly Hallows Part Two.

  5. Thanks everyone for your input. We looked at There's some very nice stuff on it but the artists are not realistic about the value of their work in the context of a book cover for a small publisher. It's one of those things where you have to know the business. For example, one artist wanted $250 for 1000 copies or fewer. That's 25 cents per cover IF you sell 1000 and you're out their as an author pushing it. It's like working as a sharecropper. Not for me. I respect IP and copyright, but the price still has to be right. We spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours researching and writing a novel. Artists can crank out a cover in fewer than 20, and I'm being generous. The economics of their expectations just don't work for me.