Choosing the colours of book covers

Covers I loveIt’s a well-worn statement, a cliché even, that it’s the book cover that sells the book.

I’d refine that a little. What a cover does first is grab a browser’s attention, nothing more. You’ve made them pause, even stop to investigate further. If they pick it up or click on its image, that’s a second victory.  Perhaps they’ll read the back cover, then flick the book open to test a paragraph or two on the first page, then drop it or buy it. And that’s it. In a few seconds, they’ve made their decision to add to that author’s royalties or not.

Before I first published INCEPTIO through SilverWood Books , I took weeks to collect a selection of covers I liked. I chose them all on pure instinct, not giving myself the chance to think about it. Click and copy, save, close document. You can see the whole selection by clicking on the image to the right.

My conclusion?  What attracted me was a strong central image with two messages; one clear and one underneath. Also, all those I liked were bold colours.

First editions (2013-2018)

When I specified the INCEPTIO cover to the SilverWood design team, I asked for a gold symbol with imperial purple. Purple signifies Rome, power, strength, royalty, rarity; the gold eagle is a sign of Rome, America and the Nazis. Oh, the latter wasn’t so good, but the ‘aquila’ is the classic Roman symbol so that’s what ended up on the cover. 😉

INCEPTIO_front cover, first edition

First edition cover

I decided then that each book should reflect the content.

PERFIDITAS was red –  the colour of betrayal as well as of Mars (god of war), anger and blood.

SUCCESSIO’s blue cover suggested midnight and coldness; the villain is a real shocker, calculating and cold-hearted and many of the pivotal scenes take place in the dark of night.

For AURELIA, the gold emblem of the first three became a silver one, a reflection of Roma Nova’s most important natural resource which is central to the plot and a way of showing we’re into a new cycle of stories within the Roma Nova series. The green background? Dark like the other covers, yet it brings in the Roman ideas of youth, vigour and evergreen along with the suggestion of dark trees and the Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. A significant part of the action of AURELIA takes place in Germany. Will she end up like Varus, defeated in a dark forest?

INSURRECTIO had a black cover to signify the darkness of the story; combined with the silver logo common to the second strand in the Roma Nova series (AURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO), this cover recalls the uniform of a brutal tyranny of the 20th century in our own timeline.

The following book, RETALIO, had an amber colour to signify endurance, yet warmth, the fire of battle, yet light shining through. Amber has semi-mythical connotations of courage, balance and ancient right.

CARINA, the novella, ended up with a colour in between  purple and red as the story took place between those INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS. (I can be practical sometimes!)

New covers(!)

When I decided in early 2019 to completely revamp the Roma Nova covers, I gave the new designer a wide brief, but specified the colours had to say the same as the originals, not just for sentimental reasons but to stay with the original symbolism.

I hope you agree these new covers are more attention grabbing but that the colours have remained true to Roma Nova.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Where DID those Roma Nova titles come from?

Choosing book titles is like being prodded by Pluto in the underworld with a red hot trident for eternity.  One commenter on social media said: “They sound great, but I can’t help but cringe at the titles. Not quite Latin. I suppose that’s probably the point, but ouch. Intriguing, though.

I admit, I thought ‘ouch’ back, but also smiled to myself. Perhaps she hadn’t looked them up on one of the excellent online dictionaries such as Perseus (Tufts University)LatDictNotre Dame University or a good paper Latin dictionary (OLD or Collins).

So I’m taking the opportunity of changing the covers to spiffy new ones to go into the gory detail. You have been warned…

INCEPTIO
inceptio, inceptionis
noun, 3rd declension, gender: feminine
Definitions: start, beginning, an undertaking, enterprise
Age: In use throughout the ages/unknown
Area: All or none
Geography: All or none
Frequency: For Dictionary, in top 20,000 words
Source: Oxford Latin Dictionary, 1982 (OLD)

CARINA
A feminine derivative of carus, cara
adjective
Definitions: costly, precious, valued, dear, beloved
Age: In use throughout the ages/unknown
Area: All or none
Geography: All or none
Frequency: Very frequent, in all elementary Latin books, top 1000+ words
Source:“Oxford Latin Dictionary”, 1982 (OLD)

PERFIDITAS
I’ll admit PERFIDITAS is partly made up! It’s based on
perfidia, perfidiae
noun, 1st declension, gender: feminine
Definitions: faithlessness, treachery, perfidy
Age: In use throughout the ages/unknown
Area: All or none
Geography: All or none
Frequency: For Dictionary, in top 20,000 words
Source: General, unknown or too common to say

The trouble was there was a very popular song called ‘Perfidia‘ written by Mexican Alberto Dominguez and which has been recorded by countless artists. I didn’t want the book to look as if it was about a girl called Perfidia, so I piggy-backed perfidia onto the form used in romanitas (‘Roman-ness’) to change the word but retain the meaning.

SUCCESSIO
successio, successionis
noun, 3rd declension, gender: feminine
Definitions: succession (to position/ownership w/GEN), successors collectively
Age: In use throughout the ages/unknown
Area: Legal, Government, Tax, Financial, Political, Titles
Geography: All or none
Frequency: For Dictionary, in top 10,000 words
Source: Oxford Latin Dictionary, 1982 (OLD)

AURELIA
Plain and simple – a Latin woman’s name. The most famous Aurelia in Roman history was the well connected Aurelia Cotta, the mother of G Julius Caesar.
The gens Aurelia was a plebeian family of Rome. They served the Republic with distinction and flourished under the Empire. Many later families of citizens enrolled under the authority of emperors or magistrates bearing this nomen took  Aurelius as their new citizen name. It became so common that by the latter centuries of the Empire it became difficult to distinguish members of the gens from other people bearing the name.

INSURRECTIO
insurrectio, ōnis
noun, 3rd declension, gender: feminine
Definitions: a rising up, insurrection
Age:In use throughout the ages/unknown
Area:All or none
Geography:All or none
Frequency:For Dictionary, in top 20,000 words
Source: A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by. Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879.

RETALIO
rĕ-tālĭo , āre,  verb
Definition: to retaliate
A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by. Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879.

RETALIO is a slight cheat as the usual word for retaliation in Latin, talio,  doesn’t have the ‘re’ in front of it, but I thought it would make more sense to 21st century readers with the prefix.

talio, onis
Definition: retaliation
Age: In use throughout the ages/unknown
Area: All or none
Geography: All or none
Frequency: 2 or 3 citations
Source: Charles Beard, “Cassell’s Latin Dictionary”, 1892 (CAS)

Five and two halves out of six ain’t too bad, I think.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

All change at Roma Nova!

I knew it was one of your books – you have such a strong brand.”
This kind reader tweeted this a year ago and my little heart swelled. The gold futuristic eagle on a dark background had spread its wings everywhere.

Scroll back to 2013. Excited in the run-up to the publication of INCEPTIO, my first book, I was stunned by the cover that SilverWood Books produced. Here was the embodiment of my book: imperial purple, a gold eagle, symbol of Roman power, yet in a thoroughly modern design. Added to that, the ‘proper’ Roman font – Trajan Pro – as seen on inscriptions still visible across Europe. A tingle flowed through my body. (Well, it was exciting!)

And so it has been for the past five years and eight books, each book with a different deep jewel-like cover echoing the contents.

 

But times change. People change. Habits and wishes change.

When historians write about our age, the one expression to characterise it will be ‘continuous change’. I’ll come clean. My book sales are steady and from the comments by readers, I gather they enjoy them enough to give them hundreds of five stars across the series. But I’d love to discover more readers and introduce Roma Nova to them. So I dived into the murky science of marketing.

What do potential new readers expect when they see my covers? Do they see adventure thrillers featuring strong heroines, a touch of history and mystery, tales of courage, failure, triumph, heartache and resolve? Hm. Perhaps the eagle image, dark colours and Roman script no longer had that elusive ‘pick-up’ element.
Learning point: Emotion and character needed to be brought in.

Did the covers convey action and movement? Certainly, they conveyed strength and purposefulness, but there was no hint of risk, personal danger or taking the initiative. And you can’t say that either of my heroines, Carina or Aurelia, is backward in any of those aspects!
Learning point: Show some dynamism.

People vs. patterns. I rejected a cover with a face in 2013 because I couldn’t see it fitting within the graphic. It would have confused the impact of the eagle. From a five years’ later viewpoint, I still think that was the right decision. Trying to fit everything together is not a good approach, nor is overcrowding a cover. The whole concept needed a complete rethink.
Learning point: Don’t tinker – start again.

Being hard-headed, the job of a book cover is to let readers know what it’s about and whether they might be interested – all within a second or two. If the cover isn’t compelling passers-by (real or virtual) to look further by reading the summary and reviews, they won’t come near to buying.

Researching this was a hard process. Taking the decision to change the whole look of the Roma Nova covers was excruciating. But I had five solid years of experience in the book world: interacting with readers, absorbing reviews, listening to fellow authors, discovering new techniques and trends. I was also expanding the series, firstly by dropping in a novella (CARINA), then a collection of short stories (ROMA NOVA EXTRA) Currently I’m drafting a novella set in the 1970s featuring Aurelia, set between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO, which would further mess up the existing numbering order!

A fresh approach to the whole series was needed. I’ve decided to split the stories into two strands within the Roma Nova series: Carina Mitela adventures and Aurelia Mitela adventures.

Readers have described my books as a cross between Lindsey Davis’ Roman detective Falco and The Hunger Games. They’ve also been likened to Manda Scott and Kate Mosse’s books. Conn Iggledun, Simon Scarrow, Elizabeth Chadwick, Sue Cook and Kate Quinn have said nice things about them. I’d like to think they’d appeal to readers of JD Robb and Robert Harris (or is that hubris?).

Back to the covers…

I commissioned Jessica Bell Design to draw up some concepts for the whole series and chose the one that conveyed the ‘feel’ of Roma Nova best. But then I had to put my own emotional response aside and use my logical brain. Which would most appeal to readers? And address the learning points from my analysis?
I asked Jessica to keep the original background colours: INCEPTIO purple, PERFIDITAS blood red, CARINA in between, SUCCESSIO blue, AURELIA green, INSURRECTIO black and RETALIO amber and to include the signature eagle graphic in the mix.

She was a joy to work with: imaginative, professional and supportive, especially of some of my dafter ideas. But she was also ruthless in a very friendly way when my suggestions were off-piste; she was right every time.

Left to right: Joanna Penn, Jessica Bell, me, Rebecca Lang at the London Book Fair 2017

Left to right: Joanna Penn, Jessica Bell, me, Rebecca Lang at the London Book Fair 2017

Delighted isn’t the right word. Thrilled is a bit nearer. Ecstatic is nearly there. Shocked and overwhelmed in a very positive way is better. Judge for yourselves. I think Roma Nova is about to storm off on some exciting new adventures.

Coming for the ride?

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.