Friday, September 6, 2013

Chris Eboch on Cover Design

A teacher friend of mine used my middle grade mystery, The Eyes of Pharaoh, with her gifted students. Before the kids started the book, she asked them to look at the cover (art by Lois Bradley) and describe what they thought the book was about. (Here's your chance to make your own guess.)

And here are some of their answers (with the spelling cleaned up):

  • I think this is about a girl that find the tomb that dates back to ancient Egypt and also the tomb was never found by scientists.
  • I think the book will be about a spirit Pharaoh wanting to go to the afterlife, but can’t read hieroglyphics. So all of a sudden a girl sneaked inside and ended up helping the Pharaoh.
  • I think it is about a girl that is running away from something. And she is trying to find something out, something that she is not supposed to find out.
  • This book is probably about a girl in Egypt who discovered something about the Pharaoh, or maybe she did something and now the Pharaoh is after her.
  • I think the book is about a girl who is running from someone or something. Most obviously it is also about Egypt and hieroglyphics. It is apparently a mystery novel and maybe about some type of god.
  • I think the book will be about a mystery. By the front it looks to me that she is getting chased by something through a pyramid.
  • I think the book is about a Pharaoh watching a girl. I think she is scared because she thinks he’s going to kill her.

How close were they? Here’s the long version of the book synopsis:

The Eyes of Pharaoh, 1177 BC: During the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the Third, Seshta, a 13-year-old dancer in the Temple of Hathor, dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Horus, the brother of her heart, is content as a toymaker’s apprentice. Reya, at 16, has joined Egypt’s army with hopes of becoming a hero. Despite their different paths, nothing can break the bonds of their friendship.

When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt?

Then Reya disappears. Seshta and Horus set out to find him—and discover a darker plot than they ever imagined. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

Set in ancient Egypt, the ideas in this book echo in the international politics of today, while the power of friendship will touch hearts both young and old. Suitable for ages 9 and up.

Do you think the kids got a good enough impression of the book from the cover? Many of them did pick up on some aspects of the story – a female main character, mystery, and of course ancient Egypt, although some kids thought the book would be set there, while others thought it involved a modern girl traveling back in time or investigating ancient tomb. This is probably more accurate than what I could get from a lot of book covers. And I guess the most important question is not, “Does the cover accurately portray what’s inside the book?” but rather, “Does it make a potential reader want to read the book?”

How much do you judge a book by its cover? Is it more important to capture aspects of the plot, or the overall tone?

Read the opening chapter of The Eyes of Pharaoh at Chris's website or download a sample from the book’s Amazon page.

Chris is also the author of The Well of Sacrifice, an adventure in ninth-century Mayan Guatemala.


  1. The overall tone IS important. But I do feel it's vital to either be as accurate as possible with conveying things in the actual book.

    It would seem weird to have a cover of a female MC wearing a dress, but she's a tomboy and doesn't wear dresses, and that would be inaccurate, and I do think many girls (Even the non-tomboys) will cry "FOWL" right there.

    While writers may notice it more readily, it DOES bother lay readers, at least those I know, and I don't feel false advertising aids the reader-to-author experience.

    Especially when we talk of matters involving diversity as done on this blog a short time ago.

    As the author you'd hate that characters who are authentically French, for instance, that you take GREAT PAINS to be as true to them as humanly possible, are portrayed in a inauthentic even cartoony stereotypical way on the cover.

    I feel that's it's part of why authors shy away from tackling diversity in an overt way.

    As authors we (IDEALLY) orchestrate the words, but have little or no say in how those words are packaged in respect to covers or any interior illustrators the book will have.

    So I'm of two minds of how accurate in tone to what covers mean for readers, and I just have a harder time with thinking about covers as an author versus a lay reader.

    The only exception I can think of is the Hermux Tantamoq series by Michael Hoeye.

    You learn from the blurb and first pages of each your entering a wondrous animal fantasy, but I feel those covers that depict the tone but not the characters(Particularly the European editions), make it easier for kids and teens to give the book a chance and not immediately think "I've outgrown Disney and all that jazz."

    I personally love when the characters are shown as the humanlike, self-aware,creatures they are. The covers for "A Rat's Tale" and "The Wainscott Weasel" both by Tor Seidler, and illustrated so brilliantly by the late Fred Marcelino.

    I WISH he was still alive and ask my editor to strongly consider him for cover and interior illustration.

    1. Good points, Taurean. Whether or not the cover accurately shows a specific scene from the book, the characters and setting shouldn't be completely different. It's offensive if cover characters are shown as "whiter," and mistakes in cover art could even affect a book's sales and the author's reputation – for example if non-fiction or historical fiction has inaccuracies on the cover, teachers might think the text will also have errors and refuse to use the book in the classroom.

    2. True, and it's why I hope more publishers going forward will at least consult with their authors on matters like this, because lost sales over possible misleading or inappropriate covers and/or interior illustrations affects them as much as us where both sales and reputation are concerned.

      That said, there are times when taking the unconventional road works, like my example of the covers for the Hermux Tantamoq series.

      (Which you can see here:

      While I personally love seeing characters on the cover, I can understand the choice made for this was a way to make the books reflect the sophistication and entice readers who might not otherwise read them for thinking they're babyish when they're not.

      They certainly wouldn't make tweens and teens feel self-conscious, as apart from the first book having "Mouse" in the title, you could think the other three are any kind of book from the outside, and hey "Of Mice and Men" didn't alienate the thousands who've read it (I haven't yet, but I'm making a broad point, LOL.), and there was an actual mouse in the story, though more naturalistic I'd imagine than the aforementioned series.

      It also opens the reader to imagine the characters as they wish.

      Obviously that's one area where you can better head this off via self-publishing.

      But there need to be ways to address this via the traditional model without at the same time falling into the "Control Freak" trap non-illustrator authors can get into, and not always because they're inherent egomaniacs, you know?


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!