As a tutor and teacher of literacy, the concept of using your imagination is huge. We teach our kids to work out for themselves what a character looks like, how the scenery will unfold and the twists and turns in plot lines. So...does showing the author's version of a character take that away from the reader?
You might have noticed that the covers of my novels are quite plain...very film noir with the dark backgrounds and pop of colour unique to each book in the series. I was 100% against putting a person on the cover. I didn't want readers to be misled or disappointed by my vision of my characters - I wanted them to create their own. I liked the idea of mysterious archways, given that my stories are based on time travel and moving through portals.
But publishing doesn't work that way, as I'm coming to discover. Nearly every cover designer, distributor, editor and larger publishing house will tell you that unless you're a huge author with a well established following, you put a girl on the cover of your book. You can't appeal to both male and female readers, you need to stick to one or the other. Your blurb needs to be fantastic...but not so wonderful that you give away your story. Your pricing needs to be competitive, but still earn you a living. And so on.
Just as everything else in life, everyone has an opinion on what you should and shouldn't do, and it can be incredibly overwhelming. Breakdown inducing, even. But as tough as it can get, this is where you know who really has your back. Who will tell you the truth, even if they know it isn't what you want to hear. People who will listen to you - really listen - let you vent/cry/rage, then pick you up off the floor, dust you off and point you back in the right direction. Those people are rare, and they're very valuable. I got so twisted and turned around that I commissioned a new book cover in the depths of my self loathing, convinced that I had done everything wrong. And given I know what it feels like to have someone pull out of a collaboration when you're a fair way in, there was no way I was walking away from it, even though I ultimately decided to stick with my plain Jane covers.
And the result was glorious. It's not finished yet, but the artistic vision of the creator is breathtaking. She took a wishy washy, umming and ahhing brief from me about something vague that I thought I wanted and she turned it into magic. Although I'm going to release all of my books with the plain covers first, I will now have some absolutely gorgeous covers waiting in the wings to re-cover my books when I reach my first million sales (jokes!). And I still get to appeal to male and female readers - something that I am perhaps even more stubborn about than putting a girl on the cover of my books. Literacy is important to every one, regardless of gender, interest, upbringing or social status. It is SO important to give our boys books to read that they can walk around with, without fear of being shamed by their peers. Given my books are in the YA category, that is especially important to me.
SO...given all that [spoilers ahead], I have chosen to share my imagination with you. I know that some readers are very visual, and some people like to see within the mind of the author. Take JK Rowling for example. Everyone knows what Harry Potter looks like, largely because of the casting of Daniel Radcliffe in the title role. I'd like you all to meet Harriet (below), and a cast of other characters as time goes by. The next to be released will be Lady Macbeth in the new Scourge of Scotland, a story that is taking a decidedly darker turn than Vault of Verona, as befits the gloriously bloody Macbeth. I'll talk a little about her in another blog post. She's fascinating.
I hope you love my artistic vision, but always remember that as the reader, the most flattering thing you can do for an author is to create your own image of what you think the characters look like. That's authentic reading, and that's true engagement with the stories I've created.