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Gladness Goes to the City

The author says:

Marguerite Martyn was a noted journalist and artist in 1910s U.S.A. Besides her serious reporting (always accompanied by her drawings), she occasionally wrote lighter fiction, which appeared on the newspaper’s feature page. The book is based on one of those fictional pieces. It’s about a girl named Gladness. This will be one of a series based on Martyn’s reporting and including her sketches.

Nathan says:

Hm. Hm, hm, hm.  Your description gives us very little to go on, really, unless your target audience really, really likes early 20th-century female journalists. With that said, I think we can offer some constructive advice from a pure design standpoint.

  1. You’ve divided the cover in an odd spot — almost-but-not-quite center.  And as you can see especially in the thumbnail, the real estate in the lower half seems terribly under-utilized compared to the top half, which is nearly unintelligible due to the detail and lack of color.  I think you should let the illustration take up about 3/5ths of the cover.
  2. Extend an unobtrusive border around the top half — the off-white background of the illustration conveys the idea of “old paper,” but it clashes with the white-white that will be surrounding it on most ebook vendor sites.
  3. Lose the third font for your byline. Just reuse the title font again.

Other comments?


  1. Let me see if I’ve got this straight: basically, you’re republishing a number of pieces of light fiction this Marguerite Martyn wrote for a newspaper back in the 1910s as individual e-books? Certainly, the old-time monochrome sketch style of the illustration suits the concept, but is it really a good idea to go mixing old rough-cut illustration like that with the clean-cut lines and bright colors of the modern-looking lower part of your cover? The way I figure it, you ought to proceed with all of one style or the other; and for this kind of literature, I favor the style of the old rough-cut illustration over the more modern-looking one.

    As long as you’re using the original author’s sketches, which are certainly reminiscent of Gilded Age illustration, I recommend putting those sketches directly in the middle of the cover with the titles and bylines on the top and bottom. I also recommend using a sepia-toned background and an old-time style of font for your various captions to match the artwork. Since you’re more of an editor than an author, you should also make Marguerite Martyn’s byline bigger and more prominent than your own; credit where it’s due, you know.

    Here’s a general example of how I think your cover ought to look. While a biography of Thomas Nast is obviously not quite the same thing as what you’re doing, I think the general layout and design of the cover at that link would suit your subject matter just as well. If you want to add some color, there’s also this cover for The Sting, which I can testify from owning a copy (though it doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon) was shot straight to the cover of the novelization from the movie poster and VHS/DVD covers. Another possible template: the cover to Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm. (As you can see, illustration styles didn’t change much from the nineteenth century to the early twentieth.)

    In any case, do as these designers have done, and put the subject of the illustrations at the center of your cover, both vertically and horizontally. Right now, the girl Gladness (that’s her next to the guy waving his fedora, right?) seems to have been shunted off to the top-right corner; she ought to be front-and-center. For best results, see if you can find a font exactly like the one used in whatever the newspaper was where these stories were originally published, and use that for all your captions.

    The target audience for old-time writings is probably a bit limited, but however many prospective readers are in the market for this kind of old-fashioned literature, you can probably snag the vast majority of them by displaying all these old-fashioned illustrations in the old-fashioned style they’re expecting to see.

  2. I’m a little unclear on the description. If this is nonfiction or a reprint of a classic work (or otherwise intended more or less for the nonfiction audience), the concept is fine and I’d just follow Nathan’s suggestions. (I’m not in love with the title font, though; I’d pick something more period-appropriate.)

    If it’s historical fiction intended to appeal to that audience, then you need a different approach. Looking at top titles in the genre, we don’t see a lot of boxes, borders, or divided covers, nor (perhaps surprisingly) a lot of period art–it’s mostly large, antiqued modern photos of people or landscapes with period-appropriate typography arranged to fit around it. If that’s your intended market, you probably want to do something similar.

  3. For Nathan: Yes, I am banking that the target audience will like this journalist, who is also the illustrator. You give good advice about increasing the size of the graphic and surrounding it with a border. I am doing this all myself and, as you can tell, I am not an artist. There will be other books with more of Martyn’s reporting and illustrations.

    For RK: This particular book features one of Marguerite’s fanciful flights of imagination. The other books will feature her actual reporting and illustrating current events, from national political conventions to women’s suffrage to child labor and high-society debutantes. She covered them all. I’ll find another image and redraw the cover with Gladness in the center as you suggest. I will also find some older type, although the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, from which these stories are drawn, used a fairly avant-garde (for the day) font. But I will look. I will look up those covers you suggested. Thank you.

    For Katz: No, it is no fiction. It’s a period piece. There will be a lot of art: The graphics count more than the words, actually, although the words tie it all together. Tell me, though, Katz, would the action on the cover make a woman want to open the book? Women are the primary target.

  4. Hmm, you’ve mentioned appealing to women a couple of times, but I’m not sure how much help I can give you because, of course, there are a lot of us and we like a lot of different things. For instance, a nice spaceship on the cover will do for me, but I sense that’s not the audience you’re looking for.

    If this is indeed a reprint of a public domain historical work (still not 100% clear on that), all your cover has to do is be clear and look professional, so you’re home free. If you’re hoping to attract readers (male or female) with the cover, I’d copy those HF or history covers: A nice big historical photograph or realistic painting that draws the eye, preferably of a person, plus a helpful subtitle to explain what we’re looking at.

    1. Well, katz, I’ve redesigned the cover, following your and other folks’ suggestions, and I hope to be able to post it here & will await your comment.

      No, the books will not simply be reprints. I put a lot of myself in them and also edit the text to make it easier to read. You can see some in another series (true crime), but quite similar, by typing my name in the search engine.

      Writing nonfiction is harder than writing fiction, it seems to me, ’cause I can’t make stuff up. No flights of fancy, although flights of interpretation is allowed.

      As for rocket ships, I wrote a piece in the fifth grade about rocket ships but it wasn’t very good, though my teacher liked it.

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