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The Seed of Joy

The author says:

A naive young American named Paul Harkin would do just about anything to escape the tedium of his home town, Lafayette, Indiana — including signing up for a stint overseas in the United States Peace Corps. His assignment serves up more than he ever expected. South Korea in 1979 is a hotbed of political turmoil, with student protesters going head-to-head with government riot police. He tries to stay above the fray. But when he falls in love with Han Mi Jin, a troubled pro-democracy activist, all bets are off. He defies the Peace Corps, the US government, and the Korean martial law authorities to take up her cause. When they become embroiled in the bloody Kwangju Uprising of May, 1980, in which nearly 2,000 people were killed by government troops, they risk losing everything.

Nathan says:

I’m sure that this cover will seem fitting to anyone who has read the novel, but that’s attacking it from the wrong end.  What can we put on this cover that will draw in the target reader?  There’s plenty of drama and conflict in your description, so how can we indicate this on the cover?  The silhouette of a couple embracing over a sea of upraised fists, maybe?

I’ll let other commenters do the heavy lifting of providing more suggestions.


  1. My reaction on seeing it, before reading the text was that it looked slightly Japanese and seemed to be based on marble.
    Using the Korean flag seems to me to be sensible – but I don’t know if there is any rule on using a nation’s flag on your book cover. In the UK, the union jack turns up lots of places – T-shirts, underpants… so maybe it is fine.

  2. Purely in terms of romance + political and martial turmoil,I have certainly seen books with a martial/riot scene at the bottom third, and then the romance couple from the waist up, in what should be the sky above the scene at the bottom – and they are much larger than the figures in the riot scene. Whether that is what is currently selling your type of book, I don’t know. Could have a backdrop of the Korean flag with it done so it is easier to recognise. (Finally dawned on me that your cover is part of the Korean flag.)
    You’ve not actually said who your book is aimed at but the description sounds like it is aimed mostly at a romance audience who like historical drama and angst with their romance. There are a lot of WW2 books of that ilk.
    I did a search on Amazon for WW2 and romance and came up with these on the first page
    Where I noticed that it is only the woman shown and not whoever she meets. Suspect these might be more romance than yours.
    If you have a feel for books it is like, then look at what the publishers are currently doing for those books. I say currently – because books that have been in print for a while may have different covers, some very different – publishers sometimes do new covers on books that look quite different. There also seems to be a bit of a trend of if something similar has just been a big hit, of putting on a new cover to look like the new big hit.
    I don’t currently read much in the romance against war, or war with some romance sort of category, so that is about all I can say to be helpful. What I would say is you need to clearly identify whether it is romance against war, or war with some romance, because those are close but different markets and will need different covers.

  3. The cover just does not convey anything about the novel, nor is it very interesting. The title seems to belong to a self-help or religious book, and the cover shows the flag of Korea. Korean haikus? Do they exist? (I do in general like the title, it just does not give much information on its own.)

    The cover should, I think in any case, give some hint of the drama and the romance inside. Perhaps a historical photograph of the unrest of the time, and the face of the woman superimposed on it, or the couple shown against a background of burning streets.Perhaps period propagandacould be used as the background? Or just one or the other, depending if you want to emphasize the romance, or just the historical drama.

    I tried to look at similar books in Amazon but all I found is that there is an awful lot of (American) ‘Civil War Romances’ – which creeps me out no end but that is irrelevant here – and most books about Asian romance show very pretty ‘china doll’ girls that do not really seem like activists. I liked the covers of James Clavell’s Asian novels like Shogun and Noble House, and this one – which is not in genre, but has the kind of image I thought of when reading the description.

  4. Further thoughts – re-reading your text it comes across very much as his coming of age story. You might want to research coming of age books.
    Does she get a viewpoint at all, or is it all through his eyes?
    I am also wondering about a style of cover where you have the political march background picture, he is front left and big, she is back a bit and smaller – larger than the crowd, and maybe in colour while the background is black and white, but not as big as him. Shows their relative importance to the story.
    If they are actually both of equal importance, then your text needs to mention her take on all of this. (Quickly hacked together example: when Han Mi Jin first saw Paul, she thought he was another wet behind the ears do-gooder, who wouldn’t last. Three months later his practicality and determination were still impressing her.)

  5. It’s an attractive graphic but, as pretty much everyone else has pointed out, it is meaningful only to someone who has already read the book…which is putting the cart before the horse.

    You need to find an image that conveys more directly and immediately the themes, ideas and setting of the story—which the current one does not.

  6. Historical fiction covers are tricky. There isn’t a lot of uniformity, but nevertheless I think you’re going the wrong direction. The palette seems right–a lot of historical has sepia-toned desaturated colors–but the imagery is too bold and looks more thrillery.

    Looking at examples, most historical fiction covers fall into two categories: People (small or obscured) or landscapes (atmospheric). I’d suggest you go one of those directions.

  7. I agree with everyone else; while I rather like the subtle, tasteful imagery–it’s not great for this book, because it’s not telling the prospective buyer what s/he’s looking at. The simple fact that you felt compelled to use the “a novel” language should tell you that the cover isn’t telling the buyer enough upfront. (Unless you can’t get around it, don’t use “a novel.” Everybody should have no doubt that it’s a novel.)

    No point in repeating what the others have said.

    I’d also refont the title. I like the title, but the font is really boring. That’s a missed opportunity, too. (Even if you simply use a plainish font, but find some sort of Korean character to use, near it, it would be better. I don’t know what the Korean version of Kanji are called, but that would be what I’d seek first to use at/near the text.)

    Granted, you have to be very, very careful about the lettering; you don’t want the cover to look either stereotyped, like the ubiquitous Chinese Restaurant signage or menu, or unreadable. There are a couple that are viable, but even ignoring those, try something with a little flair to it. A little more panache.

    My last comment is, even though I agree that the sepia-toning of the cover works well in an historical way, you should shoot for some stronger contrast, somewhere. Something that will snag or grab the eye of the person browsing the stacks of now millions–millions–of self-pubbed titles at Amazon, not to mention the trade-pubbed books. You could, perhaps, use the bright red and blue of the S. Korean Flag, to do that.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Not only is the South Korean flag on the cover not very indicative of the book’s contents, but it’s not very recognizable as South Korea’s flag since you’ve only got half of it there. If not for the Do Jang in which I took Tae Kwon Do classes as a teenager having one of those flags, I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess from the thumbnail that this book would have something to do with South Korea. This cover’s not only too generic, but also too obscure to the vast majority of your prospective readers.

    Anyway, if you’re going to do a combined political thriller and romance, your best bet (as others have already noted) is to look at book covers and movie posters for similar works. The example coming to mind for me is the 1982 movie The Year of Living Dangerously, with an international couple having a love affair against the backdrop of a lot of political turmoil in Indonesia. Sound like a familiar setup?

    Notably, there are several different trailers and posters for that movie, with some emphasizing the political turmoil, and others focusing more on the loving couple played by Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver (both of whom were very young and very easy on the eyes at the time). While you probably don’t have enough budget for variant covers the way movie advertisers do, you do have the benefit of knowing which aspects of the story you wish to emphasize and in what ratio to each other. With that in mind, all you need is some background image that specifically points to the 1979 turmoil in South Korea (whether it’s marching protesters, burning streets, or just people waving banners or whatever the turmoil involved) and the protagonist couple either superimposed in the foreground (if this story is mainly about them) or at the center of the background (if this story is mainly about the turmoil). How close the two are to the “camera” depends on the story’s ratio of the protagonist couple’s importance to the setting’s importance; the higher the ratio, the closer the two lovebirds should be and the lower the ratio, the more of the background we should be seeing.

    As to making sure your audience knows this is set in South Korea? Shouldn’t be too difficult: from what I’ve seen of it, Korean lettering generally has more loops and curls in it than Chinese and Japanese, so the language on any signs, banners, or clothing a crowd of Korean protesters might have should make the setting pretty obvious. If all else fails, you can always just find a shot with them waving their country’s flag, or (if you’re good at manipulating a picture without looking like you’ve manipulated the picture) shop one in.

  9. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and your spirit of helpfulness! I’ve learned a lot from each of you. You can be sure I’m taking them to heart. I’ll repost when I get further along.

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