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China – dating, marriage and living in the Middle Kingdom [resubmit]

The author says:

Attempts has been made to redesign the cover to take into consideration the comments of those that gave their time and advice. Thank you.

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

I’d say it’s a definite improvement over the first version, but it still has significant problems.  One of the commenters here often proposes this test: If this were a foreign edition of the book — i.e., if all of the text were translated into a language that the observer does not speak (in this case it would obviously be some other language which uses the Latin alphabet) — would the observer know anything about the book?

In this case, the answer is most definitely NO. The only actual image on the cover is the yin-yang symbol which, once one knows the book is about cross-cultural marriage, makes some sense, but that’s putting things in reverse order.

In addition, the punctuation and capitalization isn’t consistent with common use in book titles, and the “Care about me” (which I assume is a translation of the characters directly above it) is an odd phrase in English which doesn’t convey romance.

If someone were to come to me with this book and ask me to design a cover, my strongest impulse would be to find a stock image of an Asian woman in a smiling but chaste embrace with a Caucasian man, and crop it so that the woman is the clear focus of the cover (just enough of the man would show to indicate his presence and race/ethnicity).  The clear image of cross-cultural romance could then be reinforced and clarified by the text.

Any other comments?


  1. Given the rather minimalist nature of covers to relationship guides in general, I can’t fault the author for following my recommendations to go mainly with text and not so much with art on the cover. That said, the text and the minimalist symbol don’t quite say what they need to say: the yin-yang symbol by itself does hint at this being about something to do with Asianculture in general, but not specifically Chinese culture and romance. (Japanese and Korean people have something like that symbol too.) As for the text, it’s still done in rather bland fonts, and the color scheme doesn’t really suggest anything romantic; about the only part that has improved is the wording of the title itself, which is now a lot more straightforward if also little bit bland.

    While our host’s recommendation of a stock image of a Western man and Chinese woman embracing might suffice, that might also be a bit overly complex. For a more minimalist approach, I say why not simply slap a big ol’ red heart done up in the style of the Chinese flag on the cover? Moreover, when I suggested doing the titles in both Chinese and English, I meant all the text on the cover, and with the Chinese preferably in some font that’s romantic in a kind of cutesy way and preferably done in hot pink or lavender or some similarly “girly” romantic color.

    As mentioned concerning the title, well, it’s a definite improvement; but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be improved even more. The “Middle Kingdom” reference is good, but the full title is a bit wordy; maybe something just a little more concise? My suggestion would be Chinese Women: the Western Man’s Guide to Love & Marriage in the Middle Kingdom.

    On a final note, from the strange phrasing and wording in the description and on the cover, am I right in guessing that English is the author’s second language? (As I learned from the Paradoxical Grammar Rules, “Verbs has to agree with their subjects.”) If so, I would definitely recommend getting a native speaker of English to edit the text on the cover and in the rest of the book; while your prospective readers probably won’t mind if the English is a bit informally conversational, such obviously broken English and foreign phrasing will have them doubting how well the author knows his target audience’s culture. Since you’re already selling to a niche market, you really don’t want to shrink your pool of prospective readers any further.

  2. If the book is a “man’s” guide, why would you want to use ‘cute’ or ‘romantic’ imagery? Is that really going to appeal to the target audience (men)?

  3. The comments thus far seem a bit hung up on ‘romance’ – certainly would be nice to think all marriages, dating etc. stem from that, but it’s interesting that the author/submitter doesn’t use that word at all on this version of the cover. Nathan felt that “care about me” doesn’t invoke the concept of romance – but traditional western vows (“in sickness and in health”) seem to say exactly that.

    1. These are matters of using the language to the best advantage. While it’s true that we critics on this site tend to emphasize the importance of the imagery on the cover over that of the text (to the point that we even tend to talk more about what font the titles and taglines use than about what they actually say), one’s choice of words on a cover does still matter a great deal. For titles and taglines, merely being comprehensible is not enough: the words must also convey a relevant manner and mood to the readers.

      Concerning the word “romance” in particular, we critics are using it in the active sense here: as a verb, rather than a noun. When one speaks of “romancing” a woman, the term conveniently refers to each and every part of pursuing a sexual relationship with her up to and including the marriage: flirting, going out on dates, giving gifts, proposing, getting engaged, and exchanging vows at the wedding. We’re not recommending that the cover look romantic in the passive sense the way romance novel covers do (they being invitations to the prospective reader to be a spectator of some happy couple’s romance rather than a participant in it), but that it bring to mind the various things one does when romancing a woman: heart symbols, for instance, to remind readers of sending valentines; and maybe some fancy-looking handwriting to remind them of writing love letters and/or wedding invitations.

      As for the “Care about me” phrase, the problem with it isn’t whether it’s relevant to romance, but rather that it’s a phrase native speakers don’t use. Like the phrase “could need” one sometimes hears foreigners say, there’s nothing wrong with the grammar or syntax, but anyone who says it is automatically marked as a foreigner speaking English as a second language. Just as we almost always say “could use” or “might need” rather than “could need” when talking about something being a potential necessity, so too we native speakers almost always say something like “Think about my needs for a change!” or “Don’t you care what I want?” rather than “Care about me!” Moreover, the “Care about me” phrase on this cover is also completely devoid of context to imbue it with any meaning, there being no one visibly present to be saying it.

      Bearing in mind that the target audience for this book is Western men who mostly don’t understand the finer nuances of Chinese culture yet, one must translate not only the words but the cultural concepts to which the words refer. Even if “Care about me” is some traditional part of a typical Chinese wedding vow, no typical English-speaking Western man is likely to know this; hence the importance of this phrase will be lost in the translation. The rough equivalent that he would understand would be the traditional “to have and to hold” part of the typical Western wedding vow.

      Finally, on the subject of whether “cute” and “romantic” imagery would appeal to the men to whom the book is targeted: my idea is that the Chinese elements should seem distinctly feminine while the English (and Western) parts should be distinctly masculine. In the eyes of most Western males, hearts and flowers and rainbows and other “cute” things are generally considered feminine, while muscles and machinery and monuments and other awe-inspiring things are generally considered masculine. Thus, using a “cute” feminine Chinese font and some vaguely awe-inspiring masculine English font together gives the prospective reader the subtle impression that the author is “translating” the Chinese woman’s femininity along with her language and culture into something he can more readily understand.

  4. My first thought reading the title was that this was a historical treatise about marriage in ancient China. Partly that’s because the title abruptly changes font and color part way through, which makes it look like “A Western man’s guide to” isn’t part of the title. And then there’s “Care about me” hanging out there in the middle, and it’s not obvious whether it’s a subtitle, a tagline, or what.

    You can break up your title two ways: Either use “A Western Man’s Guide to China” as the main title and then “Dating, Marriage, and Living in the Middle Kingdom” as the subtitle in a smaller font, or keep the whole title together, in which case you should use a colon instead of a dash. Either way, since it’s a title, it belongs in title case.

    Either way, you’ve got to lose that 1970s font and you should pick a color scheme of some kind rather than using all three of red, yellow, and blue.

    So those are the main problems with the title. That’s before we even get to the imagery.

    Alternately, hire a professional.

  5. Dear Host and advisers,

    I very much appreciate all of the comments that you submit but I cannot help being a little confused. I have lived and worked in China as a married man for a long period. I speak the language and know the culture well (as best a Western person can). The Yin-yang symbol is 3rd century Chinese culture and yes it has also been extensively used in some other countries but I would of thought that its use conveyed China well enough especially as the title mentioned China boldly.

    You folks have not read the text of the book so you do not know that the text is gutsy and written for “men”. Whilst it is “gutsy” it also conveys much respect for Chinese women. I struggle to understand why Western men would be attracted to a cover of a “gutsy” book that has “girly” inferences and a pretty “romantic” approach.

    Obviously I am not a graphic designer but I am a man who has been through the mill in China. Believe me I know my stuff and that is why the book is “gutsy”. I am sick and tired of reading disrespectful rubbish written by people that have had one girlfriend in China and think they know everything. Sorry, I wander. I may be totally wrong but “hearts” and pretty pictures don’t do it for me. Maybe I am too close to the subject to appreciate the benefits.

    Sure I will send the book to a graphic designer to finish. I want the cover to reflect some man’s thinking and “guts” about the topic. I am a man, I love and respect Chinese women, I want Western men to understand the subject and believe me, I know how to advise them. Straight to the point and “gutsy”. A man’s book in other words.

    Yours with respect and thanks.

    1. Well, as I’ve been telling Michael here, this being a guide to romancing Chinese women, your cover needs both feminine and masculine elements: the feminine to emphasize that this book is specifically about Chinese women (Western women seeking to land themselves a Chinese man will presumably have to look elsewhere), and the masculine to emphasize that the guide is for Western men. As a rule, when advertising a dating and marriage guide targeted to an exclusively male audience, the message one always tries to convey is that this handy guide will help its readers make sense of these exotic and mysterious creatures known as girls and women. That the women your book is offering to demystify are also Chinese makes them that much more exotic and mysterious, and therefore convincing your readers that your guide is just what they need should be that much easier.

      The secret of indicating that this is a book about women for men is to lay the masculine symbols down on top of the feminine ones. Remember how, in response to your original cover, I suggested a heart with a yin-yang symbol stamped on it? A heart is traditionally a feminine symbol, a yin-yang is a (vaguely) national symbol, and national symbols are traditionally considered to be masculine symbols; so, that would be a feminine symbol with a masculine symbol laid down on top of it, see? Same deal with that image I linked above showing a heart with the Chinese flag imposed on it: a patriotic masculine symbol laid down on top of a feminine symbol.

      As to this being a “gutsy” book, there’s only so many moods the imagery on a cover can convey at a time (although if you decide to go with a romantic couple on the cover the way some of my colleagues are suggesting, I suppose you could try to have the couple in question each giving each other a “saucy” look to indicate their being confident and experienced at what they’re doing). Your wording in the title and any taglines, however, could still be crafted to be “gutsy” if you know how to turn a phrase cleverly enough.

      If I were trying for a “gutsy” title, I would probably go with The Western Man’s Guide to Chinese Women: Everything You Need to Know. The “gutsy” parts of this? Let me break it down for you:

      1. Using “The” instead of “A” implies that this is the only guide of its kind, which may even be true. (I can’t think of any other time I’ve seen a guide specifically on the subject of wooing Chinese women.) Even if you do have any competitors, however, saying “The” rather than “A” implies to your target audience “Look no further: this is the only guide you need.”

      2. The grammatical ambiguity introduced by putting “Western Man’s” in front of “Guide” actually works in your favor here, as it leaves the reader with two equally valid interpretations that can both be true simultaneously: either “The” refers to the “Guide” being one-of-a-kind as explained in the previous bullet point, or it refers to “Western Man” as in “any typical Western man just like you, prospective reader.”

      3. “Chinese Women” doesn’t specifically say this is a guide to dating and marrying them, but why else would Western men be interested in Chinese women?

      4. “Everything You Need to Know” implies your in-depth understanding of the subject while subtly underscoring the earlier points about how elite and exclusive this guide is: your readers need look no further, as everything they need to know is right here.

      Beyond that, if you feel the need to clarify the vagueness in point 3, a concise subtitle or tagline saying “Love & Marriage in the Middle Kingdom” should leave your readers with no doubts as to the book’s contents: “Love” covers everything one does leading up to a marriage, and “Marriage” covers everything thereafter. (I mean, once you’re hitched, presumably you and the wife settle down, and then this guide tells you about the manner in which Chinese culture expects you to divide the chores around your home with her, what kinds of meddling you can expect from your in-laws, the culturally acceptable ways to deal with them, and things like that.)

      As I said in my other comments above, we do tend to focus on the imagery more than the text here, since the imagery is what your prospective readers are most likely to notice first. (It’s “clickbait” as Hitch likes to say). Once you’ve got their attention with that imagery (whether it’s with a big Chinese heart or a ravishingly beautiful Chinese woman or whatever you decide to use), however, the text on the cover should be firmly reinforcing the imagery with clarity and precision. In a way, picking out the proper fonts and wording for the text on a book’s cover is an art unto itself.

  6. The point you are missing is that we don’t know how the inside of the book is written – and neither will a prospective reader. The cover doesn’t clearly say “gutsy” to me. I think you need to say clearly on the cover (in as few words as possible) about all your experience. How autobiographical is it? That is one word you might be able to use. Or just simply say “based on 30 years personal experience”.
    I would loose the reference to “Middle Kingdom” because to me it sounds like Tolkien. I am sure it is a normal reference to China, but it is not one I’ve especially heard of – and I am a well educated person. Dropping those words would give you space for others.
    You are clearly knowledgeable, but you are also very close to your subject and are trying to sell to people who don’t know very much about China – pretty much like your audience here.
    I was once told by someone who does marketing fliers – the sort of thing that come through your letter box – that they have 3 seconds to get the person’s attention because that is how long it takes to pick it off the mat and drop it in a bin.

  7. It doesn’t have to be hearts or cutesy imagery, but it does need something to show that it’s about dating and marriage. At a glance, you can obviously see the China element, but that’s it, and that’s not enough to catch a reader’s attention. It’s kind of bland, the font colors don’t work well together and – this is personal preference I guess – I don’t like the vignette effect very much here, it makes the whole cover look grey and dark.

    Instead of the yin-yang, you could consider other Chinese elements, like sorry I don’t know how they’re called but there are those red circular decorations that are very pretty. Something colorful (especially red) could help give the cover a pop of pleasant color. Alternatively, instead of a white background, it could be a cool Chinese landscape. Or maybe just a semi-close up of a happy-looking Chinese woman, looking at the viewer as if they’re on a date. Or you could go with silhouettes and a more graphic design approach, with an image that has maybe a couple holding hands or at their wedding and then hint at the China element with the background or decorations.

    But the main issue I think is that the genre is completely relayed to the written-text, and no hints of it appear in the choice of imagery.

  8. This does not work on several levels.

    The image has (apparently) no immediate connection with the subject of the book. It and the Chinese characters may in fact relate…but someone would have to be already familiar with the book to know this and that is putting the cart before the horse. Yes, Ying and Yang immediately remind one of China…but that is much, much too general. It says nothing about the specific subject of your book.

    Your comments regarding the cover suggest that this sort of lack of objectivity is a real problem.

    For instance, you say that “You folks have not read the text of the book so you do not know that the text is gutsy and written for ‘men’. Whilst it is ‘gutsy’ it also conveys much respect for Chinese women.” And you are right: none of us have read the book and that is the problem. There is nothing on or about the cover that remotely suggests the the book is “gutsy” let alone conveying any of the other qualities of the book you’ve described, let alone its actual subject.

  9. Maybe something more like this
    all pictures were free from Pixabey. If you want the links, I can post them here. I’m not crazy about the blurb font but its Adelon. Hitch could probably pick a way better one. I do like the China font, it’s Belligerent Madness.
    author name is Dr Sugiyama font. Was going for a ‘professional’ feel there

  10. S.M. Savoy has a nice stab at it – be aware that many Asians (including hyphenated, i.e. Asian-Americans) find the use of “Asian” fonts deeply offensive. By that I mean our Arabic type letters rendered in the style of Asian characters. They hate it and won’t buy books based on it.

  11. I think that is really pretty – but – should the figure of the woman be turned away from the viewer?
    (PS typo on marriage)

    @ Michael – interesting to know, but not sure Asians are in the target demographic for this book.

    1. I really like those covers Savoy. (Mans or Man’s?) I could go with them.
      Michael, we don’t need to worry about offending Asian people. They will not be buying the book.

    2. S.M.:

      I have a client that is interested in using your work/mockup. I don’t see how to reach out to you–could you reach out to me? ? 😉

      Nathan, if you would let SM know that I’ve asked, as you know our SECRET IDENTITIES (well, okay, for those of you that have those, I don’t), that would be awesome pudding.

      Thx, guys.

  12. That’s a better stab at it – fixed the typo and also pointed the girl the right way. I’m led to believe it’s generally poor form to put someone on the left side of a page or cover and have them facing toward the edge of the page (or vice versa) – always better to be looking inward.

  13. I think the cover lacks red. Traditional Chinese wedding dresses are red and is also used for luck, happiness, blessings, right? It is the color of love and romance in the western world, too. Red is also a bold, gutsy color men can identify with – confidence, power, courage. Maybe something with the ‘double happiness’ character seen frequently on Chinese-themed wedding invitations?

    (I’ve lurked here forever and have learned so much. I’m not a professional designer.)

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