I don’t know what my characters look like. That sounds daft, I know, but my idea of them is vague. Rough height and the space they take up is there, but the rest is hazy. Eye colour, hair texture, shape of face and all those other physical characteristics refuse to make themselves known.
It was interesting, therefore, when a graphic designer created a cover for me for Highland Fling. I described the male love interest as resembling Jamie Fraser, aka Sam Heughan, of Outlander fame, but I still didn’t know what he looked like. And as for my protagonist, I knew her heart and head but little else.
As you can see from the cover, Enni Tuomisalo of Yummy Book Covers fleshed them out for me. If you read Enni’s blogs on cover design, she explains the ‘rules’ of chick lit design thoroughly. Illustration is most commonly used, as photographs unless in the hands of an arty designer will scream self-published (though props often work well). But another rule is that faces aren’t shown—unless the book is turned into a successful film or series and then the cover is re-released with the actors’ faces in place.
‘No face’ rule
Enni has drawn my heroine with her back to us—a common convention in chick lit because of the ‘no face’ rule. Why is this rule in place? The argument is that romance readers want to imagine the main character themselves. Seeing their face imposes someone else’s interpretation of the character. And if you’re writing chick lit in first person as I tend to do, then I want my readers to be able to imagine themselves as my main characters. Easier if they don’t have a picture of what her face looks like.
And the male character? Again, it’s common not to show his face. Years ago, I remember watching the TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s Riders book and being disappointed with the actor who played Rupert Campbell-Black as he looked nothing like I’d imagined. Many of the books that do choose photos for front covers use ripped torsos with the head cut off—perhaps for that reason. Put your own blond, dark-haired, red-head interpretation on top*.
Enni’s cover shows a rough approximation of my main characters and I’m delighted to find out what he looks like. That isn’t contradicting all I’ve just said because as an illustration and one in the background, he’s still vague enough for people to let their imaginations run free.
Highland Fling is due out summer 2019. To keep up to date with launches and giveaways, please consider joining my mailing list – firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
*One thing I’m conscious of here is the lack of diversity on covers. White men and women—and usually young and very glamorous ones—dominate, which must alienate an awful lot of people.