Cover makeover: Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles

“Tales” is a three novella anthology in the Gunpowder Chronicles world which released in 2019. I originally requested an “object” cover since it was an anthology and the cover that Deranged Doctor Design came up with was amazing. There’s a library with a scroll and an opium-looking pipe with a dragon design. Steampunk-y gears in the background and the whole thing was awash in gold. :

Original cover: Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles- library with desk and scroll with red ribbon

Despite getting everything that I asked for and more, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed as I had when I saw the previous covers. After spending some time watching the reader response and sales, I could sense that there was a similar lack of enthusiasm. Beautiful cover, but wasn’t quite drawing readers in.

Undaunted, I thought — alright, let’s try a 3D box set so readers know they’re getting three stories in one volume.

3D Box set: Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles cover with library and scroll + 3 spines showing in the box: Big Trouble in Old Shanghai, Island of the Opium Eaters, Love in the Time of Engines

Then a little research and word on the street showed that other fantasy authors had been through this as well and overwhelmingly preferred “character” covers to object covers. Lesson learned!

I didn’t have much time to test out the 3D cover because I had already enlisted DDD to re-vamp the cover. I provided some character details and sample models and suggested that multiple heroines could be depicted on the cover. The concept design they came up with was AMAZING. Look at those costumes — they were not a part of the original model photos.

Mockup version of cover: Two heroines with Chinese courtyard in background and gears in sky. Girl with glasses holding book on left, girl in armor with weapons looking down on right

I was just in LOVE with the girl with the glasses. Isn’t she awesome? And they have her holding a book too — my little geek heart was going pitter-patter. I thought she was a perfect depiction of studious Anlei in “Love in the Time of Engines”.

I loved this cover as well. The colors, the mood. That backdrop is amazing with the Chinese courtyard and the gears above it. But the two ladies might imply a sapphic story, and I didn’t want to confuse readers.

It seemed other authors were also wrestling with how to depict anthologies as some vendors prefer or even require 2D covers. So I requested that the designer move to a triptych design and the final design, once again, blew me away.

Final version of cover: Three heroines in three color bands, blue, orange, green. Girl in suit with weapons, girl with glasses holding book, girl in leather with two knives.

The cover totally reminds me of a superhero movie poster. I call it my girl power cover. It depicts three different stories with three very different heroines.

I might play with a 3D box version of this cover, but for now I’m going to try this makeover out and see if it makes people stop and click.

Reference Pictures for Cover Art

I’ve learned that while you’re promoting a new book, you pretty much become your cover. It’s your calling card. The funny thing is people very often ask me if I posed for the cover of Butterfly Swords. (No, I didn’t) I’m tickled pink by even the thought that I could be a cover model.

As authors, we don’t get much control over our cover art, yet the cover can make or break the book. I do, however, get to send reference pictures to give the art department perhaps a little inspiration as they design the cover. None of the pictures I use for inspiration look exactly like my characters or setting. I use them for a certain feel. Somewhere in between, an image emerges.

I suppose the art department does much the same thing. This morning I sent along pics for The Dragon and the Pearl and I’m totally jittery nervous about what they’ll come up with.

I always felt this picture by DeviantArtist feimo captured the attitude of Li Tao, though he’s much younger and prettier than the cold-blooded warlord. I wish the print were for sale.

The power play between the jiedushi, the military governors, are central to the book. I sent a couple of pictures to highlight the look and feel of the warlords.

An artist’s rendition of Cao Cao from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Ah, Tony…from the movie poster of Red Cliff. I still need to see the uncut version…

We talk about setting as character in writing, but more needs to be said about clothing as character. Suyin’s wardrobe is practically a secondary character in The Dragon and the Pearl. The Tang Dynasty is all about the fashion: gorgeous clothing, creative hair styles, accessories, accessories, accessories. In the context of those times, Ling Suyin would have been considered a super-model.

I’m now a junkie of the Chinese Clothing online store. I’m actually thinking of buying this blue dress to celebrate the manuscript being accepted and, you know, just wearing it around the house.

And speaking of setting as character, the famous Bamboo Sea is where it all takes place. I dream of going there one day. It’s too bad hubby doesn’t like to travel or eat exotic foods. He does like pandas, I believe.

So can you see a killer cover out of all that?