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  • Writer's pictureGareth Williams

Covers are harder than you think

... and I don't mean hard covers. My book is starting out as a paperback and e-

book! I had my first discussion with the designers. They were great. We like a lot of the same things despite a major age difference! They seemed genuinely interested in the genre and the premise of the book. They said they would get back to me with a rough copy. They manipulate images rather than creating original artwork. I was very curious to see what they came up with as my initial ideas seemed untenable after our talk.

So, they sent me their idea. It was a good one. It drew on the contrast between a bookish teacher and ruthless emperor, the safety of the classroom and the danger of the battlefield. They hadn't got as far as deciding on an appropriate font for the title, this was just to feel out how I felt.

At first glance, I was impressed. Strong, colourful images that revealed something of my book without giving the game away. But the more I looked, the less convinced I became; although initially, it was hard to pin down why.

Slowly, I worked it out. They showed Richard's face. Although I give an outline description (bit by bit), I want the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps. This took away any possibility of that. The figure of Napoleon looked stern and the uniform was perfect, his green one as general of the Chasseurs, his mounted bodyguard. Lieutenant Emile Beraud, so pivotal to the story, serves in that regiment. But it is not Napoleon's face but that of an actor or a re-enactor. Either way, it's the wrong kind of pretend. Anyone picking up a book called Needing Napoleon is going to know what he looked like! More than that, seeing an unfamiliar face masquerading in his uniform is likely to make them think the whole work is similarly unconvincing.

The third problem was a row of advancing soldiers. I didn't recognise the uniforms. It turns out the image is from a major re-enactment of the battle on its 200th birthday. I was able to study the source image which allowed me to identify them as artillerymen, but their epaulettes and plumes were not the colours I expected, nor could I find reference to such variations in any of my books on uniforms of the Napoleonic wars. At best, they looked almost right for artillery from the previous decade. But there were two changes to French uniforms between 1805 and 1815.

You are probably thinking all of this sounds like a lot of fuss about very little! You are probably right. I have another call booked for tomorrow. We will see where it goes. To commission original artwork will cost me money but I think that might have to happen. I'll keep you posted!

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