Friday Speak Out!: How I Got a Book Cover I Loved

Friday, May 07, 2021

by Nancy Hayes Kilgore

When I signed with Sunbury Press for my latest novel, BITTER MAGIC, I was given the option of using the publisher’s cover designer or choosing my own. Either way I could work with the artist to help shape the design.

This is one of the perks of working with an independent publisher, and I was pleased, since I, like most of us authors, have a real emotional investment in how my cover looks.

BITTER MAGIC is inspired by the story of Isobel Gowdie, whose witchcraft confession in 17th century Scotland, is one of the most famous of recorded confessions. The novel brings you into a world immersed in both religion and magic, a world where conflicting beliefs trigger wars and witch hunts. I wanted a cover that would evoke mystery, religion, enchantment, and a touch of danger.

I dug in, studying lots of covers, both my publisher’s and others online. I looked at my Pinterest pins for 17th century Scotland – misty landscapes, old castles, spooky antique woodcuts of witches and gallows and stakes. On Pinterest I also had a collection of photographs and illustrations of crows. In her historical confession, Isobel claimed she could shape shift and turn herself into a crow, and this was part of the story in BITTER MAGIC. Some of my pictures featured a perching crow holding a sprig of red rowan berries. The rowan tree, with its bright red berries, represents, in BITTER MAGIC, and in mythology, a place where the veil between the worlds is thin. In my book, this is where Isobel first meets her fairy guide.

While on Pinterest, I discovered a category for book covers. And here were some that I loved. They were on the website of Sara Oliver, an award-winning designer.

Sara’s designs, many of them for books about magic or fairy tales, were striking. They combined a delicacy of color and style and evoked enchantment and mystery. I immediately wrote to her, and we started working together.

Sara went to work, and we emailed back and forth. I sent her my pictures and ideas, and she came up with a few renderings. She created her own rendering of a crow clasping a sprig of rowan berries. She tried it with the crow on a Celtic cross, from an image I’d sent, but that put the crow at the top of the design instead of the center where I wanted it, so she went back to the drawing board.

She sent me another rendering, this time with the crow perched on a sheaf of wheat. This one had a vivid dark green background, the sinister-looking crow perched in the center, and the blood-red rowan berries in its beak. I loved Sara’s filigree gold border and the title’s font, Birion. It conjured the image of legend and myth I was looking for along with a hint of bloodshed. I thought it was perfect, and now everyone I show it to, including my publisher, agrees.

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Nancy Hayes Kilgore, winner of the Vermont Writers Prize, is the author of two other novels, Wild Mountain (Green Writers Press, 2017,) and Sea Level (RCWMS, 2011,) a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year. Her new novel, Bitter Magic, comes from Milford House in August. She has published in a She Writes Press anthology, in Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Vermont Magazine, The Bottle Imp, and on Vermont Public Radio. Nancy is a graduate of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars and holds a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling. She is a former parish pastor, a psychotherapist, a writing coach, and leads workshops on creative writing and spirituality. Find her online at
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Your book cover is gorgeous, Nancy! I love the berries and crow, and your title stands out. There's great balance to all the elements. The cover is so important! I'm glad you went the extra mile and sought out your own designer. It didn't used to be this way, but I've noticed in the past few years publishers are giving authors more say in their book covers. :)

Congrats on your forthcoming book! I had to look up Isobel Gowdie, and wow, what an incredible tale and source of inspiration.

Theresa Boedeker said...

It was fun to hear your story of your book cover. It turned out perfect. They say not to chose a book by its cover, but I do. And quite often.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nancy--I agree with Angela as well as with Theresa. Your cover is striking and subtle at the same time. And like Theresa, I often am drawn to a book because of its cover. Other times I reject a book because of its cover.

Good luck with your book.

Nancy Kilgore said...

Thanks so much, Angela, Theresa, and Sioux. It's so great to get some affirmation from other writers. And yes, Angela, Isobel's story is quite amazing. I also tend to judge books by their covers. I hope that if you read BITTER MAGIC, you'll like the story too! It's available for pre-order now.

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