China, and the cover for Under Heaven

Book covers are such chancy, variable things. Over all these years and books, I’ve been delighted and, well, aghast at different times. It gets even more uncertain when it comes to foreign-language editions. As a rule, by now, I have ‘cover consultation’ for all such sales of rights, but in practice this really can mean nothing.

Sometimes a publisher forgets. The contracts person doesn’t remind the art department or editor they have to check with the author. Or the rush to get the book finalized (there is alays a rush!) causes a very simple overlooking of that detail. Sometimes they do send the cover image to you – but too late to have input to effect any meaningful change. Screaming ‘Oh, my God, no!’ at this juncture may be a therapeutic release of extreme emotion, but achieves little else.

One can double down on the technical breach of contract, but this just means the book cannot be released as planned, it must be shelved for up to a year while a new cover is devised, and – in the real world – this is a bad course of action if the idea is an ongoing, working cordial relationship to everyone’s theoretical betterment. I have closed my eyes, swallowed hard (often swallowing a drink hard) and accepted some covers I hate.

Sometimes even really strong publishers go astray in their conception and execution, and one does that swallowing hard thing and waits to see if they are right. I disliked, to be honest, the covers for HarperCollins UK for Lions and for Under Heaven in hardcover, but then again I absolutely loved both their hardback and paperback for River of Stars. Win some, lose some?

I’ve been very lucky in North America with the last several novels, good art departments, artists, and steady, congenial consultation and discussion back and forth have produced covers I love – and reader feedback suggests you feel the same way.

But if you sit authors down in a bar and catch them early enough, while they are still coherent, cover discussion will be a frequent topic, and happiness will be … intermittent?

All of which is a prelude to this: I am happy to now share what might be my favourite cover for any of my books anywhere. Chongqing Publishing in China is releasing Under Heaven in July. I saw a rough of this a month ago, after waiting with some anxiety as they promised I would see it (with me having no idea at all what it would be). The rough was gorgeous, the finished is even more so. I flat-out love this.

Under Heaven Cover

 

Not only is it beautiful as a design, and profoundly suited to the book, it is original and inventive and subtle. What you need to know (it may not be evident in the jpeg) is that the cloud cover overlay is just that: an overlay! It flips back if you open it up from the jacket flap, revealing the entire painting, as if clouds had parted. Truly imaginative, and unique in its effect. (And, not incidentally in this business, really expensive design work.)

Then there is the chosen painting itself. It is a celebrated Tang Dynasty work by Li Zhaodao called ‘Ming Huang’s Journey to Shu’ about the emperor journeying to the far west, framed small against a magnificent landscape. And anyone who knows the novel (inspired by the Tang) will recognize how wonderfully well this suits the story.

Here’s a link to the original work, for interest:

http://www.theartwolf.com/landscapes/li-zhaodao-ming-huang-journey-shu.htm

But there’s even more to this cover. Classic Chinese artwork is usually marked with a variety of red seals on it. These are the personal seals of whatever distinguished (or imperial, if the artist is lucky!) figure has seen and held the work – and then shows this by putting his stamp on it.

It is a process alien to western art (well, maybe Byron carving his name on Greek ruins!) but in China it enhanced the value and prestige of a painting to have illustrious figure put their seals on it. So, here, the art director uses a brilliant, small red seal of – a heavenly horse. I am touched by the attention to detail and awareness of the nature of the book this shows.

In short, my appreciation of Chongqing, who are publishing this is extreme. I think this cover is brilliant and beautiful and evocative, and I hope others agree.

 

 

9 thoughts on “China, and the cover for Under Heaven

  1. It’s a classy and gorgeous cover, Guy. Your title has translated well to its literal components. It’s a common expression in the Chinese language. (you probably knew that when selecting the title in English?) In English people say “Where on earth would you find this”, in Chinese it would be “Where under heaven would you find this”, and it *feels* different. For me, the Chinese title elicits different emotions and associations. Imagine the pleasure and anticipation of a reader in China upon picking up such a beautiful volume to take a look!

  2. it is wonderful that the cover should be so Chinese and be finally published in China. the cover is probably the most chinese things ever. I can’t wait until we see what they come up with for River of Stars, if there are plans of marketing the sequel yet.

  3. it is wonderful that the cover should be so Chinese and be finally published in China. the cover is probably the most chinese things ever. I can’t wait until we see what they come up with for River of Stars, if there are plans of marketing the sequel yet.

  4. There is no Cover that would be beautiful enough for Under Heaven, but I thnk this is so lovely and very classy too.

  5. There is no Cover that would be beautiful enough for Under Heaven, but I thnk this is so lovely and very classy too.

  6. Very glad you like it! I’m the cover designer and one of editors of Chinese Under Heaven.(our department kind of have a tradition that editors design their book covers, for our chief editor was once an art professor who is always keen on both literature and art.)And it’s a great honor to be part of the team working on your masterpiece.To be frank, we rarely get feedback from authors about cover arts,so it’s very kind of you to share this article and to explain all the details! We are obliged to thank you for your attention.

  7. Very glad you like it! I’m the cover designer and one of editors of Chinese Under Heaven.(our department kind of have a tradition that editors design their book covers, for our chief editor was once an art professor who is always keen on both literature and art.)And it’s a great honor to be part of the team working on your masterpiece.To be frank, we rarely get feedback from authors about cover arts,so it’s very kind of you to share this article and to explain all the details! We are obliged to thank you for your attention.

Leave a Reply to Janie Chang Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *