Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Who would agree with that statement today? With all the emphasis on design and the importance of visual imagery, it seems very unlikely that, as purchasers of books, we aren’t going to be attracted or repelled, impressed or unimpressed with the cover design. All sorts of research has gone into what catches the eye and what makes a book “jump off the shelf.”

But hold on! Will that change with the advent of the ebook or the purchase of print copies of books on the internet? Somehow, those postage stamp pictures of the book just don’t make the same impression however well designed they might be. But usually new opportunities arise rapidly with each new technology. I can imagine downloading an ebook onto my reading device and instead of just a still image for the cover, there might be a five or ten second video. But that is for someone other than me to decide if that’s workable within any reasonable cost to be built into the price of the book.

I’d like to tell you about my experience in the cover design of The Drawing Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of Remembrance. When surfing the web to see if there were other fictional books with that name, I came across a painting by the artist Jan Steen entitled The Drawing Lesson. Great idea, I thought! That would make an intriguing cover for my novel.


Steen was a Dutch painter and a contemporary of Rembrandt.  He lived in Leiden and  Haarlem and went to school in Utrecht all in the mid sixteen hundreds. As you can see, there is a huge amount of stuff in this painting as there is in pretty well all of his work. In fact, in the Netherlands, if you said that a person had a Jan Steen household, it was not a compliment as in—it meant—very messy.

In any event, I decided to use it for the cover of my book. But then I learned that, while the painting was itself, public domain, I still had to pay the J. Paul Getty Museum a license fee, which was in fact very reasonable. I also had to ensure that the proper accreditation was given on the book to the museum. Other requirements? Yes—I could not have any lettering on top of the image of the painting and if I were to use just a portion of it, I would have to say so in the accreditation. All of this, I found completely reasonable and do-able. Within a matter of four or five days I was all set to give the image to the printer.

In getting the approval of the museum to the cover design, I asked if they would like to carry it in their bookstore and—so they did.

Another thing about the novel and its cover! It didn’t hit me until much later, but the figures in the painting—the artist, the female student and the young child—actually are some of the most important characters in my novel which is about the young love between an artist [Alexander Wainwright] and his young student. Funny, but I did not consciously see that at the time. But there you go—long live the subconscious.

Give it a try! The 99 Cent Kindle download offer is still on.









About Mary E. Martin

Mary E. Martin grew up in Toronto, Canada. After earning an Honors Degree in History at the University of Toronto, she graduated with her law degree from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. In 1973, she was called to the Bar of Ontario and began the general practice of law in Toronto, with emphasis on real estate, wills and estates and elder-care law. This law practice of more than 30 years was a great inspiration for The Osgoode Trilogy ("Conduct in Question," "Final Paradox" and "A Trial of One.") Her fourth novel, “The Drawing Lesson,” will be the first in the next trilogy, provisionally entitled “The Trilogy of Rmembrance.” She is also a photographer particularly with respect to her travels. She has had two commercial photography shows. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto. They have three adult children.
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