by Mary Jo
Publishing is all kinds of complicated, so I decided to look at one small piece, which is the story behind my new cover for The China Bride.
The second of my Bride trilogy, the book features Troth Montgomery, daughter of a Chinese woman and a Scottish trader. She's a great character, strong and brave and vulnerable from having been raised between two worlds. I knew that writing her story would be a challenge because I'm a farm girl from Western New York but my mother had lived in China as a girl, and she told us stories about her life there, so that part of the world has always intrigued me.
So I did a lot of research about China and the tea trade in the early 1830s. (Very interesting!) Also, during the months when I was planning this book, if I received a fan email from a reader with a Chinese name, I pounced and asked if she'd be willing to read my manuscript when it was done. Five lovely, intelligent women of Chinese heritage agreed to help, for which I'm forever grateful.
The story logic of the trilogy led me there because the hero, Kyle Renbourne, had appeared in The Wild Child, book 1 of the trilogy. He was portrayed as a restless young man who yearned to travel, but who had been tied to England because he was heir to an earldom. At the end of that book, he was breaking free and setting off to fulfill his travel dreams.
The China Bride began when Kyle reached China and the city of Macao. He knows that this is the end of his journeying for it's time to return home to assume his responsibilities. Then Kyle meets Troth Montgomery. Orphaned young, she'd been taken into the household of a powerful Chinese trader who requires her to dress as a man and act as a translator when dealing with Western merchants. She feels like a a hopeless misfit. Kyle realizes that she's female and asks her to take him into forbidden China to fulfill a life long goal. In return he will make it possible for her to travel to Britain, the land of her father and his family.
They have many adventures and twice Troth saves Kyle's life with her mastery of martial arts. Kyle not only accepts Troth as she is, but he loves for her strength and uniqueness. Troth comes to terms with her mixed heritage and Kyle also makes peace with his place in the world.
Now how does one convey all that in a book cover because people really do judge books by their covers? The China Bride was published as a hardcover mainstream romance by Ballantine, and I think their art department did a very good job for that mainstream market. A backless white wedding gown isn't accurate, but the image is elegant and evocative, and the symbol on the pearl necklace signals Troth's Chinese heritage.
But after the rights for The Bride Trilogy reverted to me, I wanted a different look. The books needed to be marketed as historical romances and since these were bride stories, I wanted covers that featured strong, individual women. (It wasn't until I was in the process of reissuing this series that I realized they're all marriage of convenience stories. That was not planned, but there they were!)
As always, I worked with designer Kim Killion to come up with new covers for these new editions. Also as always, the biggest challenge is finding appropriate stock images that are the foundation of a good cover. When I first started reissuing back list books in 2011 (a lifetime in the world of indie publishing!) there were not a lot of image choices. Over the years, new sites and lots of new photos became available. So more choices, but more time spent searching for the best images.
I first released my indie Bride Trilogy in 2017. so five years ago. I really liked the pictures I found for The Wild Child, Book 1 and The Bartered Bride, Book 3. They're lovely and I thought the images did a good job of capturing the essences of the characters. The girl on The Wild Child looked wistful and rather fey, which was just right for Meriel, and the woman on The Bartered Bride looks more mature and more determined, appropriate for Alex.
But I was less than fully satisfied with the image I found for The China Bride. There simply weren't many available pictures of East Asians, much less of mixed race Chinese European women. I think the cover is attractive in its own right, but it didn't suit my sense of the character and the story, and I didn't think the overall look fit well with the other two books.
A great thing about indie publishing is that you can make changes easily if you want to, so I recently decided to see if I could find a cover image that better suited the story and my heroine, Troth. And this time–bingo!
I really liked that the woman's features look like she could be of mixed Chinese and European heritage. She looks pensive, as befits a woman living between two worlds, but she's not submissive or defeated, and the sword she's contemplating says that she's a fighter. Troth doesn't wield a sword like the woman on the cover, but she is certainly a warrior woman who will fight for what is right and the people she loves.