Rebranding AKA New Covers and Titles for Old Books

The Woman in the Lake - UK-Final-webNicola here. Today I’m talking about re-branding in the form of book covers and titles.  The reason: My publisher and I decided to give The Woman in the Lake a new cover and a new title for the UK e-book and I thought it might be interesting to explore why this happened. I hope this will appeal to readers who might wonder why books are sometimes rebranded, and to authors who may face the same dilemmas themselves. It’s a look behind the scenes – and a very honest one – into what happened with The Woman in the Lake.

TWITL as I call it, was published simultaneously in the UK and North America in March 2019. It’s my third “timeslip” novel, a term which in itself can cause problems for an author trying to interest an agent or publisher in a book. Some people haven’t heard of timeslip, others ask what the differences are between timeslip and time travel, some people call the books dual or multiple time stories… There can be some identity issues!

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Which Jane Austen?

Which Jane AustenNicola here.  Last week I was in Oxford at the Bodleain Library to see the Jane Austen exhibition. I love “The Bod” as it’s known; when you join you have to swear an oath that dates back to when the library was first open to scholars in 1602. Amongst other things you have to promise not to set fire to the place which suggests that those 17th century students were a bit unruly, not unlike some of their modern Oxford counterparts!

The exhibition was quite small, just one room, and I did wonder when I went in whether there Juvenilia was anything new that could be said about Jane Austen or any new slant that could be taken on her life and work. It was titled “Which Jane Austen” and had the theme of “the writer in the world.” So it focussed on objects and writing associated with specific times and places in her life. There was a section on the juvenilia she wrote with other members of her family (in the photo), with her original diaries and notebooks on show.  There were features on her time in Bath and her connections to London, with many letters on show. There was a book of recipes Jane’s family used at Chawton House. A particularly interesting section focussed on Jane as a woman writing in a time of war which pointed out that she was one of the first writers from the “home front” giving a domestic view of life for those living through the Napoleonic Wars. It’s always mind-blowing to see original possessions and belongings on display and one of the things that moved me most was a pair of Jane’s spectacles resting on her writing desk! I imagine a lot of us could relate to that!

Pride and Prejudice 1995 (1)In a studio next door they were playing extracts from all the different films and TV adaptations of Jane Austen’s books. The idea was that you could sit and draw your own comparisons between the different versions of the story and see how they could be depicted in so many ways. Or, if you were like me, you could admire the houses, the fashions and the different Mr Darcys!

It’s fascinating to fill out the background life and influences of a writer like Jane Austen. She attended the balls and parties we read and write about. She met the people and danced the steps of the country dances. I love the fact that like many writers, she used aspects of the people she knew to inspire the characters in her books. One of the most exciting things that I discovered when researching the history of Ashdown House was a completely unexpected connection between the Craven family and the Austen family. Sir Charles Craven, who was Governor of Carolina between 1711 and 1716 was married to a very beautiful younger woman called Love and Friendship Elizabeth Staples. This woman was the grandmother of three of Jane Austen’s closest friends, Martha, Mary and Eliza Lloyd. They regaled Jane with tales of Elizabeth’s private cruelty and vice, and the outrageously scandalous life she led after she was widowed. It’s said that she was the model for Lady Susan Vernon in the book Lady Susan and recent film Love and Friendship. Similarly, John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility was supposedly based on the Earl of Craven of whose morals in keeping his mistress at Ashdown House Jane Austen so clearly disapproved!  Willoughby is charming, extravagant and amoral. William Craven was, arguably… well, you guessed it!

The relationship between William Craven and the famous Regency courtesan Harriette Wilson, which was said that been reflected in Writer in the world Sense and Sensibility, was also the inspiration for the story thread involving the courtesan Lavinia Flyte in my own book, House of Shadows. Jane Austen, in writing about the fate of  Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility was completely aware of the restrictions on the lives of women in Regency England, the balance of power and the way that the wider world worked. She was indeed a “writer in the world.”

Do you think Jane Austen was a writer who reflects the wider world? Do you have a favourite adaptation or a favourite re-imagining of her work? To celebrate the US publication of House of Shadows next week I'm giving away a copy of the book to one commenter between now and midnight Saturday!

Into the Woods

Angus beachNicola here. After the beach and the sea, a woodland is probably Angus’s favourite place for a walk. I’m not a dog, obviously, but I can imagine just how exciting it might be for him; so many sights, sounds and particularly smells that are different from the garden or the street. There is something special about the woods in lots of different ways: places to run, places to hide, secrets and surprises just around the corner.

In the fairy stories, woods are often scary places. I remember Hansel and Gretel as one of my least favourite fairy tales because of the sinister cottage in the woods. And doesn’t Little Red Riding Hood meet the wolf in a wood? Woodland is portrayed as a wild, dark place that is full of danger. The same thing happens in other books from Harry Potter, to Lord of the Rings, to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So often a wood is a threatening place. Often we get lost there.

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Tudor Passions

Wolf hallNicola here, talking about the Tudors. A few days ago I read an article about the huge number of historical fiction books set in the Tudor period. The author was suggesting that it was time to move away from the wives of Henry VIII and choose some different historical periods and characters to write about. Even Hilary Mantel, with her Booker Prize winning Tudor set novels is saying that we have reached “Tudor peak” and that the market is saturated.

As someone whose next book is a dual time period novel set in the present and… Yes, the Tudor era, this left me with mixed feelings. As a young reader, before I discovered Georgette Heyer and the Regency period, I had been drawn into reading historical fiction through the Tudors. My wonderful school history teacher, Mrs Chary, had brought alive the history of the period by telling it to us as a story and there was plenty to engage us.

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Title Trends

Gone girlNicola here, with a quick and light-hearted look at title trends. I’m just back from the wonderful RNA Conference where one of the sessions I attended was on fashions in commercial fiction. There was some discussion about the importance of titles and the way that publishers brand a particular style of book. This led us on to the “girl” phenomena. It started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I think. Then there was Gone, Girl, the Girl on the Train and many, many other girls in various situations, places and circumstances, mostly with a hint of danger about them. Last year over 60% of one UK bookseller’s top titles had a female noun in them whether it was girl, wife, mother, sister or something else.

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