Covering the Sugar Sun series

One of the themes of this May’s #RomBkLove series on Twitter was covers. Whether I am at an author event live or just chatting online, the feedback I hear most often about my books is how much people like the covers. If that sounds like a brag, you should know that I do not design my covers. I have some input—more than a traditionally-published author has, probably—but the real credit goes to the unsung hero of Little Brick Books Publishing, Mr. Hallock. (A former professional photojournalist and now a ghostwriter for a consulting firm, Mr. H is also one of my editors, as well as my marketing advisor, business manager, and accountant. We are still happily married, a modern day miracle.)

But we’re here to talk about covers, so let’s get started. I’m going to be giving the inside scoop here, which I hope doesn’t detract from the magic of the final product. Given how many people are choosing to self-publish these days, though, I thought a little transparency might be helpful. All images were purchased from Shutterstock.

Disclaimer: Always defer to your designer’s technical and professional judgments, as this post is not a step-by-step how-to. Even Mr. H knows not to bow the author’s every whim. The cover is not totally about the book, remember: it needs to project the genre, mood, and theme. For me that meant:

  • Genre: cross between historical romance and historical fiction
  • Mood: politically and emotionally charged, with explicit sex
  • Theme: heavy themes (e.g. war, colonial policy, PTSD, and more)

I am not qualified to instruct you comprehensively on design elements, but here’s another piece of advice: the cover must scan well and read clearly as a thumbnail. Okay, so here goes a short tale of four covers:

Under the Sugar Sun

Sugar-Sun-cover-Jennifer-HallockWhen we first started this venture, we had some ideas of creating virtual three-dimensional images of dresses, but the technology in 2015 just wasn’t there yet—nor was our expertise. So we started looking at stock images. Since the heroine of Under the Sugar Sun has red hair, I built a collection of redheaded women in vintage (or retro) dress styles. We were paging through them together when Mr. H stopped on the image above. “Easy,” he said.

Easy, I wondered? I loved her hair and the corset, but nothing about the original surroundings of the model was what I wanted. (What kind of bedspread is that, by the way?) But the very next day, Mr. H showed me the crop that would become the cover, including the blacked out background. Instantly, I was excited. Yes, the hooks in the corset are not really true to period, even if you keep in mind that my period is 1902 not 1814. Moreover, my character never wears a corset in the book . . . but never mind! You cannot be too literal, remember.

“So,” you ask, “what did you do to make this cover happen, Jen?” Not much. I did choose the title font, which has become the signature of the Sugar Sun series (which is why I am not naming it here). I searched through font after font, typing in “Under the Sugar Sun” in generators to see what (a) looked Edwardian and (b) struck the right balance of stylistic elements and readability. Mr. H was not sold at first, but he ultimately agreed. A cover was born.

Hotel Oriente

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The next cover was maybe the easiest to see “in the raw.” Even I recognized the potential! Originally, I had wanted to fashion one of those vintage suitcase stickers you see on trunks with hotel names. I even found some great examples online. I did not want to lose my signature font, though, and a sticker might have detracted from the beautiful dress texture. I am happy with this cover as is, and I love the way my brand was starting to shape up.

Tempting Hymn

Tempting-Hymn-cover-Jennifer-HallockTempting Hymn had to be a little sultry, though not because Rosa is the temptress she is accused of being. With a title like this one—and a story centered on two people of faith who sing in a choir together, complete with chapter titles from those hymns—this book needed a little sex up front to prove it was not an inspirational romance. Mr. Hallock had to do a lot of work to make this a cover, but I love it.

Sugar Moon

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It took a really long time to find this photo. A really long time. Not quite as long as it took to write Sugar Moon, but honestly almost. Mr. H and I both loved the image right from the start, but it took my husband’s expertise to make it the cover you see above. I’m all heart eyes. It is my favorite so far, and that is saying something because I do love them all.

If you know me, and by now I am sure you do, I have a teensy-weensy addiction to Canva. So I’ll leave you with the full collection of books in a composite graphic. Thank you, Mr. Hallock!

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Happy Fil-Am Friendship Day!

Happy Fourth of July, Republic Day, Philippine-American Friendship Day, and 21st Hallock wedding anniversary! (Yes, Mr. H and I married on American Independence Day because we enjoy irony.)

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The American administration in the Philippines could be quite cheeky too: they liked using the Fourth of July as a marker date in their administration, despite the fact that seizing the islands turned the US into the very redcoats we declared unfit oppressors via the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1774. (Independence was actually declared on the 2nd of July, but never mind.)

The Insular authorities used July 4, 1902, as a declared “mission accomplished” date, ending (supposedly) what was then called the Philippine Insurrection. Much like George W. Bush’s gaffe over a hundred years later, though, the mission was very far from accomplished. In fact, the Philippine-American War would not be over until 1913.

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The USS Abraham Lincoln, returning from a 10-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, was the setting for President George W. Bush’s speech declaring the end to “major combat operations” in Iraq. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Juan E. Diaz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cheekier still, when setting up the path to Philippine independence, the American authorities decided to terminate the Commonwealth on July 4, 1946—so that conveniently we and our former colony (but still beholden to the US under the Bell Trade Act of 1946 and Military Bases Agreement of 1947) would have the same independence day.

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The last American flag to fly in the Philippines, with each star sewn by representatives of the different provinces, with Mrs. Manuel Roxas, Mrs. Manuel L. Quezon, and Mrs. Sergio Osmeña supervising. Colorized image courtesy of the Presidential Museum and Library.

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July 4th was celebrated as such until Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal changed the law in May 1962, recognizing June 12th as the true date of Philippine independence—honoring the day that President Emilio Aguinaldo established the First Philippine Republic in 1898. That was before the Americans even decided to keep the islands as spoils of the Spanish-American War. This makes sense, but it took them sixteen years to do it, which shows you how large the American footprint still was in early Cold War-era Philippines.

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Diorama 39: Proclamation of Independence from Spain, Cavite, 1898, as created by Ayala Museum Staff (Historians, Researchers, Artists) and Artisans from Paete, Laguna, 1974-2011, and found at Google Arts and Culture.

4 July 1946 was still relatively important, of course: it marked the birth of the Third Republic. (The Second Republic was under Japanese occupation, in case you were wondering.) Therefore, the Fourth of July was renamed Republic Day. But after President Ferdinand Marcos enacted martial law and then a new constitution in 1972, he decided to rename the day yet again to Philippine-American Friendship Day.

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Celebrating Fil-Am Friendship Day on our (former) farm in Indang, Cavite, in 2009, with friends Dong, Jim, Mr. H (wearing a hat that someone brought, not ours, just FYI), and Nonoy.

Commemoration post-Marcos has returned to Republic Day, but my friends and I still choose to celebrate Fil-Am Friendship Day (and the Hallock anniversary) with ice-cold San Miguel, guitars, and good food. To our friends and found-family in the Philippines, we miss you all and wish we were there to celebrate with you.

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A happy crowd, with our lovely old dogs, Grover (white with black spots) and Jaya (black with tan paws). I am in the middle, sitting, with the teal shirt, and Mr. H is standing in the black shirt. Our Ninang Sol—who helped Mr. H cook the feast—is the first standing from the left.

For more photographs and history behind this day, see the Official Gazette feature. The banner photograph at the very top of the post is Manuel Roxas and Douglas MacArthur shaking hands at Roxas’s inauguration, courtesy of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive at the University of Michigan. (Whether this was Roxas’s inauguration as the third and last president of the American Commonwealth of the Philippines on May 26, 1946, or his inauguration as the first president of the Third Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, I cannot say for sure—but based on the chairs, I think it is the latter.)

Happy day, everyone! Our marriage is now old enough to drink in the United States, so happy anniversary to Mr. H!

Come join History Ever After!

I have just launched my Facebook reader group called History Ever After, and I would love you to join! This is where I plan to post tidbits on writing (like the progress to #UndressAndres for Sugar Communion!), my latest news, and even host giveaways. I plan to make the group complementary with this blog. Longer posts will stay here and the group will direct readers to them. Smaller posts will stay only in Facebook. In other words, being the group will guarantee you never miss anything: it will always lead here, but not vice versa. It is also a great place to comment on what you read. Thank you for being a blog reader, and I hope the group only enhances your experience.

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What’s up this summer?

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Author Appearances:

I have a new event! Come out to see Karen Coulters and I bring romance to the Weare Public Library. Whether you like historical stories or modern ones, distant settings or close ones, Karen and I have the book for you. Click on the image below to go to the Facebook event page. Come see us and meet the others of the Weare Area Writers Guild, including librarian and children’s adventure author Michael Sullivan.

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Presentations:

This may be the last time I will be giving these three talks, so please come on out if you can:

NECRWA-May-19-History-Ever-AfterOver eighty percent of bestselling historical romance books published in the first half of 2018 were set in Britain, either during the 19th century or the medieval period. These two fabricated chronotopes are selectively accurate to history and narrowly focused on high ranks of the nobility—in other words, they are “escapism.” This presentation will consider what escapism means in this context, who it serves, and who it harms. While any reader can enjoy a good duke Regency every once in a while, the net impact of the most popular chronotopes may be to corrode our understanding of history, marginalize anyone writing from a wider palette of settings and characters, and exclude authors of color. Read more here.

New England Chapter RWA: May 19, 2019 from 1-3 pm ($5 visitors fee)


Schoolbenches-Trenches-Historical-Novel-Society-North-AmericaLiberate and uplift? Or conquer and oppress? The revolutionaries of the eighteenth century became the redcoats of the twentieth, fighting a war to seize the Philippines (1899-1913) as the first step toward overseas empire. Enter the American Century, complete with debates over transpacific trade, immigration, Muslim separatists, and national security—all issues that resonate for the modern reader. Historian, teacher, and author Jennifer Hallock will explain why the U.S. colonized the Philippines, how this experience still shapes both countries now, and how it creates engaging American historical fiction. Read more of the history behind the Sugar Sun series here.

Historical Novel Society North America: Friday, June 21, 2019 from 8-9 am (registration required)


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True stories inspire the best fiction. Let history help you find the usual, precocious, and maybe even dangerous heroes and heroines you need! A veteran teacher and researcher will show you how to exploit free sources online: memoirs, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, maps, photographs, clothing, artifacts, videos, and more. This workshop’s emphasis will be on historical research, especially the Regency through the Roaring Twenties, but it will include practical tips and tricks for all authors. Read more here.

RWA National Conference, Friday, July 26, 2019, from 9:45-10:45 am (registration required)