When I am browsing in a bookshop, I often pick up a book because of its cover. Then I look at the title, then read the blurb and if I’m still interested, I’ll turn to the first page to get a taste of what’s inside.

The cover of a book is of utmost importance. It is the initial point of contact with your reader.

There are many stages in the life of a book, from first draft to structural edit to copy edit to first pages to cover design. Little Paradise is now at the cover design stage and I am waiting for first pages to come back from the typesetters.

Marina Messiha, the wonderful designer at Penguin created eight different cover designs for Little Paradise. A favourite was chosen by my publisher, Jane Godwin and editor, Katrina Lehman. I loved it right away. My only concern was that the girl on the cover had a sultry, knowing look, which didn’t match Mirabel’s personality. She also didn’t look full blooded Chinese.

August is Book Week, a time when children’s authors visit schools to talk about their books, and a perfect opportunity for me to road test the cover concepts. I took them along to 6 different schools and out of approximately 600 kids, only a handful voted for the cover we had initially chosen. Almost all of them voted for a girl in a red dress. Jane Godwin got the same results when she road tested them on a number of schools.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t use the red dress cover as it was reminiscent of another book which is highly popular among young people at the moment. So it was back to the drawing board.

Another 4 covers were created by Marina and I chose the final one last week.

It uses a gorgeous hand tinted photograph of my mother when she was twenty taken in Melbourne in 1944, which is only fitting as the story is inspired by her.

Here is the photo that will be used. My mother had the dress made, then she beaded it herself. She’s in Paris at the moment so I haven’t told her yet. I’m not sure of her reaction. It’s been hard writing a book of fiction based on your own mother. But that’s a whole other story.

Mum in qi pao


  1. Hi Gabrielle,

    I am like you – a cover will lead me into the book despite the old adage, “Don’t judge…” I think the cover should be the first promise to a reader and I guess I base my initial eyeballing on that principle. If a cover is way out and whacky and doesn’t appeal to me then I get a false sense that the story wont either. Covers are important as you only have those vital seconds to connect with your reader and lure them in. I love this cover for your book. And it is so authentic to the story. Can’t wait to see it on the shelf.

    1. Thanks Lynn.
      Yes, at least the pic will be authentic to the story.
      Sometimes I’m disappointed if the cover or title for that matter, has little to do with the narrative. One book that comes to mind is Tim Winton’s The Riders.
      Young people will often refer to the cover while they are reading a book, checking it against the contents. I know of one book for teens that has a picture of a certain breed of dog on the front cover but in the text it’s a completely different breed.

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