Behind the Covers: Bringing Covers to Life and the Choice Between Kinetic vs. Potential Energy

I remember a vivid lesson in the difference between kinetic and potential energy from my ninth grade bio class. Our teacher held up a book and asked, “Does this have kinetic or potential energy?” A student, not one of his favorites, raised his hand and said, “Kinetic.” Our teacher whipped the book at the kid and said, “No, that’s kinetic energy.”

We don’t use these terms a lot in our discussion of covers here at BHP, but I think they apply when we think about what brings life and “sparkle” to a cover

Most of the covers we see these days in CBA are posed models in beautiful dresses or Amish costumes. That’s a raw generalization of course, but I could easily put together forty new covers culled from everyone’s list and you’d see it repeated again and again. These covers are often wonderful and beautiful, but they are all about the “potential” energy. Everything is still with a posed cover. There may be a cock of a wrist or pose of an arm, but most of what is conveyed is through the face. You read the expression and make up a story for the character. A slightest uptick of a mouth can turn a serious cover into something whimsical. A widening of the eye can make a model look even more frightened. The photographer has a lot of control over these photo shoots and, because models are often print models, they feel comfortable with stillness.

The idea of motion on a cover is nothing new certainly and I’m not claiming at all to have invented it. It’s a preference of mine, though, solidified when I saw this very simple, beautiful ABA  cover. I love the possibility of kinetic energy on covers. It’s a trick-of-the-eye of course. A photograph can never show anything but “potential” energy. The subject is always frozen in place and time. But when the image is strong enough, I think we trick our mind predict the next moment.

One of my favorite recent covers where we specifically tried to capture motion and energy in the imagery was Regina Jenning’s debut novel Sixty Acres and a Bride. The cover grew right out of Regina’s story. Her heroine, Rosa Garner, is vivacious and full of life. A fish-out-of-water in a small historical Texas town, she’s the kind of woman who’s disappointed to learn she can’t race the boys. Back home she was fast. She ran! But here, in America, that’s not what women do. But Rosa can’t help herself. She needs to move and there’s a scene where she dances La Mariposa  that’s wonderfully flirtatious, fun, and ALIVE with energy. It crackles with tension. And I felt if we could get 1/100 of that energy on the cover we’d be set. So when I sent cover notes to our art director I made a specific request: “She is vivacious so some sense of movement (dancing?) would be wonderful. “

In my mind, our designers and cover team delivered beautifully. (It’s nice working with immensely talented artists!)  It’s not the crackling energy of a sultry dance (that, after all, probably would be a bit too much for our market) but it’s a woman caught in a moment. Perhaps she’s wrapping herself up, sheltering herself from the problems that have come with her new life. Or perhaps she’s undoing the scarf, ready to move, ready to take on the challenge. Whatever the case, there’s energy there, movement, and, and life.

Sixty Acres is just one of the most recent examples  of us trying to bring kinetic energy to covers. Another one that jumps out in my memory is Karen Witemeyer’s delightful Head in the Clouds which is a bit of wonderfully underplayed slapstick that helps prove the maxim a picture is worth a thousand words. Would love to hear if you have favorite covers that somehow capture the feeling of motion, even in a still photo.

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5 responses to “Behind the Covers: Bringing Covers to Life and the Choice Between Kinetic vs. Potential Energy

  1. I’m still amazed by this cover. Who else but Rosa could this be? And it’s interesting to hear about the collaboration between the editorial and the art departments. Thanks for featuring this cover.

  2. I absolutely love covers. Fun hearing your thoughts. I too was blown away by the cover of Sixty Acres and a Bride. There is so much emotion and story packed into that single image. Truly moving.

  3. I found this fascinating! In all my covers, I’ve never really thought about the potential/kinetic energy concept, but your are so right. Most are still life–repeatedly. I’ve been a fan of Bethany House covers for a very long time but never knew why. Thank you for the insight. By the way, the first time I saw Regina’s cover, long before the book hit the stands, I knew I HAD to buy that book. The cover sold me.

  4. I just had a peek at Regina’s newest novel, Love in the Balance, and I immediately noticed the horse and carriage moving quickly towards the young woman standing on the porch. This movement brought my eyes to the luggage (a great deal of luggage which would suggest this wasn’t going to be a quick trip) and then I studied the young woman’s face and I thought she looked a little apprehensive, calculating and impatient. It’s a great cover and conveys a lot about the story, but leaves me with many questions! I’m looking forward to reading it.

  5. I just saw Maureen Lang’s cover for Bees in the Butterfly Garden. Since the butterflies are in mid-flight, it gave me a great since of the kinetic energy you were talking about. Fun how something so little can make such a big change. Without the butterflies, I don’t think I would have the same sense of movement.

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