Cover Story

How our art designer and editor collaborated on this cover


The fetching cover for Marion Grace Woolley’s Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran sprang from a collaborative effort between designer Gábor Csigás and editor Salomé Joes, with the help of two photographers and a renaissance painter. Salomé tells the story here.


Marion submitted Those Rosy Hours to us in February 2014. It piqued my curiosity enough that I read the whole book within a week. I was very excited about it and started emailing Gábor about the cover right away.

At first we couldn’t find photos. He was looking and I was looking separately. I think at first we both had this idea that it would end up resembling something that was already out there. But the more I looked at extant covers, the more I thought they were wrong for it.

I found a black and white photo of a girl’s face that I liked and I sent it to Gábor to see what he thought. He replied quickly: “I thought you didn’t want dark photos.” I said, “I don’t want emotionally dark photos, but the actual color can be dark.” There followed a flurry of emailed links to photos he’d been perusing by Babak Fatholahi, an Iranian photographer. Babak had done a lot of atmospheric portraits of women, dark-haired, beautiful and perfect for Afsar, the Iranian protagonist in the book. I spent a long time looking through them, feeling that one would be just right, but not quite finding it.

Finally Gábor and I exchanged lists of the ones we liked best. In the end he approved of three that I also liked. He first made a cover using one of the photos. It seemed too sinister to me and I said no to it. We eventually agreed on this photo:

(‘To the End’ by Babak Fatholahi)

1122555.jpgGábor designed a trial cover using the photo. He had found the Ottoman harem tile and applied it as a texture to the model’s face. We thought we were golden. But we hadn’t gotten permission to use the photo yet, so we were holding our breath.

There was a bit of kerfuffle because I assumed I’d need to communicate with Babak in Farsi. I found someone to translate my email to him after I sent him an email in English and got no response. By the time the translator got back to me, Babak had replied in English.  He immediately said he was honored to have us use the photo, and he provided me a larger size. All good, right?

In fact the photo was too small to fill the whole cover at a high enough resolution.

We thought we might be back to square one. Together Gábor and I had spent four days scouring photo websites for the right face and had found it. One young enough, pretty enough, but also believably Iranian, as well as slightly sinister looking (which is right for the story). As a bonus, taken by a Iranian photographer. We really didn’t want to start over.

I began looking at historical novel covers. I noticed a fair few that were divided–a face at the top, a setting on the bottom. I wrote to Gábor with an example and he said he’d been thinking the same thing. But what would we put down there?

I spent a few hours searching Wikipedia for Persian architecture and stumbled on a photo of Abbasi House on the Wikimedia commons, taken by Fabien Dany.

7188487.jpgBut according to the terms of the Creative Commons license we couldn’t just use it. I wrote to Fabien and negotiated a license.

We were working with a very small budget for this cover and since every photo we found took us a couple of days of intense research, I was very nervous when asking permission. I’m glad that’s not my main job. It’s anxious work.

Gábor liked the photo, Fabien sold us rights to use it at a rate within our budget,  and we were able to get a high res file. But something was missing, I felt. There needed to be a Phantom figure. I had been trying to find a way to include him all along, though I hadn’t managed to convince Gábor because all my ideas were lame

I looked at many images of the Phantom on covers for The Phantom of the Opera and related books, but none of them spoke to me for this book. I didn’t want to do exactly what had already been done. For one thing, Erik was not yet the Phantom in this book and his masks as described in Those Rosy Hours were not just the plain white of the typical Phantom cover. He was described wearing a Pantalone mask at one point. So I started searching for Commedia figures, including people attending Carnivale in Italy.

It was Gábor who came up with the Phantom figure for the cover, though. He found it in a place I hadn’t thought to look: an eighteenth century painting.




So at last we had all the photo components of the cover.  All we needed was Gábor’s magic.

At the right is my original mockup for you to laugh at.

Gábor actually said I was ‘getting better.’

It was his brilliant idea to repeat the figure and leave trails of smoky power behind. The novel contains a palace full of secret rooms and the idea of the Phantom figure zipping through doors to appear in a new place fit perfectly with the other wondrous feats he performed during the story. Gábor is psychic sometimes. When I finally got his draft design, my mouth literally fell open.

I had originally asked Gábor to write some additional commentary but he didn’t have time today so he did what artists do and used pictures to tell his story. Only this one moves. Here’s his gif of his process. Revealing, even to me.

8786147_origThanks to Babak Fatholahi and Fabien Dany. And of course, Gábor Csigás.

Our New Book Project: After Red Phone Box

If you’ve been following along recently, you know we’ve stopped publishing and are on hiatus. This happened for a couple of reasons. The inciting incident, so to speak was that Salome, our acquisitions editor was very  ill and in the hospital for weeks. Then she spent months recovering. But underlying issues also existed.  Salome and […]

We’re Taking a Hiatus from Publishing Novels

The core of Ghostwoods Books is being fair to authors, which means splitting a book’s sales 50/50. That’s our strength, but it’s also a vulnerability. Most books don’t sell that many copies, and that’s true right across the publishing industry. When you’re being fair to authors, and to readers, that means not much income. We’ve always […]

Evolution or Revolution? ¿Por qué no los dos?

When Tim started Ghostwoods Books, he was mostly thinking that digital publishing might allow publishers to share profits equally with writers. We tried that for a while before realizing that books were very hard to sell unless you had a strategy for attracting readers. We continued publishing while also doing editing and writing as a […]