The Language of the Back Cover
By Don Jacobson
With the advent of e-books, readers now no longer have to go to the bookstore or library to pull their favorite author’s work off the shelf. All they need to do is download a copy and immediately start flipping pages.
Oh, yes…and that flipping invariably happens on the first item nested in the Table of Contents. In most cases, that is Chapter 1. What is rarely seen is the front cover.
Well, not exactly. The reader certainly saw the cover when visiting the website from which the book was obtained. And, yes, the cover does appear in a thumbnail form in the e-book reader library. However, the postage stamp’s worth of color art does little to provide anything more than the barest sense of theme and message.
That is “bad enough” given the amount of effort professional designers put into creating a powerful cover for any book. But there is much more to a hardcover dust jacket or paperback wrapper than simply a “pretty” picture, the book’s title and the author’s name. Yet, e-book readers never have the chance to enjoy the total package.
There is the spine. And there is the topic of today’s blog—the back cover.
Consider the four critical back cover elements you can take time dissecting:
Each, of course, plays a crucial part in supporting the manner in which a reader (or potential reader) engages with the book. The back cover provides the first opportunity for the author to offer the reader elements of the underlying discourse that drives the book itself.
I have found my artistic partner in the form of the remarkable Janet B. Taylor. JAFF readers have enjoyed her cover art for years. Janet is an unsung hero in this world. She contributes to the ultimate realization of a creative vision in ways that cannot be expressed except by pointing them. out
In the Bennet Wardrobe books, Janet and I have found an equitable division of labor. When it comes to designing the covers and spines for the books, I usually track down the master visual for the cover. Janet finds the complimentary colors for the title blocks: a good thing because my wife suggests my color sense is best demonstrated by me dressing in the closet with the door closed and the lights off. She also builds the rose garlands and wreaths.
However, Janet has 100% license to determine the layout and design of the back covers.
Consider the latest Volume of the Bennet Wardrobe, the conclusion of Kitty’s story: The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn.
The teaser is easy to unpack. A quote from the Countess of Deauville sets the stage for the underlying thought that the speaker is a mature woman and not a flighty adolescent. She offers wisdom that affirms all that JAFFers know about Wickham. However, because it really is unnecessary to say that Wickham tries to blame his misfortunes on everybody else (especially Darcy), readers have to ask themselves, “Well then, why say it…unless it is to establish a counterpoint to where Wickham will end up.” Ahhhh….
Then the headlines bring readers back to the giant question hanging out there: just who is the Countess? Again, we know the answer. So, why offer these questions? Because the first part of The Exile ended its main plot arc when Kitty Bennet was 23 years old. Readers need to know that the woman they will encounter is one who has spent over 40 years in the future.
There will be no dewy-eyed looks of young love from the Fourth Daughter. There will be no misunderstandings rooted in her lack of experience. Rather she will bring the full force of her life as a leading figure in 20th Century British society to play in the 19th Century ton.
The Reveal Copy does just that. It expands the storyline started by the Teaser.
In the Reveal for Countess, the first paragraph again takes readers back to the Canon as well as to the first part of Exile. Kitty languishes in the brilliant sunshine that is Lydia. Young Catherine (oh, how she hates that name) Marie will need education to become the proper gentlewoman who can bring credit to the Bennet name.
The Wardrobe, of course, agrees…just not with the same where/when…1811 Cornwall…determined by Mr. Bennet. The mystery is maintained.
The third paragraph now offers the core context for the book itself: that the 63-year-old Dowager Countess of Matlock has returned to 1811 Longbourn to undertake business critical to the Five Families.
And, finally, the last paragraph leaves a gigantic curveball hanging out over the plate.
The Review Quote, in this case from the great Joana Starnes, provides a sense of the quality of storytelling and writing readers can expect. I will not expand on it except to say that every one of my “angels” who have graced me with positive notices are supportive on the days when no new book is in the works.
Finally we come to the piece de resistance: the background art.
Here Janet rolls up her sleeves and dives in to offer hints of what rests between the covers.
Consider the art for Countess Visits Longbourn.
There are, of course, the treatments of the clock and the Wardrobe. This establishes continuity with the other books of the Wardrobe Series.
Then she offers up unique elements that present an interpretation of the cruxes of the book. In Countess, look at the young woman who dominates the entire vision. Who is she? She is blond, but her hair is not of corn silk texture like Kitty’s. Why the mask? Of course, the rose-colored gown carries through the rose theme that is found in every Wardrobe book.
There is a logo in the lower right. This is the device of the Honourable East India Company otherwise known in slang as John Company. What is the meaning here?
If you consider the other three back covers, you will notice the following special elements, clues if you will, within the background art beyond the Wardrobe and the clock face:
The Keeper: Sheet music and what appears to be a raging fire
The Exile (Pt. 1): A carte de visite with a hand-painted rose and a man driving a
horse-drawn wagon in the midst of a winter storm
Lizzy Bennet: A steam yacht and a Red Bourbon Rose
Every element of a book contributes to the ultimate telling of the story. This begins with the cover, but especially with the back cover. Take the time…even if you are downloading an e-book, to go to the print book option and click on the cover art so lovingly created by a master in the field.
The Bennet Wardrobe books are best read in the following order:
The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey
Henry Fitzwilliam’s War
The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque
Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess
The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn
Thie following excerpt is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. No portion ay be reproduced in any manner—either electronic or print—without the expressed written consent of the creator of the work. Published in the United States of America.
The following excerpt is from Book One of “The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn.” Here we join Lady Kitty Fitzwilliam the Dowager Countess of Matlock (11th) and Mr. Thomas Bennet late in their meeting on December 11, 1811, the day after Jane and Lizzy’s weddings.
Kitty’s final appeal brought the business session of the audience to a close. Neither she nor her father could discover other words that needed to be spoken. Further introductions to the remaining denizens of Longbourn House were out of the question. In any event, a subtle knock on the door alerted them to the fact that the carriage was on its way…and so, too, should be the Lady.
As the Countess gracefully rose from her seat beneath the French windows, she glanced down over her trés chic suit, certainly a head-turner at the Georges Cinq in Paris. Unfortunately, the Chanel would prove to be the same in Regency-era Mayfair, but not for the same reasons.
Ah, in my desire to be secretive, I neglected to consider that I would be traveling light. What I am wearing right now, expensive as it was in 1932, would get me arrested in 1811!
Spearing her father with her Bennet Eyes, she lifted one eyebrow in an unspoken appeal. Papa nodded and, without uttering a word, strode over to the Wardrobe, its doors still open after Kitty’s arrival. Reaching inside, he removed a robin’s egg blue muslin gown, a deeper blue pelisse, and a sedate bonnet. He pulled a pair of kid gloves and a well-worn reticule from the shelf. He presented the collection to Kitty.
“You are of a size with Jane, I imagine. I asked her to give me these as she emptied her wardrobe in preparation for her wedding and eventual remove to Netherfield. Having had the Keeper’s Talk, she knew my purpose. T’is important to keep some clothing available against arrivals from remoter times.
“I am afraid that the fashion is a few years out of date. Even though my reserved Jane found these to her taste, they may be somewhat inappropriate for a woman of your age. There is nothing for it, though. In any event, your exposure to interested eyes will be limited to the few steps from Longbourn’s front door to the coach. And, t’will be dark when you reach Town,” Thomas stated.
With that, he sauntered away from her, past his worktable, to take up his station, once again, at the window overlooking the front drive. An untrained watcher would assume that he was awaiting the arrival of the hired conveyance while giving his visitor a measure of privacy while she changed her attire. However, one more observant would notice the manner in which his hands, clasping one another behind his back, worried themselves, betraying the currents of emotion roiling Bennet’s soul.
A discreet clearing of a feminine throat advised him that Kitty was finished. As he began to turn, a compact coach clattered along the shingled drive up to the front portico. Time for farewells.
He made a slight detour to his humidor before returning to stand before his daughter. He held out two cigars. She took them, but held them up between their bodies begging the question.
Bennet rumbled a chuckle, “I heard you chide yourself for being in short supply of those, please forgive me, loathsome cigarettes. I know that I become as cantankerous as a bear with a toothache if I want a cigar and cannot have one.
“Are you any different if you run out of cigarettes? I am certain you will discover a way to replenish your supply of tobacco, but until then, please take these. I do abjure you to avoid smoking them in public…at least without me in attendance to be amused by the audience’s reactions!”
Kitty shook her head. Her father was nothing if not the most cynical observer of human foibles she had ever known.
She replied, “I am not like my dear departed friend, Isadora Duncan, who would often smoke a cigar to bask in the outrage. Trust me, Papa, I would not seek to expose myself to societal obloquy if only to preserve my cover identity. T’is not my way.
“These will serve as nicotine-tinctured life preservers. I will have to find a way to get to Cheapside and visit Uncle Edward’s emporium for some fine cut Turkish.” Then she stepped over to the desk and grabbed a sheet of foolscap in which she wrapped the dark tubes before stowing them in her period-correct purse.
When she had finished her small task, Bennet rested his hand upon her shoulder.
In a husky voice, he addressed her, “You, my dear, have turned into someone I would never have imagined you to become. You have such confidence. And, your grace and beauty are nonpareil!
“You have assuredly found the answers which the Wardrobe knew you needed to find. I pray that your path was not heart-wrenchingly difficult.
“As tempted as I am to quiz you about the destinies of my other children and, perhaps, myself and your Mother, I also am enough of a Keeper to know that you could never satisfy me.
“It will have to suffice for me to assume that the others grew into themselves in a like manner.”
His words left Kitty speechless and choking back tears that coursed down her silken cheeks. All she could do was throw her arms around her father in a trembling embrace.
Another knock on the door signaled that they had to part.
Thomas pushed Kitty back to arms-length and looked intently down at her, as if he were memorizing her every feature.
Then he said, “Once you pass through that doorway into the front hall, let us carry on with the conceit that you were replying to a notice I had placed searching for a companion for my daughters. However, my decision to send you to seminary eliminated that opportunity. You, however, did agree to escort her to the school in Cornwall.”
Kitty nodded. Then she returned to the chair near the fireplace in which she had been sitting. She bent and picked up the portfolio and again moved to the desk where she proceeded to wrap it in paper like the cigars. She clutched the package to her chest.
She said, “I love you, Papa.” And quickly opened the door and stepped through into the adjacent passage.
Out of the corner of her eye she spied movement on the landing of the stairwell descending from the bedrooms on the upper level. While there was no glint of reflected light off of ever-present spectacles, the lithe figure could only be Mary as Kitty doubted that her mother, the only other Bennet remaining unseen, would have left her chambers even by this late hour. After all, yesterday she had managed to marry off not one but two daughters to wealthy gentlemen! Mrs. Bennet would in all likelihood keep to her bed until tomorrow. The Mistress of Longbourn would need to recuperate from her exertions, all the better to remind Lady Lucas, Mrs. Goulding, and Mrs. Long of her family’s good fortune.
However, to Kitty’s relief, the young lady retreated back into the shadows, all the better to observe unseen. Why she did not choose to make the acquaintance of her father’s visitor remained a mystery. The Countess glanced back at Papa who had followed a few paces behind. She flashed her eyes upwards with a subtle head nod pointing toward the stairs. Bennet took his cue and began his speech.
“I wish to thank you for coming all of this way, Madame Robard, in response to my advertisement for a companion for my daughter Catherine. I regret that I was unable to stop you from making your journey once I had determined to send her off to school. I have hired a private carriage to carry her to the seminary in Cornwall. I do appreciate your willingness to escort her. This solves many problems,” Thomas said.
“Oh, Mr. Bennet, t’is of no consequence. The weather has been very mild this past week, and so my passage from Dover was accomplished quickly and in comfort. The walk from Meryton was pleasant and the air invigorating. As for accompanying Miss Kitty, I am more than happy to do that. The trip West will be inspiring, and I will contact you when I return to the area,” Kitty replied, her voice betraying a modest French lilt as if her English was a bit out of use.
“Well, my daughter will benefit from spending time with someone who demonstrates such refined qualities. She may arrive at the seminary more cultivated than when she left here. I have sent expresses ahead to arrange accommodations for both of you along the way. Please take this purse for your troubles and any expenses on the journey,” Mr. Bennet added.
Kitty did try to demur, knowing her family’s usual financial condition, but Mr. Bennet finally wore her down. Finances organized, he assisted her out the front door and across the drive to the coach.
His last words to her were fraught with multiple meanings, “Advise Kitty that her luggage will follow her. Although I did tell her of my love, please remind her every day. I hope that you will send an express when you reach your destination.”
Handing her into the chaise, the gentleman paused momentarily to squeeze the Countess’ hand. Then, with a softened countenance, Bennet bade his child farewell. He closed the door and stepped back toward the front entrance.
But, as the wheels began to crunch through the gravel, Thomas turned and waved to the carriage, calling out, “Take care, daughter. Have a safe journey.”
The well-sprung coach, truly a pleasant surprise given the usual condition of rental conveyances, quickly left behind the burgeoning precincts of Meryton, transforming as it was from a sleepy market town into a bustling manufacturing center. Watson’s Textiles employed hundreds. Those workers and their families needed the staples of life and diverse entertainments to divert themselves from near 70-hour workweeks. Ramshackle houses and ad hoc taverns, many often no more than canvas walls nailed to wood frames above straw-covered dirt floors, were jammed cheek-to-jowl in the former marshlands between the Mimram and the factory itself. Women cooked over communal stoves and in brick ovens set up in open spaces between the hovels in the full knowledge that any open flame in their shelters could lead to tragedy.
The bucolic farming town of her girlhood was already vanishing, as much as if it, too, had stepped through the Wardrobe.
Yet, while Meryton is changing, barely a five-minute carriage ride down the road from the parade grounds rests the time of Cromwell. Tenants work their fields as they have for hundreds of years. Masters care for all of their folk in the full knowledge that their happiness and success is dependent upon those who work the farms and pay the rents. Not like the captains of industry in my day—well, at least all those excepting Darcy-Bingley Enterprises.
What would Papa say if he knew that instead of a four-hour long bone-rattling journey across twenty-four miles of indifferent road to travel into Town, Henry’s beloved Duesenberg “J” could make the same transit on the smooth new tarmac of the A1 in less than thirty minutes? And, only a few miles would pass through relative country, the remainder being swallowed up by that vast amoeba known as London.
Kitty smiled as she recalled her husband’s boyish grin splitting his face beneath his signature dark glasses, his balding scalp protected by a tartan cap. His gloved hands would have gripped the burnished walnut of the “Doosie’s” wheel as he worked his way through the gears, the throaty roar of the massive 8-cylinder power plant prohibiting conversation. Why talk, though, when I could rest my hand on his leg, feeling the twitch of his bunched muscles as he pushed the accelerator pedal closer to the floorboards?
She bundled herself beneath the plush lap robe graciously provided by the hostler. The warmth flowing up from the heated bricks combined with the soft swaying of the carriage gradually lulled her into a dreamless sleep, the momentous events of the day having left her exhausted. As such, the Dowager Countess of Matlock missed her first Hertfordshire sunset in nearly a half-century, glimmering through the frosty grayness of naked oaks and elms speeding past the window against which her right shoulder rested.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“I have been shaped by the events of over forty years. The world is a nasty place full of awful persons, Mr. Wickham, and does not get any lighter through complaining or blaming.”
The Countess: An Enigma? A Mystery? Or a young girl all-grown-up?
Kitty Bennet, the fourth daughter of the Master and Mistress of Longbourn, had spent far too long as the shadow of her youngest sister. The all-knowing Meryton chinwaggers suggested that young Miss Bennet needed education—and quickly.
How right they were…but the type of instruction Kitty Bennet received, and the where/when in which she matriculated was far beyond their ken. For they knew nothing of that remarkable piece of furniture which had been part of the lives of clan Bennet for over 120 years: The Bennet Wardrobe.
Forty-six years from when she left her Papa’s bookroom, the Dowager Countess of Matlock returned to that exact same moment in 1811 to tend to many important pieces of Family business.
In the process, Kitty Fitzwilliam helped her youngest sister find the love she craved with the hero who, as the Duke said, “saved us all.”
Who can resist the magic of time-travel? Pages of worldwide history rustle back and forth between Regency grand salons, Napoleonic battlefields and more recent conflicts as, guided by Don Jacobson’s masterful pen, the Bennet sisters grow as people and come into their own. ‘The Countess Visits Longbourn’ is a wonderful new instalment, and we cannot fail to revel in the excellent writing and the abundance of detail as the mysteries of the Wardrobe continue to unfold. This captivating series, that brings together real and much-loved fictional characters from all walks of life, is one to savour, and I will revisit it again and again. - Joana Starnes, author of Miss Darcy’s Companion
Meet the author
Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years. His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He has previously published five books, all non-fiction. In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series—The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series. Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”
Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations. As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.
He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound. Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).
He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear. Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.
His other passion is cycling. Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills). He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days). Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).