Self Publishing Update — The book cover is almost finished

Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir is the story of the death and life of my disabled sister Annie. I tell it in a modified collage style. Several years ago when I was taking a fiction writing class we read a short story written as a collage and I fell in the love with the style. Nothing is chronological, but vignettes gradually add up to tell the whole story.

This is the way our brains work, I think. We don’t think chronologically. We think by association. We see something, hear something, smell something and our brain pushes forward an association.

Dancing in Heaven is a modified version of collage. I wrote each chapter (except the first and last two) with two parts. The first part tells the story of Annie’s death in a chronological fashion, almost like a journal. The second part of each chapter flips to a vignette, or essay that explains something about Annie’s life.

When I first started thinking about a cover design, I wanted the image of an empty wheelchair on the front because Annie, like many other disabled people, was almost synonymous with her wheelchair. She was never seen out of her bed without it. I mention an empty wheelchair twice in Dancing in Heaven. The first time is an image in my mind when I begin to fear the seriousness of her illness, the second time is the actual object in the house. I felt the empty wheelchair was a powerful communicative image.

When my son Matthew drew an empty wheelchair for my daughter Anna to use on the cover, I thought it looked too empty. So I asked him to add a little stuffed animal.

Anna had the idea she had seen online to create a textured background for the cover by layering photographs. She had seen it done with hundreds of butterfly images that just turned into a beautiful abstract texture.

Something amazing happened when she tried this with a few family photos. A photo of Annie as an infant jumps out, and then if you look closer, you can see me as a child standing on the right side and my mother leaning over to feed Annie in the upper left corner. It causes the viewer to look closer and look into the many layers. Annie’s story has a lot of layers. I loved it.

Anna has been struggling to “color” the wheelchair image to make it fit in with her design. I suggested we simply drop it. I’m showing you both designs today: the unfinished one with the wheelchair image and the one without.

I hope you’ll let me know what you think.

40 thoughts on “Self Publishing Update — The book cover is almost finished”

  1. This won’t be much help. The cover without the wheel chair seems uncluttered, clean so to speak and the chair detracts from the background. In that case the chair may look good as part of the back cover. On the other hand if my family experience involves a wheel chair my eye will immediately be drawn to this cover on the bookshelf. Your name in either cover should be blue so that the only word in yellow is “heaven” The choice of yellow is particularly meaningful to me whose art is accented by color because yellow is sunshine which is hope.

    1. Thanks, Carl. That is helpful. I was wondering about putting the image on the back somewhere. It’s not a bad idea.

      Thanks for the insight into the color yellow. I know you are an artist and I value your opinion.

  2. Hi Christine–how exciting to see. You must be so thrilled to be at this point!

    I like both covers but if pressed I would say the top one, only because I think it reveals more about the story within than the bottom one without the image. I was immediately drawn to the top one.

    Hope that helps!

    1. Thanks Erika,
      I am thrilled, but also frustrated that we can’t seem to knock this project over the edge.

      Now we have to resolve the wheelchair issue.

      We’ll get there.

  3. The collage cover is beautiful.
    I think the problem with the wheelchair (which I like conceptually) is, to my mind, that the style is incompatible with the photography. It’s almost a cartoon (not pejorative about itself, but stylistically) whereas the photography is much more sophisticated and subtle.
    The use of the (a) wheelchair makes it much more specific, about disability or limits in one way or another. Otherwise there’s no hint of this — it’s straightforwardly a memoir about a sister. The wheelchair answers the “so what?” question that always gets asked, whether consciously or not. “Why should I read this book?”
    Are there any photos extant of the wheelchair (can be but doesn’t have to be empty, that’s sort of complicating as an idea) that could be collaged in with something of the centrality of the image of Annie as a baby?

    1. I feel the same way about the style differences. You make some good points that I am also concerned about. I went back through the photos we have in the book, and we were always taking a picture of Annie, not her chair. So we have very little that clearly identifies the wheelchair.

      I could go up to my parents’ house and take a picture of the empty chair. They still have it, but it is covered up with plastic in the garage. I just don’t know if I am up to uncovering it and facing it again.

      Hopefully Anna will figure something out.

  4. I like the one with the wheelchair. The wheelchair plus the child’s photo makes me want to read the cover and see what the book is about. Instead of trying for a photo of the wheelchair, what about stylizing the photo to more of a graphic?


    1. That’s not a bad idea. I don’t know how long that might take my daughter. I really want her to be finished so she doesn’t have to worry about this anymore. One drawback when getting help from family members, I guess.

  5. I like both covers — but I love the one without the wheelchair. The wheelchair seems out of place as the only non-photographic image on the cover. But I also can see that dogear6’s comment might be a good solution so that the wheelchair was another photo layer in the cover. It is quite beautiful and touching and complex either way & I agree, your photo next to Annie’s infant face is wonderful!

    1. We’ve thought about trying to get a picture in that would show the wheelchair as another layer. We’ll have to see what Anna can do. Thanks for helping out with your comments.

  6. Since I started I might as well put in my two cents worth. I agree with the wheelchair in the cover camp. It tells a little about what I may find inside the covers. It gives a clue about what the book is about in contrast to the baby’s face.

  7. I like the top one ~ with the empty wheelchair. I like your name in yellow. But it looks like the “M.” is in italics and the rest of your name is not ~ that seems odd.

  8. The cover with the wheel chair…Dancing In Heaven and the image of an empty wheel chair with a child’s toy in it speaks volumes. That cover shows your sister’s life here on earth and her new life…Dancing in Heaven. Makes me smile…my heart leaps with joy…I want to read this book.

  9. As a bookbuyer/bookseller I buy books for my store based on content but sometimes the cover is what helps push me one way or the other. I think the cover that focuses on the loss of a sister, without the chair, will capture the heart of the reader. Maybe think about using the wheelchair at the beginning of each chapter. Or even as the mark that seperates the seperate parts of each chapter. Best of luck with a very personal decision.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment. I have been back and forth about this cover a million times. I think I’ve decided to put the wheelchair on the back cover.

  10. Great covers.

    1. your name in Blue. the blue will also match the ‘a sister’s memoir’ which then reinforces you being the sister. The ‘a sister’s memoir” in blue looks good and should match whatever your name color is.

    2. I like the italicized M, but for most people they will wonder if it is a mistake and not pick it up.

    3. Both covers have merit (and shows you have one talented family!) yet with a little tweaking, I prefer the one with the empty wheelchair.

    A. As a reader it gives me a hint of why this book exists. With the wheelchair…I can see why the Title matters: she dances in Heaven when she could not dance on Earth.
    B. I prefer the drawn wheelchair over a photo of a real one. The blue bunny shows me Annie was always a child at heart. And it shows me she was/is loved. A real wheelchair would (imo) be too real.
    C. Also the one with the wheelchair uses more of the cover to its advantage. There is less space between your name and the title which allows more focus on Annie’s eyes. And then I can see the ‘layers’ better with the wheelchair one. not sure why but I do.

    I am so happy you are moving along in this….hugs and big congrats!

    1. Your comments are very astute. Thanks for taking the time to give such a detailed response. Anna has continued to tweak things and offered me a version where the wheelchair is on the back where it looks very striking, and a photo of Annie later in life is in the lower right corner of the front. I think I’m going with it.

  11. I prefer the second one. As someone else has pointed out, the style of the wheelchair differs from that of the collage and I think that difference detracts from the images in the collage. I think Carl’s idea of putting the wheelchair on the back cover is a good one.

    All that said, the symbolism of the empty wheelchair is so strong. I can see why you’d want that included.

  12. Hi Christine .. I’m pleased you’ve been able to write the story .. and you have lots of comments about the cover … good luck and I look forward to reading the book at some stage – with many thoughts Hilary

  13. I know you have had this image within your mind for your cover Christine…And I think the idea brings home what is probably in the core of book … But I think a real photo image of a wheelchair would have gone better within the collage other than the super imposed one in the design but made to stand out more..Like the baby’s Face

    If I had to choose between the two as they are above I would choose the one without the wheelchair..

  14. I read all of the comments and you received some fantastic suggestions. I’m not a graphic designer but I just had to add my two cents worth. I like your name in blue and the wheelchair; however, I agree with the comments that pointed out the stylistic difference. Maybe try a real wheelchair but play around with the opacity to see whether a clearer or faded image works better. Perhaps use a generic wheelchair as opposed to dealing with the emotion of Annie’s. Your message extends beyond Annie to others who will relate with the wheelchair.

    PS Thanks for involving all of us in your process.

  15. I agree with your name in blue; and with LeRoy on the wheelchair bringing emphasis to “Dancing in Heaven.” However, it would be better if it could somehow be blended in with the other images. An author who recently spoke to our writers group had an embossing option for the cover of his book. Is there a possibility something like that could be done on the lower corner? (embossed wheelchair or partial image). Your daughter has done a beautiful job with the images.

    1. Thanks, Patti. I have been back and forth about this. I chose a revised version without the wheelchair that included the chair on the back cover. I told Anna not to ask me again.

  16. I am humbled by all of your generous responses to my request. Your answers have been really helpful. I appreciate all of your well-thought out responses.

    I think I am going to stick with the wheelchair. The font colors will all be the same as the bottom one (the top one wasn’t finished.) Anna has worked on the chair a bit and has modified the colors so it seems to blend in better. Your comments about what the wheelchair communicates are in line with my reason for wanting to use it in the first place. I’m going to go with communication over pure aesthetic.

    Hopefully you will see the real thing soon.

    Thanks again for taking the time to help.

  17. These are both really well done covers for your book but I tend to lean toward the first one as it was, as you put it, psynonymous with your sister. It was part and parcel as to how you knew her throughout her life. Will this book be widely published because if so, I would love to read it. Thank You for sharing your journey here.

    1. Thanks, Renee,
      I plan to publish paperbacks through Createspace. Those will be available at I will also have e-books once I figure out how to do it.

      Thanks for your interest.


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