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GHOST TRAIN Cover Reveal!

Unravel the mystery of the cover art, and learn about its real-life history.

By: Natalie Jacobsen

a drawing of a fox and two rabbits chasing each other in a medieveal japanese art print

Readers, it is here at last! The GHOST TRAIN cover has dropped in my inbox, and I'm so happy to be sharing it with you. This is one of the most anticipated steps in this publishing journey, and I have so much to tell you about it.

GHOST TRAIN is my debut novel, a Historical Fiction / Dark Fantasy YA ghost story set in 1877 Kyoto. It follows a samurai's daughter, Maru Hosokawa, during the early years of Emperor Meiji's rule, which spurred Japan's Industrial Revolution.

During the summer, Maru's world rapidly changes. She challenges authority, confronts demons, and seeks to find her place in this Westernizing society. Conflict, plagues, and misinformation rage war on her city. Her struggles parallel our modern issues, and the story ultimately asks: what can we learn from folklore?

Bearing that synopsis in mind, there are several themes and angles to work with when approaching a cover design. What image could be used to evoke the era, or capture the characters, or the tone? How much would a designer want to reveal in a cover, but share to entice a potential reader?

Each genre has a different expectation for a cover design. Horror, as you can expect, will be darker, and likely have a "creepy" factor and red font on the cover. We've all seen the IT cover. Romance covers are almost guaranteed to have two people the cover, using a lighter or more optimistic color palette. Political thrillers will have a picture of a building from Washington, DC and probably someone running away. We come to anticipate certain designs to match the genre, whether spoken or not. We need to know right off the bat if the novel will be for youth, a historical fiction, nonfiction, or foreign language.

Is there a book's cover you will always remember, or return to? Is there a design that always grabs your attention, or stays in your mind even after you've moved on?

On the contrary, is the an example of a book cover that didn't match the genre or story at all, carefully concealing it's contents, in the art of deception?

Everyone has a cover they remember positively, and one that they never picked up because it didn't inspire them enough to pick it up.

While we say we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, we know that, even subconsciously, we all do. The cover can reveal clues and insights to the story before you've read a single word -- and that's powerful.

It may even be the difference as to whether you pick up a book or not.

There were several conversations between myself and the publishing team at SelectBooks regarding the cover design. I mocked up a few drafts and layouts myself, playing with different color schemes, fonts, and ideas they could take and run with. Eventually, they took over the process, having enough ideas to work with, and collaborated with a designer (Janice of Janice Designs), to try out a few design concepts.

I was able to preview three of them and offer both praise and opinion, and weigh in on which elements I thought were strongest, and should be combined or accentuated. Then, a few days later, another version was sent over for a final approval. And I simply couldn't respond with an emphatic "YES!" fast enough.

Now, without further ado...take a look at the GHOST TRAIN cover that made me gasp when revealed:

book cover design featuring a 19th century locomotive in the night, and kimono prints on the border.

There are several things going on with this cover. And yes, I'm happy to go through all of it with you.

First and foremost: that train image. The centerpiece of GHOST TRAIN's cover may look familiar to you. If it does, let me fill in the gaps a bit: it's already been used for my marketing of the novel! For over a year, I have been using the original ukiyo-e (woodblock) print by Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) for eliciting a tone and transport potential readers back to the era in which GHOST TRAIN is set.

Kobayashi first painted this image in 1879, depicting one of the first locomotives that drove through Japan after being delivered by England. What makes his paintings unique is they are predominantly set at nighttime, a highly uncommon thing to capture in Japanese art. It brings about a dark and brooding sense of something coming...or lurking in the night. The former samurai, who originally fought to defend the shogun before Emperor Meiji reclaimed the throne, turned to art as a way to observe and process the changes Japan was undergoing and provide commentary on what he saw and how he felt.

Historians and art curators agree that this piece, in collection with this others from the same time period, evoke a sense of dread and doubt over the benefit and good Westernization was bringing Japan at the time. While many welcomed the changes, Kobayashi was among those who harbored resistance and critiqued the rapidness in which Meiji allowed the changes to happen. The locomotives roared in the night, and changed the landscape of Japan forever.

ukiyo-e of a locomotive traveling across a bridge at night

The next elements your eyes may be drawn to are the three abstract prints across the very top and the bottom in a collage-like format. These are intentional, and also carry a historical weight to them.

In GHOST TRAIN, Maru is left behind by her father to work; the first woman in her family in generations to do so. Samurai daughters don't work. But her father wants Maru to embrace Emperor Meiji's new world, so she takes up a role in a teahouse as an assistant.

Suddenly immersed in the world of geisha and maiko, Maru must overcome challenging relationships, learn the art form of conversation, and help appease guests who haunt their teahouse. The summer is a blur of colors and chaos, and these prints are meant to evoke that sense of confusion and exhilaration of being part of Kyoto's esteemed teahouse alleys.

The prints are, in fact, real kimono prints. The star, floral, and abstract designs capture the different events, festivities, hierarchies, and styles of prints they may have worn in the late 19th Century. Many of these prints are still found in traditional kimono and robes today; you can also find many innovative, creative designs and prints, but these are classics that relate to both time period and tradition in the teahouse. We went through several kimono and washi prints before these were settled on. We shifted through fish scale designs, floral, and wave textures, experimenting with those they meshed together and different senses they evoked.

two women in kimono and a child pointing inside a house with a large lantern overhead

Next, the font.

The font may be a little surprising. The interior font differs substantially, mimicking a more delicate, calligraphy-style art (I can't wait to reveal that, either!), while the cover is bold, retro, and thriller-esque. Why?

Well, frankly, GHOST TRAIN is a bit of a thriller. Its paranormal elements and tempo can be compared to that of a thriller, with the mysteries and danger mounting right until the last page. The font needed to be eye-catching, but not incite evil (so no red or drips of blood). It couldn't blend in too much with the background, so it eliminated blues and blacks. It couldn't be thin; it needed to stand out and follow the flow and direction of the train, and natural direction the eye would go in, hence the yellow, bold-faced GHOST TRAIN design you see here.

And the beautiful endorsement by Jake Adelstein, journalist and author of Tokyo Vice, The Last Yakuza, and, summer 2024, Tokyo Noir, is a cherry on top to the entire cover. It ties together and tells the reader what to expect, in a way that is both humbling and heartwarming (to me).

All together, I am pleased with how it came to be. We worked hard to get the details right and ensure the readers would both be intrigued and have enough information to pick it up and read it's summary or first pages. Tell me -- would you pick it up if you saw it in a bookstore or on a library shelf?

The spine and back layout will be revealed at a later date! I have seen early versions of those and am just as thrilled by them. There will be even more secrets and elements to delve into once those get publicly shared. Until then, join my circle here so you get the latest updates and hear as soon as the full layout is released.

Want to help me get the word out? Please do! Things readers can do:

  • Save the image to your device, and share it to social media.

  • Tag me on Instagram or Thread (@natalieannaj), or Facebook (@hello.annabanana), or Twitter (@JacobseNatalie)

  • Let everyone know the book will be out October 8, 2024!

  • Add it on Goodreads or Storygraph (and invite your book club and friends to do so)

  • Share your review if you've read it!

  • Stay on the lookout for opportunities to be an ARC reader or Street Team member to help read and promote GHOST TRAIN in advance of publication.

  • In posts, link back to my website: and encourage them to subscribe to my newsletter.

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