The Story Behind the Cover Art & Title of Poison or Protect (Delightfully Deadly Behind the Magic)

Posted by Gail Carriger

Hello Gentle Reader,

Today I have for you the story behind the cover of Poison or ProtectAnd now more on the cover art of my first self-published novella…  

This is the first in the Delightfully Deadly series which are grown-up spin offs from my YA Finishing School series.

Hopefully you can see the tonal familiarities?

Elements I specifically targeted and married over:

  • font style and upright title treatment (it’s not angled or slashed)
  • model stance and gaze (specifically from the Waistcoats cover)
  • wallpaper and shading
  • characters in black & white (I shifted to sepia tones)
  • the main color being the background
  • one additional pop of contrasting color (in my YA this is the weapon, in my new series it’s the red lipstick – these books are sexier)

Gail Carriger Waistcoats Weaponry Poison Protect Finsihing School Delightfully Deadly


The fact that I made my own name bigger than the title is an intentional branding and feminist choice. Branding: As an indie project I need to catch the attention of my existing reader base, which means making my name the biggest thing on the cover. Feminist: In SF/F men often get to have their author names larger than the title but women rarely do. So yeah, f-’em.

I chose an underdressed model and to emphasize the red lips because these books are sexier than their YA counterparts and I wanted to make that obvious visually. The slash behind the title is a take off from my adult Parasol Protectorate series, and is meant to signal “this is adult like those” to my existing readers.

Other intentional choices? Titles

The series title DELIGHTFULLY DEADLY was chosen because one the words reviewers and fans most use when describing my books is delightful and I thought it was such a good word I decided to thank them and have fun myself by using it for a series title. Also these two words provide a contrast that is intrinsic to my spy characters: that they can be both delightful and deadly. I made this alliterative too, in order to harken to my first series, The Parasol Protectorate. Finally they aren’t coupled together commonly so I could own the search term and the SEO.

The titles for the Delightfully Deadly series are all also alliterative, just like the original Finishing School titles, but I will use or instead of & as these stories emphasize a choice the main character must make between being an spy and being in love: Poison or Protect, Defy or Defend, etc…

Each title also indicates who the main character is:

  • P = Preshea’s book = Poison or Protect
  • D = Dimity’s book = Defy or Defend

And so forth. This is a mnemonic device so I can remember the titles (since I forget my own titles but not main character names), and as a little cookie for my readers.

Finding the Cover Model

I like to work with independent photographers, models, and small businesses. But I am not above using stock art. Just FYI.

I had a good idea of what Preshea looked like, and frankly, Autumn is a friend of mine and I always thought of Preshea as looking a little bit like her. Not that Autumn is cold or liable to poison you (in fact she is one of the warmest, nicest, most generous people I know), but she does have the right LOOK. Autumn and I have worked together for yers (once, long ago in a different life I actually did some modeling for her, but I digress) so I pinged about her professional images and turned up this gem.

Why did this image attract me?

I wanted something confrontational, with Preshea staring out of the cover directly at the reader. (She’s an assassin after all. It needed to feel almost aggressive.) I liked the contrast of the white dress/underthings with this pose. (This was from a wedding shoot. Dark Garden does some truly amazing bridal couture.) Also the cover MUST say romance, I can’t have readers deluded by the cover into thinking this is any other kind of story. I work very hard never to leave my readers feeling betrayed and that starts with cover art.

I feel like this image hit all the right notes. So I reached out to Autumn and she gave me the photographer’s contact info. A short while later the lovely Perry Gallagher had licensed me the image. Image in hand I went to Starla Huchton for the cover design.

How did I find Starla?

Starla is a friend of mine via the podcasting world. However, that alone would not have been enough, if the quality of her work weren’t stellar. She’s a particularly adaptable cover art designer, who can change her style drastically given the type of story. Take a look at her gallery if you don’t believe me.

So we talked fonts, putting paint slashes behind my name and title, arrangements, layout, and so forth. The idea was to draw on the slashing-behind-the-words style of The Parasol Protectorate books, but keep the coloration and lay out style of The Finishing School books. At the same time, this cover had to be different enough to show that this was a new series, adult, and romantic.


The first and second passes.  You can see that after the first pass I asked to see the font as white over black, and shifted down, also I wanted to see what a more vibrant background looked like. I found that blue too vibrant. So Starla tweaked it one final time and…. MAGIC:

You can see how the purple is more vibrant but not as overwhelming as the blue? The text is balanced at the bottom, and Preshea looks out at you, calm, coy, and ever so slightly threatening.


Why the purple and not pink like the other first books in your series?

Well, Poison or Protect is NOT the first in a series. It’s a stand alone. I wanted to make that very clear. I felt pink might be misleading. Also Preshea is not a pink person. She is cool and calm and very icy. She wears blues, greens, greys, and whites in all her appearances in this book and I wanted to stick with that for her character.

Print 1Prudence 1Etiquette&Espionage

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Your Moment of Parasol . . .

1861 La Belle Assemblee
Wednesday, May 1, 1861 Item ID-  v. 41, plate 123


Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Afternoon dress, 1855-65. via shewhoworshipscarlin tumblr

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  
Harvard Loses Copyright Infringement Case Against Steve Elmo

Book News:
Gail Carriger Made the 100 Must-Read Sci-Fi Fantasy Novels By Female Authors list by BookRiot

Quote of the Day:

“Everyone’s mysterious before you know them.” “But w-when you know me, I won’t be mysterious anymore.” “Yeah, you’ll be you, and that’ll be better.”

~ Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall

Questions about Gail’s steampunk world? There’s a wiki for that!

Preshea All Grown Up ~ Secrets of Poison or Protect (Delightfully Deadly Special Extras)

Posted by Gail Carriger

Poison or Protect the first novella in the Decidedly Deadly series features Preshea.

I’ve been particularly focused on inspirational images for her. Here are a few I have collected…


Carmen, Duchesse de Montmorency
via Dr Rachael Turner @turner_rachael

Here’s a painting of Preshea dreaming. (You know at least one of her husbands would have had her painted in an overly romantic manner.)

via @MimiMatthewsEsq  “The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of” by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858

Here’s another one of her looking languid. For some reason, with Preshea, I gravitate towards these kinds of images. I see her as sad and pensive, warn by all that poisoning.

Preshea Relaxing via Natl Gallery of Art @ngadc  by John Singer Sargent


my-ear-trumpet- tumblr  finevernacularphotography-
Curtis & Crosby, Lewiston, Maine, USA, ca. 1870s
Carte de visite, 4 x 2 ½ ins. (10 x 6 cm) © Fine Vernacular Photography

And here is an image that is insight into something that happens in the story itself: Preshea actual consoling one of the other house guests. Does she actually manage to grow a heart? You’ll have to read to find out.

“The Approaching Footstep” by Thomas Brooks 1853
via Ephemeral Elegance @drapedinhistory

{Gail’s monthly read along for June is Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan}


  • Imprudence ~ Custard Protocol Book the Second.
    Out July 19, 2016 in print and eBook to US.
  • Romancing the Inventor ~ A Supernatural Society Novella.
    Status: Developmental edit. Cover reveal and release date to come.
    LBGT romance featuring a parlormaid bent on seducing a certain cross-dressing inventor who is too brokenhearted to notice. Or is she?


Poison or Protect ~ A Delightfully Deadly Novella

 Romance featuring a several-times widowed Preshea and the gentle Scottish captain who could change everything. (Gail’s first foray into hybrid land.)


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

1862 Title- Ladies' Companion Date- Friday, August 1, 1862 Item ID- v. 42, plate 115

Ladies’ Companion Friday, August 1, 1862 v. 42, plate 115

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Lillput Long Stretch Cute

Your Tisane of Smart . . .

Orchids and Wolves

Book News:

Beyond the Trope says of Manners & Mutiny:

“Many of the questions left open at the end of the last two books are finally answered. New questions arise through this story, as well, and Carriger successfully gives the readers what they want: a satisfying conclusion full of answers.”

Questions about Gail’s steampunk world? There’s a wiki for that!

Cover Art Reveal: Poison or Protect (Delightfully Deadly)

Posted by Gail Carriger


Gentle Reader, I am DELIGHTED to finally show you the long awaited cover for my first self published novella…


A Delightfully Deadly Novella

By Gail Carriger

Out June 21, 2016!


Chirrup subscribers got an early look and some of you have already seen it on Amazon, but here it is in full high impact glory!

This cover was assembled by the amazing Starla Huchton (I love her!). The photo was taken by the brilliant Perry Gallagher (all rights reserved). It features the indomitable Autumn as Preshea wearing her own Dark Garden corset creation.

Stay tuned on how the cover art came to be and some behind the scenes footage! But for now, here it is, I hope you love it as much as I do.

About this book!

Poison or Protect: A Delightfully Deadly Novella by Gail Carriger

Can one gentle Highland soldier woo Victorian London’s most scandalous lady assassin, or will they both be destroyed in the attempt? 

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a stand-alone romance novella set in her popular steampunk universe full of manners, spies, and dainty sandwiches.

Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star, has four dead husbands and a nasty reputation. Fortunately, she looks fabulous in black. What society doesn’t know is that all her husbands were marked for death by Preshea’s employer. And Preshea has one final assignment.

It was supposed to be easy, a house party with minimal bloodshed. Preshea hadn’t anticipated Captain Gavin Ruthven – massive, Scottish, quietly irresistible, and… working for the enemy. In a battle of wits, Preshea may risk her own heart – a terrifying prospect, as she never knew she had one.

Warning: Contains men pleasing women and ladies who know what they want and ask for it, sometimes in detail. May also contain plaid, appearances from favorite characters, and the strategic application of leather gloves.

Buy Poison or Protect today to find out whether it’s heartbreak or haggis at this high tea.

Right now Poison or Protect is only available for preorder via Amazon. However, it will be widely distributed to other platforms including Kobo, iBooks, and Nook.

{Gail’s monthly read along for June is Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan}


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

Le Follet  Sunday, September 1, 1861 v. 42, plate 29


Your Infusion of Cute . . .


Your Tisane of Smart . . .

Swarms of Octopus Are Taking Over the Ocean

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .

Amazon.com Announces the Most Read Cities in America

Book News:
Gail talks about the Finishing School series at the International Spy Museum

Quote of the Day:

“He did have one fine looking butt, though. Too bad it was attached to another planet.”

~ Prophecy by Lea Kirk

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Poison or Protect is Coming June 21, 2016 (Delightfully Deadly)

Posted by Gail Carriger


Well hello Gentle Reader, I’ve had a busy weekend. I hope yours was more relaxing.

Why was I so busy?

Well, subscribers to my newsletter, the Chirrup have a super secret preview in their inboxes today!

Here’s a bit of a teaser for the rest of you…

Poison or Protect: A Delightfully Deadly Novella is up for preorder on Amazon! It will drop to other platforms on (or as close as possible to) the release date. And it will (eventually) be available in print, but that will take me a bit more time to figure out how to execute properly.

{Gail’s monthly read along for June is Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan}


Your Moment of Parasol . . .


Parasol and Bonnet  1860  Musée Galliera de la Mode de la Ville de Paris

Your Infusion of Cute . . .


Book News:

Silvana Fan Art Sophronia from instagram

Quote of the Day:
“To gather up the dust of my heart and scatter it again on the winds of hope.”
~ Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall

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Gail’s Future ~ Your Questions Answered: Coloring Books & Lord Akeldama (Q&A with Gail Carriger)

Posted by Gail Carriger

So I was having a bit of a brain fart recently, Gentle Reader, and couldn’t think of anything exciting to blog about that you’d want to know, so I did a spontaneous AMA. Thanks to everyone who (equally spontaneously) participated.

Ever thought about a parasol protectorate adult coloring book?

It’s a bit complicated rights-wise, but Hachette did say they were interested in doing one. I said that’s a wonderful idea! And… cue radio silence. I’ll prod them again in a bit. Or ask my agent to prod.

Prod prod prod.

Why Traditional Publishing Takes So Long

1770s  The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston via omgthatdress

How about writing an anthology about Lord Akeleama adventures from the beginning?

Ueerm.. noooo. Well, not like that anyway. Here’s the thing about Lord Akeldama (because there is always a THING): he is fun as a side character, easy to write, always livens up the place but would be impossible to live (inside my head) with if he were the protagonist. You might be able to cope with it (although I doubt it), can you imagine? Dahling! So much drama! But even if you could take it to read, I certainly couldn’t take it to write. One scene with that man is beyond exhausting! A whole short story might put me in hospital.

All hail the Percy Smirk via oimpernelfans tumblr

I have however, contemplated writing about him from, for example, the perspective of one of his love-lorn dronie-poohs. But, I need that POV to sing to me, and he hasn’t peeped yet. He may peep. You never know who will wake you up in the middle of the night, as an author.

What other genres have you considered writing? Have you ever considered writing a full length novel or series about a different era than the victorian age? Or perhaps a steampunk series set in a different universe than the Parasol Protectorate?

I have a great idea (I think) for a new paranormal YA series set in 1980s suburbia. There’s also space opera, which I love reading and would like to maybe write some day. I’m not sure I have the chops for it though. And, of course, Crudrat is YA space opera.


I could see myself writing something set in the ancient world, or an alternate reality version thereof too. Since I came from that world originally (professionally speaking).

When do you estimate you’ll have time to continue Crudrat? I know it’ll be after you finish the Prudence series, but…

Honestly? A few years at least, as many as five, possibly even more. It’s one of the reasons I never made it available in print, I didn’t want to disappoint people with such a big gap. I hate leaving readers waiting expectantly. For this, I apologize.

What character archetypes/tropes you just love in non-bustlepunk?

Well I talk a lot about the character and archetypes that I love in this post I did about tropes. YA fantasy is a big one for me. I’d love to write traditional fantasy for adults or young adults. I have a this great world I invented years ago that I’d love to revisit some day and see if any wonderful characters live there. (It’s all about the characters, before I can write about somewhere, I need to know someone in my head. Make sense?)

Song of the Lioness

Do you ever feel too tied to your current material or do you still love it enough that you enjoy expanding the world through Prudence et all?

I genuinely love it. I’d stop if I didn’t and write something else.

Will you write about Lord Maccon’s past before he was turned?

I never thought about that. The life of a large Scottish opera singer. Could be fun. Not sure though, he works so well as a foil for Alexia, how to write him on his own?

ariellamartinez tubmr
Alexia Tarabotti ♡  Conall Maccon
from the bookseries “Soulless” by Gail Carriger.  You need to love them.

I loved the side story with M. Tarabotti – will there be other side stories as well? 

Yes, I hope so. I’d like to write a whole series of shorts about him at different points in his life.

Would you consider writing a book with another author? If so, who would be on your shortlist?

Yes. I’ve halfway co-authored a piece with my friend Dan Sawyer, but we sort of dropped the ball on it. It would have to be with someone who can handle humor well and who I get along with on a personal level. That list wouldn’t be very long. Maybe some day…

What other supernatural creatures are you thinking about exploring in future short stories, novellas, books, etc?

If it qualifies as a vampire or a shape-shifter with mythological historical connections, it’s probably on my long list of possibilities.

What are some things that are on your bucket list (doable things, crazy things, not metaphysically possible things)? 

Honestly? I’m pretty happy with where I am in my life. I’ve learned cool stuff, visited awesome places, found the love of an AB and a cat, and produced a body of work that is out there in the world that I’m pretty darn proud of. I don’t think I can ask for much more.

Most of my practical dreams now revolve around food I want to try, shoes I want to buy, and things I want to write. But I could genuinely die tomorrow and be happy with my life. I don’t think that’s morbid, I think I’m profoundly privileged to be able to say that.

Everything from here on out is gravy. And I do like gravy.

I’d Rather Be Drinking Gravy Mug

Crazy things? I’d like to fly first class to an exotic small island (probably in or near Asia) where they serve amazing fruit, there’s a private vanishing edge pool and a natural hot spring. I’ve never traveled first class, I’d like to try it just once. And my idea of paradise involves tropical fruit, fresh water of various temperatures (without chlorine), and tons of free time just to read.

No metaphysically possible? I want gills so I can swim for as long as I like underwater unencumbered.

Update on when your self published books are coming out? 

I am trying for June, but if I miss that window it won’t be until August. So one of the two. I should know more in about two weeks, so long as everything goes to plan.

How to Write a Novella

{Gail’s monthly read along for May is Powers That Be by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.}


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

Carl Rudolph Sohn-  Princess Beatrice – 1883 via antique-royals tumblr

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Your Tisane of Smart . . .
Heroines, Smugglers, and Spies: The Forgotten Contributions of Women in the Civil War

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  
Dickens Characters with Really Silly Names

Book News:
If there are hearts to be broken, break them: An Interview with Gail Carriger

Quote of the Day:
“On the one hand, he was shockingly rude to Oliver. On the other, I have often been shockingly rude to Oliver myself, and I understand the impulse.”
~ Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery & Cecelia

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Ketchup ~ Novellas, Cover Art, Edits on Poison or Protect, Oh My! (Delightfully Deadly)

Posted by Gail Carriger


My dear Gentle Reader, hope all is well with you. Yesterday was national tea day (I drank a great deal of it, as per usual). Other than that, it’s all novellas all the time here in the den of the writerbeast.

Serenity, or should I say: sereni-tea?


Developmental edit of Poison or Protect

I’m working hard on the developmental edit of Poison or Protect. I had a slight hiccough in the process to do with Word vrs track changes. The details are sublimely dull, basically I lost about a day’s worth of work, which was disheartening. (Nothing to do with not backing up. I always backup.) I’m running an updated version yet it will keep crashing (and don’t you dare mention .odt, it’s even worse). Unfortunately, Scrivener is not a solution at the track changes stage of manuscript preparation. So I spent some time figuring out the bugs, and now I must train myself to avoid the triggers. Should be smooth sailing from here on out.

1866-1868  The Philadelphia Museum of Art
Poison or Protect takes place during this time period.


Do we have a release date?

Argh! I’m trying to settle on a release date but since this is the first novella, I kind of don’t know until I actually do it. And I can’t actually do it until I’m at least at the copy edit stage. A few horror stories from behind the scenes have made me wary of putting up a preorder with anything less than a penultimate draft. Plus I don’t want to lock myself into a release date only to have something go horribly, horribly wrong. So I want everything ready to go before I commit. I’d rather have people dangling wild with anticipation than disappointed. Sorry, that’s my nature.

Do we have cover art?

Why yes, yes we do! And I am so delighted with it. But you’ll have to be patent a little longer while I figure out this preorder thing.

Ask me questions!

However, I’m getting ready to do some posts about this first novella, its cover, how its cover happened, and what you might expect. If you have any questions about it, now would be a great time to ask. I will try to write some posts with your answer for you soon.

You can leave a comment below (blogspot, goodreads) or drop me a calling card if you’d like to remain discrete.

{Gail’s monthly read along for April is To Play the Lady by Naomi Lane.}


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

Le Follet Monday, April 1, 1867 Item ID-  v. 46, plate 39

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Your Tisane of Smart . . .
A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Hair Care
Headdresses and Hairstyles (1811-1820)
Victorian Cosmetics: Red Lip Rouge and Lip Salve for 19th Century Ladies

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  

via writingbox tumblr

Book News:

via ace-artemis-fanartist-tumblr
As I’ve said before; I love drawing my otps dancing.
Here is Biffy and Professor Lyall from Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger.

Quote of the Day:
“Richard left him, cherishing the almost imperceptible quiver of amusement in his voice like a precious thing.”
~ A Gentleman’s Position by K.J. Charles (I love this series)

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