Inquiring minds often wonder: what goes into the process of creating a book cover? Well, as an author I can tell you that I have absolutely no idea. No. I’m not joking.
The closet I’ve come to getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the cover design process was this interview with Abrams creative director extraordinaire Chad Beckerman, who happens to be the brilliant mind behind the cover of our own Cat Winters’s IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. (To read about Cat’s cover story check out this post on the Lucky 13s blog.)
Though I can’t shed much light on the exact evolution of the cover that became the cover for Every Day After, I can share the ways in which I was able to be a very small part of the development process. And that is precisely what I shall do.
A month or so after my editor acquired my manuscript, she emailed over a list of general questions for me to answer regarding cover design. A few examples:
What do the main characters look like?
Who might appear on the cover?
What are some comp titles with covers you like?
How would you describe the mood/tone of your book?
I replied to her questions ASAP, and she forwarded my responses to the art department. Then…silence.
Fast forward a couple of months. It’s early afternoon on a warm May day. I’m riding in the car with my husband down traffic-ridden HWY 280 in Birmingham daydreaming about heaven-knows-what. My iPhone dings. Yay! A new email! I open my inbox. It’s the email from my editor—the email containing my cover. At this point, I truly don’t know what to expect. I have no clue if the cover will be illustrated, or a photograph, or a mix of the two. I know what I’d like my cover to look like, but it’s possible I’m on a completely different page than my publisher. It’s not an uncommon occurrence.
Now, every author dreams about and obsesses over what their book’s cover will look like. I was no exception. The cover is the most visible thing to readers deciding whether or not to take a chance on our book. The cover grants a reader his or her first impression of our book, and we authors want it to be a good one. I pause for a second before opening the message, trying to savor those final moments of blissful ignorance. Will I love it or hate it? What if I hate it? What if I can’t change it? What if? What if? What if? I settle my thoughts, take a deep breath, and open the message. This is what I see:
If I’m being honest, it wasn’t what I had pictured. But I didn’t hate it. That was a relief. And my editor had said they loved it. And she hoped I agreed. Did I? I didn’t know.
It took a while to process my thoughts on the matter. I had always been in love with covers like those of Hattie Big Sky or Turtle in Paradise where the main character was visible, but not overtly so. Lizzie was a tad more identifiable than I would have liked, but it was something I could get over. I wasn’t a huge fan of a photographed cover for a middle grade novel. For some reason all I could think of when I looked at this cover was the early ‘90s, not the 1930s. But, in regard to the tone, the art department nailed it. The mood of the cover perfectly conveyed the mood of the story. I was thoroughly pleased about that. And in the end, mood outweighed my other misgivings.
After all the pondering and nitpicking, I fully accepted that this would be Every Day After’s cover, and I refocused my attentions on the manuscript itself. Copy edits came and went. Flap copy was written. Author photo and bio were submitted. And then, out of the blue, my editor mentioned that the art department had decided to do a watercolor treatment on the cover they had chosen. They believed the treatment would make the cover more appealing to a middle grade audience. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to see the results. I was getting a second chance to fall in love with my cover. About a month later, another cover arrived. This time I opened the email right away:
Hooray! I immediately sent my editor an email letting her know my thoughts. The watercolor treatment was amazing. And the new typography done by none other than Sarah Hoy, the designer responsible for the beautiful typography on the covers of The One and Only Ivan and Summer of the Gypsy Moths, took my breath away. This was an appropriate cover for a middle grade novel—my middle grade novel.
I can’t be sure of the reasons behind the art department’s decision to use this photograph specifically, but as the author, I will say that I see plenty nods to the story in this cover. Lizzie’s mama is severely depressed, and she spends most of her time in a rocking chair on a back porch built years earlier by Lizzie’s father, hence the porch railing. Lizzie is in deep concentration walking the railing, measuring her steps carefully—a not-so-subtle metaphor for the balancing act she must perform in her life since her father deserted the family. And, if you look hard and use just a tiny bit of imagination, perhaps you will see what I see in the background—the wheel of a parked car and the shadowy outlines of a group of people, some of whom want to see Lizzie keep her balance atop that metaphorical railing and some of whom would like nothing better than to see her fall.
So will Lizzie make it, or won’t she? Perhaps as in life the answer isn’t as simple as will or won’t. Visit your favorite local bookstore on June 11th to find out.
Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about a young girl learning to let go and find her own way amidst the trials of the Great Depression. It will release from Delacorte Press/RHCB on June 11. Find out more about Laura and EVERY DAY AFTER by visiting her website or following her on Twitter and Facebook.