Sarah Beth Durst always has great covers (and stories) to share—just look back on her covers for Vessel, Ice and Drink, Slay, Love. Her latest is The Lost, and Sarah's here to tell the tale of that lovely cover (and Harlequin's cool process!):
"Harlequin has a wonderfully organized approach to covers. Here's how it works:
"For each book, the author fills out an Art Fact Sheet within an online database. You need to describe the novel and its setting, plus describe 3 or 4 major characters and 3 or 4 important scenes that might lend themselves to a cover image. You're encouraged to send along images of people who resemble your characters and places that inspired you.
"I loved this process. I've never really played the who-would-I-cast game with my characters before, and it was so much fun. For my book The Lost, I picked Amanda Seyfried for Lauren -- she's my protagonist, a 27-year-old woman who gets into her car one day to drive to her dead-end job and instead of turning left at the light, goes straight and keeps driving until she runs out of gas in a town called Lost. Lost is filled with only lost things and lost people and is surrounded by an impenetrable dust storm. She's helped by a mysterious man called the Finder and a knife-wielding six-year-old girl named Claire.
"For the Finder, Peter, I chose a cross between Johnny Depp, Jason Momoa, and Alex Meraz. And for Claire, I pictured a six-year-old Elle Fanning.
"I also described the town of Lost in detail: it's a rundown desert town with a kitschy diner, a dilapidated motel, an old-fashioned motel, and a single red balloon that always seems to float overhead.
"My editor then reviewed my Art Fact Sheet and sent it and the manuscript on to the art department. I picture this as a magical place with lots of wind chimes, incense, and frolicking unicorns that deliver coffee mugs full of inspiration to each artist.
"In reality, the artists probably have desks and computers and such, but I'm going to continue imagining coffee-bearing unicorns, if you don't mind.
"Anyway, a few months later, the cover arrived (via unicorn) in my Inbox.
"And I think the result is pure art. It is nothing like I imagined, yet it captures the book so absolutely beautifully. The novel is magical realism, and it's written in a highly atmospheric, impressionistic, eerie style, which the cover shows. In terms of content, the town with the single balloon overhead is perfect, and the brush strokes reflect Lauren's dream of being an artist. On the finished book, the paint strokes are raised so that it looks as if paint has dripped onto the letters of the title. I keep petting it.
"There's something magical in having a cover that reflects the feel what you hoped to put inside.
"Thanks so much for inviting me here to share The Lost's cover art!"
Just look at the beauty dripping from that cover! I had to ask Lorie Ann Grover about the design for her latest YA novel, Hit, which is out this month.
"Thanks for hosting me, Melissa! I so love the cover of my latest contemporary novel Hit. I was awed by Firstborn’s imagery and wondered if my new publishing house, Blink YA Books, a division of HarperCollins, would hit it again. And they did!
"Hit is inspired by a true story. In 2004, my daughter’s best friend, Sarah, was walking to school, pre-dawn, when she was struck in a crosswalk. Urgent brain surgery was needed. My daughter and I sat with the family through the dark trial. First, waiting through the operation, and then, waiting to see in what measure Sarah would recover. My fiction sprang out of those characters, emotions, and moments.
"When it came time to talk book cover with Blink, I provided pics, not knowing if they’d be helpful.
"Here are Sarah and my daughter, Emily.
"I also shared two of Sarah’s hospital scans which show her brain bleeding following the accident. The top image is prior to surgery, the white area being blood pooling against her brain. The second image is following the operation:
"The final cover looks nothing like either image! Although it does remind me of Sarah with her long blonde hair. It could be the moment right before Sarah was hit, or the horrifying moment just afterward. Either way it is striking and compelling.
"I was very surprised to learn my own editor, Jacque Alberta, had quite the hand in the design. Although, she points to her amazing team, and they point right back at her. J
"So that’s the story behind the cover of Hit, a book and a cover inspired by true life events. Just a quick note before I go. In my research for the novel, I came across #redthumbreminder. Steve Babcock’s simple, yet innovative solution to text safety is awesome. Embraced across the country, men and women are painting one thumbnail red to remind themselves not to text while driving. It worked for Steve, and he was able to break the habit. It can certainly work for you and me. Raise your red thumb with me and set your phone aside while driving. We might avoid one more… hit."
Justina Chen has been on this blog a few times talking covers (for Return to Me and North of Beautiful), and I'm lucky to have her back to talk about the cover of her latest novel, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS!
"As soon as I finished writing, I knew that what the book needed was a bright, eye-catching cover. One that popped on the bookshelves. One that said: I am a fun read, people! I trust my publisher on the cover. They’ve done an outstanding job designing each of my novels. I think this was the first time Little, Brown didn’t ask for my input upfront. I’m glad. They designed and delivered a perfect cover.
"Actually, they more than delivered. Not only is my title a sunny yellow, but there are hot pink accents, including a secret heart on the inside cover. The cover photo features the cutest couple on the planet who you can tell have a great time together—and that is what I wish for all of my readers. For them to know and experience a really wonderful, soul-filling love. Then there’s a gorgeous photo of Machu Picchu on the back cover—a sacred site that rearranged me when I was there with my kids on a research trip. And to top it all off, my son took my author photo on the backflap. It’s his first photo credit. So all told, I couldn’t love my cover more!
"When I received the first cover concepts, I sat back in my office chair, mouth half-open, thinking to myself, They nailed it. Only one of the cover concepts drew a less than enthusiastic response from me. The guy’s hair was terrible! Luckily, my editor agreed.
"We evaluated another photograph with booksellers, but I think the feedback was that the original cover concept that we loved the most popped better on the bookshelves. The first time I saw it at a bookseller, I thought: the cover really does pop! The art department used two stock photos and collaged them together.
"I have to admit: every time I look at A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS, I smile. It’s my favorite book cover, which is apropos since it was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel. The couple on the cover share the warm ease with each other that I imagined Shana and Quattro having. As well, you can see that they’re totally flirting with each other, which is perfect since Shana is a man magnet who put herself on a Boy Moratorium. Well. That didn’t last long. And Quattro is the reason why."
Micol Ostow's 12th (!) original novel, Amity, is the story of a haunted house told in two separate perspectives, ten years apart. I have read it and it is truly terrifying (and beautifully written), with a cover to match. Here's Micol with the story:
"I think we all always knew Amity was going to have an image of a haunted house on the cover. It’s iconic and classic for a reason, right? We may have tossed around the idea of focusing in on one aspect of a house – a window, a door – or even doing something more modern and all type, but I don’t think any of those concepts were seriously on the table.
"My editor at the time showed me an early mock-up with the image they were planning to use (right). She made it clear that everyone in-house was very enthusiastic about the image, which, as I know from my own days on the editorial side of the desk, is pretty crucial and not to be ignored.
"I liked the general idea of that first cover and I really liked that Egmont was truly capturing that straightforward, 'HORROR novel,' genre vibe. My main concern was only that the house itself looked nothing like the building that’s described in the book, or the original 'Amityville' house. Specifically the half-moon windows are mentioned a whole bunch in the book, and are familiar to anyone who knows anything about the original Amityville crime. But I can appreciate that a strong cover can often outweigh the value of a literal cover. We talked a bit about how the house in the mock-up looked small and not quite menacing enough, and my editor assured me it would be tweaked.
"And it was! And it’s amazing and perfect!
"As you can see, the final cover is the same original image. But with the color adjusted, a new font, and lots of creepy blood dripped, the terror factor is amped way, way up. I could seriously marry this new final cover, and I’ve been thrilled with readers’ reactions to it! The general consensus seems to be that it’s insanely scary. Which to me translates to: mission accomplished!"
The paperback release of The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes reminded me how much I really like this simple cover. There's such a sense of space there. So Molly's here to share her story, and it's a good one!
"I never thought about the cover as I was writing The Princesses of Iowa because I never believed it would be a real book. When I wrote the first draft, I was teaching middle school and living in a cabin in the mountains of New Mexico, far away from friends and family. It just seemed like a good way to pass the time—I honestly had no idea that it would ever be published.
"My editor asked me to send her some book covers that spoke to me, so I spent an hour in a bookstore (Page 1 Books in Albuquerque, yay indies!) looking at books and snapping pictures of the ones I loved. My favorite was Emily Horner’s A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend (below right) – I loved the brightness, the colors, and the sky, as well as the vintage elements.
"This is the email I sent to my editor, along with a few images of covers I liked:
"When I started looking around at other contemporary YA covers, I found that I was very drawn to anything with an open feeling and some sky—because Iowa is so much a part of the book's personality, I imagine some element of it represented, whether that be a sense of openness or blue sky or I-80 (the highway that runs through the state) or a cornfield in the background or whatever else. On the other hand, Princesses is not a “country” story—a lot of the action happens in the suburbs, around the high school, and in Iowa City, so I think the most important thing is that the cover capture a Midwestern vibe, but that there are other things going on design-wise/in the foreground that are really engaging and reflect other elements of the story in addition to place.
"Some other images that I think are interesting and that draw from key scenes in the book are: the road, the truck stop, cars (a huge part of high school culture everywhere, but especially in the Midwest—plus obviously the two crashes), notebooks, and the outdoors in general (suburban house parties, bonfires, views from car windows, the golf course, the secret springs in the woods, the river in Iowa City, etc). I also like the juxtaposition of fancy & ordinary in the title—the girlyness of "Princesses" and the non-pretentiousness of “Iowa.”
"The only cliché that really bothers me in a lot of contemporary YA covers is the convention of showing a girl with no head—it’s a little troubling from a feminist perspective. :-)
"Looking back on this, I’m struck by how much the designers incorporated. They have the blue sky, the Midwestern element (a wheatfield; after the book was published some Iowan readers pointed out it should have been corn or soybeans. Probably true!), the road, the car, the outdoors. They did the juxtaposition of girlyness and unpretentiousness with the fonts: the little curlicues on “The” and “of” and the straightforwardness of “Princesses” and “Iowa.” And instead of a headless girl, they gave me just her head! Her eye, staring straight at you. I love the power of that. (Oddly, I am constantly asked if the girl is me, even though she has bright green eyes and mine are dark brown. And she’s seventeen and I’m… older than that. Maybe it’s the hair? I don’t know.)
"The first time I saw this cover, I was alone in the house, with the dog napping on the loveseat. As soon as the file loaded, I gasped and said, “BLUE SKY!” and woke the dog up. Second reaction: “It’s so PRETTY!”
"I loved it immediately, but the longer I looked at it, the more I saw. First of all, the landscape is so beautiful and slightly melancholy, which fits just perfectly. Someone at a reading once asked me, “I notice that you describe Iowa as being very beautiful. Why did you choose to do that?” I said, “Well, I suppose it’s because I find Iowa to be very beautiful.” It is!
"The sky takes up about two-thirds of the cover and the field about one-third, which is a common and visually pleasing ratio, but then the car’s mirror interrupts it in an interestingly jarring way, just as the events of the story interrupt Paige’s peaceful life. So much of this story is about Paige examining herself and her life through the lens of one moment: a car crash, everything that led up to it, and everything that has happened since. She goes back to that moment again and again, so it’s perfect that she’s looking in the rearview mirror. She’s looking at herself! In a car! Going forward but looking back! I love it so much."
This. Cover. I've stared at it a lot. I think seeing both glowing reds/oranges and such strong black and white starkness enchanted me. So, I asked author Brandy Colbert a few questions about how it came to be. Turns out, she loves it too--even without blood. Here's Brandy:
"My editor (the indomitable Ari Lewin at Putnam) and I had casually discussed cover concepts while I was deep into edits on the book, but I mean casually. She mentioned bloody pointe shoes ('Like, a pair of pointe shoes just sitting in a pool of blood, yes?') and I was completely on board! I like dark, slightly disturbing covers, and that would have fit the theme of the book quite well. So I always sort of had that image in my mind, and had convinced myself that's what it would be.
"My editor did ask, but I didn't have much besides bloody pointe shoes. I know what I like when I see it, but I'm not a particularly visual person. And I've worked as a magazine editor for quite a while, so I know when to leave the artistic vision to the designers. I love Penguin's covers (and my imprint's, in particular), but I have to say I was a little nervous about the possibility of having a face on the cover. I finally brought it up with my editor and we had a very honest discussion about whitewashing, which put me at ease. I was one hundred percent positive I was in great hands after that.
"The moment I saw my cover was actually really sweet. I was on my way out the door to run errands and stopped to answer a call from my editor. She told me to check my email, and I expected it to be another revision letter to talk out, but it was my cover. I was so happy I started crying and then my editor got teary and my first thought was that it was so beautiful, I couldn't believe it was the cover for my book.
"My editor welcomed comments, but after I couldn't stop staring and gushing over it for a couple of days, I figured I had nothing to suggest. All of the elements worked so well together, I loved the surprising color of the font, and I immediately began thinking of the cover girl as my main character, Theo.
"As you can probably imagine, there aren't a lot of stock photos of black ballet dancers out there, but my designer (the very talented Lindsay Andrews) ended up finding the cover image on the site of an artist named Hwa-Jeen Na, whose photos are gorgeous. The silhouette was perfect to me, as I'm not really a fan of faces on covers (though there are some that work very well and that I love). You can see very clearly that she's a dancer, from the lighting behind her tulle skirt and the bun at the top of her head, but there's also a somber mood, which I like.
"I absolutely love the cover, and have actually grown to love it more the longer I've looked at it, which I didn't think possible. I've fielded a few questions about the soft white circles floating down from the top, but I'm still not sure what it is and I like the ambiguity. I think the cover ties in very well to the book. The black background immediately speaks to the darkness of the story, and the fiery reddish-orange color in the title hints at something startling or surprising within."
Susane Colasanti's Cover Stories always signal the start of summer for me -- hooray! Here's Susane with her latest:
"The hottest thing about the cover of Now and Forever might be that the models are a couple in real life.
"Or maybe it’s how the background image totally captures the excitement of a concert. And not just any concert. Now and Forever is about a girl whose boyfriend, Ethan Cross, is the world’s biggest rock star. So of course we had to do some kind of concert venue type design. I couldn’t wait to see which direction the art department would take.
"My contract says that I’m allowed cover consultation. When my editor sent me the first draft of the cover for feedback, something very obvious was missing in the audience. Screens. Not one hand in the air was holding up a screen. I suggested that a few screens be added for accuracy. Fortunately, the cover designers found a background stock photo with someone holding up a screen. There should probably be more screens to reflect how concerts (and life in general) are viewed in 2014. But showing only hands represents the old-school tone of my stories in a way that brings me right back to 1988. Madison Square Garden. Fourth-row floor seats. New Kids on the Block. Before we watched real life through screens, before we worried about getting the best pic to post on Facebook, before we could just go to iTunes and play whatever song we wanted, it was just us and the music. Immersed in the moment so deeply you never quite manage to emerge completely. Connecting in a profound, authentic way impervious to distraction. The elation of musical obsession was the best feeling for me as a teen. It’s a feeling I tried to evoke in Now and Forever, and a feeling the cover evokes as well.
"The cover didn’t change much from the initial design to the final. There was a photo shoot with the models. The initial cover had a stock photo of a boy and a girl kissing in the foreground to illustrate the concept. The background stock photo changed. The spotlights were blurred. That’s about it. I think the cover is gorgeous. I love the gold light on stage and how the book jacket has a shimmery effect that glitters gold in the light. The shimmery effect was something I asked for. I’m stoked that it worked out! Being the massive book nerd I am, I am also compelled to point out what’s happening underneath the jacket: a turquoise cover with pink foil text on the spine. Pink foil text rules.
"There is one thing that’s confusing about the cover. The boy model represents Ethan Cross. Why would Ethan be in the audience of his own show? Shouldn’t they be kissing backstage? I thought that would have been a cool concept for this cover: Sterling and Ethan backstage, looking out at a crowd of fans. But maybe they’re at someone else’s show. Maybe this was before Ethan became so famous he wouldn’t be able to go to a concert like this. Maybe there’s another story behind this cover story…"
Thanks, Susane! US residents can enter to win a copy of Now & Forever below. Good luck! (Also: Hot trailer ahead.)
Amanda Mahan is the author of Heiress, P.I., which she describes as "Veronica Mars meets Gossip Girl." She self-published this debut, so I was interested to find out how the cover design went. Here she is to share:
"I started by going to the bookstore and seeing what jumped out at me. Obviously dystopian future and vampire books are very hot in YA now -- so there were a ton of moody, black covers. I looked for other books that were similar (contemporary or set in L.A. or had some comedic elements to them) and really liked the covers by Ally Carter and Lauren Conrad. I felt like thematically, that's where Heiress, P.I. fit.
"To create the cover, I worked with a designer friend who lives in France and all of our communication was done online. Since I couldn't walk the aisles of the book store with Lucie (the designer, as opposed to my heroine Lucy), I created a secret Pinterest board for her with all the book covers that inspired me. Some, like Mindy Kaling's book, weren't even YA. This was a great exercise because I could start to see common elements, moods, fonts, textural bits, and imagery. I also added other pins -- movie posters (like Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette), pictures of young stars like Amanda Seyfried who I imagined looked similar to Lucy. Oh and Kelly Osborne's purple hair. There was just something about it that I liked.
"I realized that I wanted the cover to reflect the sense of humor in the book -- and also to help it stand out from all the moody, black, dystopian stuff. And I wanted one strong, unmessy, uncluttered visual because I knew it was going to be an e-book initially and seen in a rather small size on the web or mobile. There were a few elements of the story that I thought could be fun to play with. One is that Lucy goes to a costume party dressed as Marie Antoinette which seemed like an interesting territory to explore.
"We didn't have money for a photo shoot, so we had to use stock. Stock images with Marie Antoinette themes were... strange. Lucie tried some illustration styles as well (see right). But ultimately we decided a photograph captured the modern story better. In one exploration we had a fan (which plays an important part in the story) covering part of Lucy's face. We both liked that because it underscored the idea of secrets and the mystery that Lucy was investigating. We also both liked having her hair in a Marie Antoinette-style bun, even though we had pretty much abandoned the costume party idea.
"One day I was searching through images and inspiration struck. I saw my favorite mug shot -- the one of Steve McQueen doing a peace sign. It's irreverent and has a sense of humor but communicates trouble. There is a scene in the book where Lucy gets arrested -- it felt like the right tone and concept. I found a mug shot background on iStock and Lucie made a few mock ups with different fonts, colors, placements and finishing touches. I was really into a rhinestone tiara for a while. Too froufrou! Same with feathers, fans, flowers and candy. We kept trying different things but in the end we both liked it a bit 'roughed up' because it had to appeal to older teens and women.
"I sent the mockups to a friend who has teen daughters and a few younger cousins for informal focus groups. The feedback was invaluable. They loved the star in the title text, for example, because they thought it made the book seem like it would be fun. They loved the pink color. They liked certain hairstyles over others. They liked certain girls over others who seemed 'nicer' or 'prettier' or had better hair. One crucial bit of feedback was that the girl on the cover was blond but the write-up I sent (which would be akin to the book jacket copy) talked about Lucy's frizzy brown hair. Total disconnect! I realized I needed a tagline and that's where 'madeover and undercover' came in.
"In the end, we made a few more tweaks like adding black nails to show rebellion and the pop of pink nail color and hair streak to be more trendy. The cover is so important because it has to convey the trashy, tabloid, celebutante, pop culture, fun beach read feel - all while intriguing you to dive in. In the end, I'm super happy with it and all credit goes to the fabulous Lucie!"
Thanks, Amanda! Check out the book!
Rather than doing a traditional interview-filled blog tour, Denise Jaden is celebrating the release of her new nonfiction writing book, FAST FICTION, by dropping tips about writing quickly at every stop of her blog tour, and offering some awesome prizes for commenting on any of these posts (including this one!) The more you drop by and comment, the more chances you have to win these great prizes:
1. Compliments of New World Library: They will be giving away A BOX of copies of FAST FICTION by Denise Jaden and GET IT DONE by Sam Bennett (US and Canada only):
2. Compliments of Denise Jaden, TWO BOXES of great fiction (US Only). Details on Denise's blog.
3. Audiobook copies of NEVER ENOUGH by Denise Jaden!
4. A critique of your first five pages, compliments of Denise's agent, Michelle Humphrey from The Martha Kaplan Agency!
See how to enter at the bottom of this post!
And now, here are Denise's Thoughts on the Cover of Fast Fiction:
Since I’m very new to writing nonfiction, I had no preconceived ideas for the cover of FAST FICTION. My publisher sent me a few ideas, all similar with different color schemes, and asked for my input.
Really, I was thrilled with all of them, but I suggested a few small tweaks and my first choice of color. They followed all of my suggestions, which felt really honoring to me (only slight changes of a “speed” look to the font). The finished cover changed very little from the original choices they sent, but I loved it so much, it inspired me to redesign the cover for my first nonfiction book, WRITING WITH A HEAVY HEART. Now I love to look at these books together on the shelf!
About Fast Fiction:
Writers flock to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November because it provides a procrastination-busting deadline. But only a fraction of the participants meet their goal. Denise Jaden was part of that fraction, writing first drafts of her two published young adult novels during NaNoWriMo. In Fast Fiction, she shows other writers how to do what she did, step-by-step, writer to writer. Her process starts with a prep period for thinking through plot, theme, characters, and setting. Then Jaden provides day-by-day coaching for the thirty-day drafting period. Finally, her revision tips help writers turn merely workable drafts into compelling and publishable novels.
A portion of publisher proceeds will be donated to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
Where you can find Fast Fiction:
Remember, all you have to do is leave comments to get lots of extra entries to win some great prizes.
Don't know what to comment about? Tell us the name of your favorite writing book!