Cover Stories: A Song for Bijou

bijouJosh Farrar's latest novel, a Middle Grade called A Song for Bijouhas a lovely cover that conveys a lot in one image. Here's Josh to talk about how it came to be:

"A Song for Bijou is a multicultural middle-grade romance, so I knew I wanted Alex and Bijou, the protagonists who share narrator duties in the story, to each be featured prominently.

"I was consulted throughout the process. I didn't have super-specific images of the characters in mind - except for Bijou's hairstyle, which is described in detail in the opening paragraphs of Bijou, but I wanted them to likeable, approachable, and no more sophisticated than their tween selves would be in real life.

"It took us a couple of tries to get there - the designer tried a couple iterations of a collage concept, but we didn't get any traction with it - but I absolutely loved the final version!

"As with most writers, my contract grants what is called 'cover consultation,' which means that editorial and marketing are encouraged to seek my input and to hear me out. (This is opposed to the much rarer 'cover approval,' which means that the author has to approve of the final version 100%.) My editor at Bloomsbury, Mary Kate Castellani, went to great lengths to include me in the design process. I have no idea how I compare to other authors in terms of the amount of input I give, but I love illustration and design, and it's fun to be involved in making those decisions.

"I wouldn't say that every single one of my suggestions was implemented, but that I was definitely treated with respect as a collaborator throughout the process, and the fact that I was but one of several people offering input was absolutely a good thing for the cover design. Whereas I've written just two books, my editor and designer have worked on dozens. They know what works, and what doesn't.

bijou original"The cover began as a photo collage, and ended as an illustration somewhat influenced by the poster for the film, Moonrise Kingdom. When the second iteration of the photo collage failed to excite the overall team, we all kind of converged on the idea that an illustration was the next logical direction. My editor sent me examples of several illustrators whose work they thought was good, and I picked 2-3 of those as favorites.

"One of them, Erin McGuire, nailed the cover concept on the first try. In fact, the very first drawing she submitted (right) was quite close to final illustration. She understood instinctively what she needed to do.

"If a book has a plot of any originality, finding the perfect stock photo is like searching for the needle in the proverbial haystack. My first book, Rules to Rock Bywas about a 12-year-old, half-Dominican girl in Providence, RI who plays the bass and wants to start a band. Try finding a 12-year-old, half-Latina girl playing a bass! It's not easy, and the initial cover-design attempts weren't cutting it. I was thrilled when my editor gave me the go-ahead to find my own model and photographer. My wife, Tayef, and I were already involved in shooting a book trailer for Rules, so we had a photographer come in and shoot a bunch of stills of the actress who played Annabelle, the main character. The people at Bloomsbury loved the photos, reimbursed the photographer, and used their favorite for the final book design.

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.10.23 PM

"Not until I actually saw the cover on the final, bound book (above) did I realize how nicely the cover design complemented the novel. A Song for Bijou's narration is split between Alex and Bijou, the two characters depicted on the cover, and the designer did a very nice job of re-purposing the main illustration twice to reinforce the relationship between the cover art and the story told inside. On the back cover, the same illustration is shown, but only from the waist down. And below each character's feet is a sample of the prose written from each character's point of view. Finally, the spine of the cover shows only each character's face, virtually gazing at one another from across the divide of the title. I thought this was a sweet visual metaphor for the distance Alex and Bijou must travel in order to find one another."

Thanks, Josh! I love the colors on this jacket, and the emotion between the characters is spot-on. What do you guys think?

Cover Stories: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

RunawayKing- Jennifer A. Nielsen's bestselling series impressed me with its iconic cover style. Here's Jennifer to tell the story of how it was created: "We had the cover of Book 1 (The False Prince, below right), so I guessed that Scholastic would try to stick with the 'broken' theme, but since covers are the realm of the publisher, I don’t think much about them while I’m writing. Besides, I have the visual art abilities of a toothpick, so my instincts aren’t great for design.

false prince"I wasn’t asked about input for Book 1, but with Book 2 I got to see a rough draft and make suggestions to my editor. I know that one of Scholastic’s goals with this series is to create an image that was more iconic, something that didn’t look like any other book. And I think so far they’ve succeeded.

"I really love the emerald green with the silver text, and I think the sword on it is just wonderful. The sword reminds me of Narsil, the broken blade in Lord of the Rings. I think it’s going to look great next to that deep blue of Book 1.

"Book 1 went through several different versions – I think there was a lot of input throughout the company and they worked really hard to find a cover that met a wide approval. Book 2 has some slight variations from the original version, but nothing more than tweaking what was already really lovely art.

"The cover design was done by Chris Stengel, the same illustrator who also designed for Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy [read the Shiver Cover Story], and Ken Choi did the sword art. I feel indescribably fortunate to have both of them for artists.

"I love, love, love both of my covers! I think Book 1 does exactly what it should, which is to define itself as a medieval fantasy in which something has gone very wrong for the royals. The shattered crown is a wonderful symbol, and I think readers will come to appreciate its meaning.

"For The Runaway King, I think it’s wonderful that the broken image has been carried forward. Readers will find in Book 2 that Sage’s problems only get worse, and the cover definitely reinforces that."

Cover Stories: Scorched by Mari Mancusi

9781402284588-PR Mari Mancusi has shared Cover Stories here before, including one of the most popular Cover Stories ever for Gamer Girl! She's back with a new cover, revealing this week for the first time, and a great story. Here's Mari: "With seventeen books under my belt, the Scorched cover consultation wasn’t exactly my first rodeo. But for some reason I was more nervous than ever about what they’d decide for the cover. I just felt a book like this really needed the right cover. But what would that right cover entail? For once I didn’t have a clear picture in mind.

"I knew I wanted a strong looking heroine. It was important to me that Trinity didn’t look like a damsel in distress in a pretty gown. I also knew I wanted the cover to appeal to both genders—as the book has points of view from both Trinity and the two boys—Connor and Caleb—sent from the future to stop the dragon apocalypse. And I liked the idea of an orange and red color palette—to really pop on bookstore shelves. I wanted it to be vivid. To be violent. To be on fire.

"And, you know, it couldn’t hurt to have an actual dragon on the cover…

"I was delighted when I found out they were hiring an artist to create the cover. Which, in hindsight, makes sense. I mean, casting call for dragons on Craigslist, anyone? I was even more delighted when I found out they chose Tony Sahara who did the beautiful Eon and Eona covers. This was an artist who knew his dragons.

"You can see some of the rough cover comps he sent as we tried to settle on an overall concept (below). The one with the dragon rampaging over the city feels very Godzilla-like to me. Which is kind of awesome, but perhaps not exactly right for this particular book. I also really liked the covers that showed the close-ups of Trinity and the dragon—with the title in the middle. They look a little softer—almost romancey.

scorched_011713a - Early Comp Cover 2 scorched_120612d - Early Comp Cover 1 scorched_010813c - Early Comp Cover 3

"But nothing could come close to the design that was finally chosen. A cover literally on fire. A girl standing with her dragon—eyes defiant, challenging—as if to say, 'You really want to mess with this?' And the dragon—though fierce and awesome—looks down at her with affection in its eyes. You look at this cover and wonder—what is their connection? Why is she so protective of this monster? Is there something about this dragon that we don’t know about? Something worth saving?

"I love this cover with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Now that I’ve seen it, I couldn’t imagine anything more perfect for the book. And I cannot wait to see it on bookstore shelves in September."

Thanks, Mari! Love this story. The cover screams DRAGON, and readers will know just what they're in for!

What do you guys think?

Cover Stories: Poison by Bridget Zinn

poisonBridget Zinn's first novel, Poison, was released in March, more than a year after she lost her battle with cancer at age 33. I've read a lot about her. I started here. Her last tweet was "Sunshine and a brand new book. Perfect." And with that, I wish I'd known her. I have learned so many wonderful things about Bridget, and about her much-loved debut. (Want John Green's thoughts? They're here.)

poison-cover-girl-headshotI wanted to do a Cover Story, about the fantastical image, about the peeking pig. I asked Bridget's husband if she ever saw her cover, and he told me she didn't. But he offered a link to Novel Novice, who has an interview with her cover model (right), and he said, "I think we were extremely lucky to have such a fantastic cover."

Turns out the costume involved stitching 12 pieces together. The dagger is real. And there's more fun stuff from behind the scenes at the shoot.

I'll leave you with some words from Kirkus about the book. As for me and the cover? I'm enchanted.

"A frothy confection of a fairy tale featuring poisoners, princesses, perfumers and pigs, none of whom are exactly what they appear." -Kirkus

PS-While lots the word-spreading was done in March, here's how you can help Bridget's novel reach more people. Go read her story--and then read her book.


Photo Friday: Teen Author Festival

There's a photo essay in Publishers Weekly by David Levithan that covers some highlights of the festival (which will happen again next year in March, so you should come!). Here's a shot I love from the panel about how putting your characters in a new setting can reveal things about them.

panel in PW

(L to R: Jennifer E. Smith, me, Bennett Madison, Gayle Forman and Kristen-Paige Madonia -- really fun company.)

Happy Friday!

Cover Stories: A Girl Called Problem

girl-layoutKatie Quirk is here to share the story behind the cover of her Kirkus-starred novel, A Girl Called Problem. The notoriously tough Kirkus called the book "A mesmerizing read that expands young readers’ worldview even as the pages turn." (Also? The cover is lovely.) Yes! Here's Katie: "I should start by saying I love the cover for A Girl Called Problem. It's better than anything I imagined, and yet I did suffer from a few moments of panic along the way.

eerdmans"You see, A Girl Called Problem is lucky to be housed at a small press--Eerdmans Book for Young Readers. They actually had two mentions in the most recent ALA awards, so they do their job well, but they're certainly not wading in money. As a result, I tried to set my expectations low in terms of cover art.

"Last fall, I got an email from my editor saying they had a sketch for the cover. I knew enough to realize that authors have very little say in cover art, so I was grateful that she was including me in the conversation at all, but when I scrolled down to the image, I must admit I was disappointed.

girlcalledproblemcover"The figure looked awkward and older than the book's main character, Shida, whom she was supposed to depict; and the whole thing  looked low budget. I gave my editor some general feedback--zebras weren't authentic to this setting and perhaps we could make Shida look younger--but I decided to keep my mouth shut and to avoid saying what I really felt, which was discouraged.

"What I didn't realize was that this was truly just a sketch. The very talented artist, Richard Tuschman, who had also designed the beautiful cover for Moon Over Manifest, would hire a model, take some photos, and do some of his magical digital photo artistry, blending in a flamboyant tree and a vivid sky.

girl_fpo"A few weeks later, this is what they sent me (right). I was blown away. I loved it. The dirt road and vegetation and flamboyant tree looked like they were right out of East Africa. The colors were rich and vivid, just like I remembered Tanzania. The model was perfect--everything from her face, to her hair, to her dress, which looked worn, but stylish enough to appeal to modern readers. I was so pleased that it took me a couple of weeks to realize that something critical was missing: Shida wasn't wearing her medicine pouch! My heart sunk--Shida always wore her medicine pouch, but how could I point this out now? I hadn't thought to correct Richard or my editor when I should have--at the sketch stage. And though Richard is clearly a master of image manipulation, he would never be able to paint the pouch in over all those folds and wrinkles around Shida's waist. Nevertheless, a week later this was the image they sent me (below left):


"Unbelievable. There was her pouch and it looked perfect.

"I really could not be happier with the cover. I've spoken with other authors who were only peripherally consulted about their book covers. In one case, the author was given the choice between two covers she wasn't thrilled about, but she strongly recommended they choose the one with the girl with dark (rather than blond) hair, because she described that character's dark hair in great detail. Not too much later, she learned that the publisher had decided on the model with blond hair! I've found that one benefit of working with a small press is that they have generously involved me in every step of the process--right up to the book's stunning cover."

Thanks, Katie! I love a happy ending like this and the cover is just beautiful. Read the story behind this book on Sara Crowe's blog, and I dare you not to rush out and get it. So inspiring!

Photo Friday: Teen Author Festival

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 8.48.49 AMYesterday, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, Rainbow Rowell and I road-tripped it to Staten Island for a reading/talk at IS2. The audience was awesome and had great questions. Obviously my co-readers were THE BEST. The NYC Teen Author Festival is STILL GOING ON through the weekend. You should go. Here's what's coming up:

Friday March 22, Symposium (42nd Street NYPL, Berger Forum, 2nd floor, 2-6)

2:00 – Introduction

2:10-3:00: He Said, She Said

Description: Not to be too mysterious, but I will email these authors separately about what I’m thinking for this.

He: Ted Goeglein Gordon Korman Lucas Klauss Michael Northrop

She: Susane Colasanti E. Lockhart Carolyn Mackler Sarah Mlynowski Leila Sales

moderator: David Levithan

3:00-4:00: Taking a Turn: YA Characters Dealing with Bad and Unexpected Choices

Description: In each of these authors’ novels, the main character’s life takes an unexpected twist. Sometimes this is because of a bad choice. Sometimes this is because of a secret revealed. And sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice at all, but rather a reaction. We’ll talk about following these characters as they make these choices – both good and bad. Will include brief readings illuminating these choices.

Caela Carter Eireann Corrigan Alissa Grosso Terra Elan McVoy Jacquelyn Mitchard Elizabeth Scott K. M. Walton

moderator: Aaron Hartzler

4:00-4:10: Break

4:10-4:40: That’s So Nineteenth Century

Description: A Conversation About Playing with 19th Century Archetypes in the 21st Century

Sharon Cameron Leanna Renee Hieber Stephanie Strohm Suzanne Weyn

Moderator: Sarah Beth Durst

4:40-5:30: Alternate World vs. Imaginary World

Description: Of these authors, some have written stories involving alternate or parallel versions of our world, some have made up imaginary worlds for their characters, and still others have written books that do each. We’ll discuss the decision to either connect the world of a book to our world, or to take it out of the historical context of our world. How do each strategies help in telling story and developing character? Is one easier than the other? Is the stepping off point always reality, or can it sometimes be another fictional world?

Sarah Beth Durst Jeff Hirsch Emmy Laybourne Lauren Miller E. C. Myers Diana Peterfreund Mary Thompson

Moderator: Chris Shoemaker

Friday March 22, Barnes & Noble Reader’s Theater/Signing (Union Square B&N, 33 E 17th St, 7-8:30) Eireann Corrigan Elizabeth Eulberg Jeff Hirsch David Levithan Rainbow Rowell Nova Ren Suma

Saturday March 23, Symposium (42nd Street NYPL, Bergen Forum, 2nd Floor, 1-5) 1:00 – Introduction

1:10-2:10 – Defying Description: Tackling the Many Facets of Identity in YA

Description: As YA literature evolves, there is more of an acknowledgment of the many facets that go into a teenager’s identity, and even categories that once seemed absolute now have more nuance. Focusing particularly, but not exclusively, on LGBTQ characters and their depiction, we’ll discuss the complexities about writing about such a complex experience.

Marissa Calin Emily Danforth Aaron Hartzler A.S. King Jacqueline Woodson

moderator: David Levithan

2:10-2:40 -- New Voices Spotlight

Description: Each debut author will share a five-minute reading from her or his work

J. J. Howard Kimberly Sabatini Tiffany Schmidt Greg Takoudes

2:40-3:30 – Under Many Influences: Shaping Identity When You’re a Teen Girl

Description: Being a teen girl is to be under many influences – friends, parents, siblings, teachers, favorite bands, favorite boys, favorite web sites. These authors will talk about the influences that each of their main characters tap into – and then talk about what influences them as writers when they shape these characters.

Jen Calonita Deborah Heiligman Hilary Weisman Graham Kody Keplinger Amy Spalding Katie Sise Kathryn Williams

moderator: Terra Elan McVoy

3:30-3:40 – Break

3:40-4:20 – Born This Way: Nature, Nurture, and Paranormalcy

Description: Paranormal and supernatural fiction for teens constantly wrestles with issues of identity and the origin of identity. Whether their characters are born “different” or come into their powers over time, each of these authors uses the supernatural as a way to explore the nature of self.

Jessica Brody Gina Damico Maya Gold Alexandra Monir Lindsay Ribar Jeri Smith-Ready Jessica Spotswood

moderator: Adrienne Maria Vrettos

4:20-5:00 – The Next Big Thing

Description: Again, not to be too mysterious, but I will email these authors separately about what I’m thinking for this.

Jocelyn Davies Leanna Renee Hieber Barry Lyga Maryrose Wood

Saturday March 23: Mutual Admiration Society reading at McNally Jackson (McNally Jackson, Prince Street, 7-8:30):

Sharon Cameron A.S. King Michael Northrop Diana Peterfreund Victoria Schwab Nova Ren Suma

hosted by David Levithan

Sunday March 24: Our No-Foolin’ Mega-Signing at Books of Wonder (Books of Wonder, 1-4):  1-1:45: Jessica Brody (Unremembered, Macmillan) Marisa Calin (Between You and Me, Bloomsbury) Jen Calonita (The Grass is Always Greener, LB) Sharon Cameron (The Dark Unwinding, Scholastic) Caela Carter (Me, Him, Them, and It, Bloomsbury) Crissa Chappell (Narc, Flux) Susane Colasanti (Keep Holding On, Penguin) Zoraida Cordova (The Vicious Deep, Sourcebooks) Gina Damico (Scorch, HMH) Jocelyn Davies (A Fractured Light, HC) Sarah Beth Durst (Vessel, S&S) Gayle Forman (Just One Day, Penguin) Elizabeth Scott (Miracle, S&S)

1:45-2:30 T. M. Goeglein (Cold Fury, Penguin) Hilary Weisman Graham (Reunited, S&S) Alissa Grosso (Ferocity Summer, Flux) Aaron Hartzler (Rapture Practice, LB) Deborah Heiligman (Intentions, RH) Leanna Renee Hieber (The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart, Sourcebooks) Jeff Hirsch (Magisterium, Scholastic) J. J. Howard (That Time I Joined the Circus, Scholastic) Alaya Johnson (The Summer Prince, Scholastic) Beth Kephart (Small Damages, Penguin) Kody Keplinger (A Midsummer’s Nightmare, LB)

2:30-3:15 A.S. King (Ask the Passengers, LB) Emmy Laybourne (Monument 14, Macmillan) David Levithan (Every Day, RH) Barry Lyga (Yesterday Again, Scholastic) Brian Meehl (Suck it Up and Die, RH) Alexandra Monir (Timekeeper, RH) Michael Northrop (Rotten, Scholastic) Diana Peterfreund (For Darkness Shows the Stars, HC) Lindsay Ribar (The Art of Wishing, Penguin) Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park, St. Martin’s) Kimberly Sabatini (Touching the Surface, S&S) Tiffany Schmidt (Send Me a Sign, Bloomsbury)

3:15-4:00 Victoria Schwab (The Archived, Hyperion) Jeri Smith-Ready (Shine, S&S) Amy Spalding (The Reece Malcolm List, Entangled) Stephanie Strohm (Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink, HMH) Nova Ren Suma (17 & Gone, Penguin) Greg Takoudes (When We Wuz Famous, Macmillan) Mary Thompson (Wuftoom, HMH) Jess Verdi (My Life After Now, Sourcebooks) K.M. Walton (Empty, S&S) Suzanne Weyn (Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters, Scholastic) Kathryn Williams (Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous, Macmillan)



Cover Stories: This is What Happy Looks Like

happy looks likeJennifer E. Smith's covers have a distinctive look that I love! (Remember her Cover Story for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight?). She's here to talk about her new cover for This is What Happy Looks Like -- the book's out April 1st! "I loved the cover for my last book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, so I was hoping they might do something along the same lines, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that might be.  My cover designer is a complete genius, though, and I’m so pleased she came up with something so brilliant!

"I loved this cover right from the start.  It’s sweet and summery and romantic, and the fact that it goes well with the cover for Statistical Probability is a nice bonus.

"We went back and forth on the colors a bit, wondering if we should try pink instead of yellow, and there were a few minor tweaks to the general positioning of the boat and the shading of the water, but that was about it.  They pretty much nailed it right away. I absolutely love everything about it – from the hand-lettered title to the rowboat to the bright yellow sun – and I think it perfectly captures the feel of the book.  It seems to radiate happiness, and I couldn’t ask for anything more."

Yay! So there's a positive story for your Monday. I love shadow and light and water-based covers, so you know how I feel about this one. (Also yay for yellow v. pink -- I like that choice.)

PS-You can hear Jennifer read from this book tonight at 6pm, when she and I and Gayle Forman, Bennett Madison and Kristen-Page Madonia will be chatting with David Levithan to kick off the 2013 NYC Teen Author Festival (full schedule here)! Come!

Photo Friday: Soho Teen Party

melissa mugshot Guys, you know that Soho Press has a YA line now, right? Soho Teen has six titles out this spring (enter to win them all here!). Exciting! One title is Who Done It? an anthology that includes dozens of awesome authors giving alibis in a murder case. So. Much. Fun. There was a party last night to benefit 826 NYC, and I was there (as were a ton of your favorite authors--check out the mugshot wall!).

I had partners in crime, though, including David Ostow, Michael Northrop and Micol Ostow, below. (Note that the "hide your beer" move that I learned for photos is not quite working here--but almost.)

group shot soho

It was a really fun night and you have a bunch of great books to check out, so go!

Happy Friday!