Cover Stories: Huntress by Malinda Lo

Final cover

Malinda Lo stopped by to talk about her debut cover for the lovely Ash a while back, and she's here once again because her latest book, Huntress, just hit the shelves this month (find out how to get a signed bookplate for the book if you see this post by May 1st!).

Once again, Malinda has a stirring cover with a great back story. Here she is:

"While I was writing Huntress I truly didn't have any idea what the cover might look like, and I didn't even spend much time thinking about it. I absolutely adore the cover that my publisher created for Ash, and I would never have come up with that as a cover concept — I'm definitely a writer, not a designer! So I was excited to see what they came up with for Huntress.

"The first cover concept I saw was this one (right). I was immediately struck by the meditative quality of the image, which I thought reflected the book pretty well — and the snow! I loved the snow! A little known fact about me is that I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of ice. Most people want to vacation in Hawaii; I desperately want to take a trip to Antarctica. (Yes, I'm strange.)

"Anyway, a good part of Huntress involves the main characters crossing a giant glacier, and I was thrilled that this aspect of the book was reflected on the cover.

"I did have a few suggestions, though, because I felt that the girl on the cover didn't entirely reflect my vision of Kaede, the main character. Of course, I know that book covers are designed to sell books, not to look exactly the way an author sees her characters (and, you know, the girl on the cover of Ash doesn't really look like her, but I think it very nicely fits the mood and feel of the book).

"One of my main concerns in this case was that the girl looked a little too young, because Kaede is 18 in the book, and I wanted to make sure this looked like a YA title. I also thought that the weapon the girl was carrying needed to be modified. In the original cover concept, it's a wooden practice sword, but nobody ever uses that in the book. However, Kaede does use a Japanese-style bow, and I thought it might not be too hard to substitute that in over the wooden practice sword.

"I also suggested that the girl's eyes not be obscured. Personally, I don't like full-faced photos of girls on book covers, because I like to imagine the characters in my own head. And I knew why they put the title over the girl's eyes — because it mirrors the title configuration on the Ash cover, and it was important that this book be visually related to Ash.

"But, given all the discussion about race and representation on YA book covers, I also knew that this book cover would face a lot of scrutiny when it was released. I was super pleased that my publisher chose to feature an Asian girl on the cover, and I just didn't want that fact to be overshadowed by having a title hide the girl's eyes.

"So, I sent this feedback to my editor, and we talked it over. She also showed me a couple of earlier cover concepts that they had discarded, just to give me an idea of what they wanted to avoid.

"One of the earliest ideas was to go with a black-and-white photo to echo the feel of Ash, something along the lines of this stunning photo by Beth Moon (left). (Obviously we couldn't use that specific image because the girl was both white and too young-looking, but I love the photo!) Another concept (below, right) was pretty cool, but it lacked the meditative quality that really does exist in Huntress and looked a little too much like a kung fu movie. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that's not what Huntress is about.)

"Seeing these images made me realize that as much as I want to see diversity on book covers, it can be tough because designers usually have to work with stock photos. The fact is, not every book gets a cover shoot — hardly any books do. If you're designing a cover for a contemporary novel, it might be easier to use stock photos, but because Huntress is a fantasy, we couldn't use photos of Asian girls carrying cell phones or wearing t-shirts, for example.

"But what my publisher did was send the original cover I saw to a digital artist, who tweaked the photo and created the final cover. The girl on the cover is now holding a Japanese bow, and she does look like an 18-year-old. I love the way her hair is whipping in the wind, and yet the background retains that wintry, meditative feel.

"Also, having the girl look straight out at the reader creates a very strong image, and I think the juxtaposition of her strength against the wintry background is wonderful. I hope it does its job by making people stop and pick up the book!"

Thank you, Malinda! I love the snow, the font, the muted purple. I think the final cover is gorgeous, and along the way you had a lot of great options.

What do you guys think?

PS-If you're lucky you can catch Malinda on the Diversity in YA Tour in May (amazing lineups)!