Barry Lyga's UNSOUL'D is about a mid-list author in his 30s who sells his soul to the devil for the promise of fame, fortune and fans. It's actually my life story but Barry changed the main character to a guy. KIDDING! But, um, I can relate to the protagonist's impulse. The book is also published by Barry himself, so he had complete cover control. Here's his tale:
"I tend to like very simple, stark covers. If you look at books like BOY TOY or I HUNT KILLERS, they really have single overriding images or big, potent type treatments. I love those covers. So for UNSOUL'D, I was always envisioning something incredibly simple: Just the title on a white background, to make you really think about that word. And then I screwed it up a LOT before I finally got it right.
"I know just enough Photoshop to be dangerous, so I sort of put together a quick mock-up of what I wanted. And I hated it. So, instead of text on white, I tried text on black. That looked a little better, so I tried adding some flames at the bottom. It still didn't look right, though. I realized that my poor Photoshop kung fu wasn't up to the task, so I talked to the woman who did the covers for I HUNT KILLERS and GAME, but we weren't going to be able to coordinate things in time.
"I gave her my pathetic mock-up and said, 'But, you know, GOOD.' And she went to work.
"I was really stressed out. I've had input into covers before, but now, for the first time, I was 100% responsible. There was no editor to say, 'Nah.' No agent to tell me what worked or what didn't. No marketing people to offer suggestions. It was exhilarating to be out there on my own, but also frightening. If I said, 'That's it,' then that was it -- no one would or could overrule me, and the book would rise or fall on my tastes alone.
"Lisa did a slew of different variations on that original mockup (see two below), and they were all perfectly fine, but there was just something gnawing at the back of my brain and I couldn't figure out what it was. Then Libba Bray looked at the eight or nine mockups Lisa had done and said, 'You know, these are really dark. And your book is dark, but it's FUNNY.' And the proverbial light bulb went off.
"I called Lisa and said, 'Look, you've done some cool covers here, but I want to try doing one in white instead of black.' Which, you know was the original plan before I mucked things up by playing around in Photoshop. 'Can you try one like the words are burned into paper or something?'
"Within less than twenty-four hours, she sent me the final cover. And it was just perfect. I could have saved her a lot of work and me a lot of stress if I'd just told her my original idea from the start!
"I love the cover! Absolutely love it. It harks back to my very first idea, but Lisa took it in a totally new direction, making it tactile, giving it heft and dimension as opposed to just flat text on a white backdrop. Now it's simple and bold, but without being dull or generic.
"I don't know if it's my computer screen or my aging eyes, but for some reason the word 'UNSOUL'D' on the cover seems ever-so-slightly blurred to me. Just the tiniest bit less crisp than the rest of the cover. Which I actually think is cool for a book that's all about the gray areas of morality. I imagine it's just the way my eyes perceive the particular combination of colors and lines on the cover, but I'm a fan of it anyway."
Thanks, Barry! I love hearing how an author who had complete control navigated the process!