the princesses of iowa

Cover Stories: The Princesses of Iowa

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 skybecause 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” storya 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 Midwestplus 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 titlethe 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 headit’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."