Cover Stories: Wintering Well

When I went up to the Albany Children's Book Festival in the spring, I sat next to Lea Wait (yay for alphabetical order!) and we got to talking about one of the books she had on her table, Wintering Well. Of course, we got into Cover talk, and I heard the amazing story behind this book's two covers. And now Lea's here to share it:

"I’ve usually had a good relationship with my editors at McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster) regarding covers. Discussion for the cover of Wintering Well started innocently enough, when I asked whether the artist who had done the artwork for my previous two historical for McElderry would also be doing the cover of Wintering Well. I was told that, no, a digital photograph would be used this time instead of original art. When I pressed the issue (I really liked the artist’s work, and thought all my covers should have the same look) I was told Barnes & Noble wanted all middle reader books to have digital photo covers, so if I wanted my book to be in B&N, that’s the way it would be.

"O – KAY! My editor then asked what the main character in my book, Will, looked like. I described him as I did in the book. It was 1819; he worked on a Maine farm; he wore a smock over long trousers, had sun-bleached hair and blue eyes. She hired a young model, clothed him appropriately, and I thought the result was a great cover (above left), even if it was a photo and not a painting.

"Shortly after the book was published I got an email from the mother of the model. She wanted to tell me that her son, Sasha, was modeling to save for college. She also thought I’d like to know he’d been adopted from Russia as an older child, since she’d read in my bio that I’d adopted four older children. I was delighted to know, and added Sasha’s story when I was asked about the boy on the cover – as I frequently was.

"Eighteen months later, Wintering Well was published again, this time in paperback. My other books had made this journey before, and their covers had traveled with them: the same cover appeared on the paperback as on hardcover.

"So I took a very deep breath when I opened an envelope with an advance copy of the paperback edition of Wintering Well and came face-to-face, not with Sasha, but with a boy I’d never seen before (right).

"Not only had I never seen him, but no one in 1819 Maine would ever have seen anyone like him. This boy’s hair was cut short, in a way no boy or man in 1819 would have worn it. He was standing in front of a mid-western cornfield. And he was wearing a pair of overalls with metal machine-made strap clips – clothing not manufactured until well after the Civil War.

"Where did he come from?

"Of course, I asked. And was told that the paperback editor felt Will’s long hair made him look 'too girlish,' and that this 'more macho' boy would sell more copies. She didn’t think anyone would notice that the cover wasn’t 'exactly' historically correct.

"Wintering Well is my best-selling book for young people to date. Today the hard cover edition is out of print; readers now have to buy it in the paperback version (or in an e-book.)

"When I speak to schools, students often ask me why there are two covers, and I tell them. And then I ask them which cover they like best.

"No class has ever preferred the paperback version.

"And no class has ever thought the hardcover version, the picture of Sasha, makes Will look 'girlish.' (Girls do think he’s cute though.)

"Has the second boy sold more copies than Sasha would have? There’s no way of knowing.

"But I do know he has raised a lot of questions, and given me the opportunity to talk about the author’s role in creating cover art."

Thanks, Lea! I find this story simply fascinating. I love the back story about Sasha, the justification for the change, and Lea's feelings about the covers (thanks for being so honest). I actually like both covers quite a bit, and I think the second one looks more "polished" somehow, but it's not because of the model. I think they could have kept Sasha with that new background and font and had a win-win. The historical inaccuracy isn't something I noticed, though I do think it would bug me as the author!

What do you guys think of this one?