Melissa Walker

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 Melissa Walker

wishaftermidnight.jpgZetta Elliott is here today to talk about the covers for A Wish After Midnight. Zetta self-published the book at first, and then it was picked up by AmazonEncore for traditional publishing! Lyn Miller-Lachmann wrote a beautiful review of Zetta’s book for readergirlz, so check that out.
Here’s Zetta:
“My story’s a little unusual because I first wrote AWAM in 2003, and at that time I had no idea whatsoever what I wanted the cover to look like. I was just happy to have finished, and I was sending out query letters to agents and editors. Five years later, after endless rejections, I heard about Lulu.com through a friend and decided to give my book its own life in the world. birdcover.jpgMy award-winning picture book, Bird, was coming out in the fall of 2008, and so I hustled to get AWAM ready for release at the same time.
Shadra Strickland, who went on to win two major awards for illustrating Bird, agreed to design the cover for AWAM. I gave her the elements I wanted to include, selected a color, and she produced a cover design I absolutely loved (below left). I really wanted my main character, Genna, to be represented accurately–in popular culture, you don’t often see dark-skinned black girls celebrated and/or placed front and center. So I bought a stock photo, photo-shopped it to make the girl’s skin tone correct, and then Shadra skillfully combined the sankofa symbol and my photo-shopped picture of the fountain in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
[Here are the old and the new covers, side by side:]
wishcover.jpg wishaftermidnight.jpg
“I wasn’t asked for input, but in our early negotiations, my editor made a point of saying that the AmazonEncore edition would have a cover that far outshone the one on my self-published book. I didn’t quite appreciate that remark at the time, because I loved my cover! But the whitewashing controversy was raging, and I was quite vocal on my blog about how I would react if some designer misrepresented my book by putting a white model on the cover. This happened with Justine Larbalestier’s novel, Liar, and then again with Jaclyn Dolamore’s novel, Magic Under Glass. In both cases, public outrage forced the publisher to stop production and design a cover that accurately reflected the appearance of the main characters. I wasn’t sure if my editor was following my blog, but I think all publishers are more careful now (and some were always ethical regarding this matter).
“The first time I saw the cover of my book I was really impressed with the concept–and struck by the color contrast: a cool blue for midnight, and warmer tones for the urban scene. I thought it made a strong impact, but I also immediately noticed some details that didn’t work for me.
“Fortunately, my editor is awesome and he immediately asked for my feedback on the cover. I made a detailed list, starting with what I liked, and he responded right away by thanking me for making such great points. Mainly I was concerned about some Victorian fussiness–my novel is a time-travel story, so the designer was trying to capture a contemporary urban feel but also a sense of the 19th century. But because my character is believed to be a fugitive slave, I wanted the cover to suggest the hardship of that time. We started out with a metal plate that showed my name and the title; I wanted something a bit more weathered (it was white) and suggested those copper plates that mark historic sites, which eventually weather and turn sort of blue. The images of the two girls didn’t quite work for me, either–they were both obviously brown-skinned, and at least one girl had natural hair, but it was also apparent that they were two different girls. The photos were meant to suggest the transition between past and present, but I felt that only worked if it was one model shot in color and b&w, not two different models. Their images had a sort of lacy frame, and so I suggested removing the frames or scrapping the girls altogether.
“I definitely felt that some of my concerns were addressed by the designer. The frilly frames were removed, as was the white metal plate. Instead, a simple yellow band displayed my name and gold flourishes were added beneath the plain white title. I’m not a flouncy kind of girl, but when I saw the interior of the book, and the way the flourishes were continued on the title page, I understood and really appreciated that artistic decision. The glaring white light in the alley still gets to me sometimes, but I’ve also had teenagers remark on the photos of the two girls (which they like) so I think, overall, the cover really works.
“The biggest surprise was when my author copies arrived and I saw the BACK of the book. For the ARCs, the back cover had a synopsis and brief bio, but the final edition has this gorgeous 1850 painting of New York City–I love it! The coloring really picks up the yellow band on the front, and creates the perfect juxtaposition between contemporary and 19th-century New York. I was given two options for the final synopsis, and when I asked for a revised option, my request was granted. The Encore team has really made me feel like a partner in this whole process! I’ve also gotten a few compliments on the spine, too, which I hadn’t thought of as important (but it is, since most books don’t face forward in a store).
“Thanks for this opportunity to talk about my book! I’m really proud to show it to the world…”
Check out the trailer for A Wish After Midnight:

And thanks, Zetta! I have to say that I really like the simplicity and the color combination of the first cover (I love black-and-white-with-one-color covers, like the Violet series covers…). But I also like the images and symbols in the second cover. What do you guys think of the covers?

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3 Comments

  1. That the Amazon Encore folks would say they’d design a cover that “far outshone” the cover of the original speaks to the prejudice against self-published books. In fact, I’ve seen some impressive covers from self-pubbed books–including ones designed by professional graphic artists–and Shadra Strickland’s cover for the original Wish After Midnight is one of them. In fact, I like both covers, and I like the way they reflect different approaches to the story. The original is more focused on Genna as a character, her longing for a different life; the newer one promises a lot of action in a menacing urban environment of the past.

  2. I love only the parts of the second cover, but all together it just seems like too much. I have to agree with Melissa, I love the simplicity of the original,

  3. Doret says:

    Zetta got two great AWAM covers. Both would make me stop in a bookstore.
    If there were an award for backcovers the AmazonEncore edition would get one. Its beautiful.

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