Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Zen and Xander Undone got a starred review in Kirkus (that’s tough!). They said “…touching, urgent and involving. Zen’s frank narration–full of longing and hard-won insight–draws readers in and won’t let go.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred. Cool!
The book also has a dramatic Cover Story that involves a big bookstore. Here’s Amy to tell it:
“When I was writing Zen and Xander Undone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010), I had a very clear image in my mind of what I wanted the cover to look like. The book has two protagonists, and the contrast between their personalities is the driving force of the story. Xander, despite her extraordinary intellect, is descending into a self-destructive spiral with drugs, parties, and bad men. Zen is much more reserved, but she has a black belt in Shotokan and violent tendencies that get her into fights that sometimes she can’t finish. This book has lots of action and danger in it, which I hoped the cover would get across. So I imagined two girls on the cover, both of them looking defiant. My image of Xander had heavy black eyeliner, tattoos, facial piercings, and she was wearing skanky clothes. Zen I imagined in her Karate uniform, standing in a battle-ready pose.
“What my publisher sent me was very different. The first version of the cover looked like this (left). This cover is beautiful and artistic, but I didn’t think there was enough contrast between the girls. Physically they look like the characters I had in mind, but their different personalities just didn’t come through enough for me. Also, with the girls lying on grass looking contemplative, I thought the cover was missing the energy it needed. To me this looks like a quiet, literary novel. My publisher really liked this design, however, and though they tinkered with it in accordance with my comments, they stuck with the basic composition. Since it really was lovely, I was okay with it, but not super thrilled.
“AND THEN… The sales meeting with Barnes and Noble came, and they said they wouldn’t carry the book if it had that quiet cover on it. Though I’m not convinced that any single retailer should have this much power, the reality is that if Barnes and Noble doesn’t carry a book, its sales numbers are automatically low. So my publisher decided to throw out the old design and start again from scratch.
“This is what they came up with, and personally I liked it much better than the first (right). To me this version feels more dynamic. The two girls have more energy in their stance, and the contrast between their personalities is much more evident. This looks like an active, dynamic story, and it suits the novel much better! I think my publisher did a great job with it.
“Though my publisher didn’t agree with me at first about the cover, I do think that I’m pretty lucky in how much attention they pay to my comments. Not every publisher is so obliging to their authors, and I try not to forget how lucky I am when we’re doing all that back and forthing. In the end, we all just want the same thing: For the book to SELL SELL SELL!! Hopefully Zen and Xander Undone will live up to its potential.”
Thanks, Amy! I do think the final cover has a much stronger energy to it, and it seems like it fits the book more than the lying-down cover. Plus, I don’t love the boxes of writing on that first cover–I think there’s too much going on there. So, I’m definitely thumbs-up on the final cover’s changes. What do you guys think?