I spent the week of the 4th at the same beach where my characters go on a road trip in my book Going Too Far, which is coming out in March. One night I drove into town with my husband and son to see Wall-E. I stood in line with my son so we could get a good seat as soon as the doors opened, and stared around at the larger-than-life posters and cardboard cutouts of upcoming films. I swear I was wondering how Going Too Far would be marketed when my cell phone beeped with an e-mail from my editor.
Subject: GOING TOO FAR--cover
With an attachment!
Of course I couldn’t actually open the e-mail or the attachment. I couldn’t get a good signal through the thick hurricane-proof walls. I had to wait (patiently!) for my husband to get back with the popcorn and take over the child and our place in line before I could wander into the lobby, looking for a signal. Finally I opened my cover.
Now, a lot of readers don’t understand that writers generally have no say in what their covers look like. We can make suggestions, but the publisher is under no obligation to take them. This is for the best because most writers are not experts in art or marketing. But it’s also unnerving to leave something so important completely in the hands of strangers.
Because a cover can make or break sales of a book. Print magazine published a fascinating article in their April 2008 issue about how the covers of YA novels are redesigned to appeal to generation after generation. (You can read the article here--and many thanks to Smart Bitch Sarah for finding the link online.) YA editor and author Marc Aronson is quoted as saying, “[The book] has to sit comfortably next to all the other objects in the reader’s world, their magazines and clothes and music. It’s all about a sense of coolness and intelligence. It’s a style--it’s saying, ‘We are exactly who you are. This is the world you’ll feel comfortable with. Nothing about this book is going to make you feel awkward to carry it and wear it. It’s a sleek and cool and as with-it as you are.'”
That’s a tall order for a cover, but imho it has to do something more. Aronson is probably right that for teens, the book is “an accessory.” For everyone, teens and adults alike, it’s also a marker of what the reader will find inside. Readers like certain types of stories more than others, and the cover helps them find the types of stories they enjoy out of the thousands upon thousands of choices in the bookstore, all screaming at them, “Pick me up!” So I needed the cover of Going Too Far to be the coolest thing ever, and indicate that there is an edgy teen romantic drama inside.
My thoughts as I stood in the lobby of the movie theater, viewing my cover for the first time:
1. The Art Department loves me.
2. I wonder how long I can hide this from my mother.
After staring at it for another fifteen minutes or so, I found my husband and son in the theater, watching previews. I handed the phone to my husband.
Husband: “That cover’s going to get you some attention... Wow... The look on her face is perfect... Wow... You should be really happy with this... Wow... Should her eyebrow piercing be a little further to one side?”
So I e-mailed my editor back: “GOD that is gorgeous. Should her eyebrow piercing be a little further to one side?”
Editor: “Good. No.”
I love the beach and I was going to have a fantastic time with my husband and my son no matter what, but this episode on Monday really made my week, and I can’t wait to show you this cover when it’s done. Over the course of the holiday I read wonderful books by Kate Harmon and Jeri Smith-Ready and our own Jenny O’Connell’s Local Girls, all of which had beautiful covers that gave readers a lot of accurate information about what they would find inside.
What are some of your favorite covers? And have you picked up a book lately because of the cover, only to find something completely different inside than what you were expecting?