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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cover story

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?


Jenny O'Connell said...

OK, could you make me any more curious about your cover? Now I can't wait to see it! I loved the cover for LOCAL GIRLS, one of the girls on the cover is even wearing a jean skirt like Kendra does in the beginning of the book. Total luck. The RICH BOYS cover took me by surprise, I never imagined a cover without a girl on it. The original cover for THE BOOK OF LUKE was a tad disturbing to me, the girl looked like she was 12 and the look on her face made it seem like she was being molested by an older guy. Hated it but also sort of creeped out by it. So glad they changed it.

Covers have a big impact on my first impression of a book. And I can't stand it when the cover doesn't give some sort of nod to the actual content inside (like a blonde girl on the cover and the girl is really brunette).

Jennifer Echols said...

I'm glad you said they changed the cover of THE BOOK OF LUKE, because at first I thought you were saying you hated the current cover, and I was going to have to tell you that you are crazy. I love that cover--they look so happy!

Victoria Dahl said...

Yay, me! I've SEEN the cover!!!

It's beautiful and pretty and just a little sad, I think it suits the characters perfectly. I can't wait for its public unveiling.

Little Willow said...


Reviewer X said...

Ohhhhhhhh you must be super excited! I personally love some of the MTV Books covers like Stephanie Kuehnert's book and also Laura Wiess's, so I'm hoping they outdid themselves with yours, too!

Can't wait to see it, Jenn :)


Danielle Joseph said...

Jenn, you have totally left me hanging! I can't wait to see your cover. I like covers that leave you with a bit of mystery, like when you see a partial face, silouette etc...

Jennifer Echols said...

Y'all are sweet. I love Laura & Steph's covers too. I think mine is perfect for the story I've written.

Kelly Parra said...

oh gees, I want to see the cover! haha! MTV is doing an AWESOME job with the covers. I've loved mine, and just the hints you've given about yours sound so cool!

Anonymous said...

Hi- I'm courtney lol..i just wanted to say i can't wait for this new book cover..I'm completley in LOVE with your books. In my opinion, i really don't think to judge a book by its cover. I just ask the librarian about the books that are by you; and i buy them ALL lol. If you're name is on it, i want it BIG TIME! SO i absolutely can't wait to see it! :<)

Alea said...

Your cover is fantastic, it is really scary putting your book into the hands of a stranger, and a stranger that probably has not read your book. That Print article was a great one!

I've been working as a designer for about a year now and have gotten the chance to work on some covers, at the most we've gotten 2 chapters to read for the book. Usually it's just a short description. It's surprising how covers can come out so good with so little information!