Navigating Publishing: Anatomy of a Cover
The process of cover design is yet one more thing that seems hidden behind the publishing curtain. We see “subtweets” from writers about the process. Get hints on social media that a reveal will be coming soon. Then, maybe days or weeks later, the cover is shared on a publisher’s website, on an online entertainment site like Hypable or Bustle, or even an author’s blog. But what really happens before then? How much say does a writer have when it comes to their cover? What part do they have in the process?
In today’s Navigating Publishing post, I’m walking through the stages of my cover design experience with Across a Broken Shore with permission from my publisher, Flux. I hope that by sharing these details you’ll get better insight as to how the process works.
Now, let me say first that this is my own personal experience. Other authors, with deals with other publishers, most likely have a completely different experience. Each publisher has its own plan when it comes to covers. It’s important to keep that in mind as you continue to read.
Whenever I think about the cover design process I get a little queasy. It’s hard sometimes for a writer to verbalize what they see in their head. How they know one specific image will be the perfect fit for their cover. I also have one statement that drones in my head over and over, “In Young Adult, covers sell books”. I heard this a few years ago from a long-time bookseller, and I think it is true. Often times the wrong design can hurt book sales. I know for a fact this keeps many of us writers up at night.
I’ve been lucky. The amazing people at Flux have been very open to my input. In the first step of the process, the editors asked me to provide examples of book covers I admired and specific elements I wanted included. In the case of Nothing But Sky, I requested that a propeller be incorporated into the design. With Across a Broken Shore, I was pretty adamant that the Golden Gate Bridge be featured in some way.
In the case of AABS, I sent a half-dozen attachments to Flux which included covers I liked, period-specific clothing styles, and images that resembled my main character. Once my editor reviewed my email, she asked more specific details about tone and setting elements.
Once all the details were pinned down, I waited for several weeks until my editor sent me the following designs created by the talented Sarah Taplin:
Both of these concepts rendered me speechless. Each did an amazing job of capturing elements of the story I loved (the bridge & medicine). Numerous emails were swapped as those involved (editors & designer) chatted at length about the merits of each design. After much discussion it was decided that while we loved both designs, “Concept 1” captured the heart and setting of the story best.
With the design selected, the next focus needed to be on historical detail. I sent an email to my editor with more attachments this time. They included several examples of what 1930s dresses looked like (thanks to catalog and sewing pattern images from the time), the accurate length of the hem, and the importance of including a period-accurate doctor’s bag. Once all these elements were conveyed, another concept was sent to me a few days later.
Concept 1 (Revision #1)
At this point, even though the featured image is locked down, there are still small tweaks needed. While the doctor’s bag is now period-accurate, and the dress material is correct, the belt and hem length need adjustment. One other thing the designer has changed is my name at the top. The conversion to a bright red color now pops from the muted background.
Based on this minor feedback, I was sent the following design which ended up being the final approved image.
Final Approved Cover
While I am beyond thrilled with the final design for Across a Broken Shore, it did not come without some work. It takes thought and A LOT of patience to get through the cover design process. What you have to keep in mind is that a cover needs to jive with what the editor, publisher, and marketing department feels is right for your book. The truth is that often times this requires many emails and compromise on both sides.
Do you have questions about the cover design process? Feel free to ask them in the comments below.