Evolution of a Cover

So far in this series on book covers, I’ve looked at some of my favorite covers and unveiled the new cover for The Dragon Keeper. It’s just about time to look ahead to Everything You Want Me To Be, but before we do let’s step back for a moment and review the strange process of finding a cover.

First there is the challenge of distilling 100,000ish words into one to ten, and those few words have a lot of work to do. They need to flirt shamelessly, hinting at what’s underneath them but with more intrigue than honesty. They need to pop. They need to linger. They need to rise to the top of Google searches and avoid getting tangled with all the other titles making their own plays for attention. If you’re of a certain mindset in New York these days, they need to contain the word “girl.”

Then, translate those one to ten words, not to mention the other 99,990, into an image. A picture is worth a thousand words and in the case of book covers it needs to become an ambassador to one hundred times more. The picture is the title’s wingman, or maybe vice versa, and together they have to work to get picked up by interested readers everywhere—at the bookstore, online, not to mention on those unflatteringly black and white Kindle recommendation pages.

This is an art I barely understand. I took a shot at it for the murder mystery when I was querying agents and this was the result.

The Shape of Trees

THE SHAPE OF TREES

One of the characters in the book introduces a metaphor about place and identity and, for lack of better ideas, it struck me as a good title. I wasn’t sure how to translate it to a murder mystery, though. Then I saw a photograph called “Sunset at Louisville Swamp,” taken by my coworker, Dave Hanke. The contrast of the tree silhouettes, which could easily represent my three narrators, against the striations of ominous, brewing colors in the sky, felt like the perfect match to my title. This cover was the first face of the book, which, if nothing else, helped me to move into a marketing frame of mind, to flip from a mindset of expansion and revision into one of paraphrasing and packaging.

 

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman

THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN

I’m so lucky to be working with the wonderful Jane Wood of Quercus Books for the UK edition of the murder mystery and this is our official UK cover! The title is different than in the US and I wasn’t sure if that was kosher at first, but if Agatha Christie can do it, why not me? What I love about this cover is how it brings in so many different elements of the book. We are given the rural setting, the turbulent, roiling sky—which is, for me, a lovely echo of the original idea—and even the hint of Hattie as the doomed, consummate actress.

 

Everything You Want Me To Be

EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE

Emily Bestler and the amazing team at Emily Bestler Books and Atria developed our US cover, which takes the acting theme and puts it, and Hattie, center stage. The title took weeks of brainstorming and throwing spaghetti at the wall, hoping something would stick. The winning title actually came from my agent, Stephanie Cabot’s, husband during a dinner party where, apparently, one of the parlor games was Name That Book. Emily’s team has taken the title and given it an unforgettable cover. I love how the girl is both magnified and obscured, demanding attention and evading scrutiny at the same time.

So there you have it. Three completely different covers for one forthcoming book. I can’t wait to see these UK and US covers out in the world in just seven short months! And as for my original? It’s right where it belongs, tucked away with my first draft notes and all those necessary, disappearing storylines that got the book where it needed to be: on its way to you.