The cover for my next book is ready and I thought it might be instructive to work through the stages of its development. It was a tough one.
One of the challenges I have being an author who publishes across genres and age groups is that I need covers that share a brand and yet also speak to their specific market. I.e. The YA horror novel has to have a horror cover, but also look like a ‘Michael F. Stewart’ book when compared to the middle grade fantasy. To make matters worse, this particular cover is part of a series, so I wanted a cover I could reuse and repurpose.
For better or worse, I’ve elected to have realistic covers and so that limits my options especially when it comes to children’s publishing.
For The River Keepers I wanted something that said fantasy and middle grade, but it’s set in a contemporary world. It’s the story about two sisters who have to take on the role of dying gnome and protect their watershed. Some of the scenes are genuinely scary (which is what happens when you transform into a mouse and have to face a giant centipede!) but I think I over communicated this aspect to the designer.
I had a big ask. I wanted to show the glob of gold (which is the gnome’s magic) mid transformation into the animal most in need. The concept for the series was that each cover will show a different transformation.
Okay, so here’s what I got back.
Excellent right? Terrifying? There isn’t a parent in their right mind that would pick this up for their kid.
Okay, okay, the designer I’m working with is amazing and patient so he’s okay with my blundering and is willing to give it another shot. So I say, maybe use a skunk and less stringy and more like the Hunger Games cover (the designer’s rolling his eyes), and more blue because it all takes place near a river. And we get:
Which is actually really cool and realistic but doesn’t say magic to me or middle grade. I apologize and suggest we lose the glob of gold. Let’s just leave the transformation and animal motifs. He takes it back to the drawing board, makes it more realistic and adds magic.
We’re getting closer, but now it’s a book about skunks and it’s more than that. It’s also a bit static. Glorious and patient designer, I ask, please add a mouse and a snake and more light (because I love magic).
And that’s what I wanted even though I couldn’t say so in the first place. To every book designer out there, I’m sorry. To Martin Stiff at Amazing15, thank you.