Coming up with a design for a book cover that captures the spirit of the book while enticing readers to pick it up is no easy task. Author Kara Lee Corthon shared with us her experiences on the evolution of the cover of her debut novel The Truth of Right Now when we revealed it a few months ago but now that it’s on sale, we thought her post worth revisiting. If you’ve not had a chance to read it yet, her post is still worth a read just to gain better insight into the challenge a book designer faces. And if you have picked up the book, or read the extended excerpt we’re currently featuring, how do you feel about the cover now that you’ve read the author’s thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments!
Choosing a cover for a book is tough. Much tougher than I would’ve guessed before I found myself in that situation. There are so many things that must be considered. Will it attract its intended audience? Is it intriguing? Is it eye catching? Does it send the right message and that message is: “Hey look at me! I’m the awesome cover of a book you should be reading right now!” Somehow I thought this would be fairly easy to convey in a cover. Not so much.
When I saw the initial draft of the cover back in the winter, I was . . . underwhelmed. It didn’t feel right. First of all, it was a standard photograph. Since I was a kid and obsessed with Judy Blume, I have never cared for realistic photo book covers. Maybe this is because I was a budding writer, but I always felt that an important part of the reading experience is for the reader to conjure her own images of the characters and the world. I actually remember the first non-picture book I read as a kid. I was a little intimidated at first, but then realized how much I loved imagining who the characters might be. Did they look like my friends? My family? Or did I have to make them up entirely? It made me feel like I was a part of the book coming to life. Kids, teens, and adults alike deserve to have that freedom when they open a book.
Additionally, the photo was of two flawless-looking models, representing the book’s main characters: Dari and Lily. Now my characters are certainly good-looking individuals, but I wouldn’t say they just fell out of a Gap catalogue. All people have their own unique characteristics that set them apart from everyone else and make them memorable. I am certain these models have their own uniqueness as well, but the photo didn’t capture that. I longed for them to look less-than-perfect.
I ultimately realized that the cover just didn’t fit the book I wrote. There was a straightforward realism to the photo and though the book is realistic, there is a certain kind of magic in it. I don’t mean the magic of wizards or super-human powers—not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things. It’s another kind of magic. Have you ever envisioned your perfect date? And then you actually went on a date that was nothing like what you imagined, but it ended up being ten times better? This is the type of thing that happens to Dari and Lily. They’re rather surprised to find that for them, the perfect date involves karaoke at an underground gay/goth club, a dime-store psychic, a ‘20s-era speakeasy-type party with strangers, and a rickety fire escape. The Truth of Right Now contains some of the magic that just happens in normal life . . . when we’re lucky. But it’s not all whimsy. They have to struggle with some very grown-up issues that many adults haven’t had to experience. Lily’s a fifteen-year-old white teen battling depression and her recent banishment to pariah status. Dari’s a sixteen-year-old black male who doesn’t get along with his authoritarian father and lives in a world where a huge swath of the population sees him as a threat for no reason other than his blackness and his maleness. There’s a lot of shit going on in this book and I just wasn’t getting a sense of that in the original cover.
I suddenly felt enormous sympathy for book cover designers everywhere. What a hard job!
Because I work with rock stars who want their authors to be happy, after voicing some of my concerns, they went back to the drawing board. In doing this, we ended up with another design, which went in a wholly different direction. A weird one. We admired this new artist’s portfolio, but for some reason his design made absolutely no sense. It looked like it was for a book about superheroes or pretty aliens. A friend of mine thought it could’ve been a Bowie album cover—Ziggy Stardust era. At that point, I began to worry that we’d never find the right design. Months had passed and it didn’t seem like we were any closer.
Until the following day. Regina Flath, one of the brilliant artists at Simon Pulse, did something amazing and so simple: she drew a raw sketch of the original photo cover and pretty much left it at that. The difference between the two designs is remarkable. The quality of being a page torn from a sketchpad instantly leapt out at me. Dari’s a gifted visual artist and this could have easily been one of his drawings. The design also provides texture and mystery; it leaves space for readers to fill it in as they see fit. The image is now open to multiple interpretations and instead of telling one story, it’s more of an invitation into the one I’ve written. I can look at this cover and see the potential for everyday magic and everyday pain and then some. I showed it to a colleague the other day and she gasped saying: “This feels like you. If you could’ve made a cover for your book, this would’ve been it.” Her observation got me a little misty. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but she’s right.
I’m sure it’s obvious that I am in love with this cover and so proud to share it with all of you. I can’t wait to touch it. And I really can’t wait for YOU to touch it!