Judging a Book by Its Cover Process

MODERN GIRLS by Jennifer S. BrownI’ve heard the horror stories. I’ve been in Facebook groups where writers have bemoaned how much they hate their covers. Titles have been mangled. Everyone is unhappy. In my contract, I was given “consultation” rights, which I was told means basically nothing. The publishing house can consult me and say, “Okay, now we’re going to do what we want.”

I was prepared. I would employ my family motto—”Suck it up”—and deal with whatever I was handed. I knew how the big business of publishing went. As all of us parents constantly tell our children, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

Fully armed, I was ready.

So, as you can probably imagine, I was not in the least prepared for what actually happened: I had a say all the way through.

My opinion was sought. My editor asked me, “What kind of covers do you like? Photos or illustrations? A single object or people? What covers are you drawn to?”

Giving it a lot of thought, I realized a few things:

  • While there are many gorgeously drawn covers, I prefer photos.
  • I am attracted to single image covers (like Anne Tyler’s A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD), but there was no single image from my novel that jumped out at me.
  • People on cover are a plus, however I don’t like seeing faces; I prefer to imagine what characters look like for myself.

I sent my editor the covers of books I was particularly drawn to. These are three of the covers I sent:

Maybe I have a foot fetish?

My editor passed this feedback over to the art department. I had no idea how early this happened in the process, but a year before my pub date, I was in New York and meeting my editor in her office to go for lunch, and she said, “I have something to show you.” Walking in, there were two mock-ups for my cover. One had a gorgeous woman whose face was hidden by a hat and one had the image you see on the cover now.

“Wow!” I said. I was thrilled with both choices. Ultimately, the picture with the hat looked a little too upscale to be my characters, so I said I preferred the image I have now. But I loved the fonts used on the other cover.

“No problem,” my editor said, and a day later I had the image I loved with the fonts I loved. “What color would you like the wording to be?” Really? I got to pick? She sent me mock-ups with a number of different colors, but I liked best when the color matched the dress on the cover.

Arguments? You get what you get? I’m thrilled to say that I was not only consulted on the cover, but my input was valued and listened to. I am going to be forever grateful to the cover designer (and I regret we live in anonymous world where I don’t know his or her name) who took my thoughts and conveyed them visually in such a perfect way.

Oh, and the title? That was my title from day 1. No one ever even proposed changing it. The idea of “modernity” and who is modern plays such a strong role in the book that the title seemed to work for everyone.

The moral of this story? Horror stories may abound, but sometimes the author actually gets what she wants.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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This article has 6 Comments

  1. Your cover really caught my eye! I love (and wear) vintage clothing and particularly enjoy stories set in a bygone era. So, when I saw the cover image on The Debutante Ball blog I immediately clicked on it to find out what the story is about. Now I am looking forward to reading it!

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