Sunday, August 12, 2012

Creating a Cover: Three Alternate Takes on SECOND SIGHT + Some Thoughts

At the National SCBWI Conference in January, I was approached by an artist named Heidi Woodward Sheffield, whom I'd met once before at a conference in Michigan. She told me she loved Second Sight -- so much so that she'd designed some alternate cover concepts for it, which might better represent what she considered its complexities. After she sent them to me, I was fascinated by these alternate visions of how my book could have looked, and asked if I could share them here. Heidi replied:
If you could note how incredibly rough they are, especially the collage piece with the baby, locket and quotes from your book (too busy), and your name (illegible...). Please stress it was a concept piece and not a final. Photoshop has a sneaky way of looking too finished for conceptual work.
Here they are -- and aren't they beautiful?


Looking at these alternate visions led me to reflect a little on why I went with the book cover I did, and the principles that drive my editorial decisions on a cover. Most of all, I want the covers of my books to convey, in both their text and images, a clear, straightforward message about what each book is, and for that to be an emotional message that will appeal to the book's most likely buyers. Thus I wanted to have books on the cover of Second Sight so you know immediately that this is a book about books, and then the large subtitle says clearly who this book is for (writers for children and YA) and why it is different (by an editor) -- all within a colorful, highly structured design whose feeling echoes my own rather structured writing style. If you're working on designs for your own book cover, you could do worse than to fill out the following questionnaire before you start:
  • Who is my most likely audience of buyers? Of readers?
  • What are the successful "comparison titles" for this book, which we might want to subtly remind that likely audience of? (I admit this question is how book cover trends get started.) 
  • What emotions are evoked in or by the book? In novels:  What are the most high-drama scenes or resonant images that might make a great cover?
  • Which of those emotions would I most like to convey to my likely audience? Which one would have the most appeal to them? 
  • How can I build an image or design that will put forward that feeling?
  • How much of the appeal can be carried by the title, and how much has to be taken up by the visuals? How will the two play together?
  • Where will this primarily be sold? (If online, it's important to think about how the image will look scaled down to an inch onscreen.)
Thank you again, Heidi, for letting me share these!


  1. I especially like the second one! It has an eye-catching, distinctive, and memorable look to it.

  2. Love Heidi's covers! The first two are mysterious and thought-provoking (though they don't give me much clue as to what's inside).

    I can understand your desire to have a pile of books on the cover of a book about books. Makes sense. But I do have to say, Heidi's third cover (with the books) is much more lively and attractive than the cover you ended up with. (Not to dis your cover artist, at all!)

    Heidi's take on the pile of books reflects the messy, colorful and sometimes chaotic nature of the writing & publishing process. As well, it has that charm to it that speaks of books for kids. And even the glasses, sitting slightly askew, makes me smile and think about my editors and how they must, at times, take their glasses off and rub their eyes after rereading a manuscript for the umpteenth time! Overall, her example feels light and alive--and not at all as staid as the existing cover.

    That said, I'm not sure how it might look scaled down to an inch. . . perhaps an idea for another post? (With examples.)

    Thanks for posting. I'm a fellow Michiganian and know of Heidi's art. It was fun to see these.

  3. I like Heidi's third cover sample better than the original cover, too.
    It's easy to read, interesting, lively. It looks more up-to-date. I love the glasses.
    I won't list what I dislike in the current cover, but I think Heidi's version updates it well.

  4. I really like the first cover, but only as a stand-alone illustration. I agree that the third cover fits the text much better. Thanks for pointing this out, Cheryl, and sharing with us all.

  5. That first cover makes me want to write a whole nother story to go with it that has nothing to do with editing--very provocative, Heidi. I too, like the updated look of #3 but the more orderly and controlled cover Cheryl went with does echo a nice orderly editing feel that matches Cheryl herself (or my perception of her.)

  6. I'd say make the first one with real materials and sell it as a special edition.

  7. This is a great post. I love looking at covers.

    Every time someone links to your blog I think, "this is good stuff. I must remember to come back and read regularly." And then I get busy and I forget. Any chance we can have a "subscribe by email" option? I see that I can subscribe to comments, but I don't see a way to subscribe to new posts. Am I missing it?