Creating a Cover, and Altering Covers for Creationists

I initiated a discussion on child_lit earlier this week about what makes a good book cover for a middle-grade novel -- "good" meaning popular, pick-uppable, kids-can't-resist-it. Linnea Hendrickson responded with a message praising our cover art for The Book of Everything, and I took the opportunity to demystify the cover-making process (message cross-posted from child_lit):

I hope you all won't mind my writing about a book I edited, but this was actually a great example of how publishers come up with their cover designs. Arthur Levine, my boss; the book's designer, Elizabeth Parisi; and I sat down with a list of key images from the manuscript:
  • the cover of Thomas's notebook (the actual "Book of Everything")
  • the open window Thomas looks through to think
  • the tropical fish in the canals and Thomas's aquarium
  • the frogs
  • the knife and wooden spoon
  • Jesus Christ

As you can see from this list, we felt as Linnea did, that we shouldn't do too much to signal who the characters were or show Thomas's visions; and we quickly settled on having a stark black cover that wouldn't give too much away and might appeal to both adults and children, as we hoped very much that the book's audience would reach beyond the nine-year-old age of its protagonist. (I know Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was mentioned in our discussion, for both its evocative type design and that strangely chilling raven.) Having a strong title helped us a lot here too -- we didn't want to do anything to undercut its inherent interest or mystery("What does 'Book of Everything' mean? What's in that Book? Who would dare to write it?" etc.) with too much detail.

Once we'd agreed on the concept, Elizabeth went looking for frogs in stock-photo sites, trying to find an intriguing-looking frog who would stand out against the black background, like a jewel you could just reach out and pick up. She used the frog again on the spine, to hook readers looking at the book on a shelf, and drew the title type herself on the computer. Here again we were trying to enhance the mystery of the title: "What does that frog have to do with 'everything'? Why does the title type look like a child's scrawl?" Then the cover went through various rounds of discussion -- with Arthur and me; under the eye of our Creative Director David Saylor; and with Sales and Marketing. The cover changed hardly at all in these stages (though many covers do), and was finally published pretty much as Elizabeth created it.

You can see the American cover here (and read the stunning first two chapters of the manuscript as well); the British cover here, the Australian here, and the original Dutch here. (Incidentally, the original Dutch edition included interior illustrations -- delicate pencil drawings of all the characters and some of Thomas's visions, like the chairs floating off the floor when they listen to Beethoven. They're beautifully done, but again, we wanted to leave things to the imagination . . .)


At the user end of the spectrum, an energetic Swarthmore professor named Colin Purrington has responded to the Cobb County evolution debate, and particularly the infamous stickers used to label biology textbooks that discuss evolution, by creating a multitude of counter-stickers. My favorite: "This sticker covers a pre-existing sticker designed to subtly undermine the teaching of evolution in your class. To see the full text of the original sticker, examine the books of children of school board members, who mandated the stickering." (Via Maud Newton.)