I judge books by their cover all the time. I admit it. My hands reach out for the mysterious, the beautiful, the intriguing. I often remember covers better than titles, and find myself looking at books I’m not even interested in if the cover grabs me. Considering the amount of effort that goes into cover design, the publishing world knows we all do this, too.
I’m no expert, but I’ve noticed covers have changed over time. They seem more eye-catching, and more frequently use photographs and bright colors. My daughter, a reluctant, yet excellent reader, wanted to tell me all about this new book she found, one she finally was enjoying: The Babysitter’s Club (the old series repackaged). Well, mommy-teacher-writer lady just so happened to have a whole box of the series in the garage and pulled them out, thrilled to have reading material at the ready that she might like. She took one look at the old covers from the early 90s — hand drawn girls with scrunchies in their hair – and wrinkled her nose. “But why?” I asked, though I didn’t need to. It was the cover.
And so, as my first novel was set for release, one thing I most anticipated and feared was the cover design. My questions were many: Would I like it? Would I have a say? Who would do it? Would it catch the eye of the readers? The answers, I’m happy to say, were: yes, sort of, someone amazing, and you bet.
My editor included me in parts of the process, and explained the rationales for many decisions. Early on, I was asked for thoughts on the cover, my inspirations. Not having been involved in any of the meetings on design, I don’t know how much these images were considered, but the final product captures some of these themes, so I was happy.
One was Millais’ Ophelia, which I’ve loved since I saw it in high school. Is she dead? Is she not? Each flower is so delicate, as is she, floating down the stream, not fighting against her fate. Very much not like the Ophelia I had written, and yet this image is quite well known. The other was a grainy black-and-white still from the movie Walk the Line. Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix are walking down the street with their arms around each other looking back as if someone has called out and snapped the picture, intruding on their privacy. Thematically, this stuck in my head in connection with FALLING FOR HAMLET. The characters I wrote live public lives, even the things they wish were private. Their relationship is scrutinized and captured during official interviews, on surveillance cameras, and by passers-by “lucky” enough to be near them as their world falls apart.
Over the summer, I was sent a series of possibilities, and was thrilled that the two the team at Little, Brown liked the most were the ones I preferred, too. One I loved had a floating Ophelia, but it wasn’t used because she seemed like she might be dead – which we know from page one isn’t the fate of my gal. Additionally, it wasn’t modern enough, which, though the image was stunning, made a lot of sense. The other one I thought was cool was the black, white, and red one used in the end, which captures the eye and is pretty darn sexy. In fact, some people found it a bit too much so (but more on that in a moment). Along the way, I was sent various versions where proportion and focus were changed, and found it amazing that small changes altered the result so dramatically.
So we come to the controversy of the skirt. My guy friends loooooove the skirt. Independently, a few of them actually took my laptop and tipped it, like we were in Harry Potter world and they’d be able to catch a glimpse of her underwear. Boys! However, word from some librarians and teachers was that it was too short, and that they wouldn’t recommend it based on this fact. So the designer lengthened it and removed some shadow. It’s still short, mind you, but less scandalous, it would seem.
Will this cover sell the book? I don’t know. Would it make me pick it up in a store? Heck yeah. Does it capture some of what I wanted to say in writing about an independent, strong, and yes, sexy Ophelia? To me it sure does. There’s a lot that has gone on (gathering blurbs, which section of the text to use, how the summary was written) that I don’t know about. But in the end, it all turned out great, which is quite a gift for my first book.