I know the expression is ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but we do. We just do. That’s why anyone in the publishing biz from writers to editors to sales and marketing folk will tell you a great cover will sell a book. Particularly a debut book. For debut authors, a great cover will mean the difference between turning off girl readers, attracting boy readers, looking too childish as well as a whole host of perils that writers making black marks on a white page never think about.
Joshua McCune’s debut young adult novel TALKER 25 has a great cover. No. A kick butt cover. Today, on the launch week of TALKER 25, Paul Zakris, Art Director at Greenwillow Books, is joining Emu’s Debuts to talk about how the Talker 25 cover evolved and why he loves it as much as we do.
Zakris has been designing children’s books for almost twenty-five years. Twelve years ago, Virginia Duncan, vice president and publisher of Greenwillow Books, recruited him to be the art director at Greenwillow Books where he oversees everything from board books to young adult novels. “Because Greenwillow is a boutique imprint, I do see everything,” says Zakris. “I’m not in on the acquisitions meetings but I do hear about manuscripts soon after they are acquired.”
As soon as Duncan gave him the manuscript, Zakris loved TALKER 25. “It’s my kind of book. Sci-fi, dystopian, action adventure with a dark side. A future with dragons in the world and a government cover up. What’s not to love? I like that it’s a boy book with a lot of action. But it’s gritty and dark with a female heroine.”
“Once we’ve acquired a book, we have a jacket strategy meeting pretty early on,” says Zakris. “That’s when we meet with the publisher and head of sales and marketing and we talk about what we want to show. Do we want a character cover? Which one? The girl? Or do we want to focus on the love interest? Or maybe we want to go with something a bit more iconic? We pretty much bring every idea to the table.”
Zakris says he initially focused on the characters. “I went with a tough girl and the three dragon colors.” But the group felt like focusing on a girl might skew the appeal away from boys. “Once I had that feedback, I knew we were headed into a more iconic direction. Except we couldn’t put a dragon or even a dragon’s eye on the cover because dragons on the cover signal middle grade and this is definitely a teen book.”
At this point, Zakris decided to bring in one of the best designers of iconic covers in the business: Sammy Yuen (Remember the cover of Ellen Hopkins’ cover CRANK? That was Sammy Yuen.) “I oversee a lot of freelance designers,” says Zakris. “I may get to start on a project but because we are small house, I have to reach out to many designers. This kind of collaboration is one of the many things I love about my job.”
Zakris gave Yuen the TALKER 25 manuscript, a summary and a few guidelines. “I told him we wanted it to be gritty with kind of a military aspect but also incorporate dragons. He worked on it for a few months and came back with six or seven versions with twenty or thirty comps.”
Yuen nailed it. The logo had a military feel. With a dragon in it. And the distressed metal was the perfect background to suggest grit and war and darkness.
Because the cover was so extraordinary, Zakris looked for other ways to make it pop. “We printed it on foil. In other words, we did four-color print but accentuated with foil so it pops even more. As a result, the distressed metal has more depth and grit. I think the jacket conveys cool and serious at the same time.”
Once the cover was done, Zakris got busy with the interior design elements. He carried the distressed metal background through the section breaks. Also the first word of each chapter links to the logo style. “I also wanted the type to be more adult looking, smaller but still readable. I wanted the font to be high tech looking. The chapter breaks are simple black numbers. It has a really clean look.” Yuen has begun work designing the second book of TALKER 25. “Sammy has all the elements to play with. It has to relate to TALKER 25 but also be different.”
Who gets final say over a cover design? Is it the art director or the editor or the head of sales and marketing? “Actually,” says Zakris. “Everyone has to be in agreement. There’s a real back and forth in our process. We want everyone to be excited. We want sales and marketing to go to Barnes & Noble with a book cover that they like because it makes it easier for them to sell the book. But all of us want the cover to be great because we think the book is great.”
We, over here at Emu’s Debuts, think this cover kicks some serious butt, Paul Zakris and Sammy Yuen. So go ahead, world, judge this book by its cover because the story that Joshua McCune tells in TALKER 25 follows through on the promise.
Remember: Comment on any post this week, Monday thru Thursday, to be entered to win a signed hardback copy. The winner will be announced on Friday.