So last summer I had the opportunity to design my own book cover, which, despite being an artist myself, is not something I’d done since the Emo Boy Graphic Novels and comics back in the day. I had a very talented designer named Ben Mautner do the covers for HAPPYFACE and WINTER TOWN, and since those were always so well regarded, I was happy to have him do the job. He’d left that position to work on his career in DJing though by the time BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS was nearing completion, plus I’d changed companies to Roaring Brook at Macmillan, so I requested a shot at doing my own cover.
I always make concept art and “tone pieces” for my books and even just for pitches and ideas to kind of further translate how I expect a project to feel, so with very little stress or analysis put into it, I’d done covers for HAPPYFACE and WINTER TOWN and every other pitch I’ve made, they just never actually got published anywhere. With BRIGHT LIGHTS I’d done tons and tons of art already so I figured it’d be pretty easy to nail. It was not.
So these blog posts are going to show a lot of art and all the work that went into making this cover. It’s an incredibly important part of the book as it’s the very first thing anyone sees, it’s job is to pull people in to pick up the book, read a little of it, research it. There’s a million books sitting there on the shelf so yours needs to scream out “Hey, take a look at me! Forget these 2 guys next to me!” The importance of a good cover design cannot be overstated. The fact that the folks at Roaring Brook let me take a stab at it shows a lot of trust and I didn’t want to let them down, so we worked very closely, analyzing every little detail until we arrived at something everyone was happy with.
I’m going to break this into 3 blogs – the first will show my initial pitches. The second will show my “serious contenders” and all the revisions I did on them. And the third will show the evolution of the final cover.
The very first image I did was actually very close to the final image, I had the idea of Walter and Naomi standing back to back, them against the world, arms linked in a way that their shoulders formed a heart. This was just for me, a tone piece to get excited about the book and show the concept visually.
Another early piece involved the city, which, like the world in Winter Town, I counted as the “third character.” For some reason in my head I always pictured the book as red. Red and purple, really, but I pictured a red book on the shelf, and after the yellow of Happyface and the blue of Winter Town, that seemed like a good fit. This was a very minimalist idea for how the cover could look.
Once I was legit pitching covers, I wanted to have a wealth of options and make sure I explored every idea I could muster.
I was still stuck on this idea of the city being the main part of the cover, and had this idea of a building forming the spine and part of the front and back, so it had a more design-y element to it. The blue cover was still too close to Winter Town, especially with all the white.
Overall I pitched a whole bunch of potential covers before we picked 3 to further refine, which I’ll go over in the next post.