What happens when you take a story of 7 teenagers trapped at school during a blizzard trying to stay alive and combine it with a talented art director to create its cover?
A big warm welcome to author Michael Northrop, who’s here today to share his thoughts about Trapped’s alluring cover.
TCG: Regarding Trapped’s cover, did you ever have any initial thoughts about what it should look like? Were you able to provide any concept input to the art director/designer?
MN: Trapped was a little unusual in that there was a single, obvious cover element that everyone agreed on: snow. I didn’t provide much input this time (beyond writing the book), though. The same designer had created the cover for my first book, so I had a very high degree of trust in his vision and his process, and sure enough, the first version I saw was amazing.
TCG: What was your very first reaction when you saw the final design?
MN: I was floored. It is a very striking image and immediately communicates what the book is about, in terms of both premise and tone. My second thought was more pragmatic, thinking about how the high school in the picture matched up with the descriptions in the text (I wound up making some minor edits).
TCG: What initially drew me in to the cover was the title — the way it’s sitting there in the middle of the snowdrift, filling me with absolute dread. And then I realized holy crap that’s a school buried in snow right behind it. The cover itself is pretty eerie but makes me want to pick it up and find out who exactly is trapped and whether they’ll get out. What’s your favorite part about the cover?
MN: Absolutely! I love the way it sets the tone and immediately starts building the dramatic tension. There are some really clever design elements within the book that do the same thing. My favorite thing, though, is that it gives a potential reader the basic plot at a glance. You can just take a quick look at it and know that it’s about being trapped in a high school during an enormous blizzard.
TCG: Yes, two thumbs up for an immediate understanding of what a story is all about!
Lately I’ve seen people fawn over covers simply because they’re “pretty,” and not much else. As an author, what do you think is the most important message that a cover should relay? Should a cover be succinct to the novel’s message? Allude to something? Or should it just catch someone’s attention, no matter what it looks like?
MN: Yeah, I think the most important thing is to catch someone’s attention. There are a lot of books out there, so readers need a reason to pick up yours. And in fact, there are a lot of things other than books out there, too. Books compete for attention and time in a very crowded arena, and the writing and design both need to be in top shape to give them a fighting chance. Not all books lend themselves to a striking summarization on the cover, but I think it’s important that they are at least honest about the basic quality of the book. My first book was very dark, for example, and so is the cover. You don’t want to trick people into reading something; you want to convince them.
TCG: What are some of your favorite YA covers?
MN: I really like the look of the first two books in Scott Westerfeld’s new series: Leviathan and Behemoth. Not only do they look cool, but they also give you a good sense of the books, which are entertaining in a very detailed and layered way. The paperback cover of The Forest of Hands and Teeth is amazing (the one with the girl looking out through the branches, which sort of look like dry, sharp fingers), and I was definitely won over by the cover of Marcelo in the Real World. When I picked it up (for my YA book club), I was like, What is this strange painting? But it’s sort of charming, and as I read the book, it began to seem like a perfect match.
TCG: I feel like Gentlemen does a pretty good job of being just as eye-catching as Trapped. Both novels could easily be hidden in the adult fiction section and you’d never know these two books were YA (unless you looked at Trapped’s cover a little more closely, of course). Do you feel like YA covers should cater more to their audience or to any type of reader as a whole?
MN: I think it’s OK to cater to an audience, but, just personally, I wouldn’t want that pitch to be too narrow. I think a striking cover that touches on broad themes or sets a strong mood is ideal. I went to a book festival shortly after Gentlemen was released, and there were scores of YA authors in a gym with our books set up in front of us. You could see the boys walking around, and everywhere they looked, the covers were pink or pastel or glittery. A lot of the fantasy or vampire books, which might otherwise appeal to them, looked like romance novels. And then they’d see my book, which is black with a body bag on the cover, and they would practically knock over the other tables to get to it.
TCG: Any other comments you’d like to include on the cover/design of Trapped?
MN: I’d just like to give a shout-out to the designer. Phil Falco is a frickin’ genius. In addition to Trapped, he designed both Gentlemen and Natalie Standiford’s amazing How to Say Goodbye in Robot. Both of those books have completely different looks, but I think the design, in both cases, really helped them get noticed.
I couldn’t agree more. Phil Falco, you are a frickin’ genius. And thank you so much for letting me pick your brain, Michael!