behind the design: mo withee & this girl is different

My favorite part of these trilogy posts is, without a doubt, the Behind the Design feature. For the past two days, you’ve ogled This Girl is Different’s cover and heard author J.J. Johnson’s exploration of its cover design as well as my own. Now it’s time to hear from the creator herself.

TCG: Did you get a chance to read This Girl is Different before starting on its design? What kind of information did you work with before beginning the concept phase?

MW: I think one of the most unique things about working at Peachtree is that we all have a say in what we publish. I originally read THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT during acquisitions and fell in love with the writing style and immediately had some ideas about how the cover of this book should feel. Then when it was time to actually create a cover I skimmed the book again, and had the all-important meeting with the editor. In that meeting we discussed several core ideas that we all felt needed to be expressed on this cover. That theme time and time again was the “lightning bolt.”

TCG: What were your initial ideas for the cover?

MW: The title of the book was really my main starting point. I wanted it to be something “different.” Right now you see a bunch of photographic covers and the ones about and for girls normally have some portion of a very pretty, very skinny girl. Mostly the stereotype that you see coming through in this book. I wanted something that was different, something more punchy and graphic or something with more of a line drawing feel.

TCG: What is your normal design process after you get a working draft? What were the parts that kept getting tweaked for TGID?

MW: Believe it or not, I try to design three to four different covers as drafts. Then I bring them to our creative group and editors. We hang them on the wall and talk about what is working and is not working for each cover, we take covers down, we talk about use of color, and sometimes we start to get a Frankenstein effect. This cover was unlike another really that I have worked on here. There were hardly any changes to the original cover idea. I think the only thing that really changed was the color of the girl’s shirt as the original black faded into the grass. The parts that kept getting tweaked was the interior jacket flaps and the folios on the interior of the book.

TCG: What were the easiest parts of the design/process of this cover? The hardest?

MW: Normally I would say the hardest part of the design process for me is the minor tweaking at the end that makes the littlest elements pop. But, for some reason this book is true to its title. The tweaking was almost nonexistent, which made it so easy, and the little elements I hope shine though. The most difficult part was really the conception of what imagery would best fit this book.

TCG: What other YA covers have you designed? What’s been your favorite cover that you’ve designed so far? Are there any other YA covers (outside of Peachtree) that you love?

MW: I have designed Martin Chatterton’s THE BRAIN FINDS A LEG and THE BRAIN FULL OF HOLES, Susan Rottman’s OUT OF THE BLUE, Sneed Collard’s DOUBLE EAGLE and the new PB cover redesign, and Kristin Wolden Nitz’s SUSPECT. I am also working on the cover for our upcoming historical fiction novel, CHASING THE NIGHTBIRD. Although I really love the SUSPECT cover for its fun simplicity, I am thinking that my favorites will be the upcoming CHASING THE NIGHTBIRD and the redesign of DOUBLE EAGLE.

Other YA covers that I really admire:

TCG: Who (artists/illustrators/cover designers/photographers) inspires you?

MW: Growing up my favorite artist was always Renoir, but as I grew older I grew more interested in things that were very clean and graphic like Andy Warhol. I consider photography and typography my two favorite art forms. As for photographers, I have so many favorites it is too hard to mention, but what I will say is that I think black and white photography is the most interesting because without color you really have to capture the texture and depth of the piece you are shooting which I feel makes the work so much more interesting.

To be honest, I am most inspired by my artist friends, the works of fiction I get to design covers for and my bookshelf at home that is riddled with some of my favorite covers, from the classics like THE BFG, A WRINKLE IN TIME and THE GIVER, to things like the more modern THE DISAPPEARING SPOON, THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, and JOHANNES CABAL THE DETECTIVE.

TCG: Do cover trends play into your ideas for designs? Where do you find the balance in prioritizing the message at the heart of a novel and including marketing at the same time? Or, do you feel cover art’s main focus always revolves around the art?

MW: Personally I think the cover is what gets people to pick the book up off the shelf and the story is what makes them buy it. I want to put something out there that really does represent the best parts of the book but will also hold its own on the shelf. Finding that balance at times can be difficult and we have had many discussions about it. I try to go to bookstores around here as much as I can to see what is on the shelf, and try not to buy as much as I can. I think it is important to see what the current trends are and fit in with them but not go so far as to look like everything else. You want your book to stand out, to be something different and interesting. I think that when it comes to a picture book the cover’s main focus needs to revolve around the art but I think there are many elements you can play with when it comes to a chapter book. One of my favorites is to play with the type treatment. An amazing font can make or break a cover as well.

Thanks, Mo, for letting me pick your creative brain! I’ve already read the excerpt and I’m definitely looking forward to picking up This Girl is Different.

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5 thoughts on “behind the design: mo withee & this girl is different

  1. Pingback: Judging Books by Their Covers « Nitz Bits

  2. I appreciate you doing this. I often see pretty covers and I reallllllly want to know what goes on in the minds of the creator and for once, you’ve actually satisfied my curiousity. It’s really interesting to see the thought processes and initial creative work that goes into creating these (covers, arguably, are one of the most important part of a novel).

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. Posts like these were one of the goals I had in mind for this blog, and I’m so glad that it’s been such a pleasant experience rolling these interviews out so far. My plan is to continue with these features as long as authors and designers/artists continue to be as kind and giving of their time to allow me to harass them with all my questions. 😉

  3. This was such an interesting interview! I totally agree with Mo about black and white photography – the textures really do make b&w images pop and I almost favor it over color. Thanks TCG and Mo 🙂

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