authorthoughts: this is not a test

Hey you guyyys, did you know that Courtney Summers has a new novel coming out next summer? I’m going to keep this post as professional as I can (although I’m not promising an exclusion of capital letters later on), but I’m a little excited about the book. A lot excited. Just last month, Courtney revealed the cover for This is Not a Test on her blog:

That is one CREEPY FACE of a cover, no? I kind of love it. And Courtney was kind enough to stop by the blog and tell me all about how it came to be!

TCG: You’ve noted on your cover reveal post that TINAT’s cover has been A Process. Please do describe this process. Inquiring minds need to know!

CS: Well, with my first three covers, the process basically amounted to this:

St. Martin’s: Here is your cover! What do you think?

Me: I LOVE IT!

St. Martin’s: Yay!

Cracked Up to Be had a hiccup which I talked about over at Melissa Walker’s blog, but overall, getting the cover for it and my other two novels, Some Girls Are and Fall for Anything, was quick and easy.

My first three books are contemporary, realistic YAs. While This is Not a Test has the hallmarks of a Courtney Summers realistic YA novel, it also has ZOMBIES! It’s a genre switch for me so I really wanted the cover to suggest elements you’d expect from one of my books while letting readers know it wasn’t quite the same as them.

The first treatment I saw was this one:

The black and the yellow give it a bold vibe but it looked more moody action-adventure than horror to me. The model’s pose was interesting–the wisps of hair are neat and unsettling–but it reminded me of Some Girls Are and I didn’t want people to see SGA when they looked at TINAT. I wanted both of those books to have their own identity. The background is the emergency test pattern symbol and here is the embarrassing part where I admit I had NO IDEA that was what it was! But my parents–who are familiar with the symbol–didn’t recognize it either because it’s been mostly obscured. Overall, I liked this cover–just not for the face of my book.

Oh Summers family! I totally saw it at first glance and thought it was a genius addition. 😉 But every time I think of the emergency test pattern, I think of that accompanying high pitched tone, which of course reminds me of bars and tone (which is something I’m sure far less people are familiar with). Also, the cover reminds me a little bit of Kenyon’s Infinity!

The next few covers I saw played up the trapped-in-a-school angle. I got one of a girl sitting in a window, staring outside with the test pattern superimposed over her. She had very colorful shoes and socks! But the vibe it gave off was more contemporary, realistic YA so that was problematic. The third cover I saw was of a girl crouched under a window with bloody zombie hands pressed against it. I actually really loved that cover, but The Powers That Be didn’t think it was quite there yet.

As I was getting all these treatments, my editor was patiently indulging my looooong emails in reply describing what kind of cover I wanted and why I felt what I’d seen so far had missed the mark. And then I got the fourth, fifth and sixth treatments–all in one email! That was exciting.

But I said no to all of them (in retrospect: look at me, being all demanding! Thanks for putting up with that, St. Martin’s!) because they said ‘paranormal romance’ to me. There is nothing wrong with these treatments. If This is Not a Test was a paranormal romance, I’d be all for them, but it’s not so it was back to the drawing board!

Those covers definitely scream paranormal romance. Thank you Courtney! Thank you St. Martin’s!

And then, finally, this landed in my inbox:

And before I could even reply, THIS followed it mere minutes later–

(St. Martin’s liked it better with my name on the top and the title on the bottom.)

I made a couple of font-based suggestions and then… finally…

A cover was born! And even better, everyone loved and was happy with it!

When you first started thinking about potential cover art, what immediately came to mind? What elements did you feel had to be represented to remain faithful to the story?

I wanted the cover to distinguish itself from my contemporary YAs enough for readers to know it would be a different kind of book. It was my sticking point and it made me very vocal this time around. It was EXTREMELY important to me that the cover didn’t mislead anyone. Covers can’t always be literal (you will notice an absence of zombies on mine!) but I do think they can suggest the kind of reading experience you’re in for. This is Not a Test is about emotional survival. It’s about the CONSTANT OMINOUS PRESENCE OF DEATH HANGING OVER YOUR HEAD! (I felt that needed to be typed in capitals.) In some of our earlier exchanges, I actually asked my editor if we could look for ways to capture the MOOD of the book without relying so heavily on certain imagery. That was when my editor realized we needed to move in a direction that was both “pretty and creepy.”

This! A concept birthed from descriptors like tone and mood makes my artsy fartsy heart go pitter-patter.

And BLOOD! Blood came immediately to mind when I started thinking covers. I might have been very emphatic about wanting blood on this cover which sounds sort of disturbing when I put it like that but oh well. But the colour red, blood… zombies eating people is a messy, bloody business, you know? So I wanted to see blood represented in some way. But overall, the most important thing to me was that the readers had a sense of what they were getting into. I think the final cover really works. It follows my brand (using a predominant colour and an obscured face) but it twists it just enough to make it different in my eyes.

Oh, hey! The type choice for your name! It’s different! Your past three covers have remained pretty similar when it came to branding your name, but TINAT’s cover features a little facelift. And the title is in UPPERCASE letters. Did you have an opinion in any of TINAT’s type design?

Yes! I did! As you can see, the first two mock-ups of the final version had the Some Girls Are and Cracked Up to Be title font, except it was in uppercase. I liked that font for those books, but it looked a little too skinny for this one, if that makes any sense. I asked if they could change it to something more imposing or at the very least, wider. Changing the type choice for my name was St. Martin’s call. It sort of reminds me of Century Gothic–though it isn’t–which is a font I’ve always liked. It was also St. Martin’s decision change the font color of my name from white to black to make it more visible.

What was it like working with Sara Goodman and Lisa Pompilio on this cover?

This was the first time I went crazy with input for one of my covers. Sara and Lisa always made that input feel welcome and for that I’m very grateful. Sara and I had a lot of back-and-forth about what we were hoping for and what we didn’t want to see. She would pass on my notes about what was and wasn’t working for me to Lisa. Lisa designed the cover for Fall for Anything and when I found out she was going to be designing the face of This is Not a Test, I was totally thrilled. I love what she does.

Not going to lie, my favorite thing about TINAT’s cover is the nice little splash of blood. In the same vein as FFA’s cover, it captures a mood pretty perfectly — that of gloom with a smidgeon of hopelessness and some angst on top. What’s your favorite element about the cover?

Hee! Your favourite thing about it is my favourite thing too. And there is totally blood in the TEXT of the book so. You know. It’s faithful to the source material. Also–though this is harder to see–I like that the model’s face has blood matted into the hair. It’s disturbing. Hopefully, so is the book!

*looks at model* Ohmygoodness that’s totally disturbing.

I’ve been really thrilled with the reception the cover has received so far. People seem to like it and that makes me happy. Also it landed me an interview on That Cover Girl so really, what more could I ask for?! 🙂

Thank you so much for letting me pick your brain about TINAT’s cover, Courtney! I can’t wait to get my hands on that (bloody) book! WHY IS JUNE SO FAR AWAY?

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18 thoughts on “authorthoughts: this is not a test

  1. Oh god oh god I WANT THIS BOOK SO BAD. I would sell an important child to get my hands on this book. I absolutely adore the cover, especially the title font and the minimal splash of blood.

  2. Yay! Thanks so much for featuring this. Love Courtney Summers and am really interested in this next book. And totally agree: the blood is the best part!

  3. I love this post and the different iterations the covers went through before hitting the right notes (because the blood – ahh – it is SO PERFECT).

    The yellow cover immediately made me think of Robert Muchamore’s book covers, while the biohazard symbol made me immediately think of The Year of the Bomb by Ronald Kid. Which is to say, action adventure meets historical fiction. Or action adventure historical.

    And the paranormal ones? yikes. Just…
    The final cover is such a winner.

  4. My favorite part is the blood stains too. Want want want. I will definitely pre-order this. I want to have a shiny (and slightly disturbing) hardcover copy of this book on my shelf. 😀

  5. I loved hearing the story behind the cover art, which is superb, right down to the font. Just looking at the final cover fills me with dread in the best possible way. Man, this is gonna be GOOD!

  6. What a fascinating process. I agree that the final one is best, but a couple of the others were pretty good too. And kudos to St. Martin’s for sticking with it until they nailed the perfect cover. It shows how much faith they have in courtney and her novel. Can’t wait to read!

  7. Oohhhh I am loving on this cover!! Those blood droplets combined with the hair-covered face makes for an uber creepy cover!

  8. I admit that this is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long time. It is so eerie and creepy and the blood stains add to the atmosphere. I am SO ready for this book!

  9. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading an interview so much! Thanks for sharing. I really loved seeing how the cover changed for TINAT. I really love the final cover so it’s great to hear how it got there from beginning to end.

    Looking forward to more interviews like this one! 🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the interview, Cialina! Be sure to check out the other Authorthoughts posts I’ve got on the blog under “categories” — the Behind the Design & Artist Abbreviated posts may be up your alley, too.

  10. Pingback: This Is Not A Test (24 hour sneak peek) | Love YA Lit

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