Let’s just be honest here. When I saw the new facelift for The Rivals, I immediately did a double take. I wasn’t particularly sad that the Doberman cover had been replaced with, erm, a cute guy, but I was a bit thrown off. Where had my beloved branding gone, which had been set up nicely by the symbolic and gender-neutral mockingbird? Why the facelift?
I immediately emailed Daisy with lots of exclamation points and perhaps a few uppercase letters. Not out of rage, contempt, or joy, but out of curiosity. She kindly agreed to another interview.
And unlike the standard authorthoughts posts you’ll find here on TCG, this interview wasn’t meant to be a straightforward Q&A. My intention was to capture a more candid conversation about what it’s like to have your work put out there with a new face (literally). Whether my reactions were positive, negative, or somewhere in between, curiosity always wins – the why is always the most interesting question to ask.
And I was completely inspired by her answers.
So! Without further ado:
I named The Mockingbirds’ cover one of my top 10 YA covers of 2010, and trust me, that was no easy task. Actually, digging through all of the YA novels published in 2010 and having to pick favorites was downright stressful. That being said, I loved its simplicity. I loved how it was iconic, and how it felt timeless. I did like The Rivals ARC cover (I’m pretty biased to purple, to be honest) but then. Then came along The Boy cover.
And then I sent you The Email, demanding to know about The Boy with the blue eyes (and all that hair), the facelift, and the whole story behind the new faces on your series.
So please do spill. First off, why the decision to rebrand? How did that come about?
I do love purple too – and purple and green is a great combo! But I don’t feel the story in The Rivals is about what that dog represents. I didn’t think the dog conveyed what the Mockingbirds (as a group) face in the second book. To me, the stories have always been about the characters and their individual journeys, not so much what they might represent as symbols. And while I too liked the simplicity of the bird on The Mockingbirds hardcover AND that it’s different from other covers out there, I don’t think it entirely conveyed the power of the story and the power of Alex’s journey and her strength as an individual — which is what readers have always told me they like most about the story and what they connect with — they connect with HER.
The consideration for the rebrand came about in a rather simple way. My editor Kate really wants her authors to love their covers. And when she learned that I had liked the bird, but that I would have preferred a girl on the cover, she asked me to send her my favorite covers and why I liked them. My agent and I both felt strongly that photographic covers would better represent the stories and the team at Little Brown agreed! That’s how the redo came about.
Kate and your agent, Michelle Wolfson, are definitely the best kind of people to have in your corner. Aside from critiquing covers based on artwork alone, I can’t help but throw my fist in the air when authors get covers they feel best represent their story. It’s just a rare occurrence.
So tell me, who is This Boy?
As for This Boy…well, to me he is the mirror of the first book, know what I mean? He’s not so much a particular boy, but what I see in this cover is the sort of mirror pair for the first book. The colors of the birds are reversed, the colors of the titles are reversed, her red lipstick becomes the red bird on The Rivals, his blue eyes are the blue bird on The Mockingbirds. i.e. there is a lot of reversed symmetry between the covers and that’s really the point of the sequel.
The first book deliberately and intentionally left open aspects of the secret society to be discovered in the second book. And that’s what the second book is about — how a student-run justice system (surprise, surprise) can be very flawed and what happens when that system is challenged in new ways. So there are certainly MANY important boy characters in the second book, but I’m not sure This Boy represents one boy in particular. I will say though, that there are three new boys who play significant roles in The Rivals, so This Boy could be any of those boys!
I do love the symmetry between the two covers when you look at it from that perspective!
Okay, side note. That boy is cute. I just thought it was very important that I throw that completely scientific fact out there. I may completely discredit myself as a Diehard Cover Critic, but OH WELL.
I think he’s pretty darn adorable too! And I’ve heard that from a number of other readers, teens especially too. Can I just add that I love that he’s not a troubled boy? He’s not forlorn or sad. He’s just got straightforwardness in him and I think that will draw readers to the book. At least, I hope!
Have you (or the folks at LB) found that teens respond more to cover art with faces on them?
This is a great question and I can’t speak for Little Brown especially since its books have such a wide range of covers and there are plenty of illustrated covers that do well — Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me comes to mind in middle grade and Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares in young adult. But, I will say that I am certainly drawn to faces and photographic covers, and when I’m in the bookstore I do notice teens gravitating more towards the photographic covers. My theory is that whether we’re teens or adults, we want to see ourselves reflected back, whether on book covers or in ads. So I think it’s a natural that teens will want to see other teens on book covers. Plus, seeing a teen on the cover is a clear signifier — THIS IS A BOOK FOR TEENS! And that can really help.
I also believe that both teens and adults are often drawn to pretty covers. I don’t mean this in a shallow way. But what I mean is we as humans are drawn to beauty, to attractiveness. It’s natural that any reader would want to pick up a pretty cover. And that’s one of the reasons teens are often drawn to covers like Hush, Hush, or Shiver, or even the recent book Spoiled. The covers are all incredibly pretty in incredibly different ways. The covers are like delicious candy — you want to pick them up and touch them and see what’s inside the wrapper!
You bring up a really good point about the pretty covers. Personally, I’m tired of seeing the SGiPD (Sad Girls in Pretty Dresses) on covers, as the market’s become completely over-saturated, which is also a completely scientific fact. First they were red dresses. Then white. But still: so. many. dresses.
Which brings me to my next question — the pretty cover: yes, we’re drawn to pretty covers, especially with respect to the female population. And I love the notion of covers as candy! (Also: I love candy.) But what about the male audience? Do you as an author ever get paranoid over the fact that a boy may not pick up your book based on its cover, face-on-the-cover or not?
I have definitely heard from some male readers of The Mockingbirds — teens and adults. But my core audience is teen girls, so I really wanted a cover look that would appeal to them. Let’s be honest — I’m not writing The Hunger Games. This is not the kind of series that is going to have such mass crossover appeal between the genders. Of course, I welcome ALL readers and am thrilled when anyone wants to read my books. But the vast majority of readers I hear from are teen girls and adult women, so I want the covers to speak to that very core readership of my books. And boys who don’t want to be seen with a girl-on-the-cover book should get the eBook!
So writing and designing for an audience seems to bear equal weight. I’ve come to look at books in an extremely gender-neutral light (mostly because = READ MORE BOOKS, BOYS), and so I’ve always been curious about how the thought of writing for a specific audience feeds into designing for an audience. And how an author feels when the opposite effect happens.
One last question for your covers. You’d mentioned that you sent off a few of your favorite covers off to Kate. Which ones were they (inquiring minds need to know!), and what made them work for you and how they work for Alex’s story?
It’s interesting to me too to think about designing for the audience. I’m particularly curious to see what Little Brown does for my third novel When You Were Here (winter 2013). That novel has a teen boy narrator, but is very much still targeted to my core girl readers. That is, When You Were Here is not necessarily the teen book you’ll give to reluctant teen boy readers; it’ll be the teen book you give to readers who like Gayle Forman, Lauren Oliver, since it’s about big love and big loss. But I digress!
My favorite covers that I also thought were good jumping off points for The Mockingbirds and The Rivals are: What I Saw and How I Lied/Strings Attached by Judy Blundell; Where She Went by Gayle Forman; the hardcovers of Paper Towns by John Green; North of Beautiful by Justina Chen; Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard; and Ordinary Beauty by Laura Wiess. They’re all somewhat similar because most have close-ups of faces on them. And for the most part, the girls on the covers are strong, fierce, tough. They’re not girls who need saving; they’re girls who save themselves! And the Paper Covers Rock cover just has an adorable boy on it!
You have no idea how excited I am to read When You Were Here! NO IDEA, DAISY.
* * *
After staring a bit more at both of the new paperback covers for The Mockingbirds and The Rivals, I sadly realize how much I left out of this conversation. I left out how much I liked the yearbook resemblance, the colors that pop more because of the desaturated effect, and of course, just designing a cover to make it look very different from a lot of the YA fair you’ll see on bookshelves. Also, it’s impossible to not be bowled with the amount of respect I have for publishers that put forth all efforts to stand behind an author’s vision.
Many, many thanks to Daisy for sharing her thoughts. I really hope you’ve found this dialogue as insightful as I have!