My opinion of faces on covers hasn’t always been a positive one, and not much has managed to change my opinion over the past few years, either. It takes a certain type of cover with a certain type of face to grab my attention.
Recently, that certain type of cover was Siobhan Vivian’s The List.
The first thing that caught my attention about this cover art was the model’s face. The multitude of emotions flashing in those eyes make me feel slightly uncomfortable. This is one of the best kind of reactions when you’re looking at a book, because they tend to lend themselves to thoughts like, “I need to know what this book is about yesterday. What is on that list?“
Today, fabulous author Siobhan Vivian stops by on the blog — who willingly allowed me to prod her brain a bit for more details about The List’s cover. Welcome, Siobhan!
TCG: In our email conversation, you mentioned to me that the cover took a LOT of work. So, please to share your story behind the artwork. Inquiring minds need to know!
Coming up with a cover concept that we all felt good about took many, many, many conversations between my editor, the designer, and myself. The book’s subject matter is complex, there are a lot of characters and they all share equal billing.
While writing THE LIST, I found a stock image that I used as an emotional reference, and I pitched it as a possible cover for the book when the discussions about concept began. The shot is of a girl peering into her compact mirror. I just love the look on her face. She’s not admiring her reflection, she’s scrutinizing it. She’s judging herself. I also liked that she wasn’t obviously pretty or obviously ugly. She was smack dab in the middle, a real-looking girl, wondering what side of the coin she’s on. I felt this image perfectly captured the essence of my book. Unfortunately, the team thought it was too quiet.
It was decided that we would have a photo shoot. We would cast a few girls, shoot them in a school setting in a bunch of different poses, and see what worked best. I was very concerned about having “models” on the book cover. I didn’t want to take away from the reader’s imagination, and also I didn’t want the “ugly” girls to seem less so…because they were models, obviously. It was important that whoever was on the cover didn’t need to be one of the characters, and I wanted her expression to be real.
We looked at a lot of models. I tried to pick girls who had interesting features, non-traditional looks.
My editor fought hard to have one of the characters in my book to be shot at a very particular moment in the story. That character was Sarah, and she has a very visceral reaction to being put on The List. My concern was that Sarah was the least universal of all the girls in my book. I was also afraid that shot, while arresting, might be off-putting to potential readers. And I didn’t feel like that image would properly communicate what the list. I’m glad we didn’t go in that direction.
Another idea was to have all the girls in a pack, filling the hallway, taking a stand against The List. Since that didn’t really happen in the book, we scrapped that idea.
In discussing possible poses, I found a bunch of stock images for reference. I concentrated on girls who were alone, girls looking in mirrors, girls looking contemplative. This is ultimately the shot that they based my cover on.
What are some of the details that you love about the cover?
I love the look on the girl’s face. She’s shocked. And you don’t know if she’s on the list, if it is her friend. I love the moment that it captures. To me, it feels really authentic. The thing every girl would feel on that particular morning in Mount Washington.
What was it like working with your designer/photographer/art director?
Elizabeth Parisi (part of the team responsible for The Hunger Games cover) was a total pro. She worked so hard and did a lot of research to get things just right. She also emailed me pictures of the girls throughout the day, so I could weigh in on hair, make-up and styling.
What’s the level of involvement you’ve had with cover design with the novels you’ve published? How was this different/the same for The List?
I have always been consulted on direction and design. I think that is because I was a teen fiction editor before I became a writer, so I understand the marketplace and positioning concerns. Scholastic has always asked me to participate in the model casting, in styling, to brainstorm concepts. In the case of SAME DIFFERENCE, I selected that image from a stock photo site.
I have a new book coming out this fall co-written with Jenny Han. It’s called BURN FOR BURN. For that book, Jenny and I were brought to the shoot. It was an amazing experience.
Personally, what speaks to you most about book covers? What’s a turnoff? And what’s your favorite book cover (that’s not your own)?
I love covers that look dreamy, that pull a feeling out of me. I don’t like to see faces, which is funny, because all of my covers have faces! My favorite all-time cover is THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING by Melissa Bank.
Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Siobhvan. I’m looking forward to reading The List later this year!