Today's guest for the CRAP is Liz Coley, whose best-selling psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 has been published in 12 languages on 5 continents. Liz’s other publications include time travel romance Out of Xibalba, the Tor Maddox “pink thrillers” series, and her most recent sci-fi release The Captain’s Kid. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and print anthologies. She has ventured into playwriting and developing a YouTube serial, Undercover Reading, for young teens. You can also follow Liz on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Wattpad, and visit her website at LizColey.com
Whenever his parents went out on missions for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon Webb was left behind on Luna, left to dream of journeying between the stars, meeting aliens, defeating villains, saving the world. Now it's his turn for adventure, permitted at last by the captain, his father, to join a year-long trip to a failing colonial planet on an emergency resupply run. Or so he's told.
Brandon's former dreams could turn to nightmares when the starship is sabotaged, the alien holds secrets about his past, the villain is on the right side, and the world isn’t ready to be saved.
Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?
When I imagined the cover of The Captain’s Kid, it was important to me that the art depict the sci-fi genre very clearly and also show off the multiracial and mixed gender cast of buddies in this teen adventure. I wanted the focus to be on characters as much as our future in space. I figured the central image should be the main character and first person narrator Brandon Webb, of course, but I hoped the supporting characters could be as visible on the cover as they are in the story. The striking elements of Masuna’s eyes above and the villainous figure in silhouette were brought into play by my amazing cover artist—more about him below.
How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your artist?
Since this book was going to be independently published, timing was completely up to me. I looked for and signed a contract with my cover artist Joe Slucher four months before my target publication date (October 27, my oldest son’s birthday). Joe came recommended by another local artist I have known for several years, and I can’t be more grateful for the introduction. He was a joy to work with.
Did you have any input on your cover?
The greatest delight of independent publishing is the control and input the author has over the whole process. Joe and I had a very collaborative approach to concept. I said stuff and he read my mind and turned it into art. We first met at Joseph Beth Bookstore after he had read the entire novel—which tells you all you need to know about his work ethic! I don’t think that’s typical. He came prepared with general ideas based on the setting, characters, specific scenes, and technology. We looked together at character-centric covers in the “tween” section of the store so he could get a feel for my taste and my vision as well as what appeals to boys in this age group. Then this happened:
Joe prepared fifteen thumbnail sketches to narrow down the content and composition. My impossible job was to choose two for him to develop into more detailed black and white line drawings. After my focus-group-via-email weighed in, I picked the “walk on the moon” (#8) showing Audrey and Brandon, and the movie poster style ensemble collage (#15) showing Karthik, Audrey, and Brandon. At my request, we added the character of Con Liu, who was equally important to the subplots. And so we had:
The next phase was choosing only one of these line drawings to take to the next level—fonts, faces, and eventually, full color palate. That was so hard! I loved them both, so I asked to buy #8 as an interior black and white illustration as a little Easter Egg for the readers. Font selection and color phases looked like:
Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?
I adored the final cover so much, it was very hard to keep it under my hat. I’d shared the development steps with my family and with one other YA sci-fi author along the way so they were all in on it. YA Books Central hosted the cover reveal and a giveaway on September 2, seven weeks pre-release. At that point, I also set up the cover on Goodreads and Amazon, with the Kindle edition available for pre-order.
What surprised you most about the process?
I’ve never worked with a professional artist on an iterative process where the final product is approached by small logical steps. Every file I received from Joe was like a birthday present, and his enthusiasm for the project was truly gratifying. The attention to so many little details made me really happy, as did the guinea pig on the cover. And Masuna’s eyes. And the evil weedbot! And…
Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?
Sorry - this won’t help anxiety at all, but it’s true that covers are really important. My theory holds that people READ books because of recommendations, but people BUY books because of their covers.
From my authorial perspective, this indy-pub cover experience was entirely different from my traditional publishing cover experience. I’m sure the publisher’s production team goes through all of these steps, but generally behind a curtain, hidden from the author. When HarperCollins published Pretty Girl-13, my editor handed me a damp printout of my cover, fully and final-form rendered, and said, “Don’t you love it?” I did, in fact, think it was really cool, but that was the extent of my input. With The Captain’s Kid, the opportunity to be so deeply involved in cover design, except for the part involving actual skill, saved me any anxiety. At all phases, I knew my cover was in expert hands.
So, for a debut author setting out on a traditional pub experience, I recommend that you grab all your bravery and have a discussion with your editor ahead of time about how your cover will be developed and at what point you might put an oar in that water. For a debut author setting out on a self-pub experience, I advise you to think hard about how much time, effort, and money you want to invest in your cover. There’s a huge and visible difference between clip-art and original art, and a really nice, eye-catching original cover makes great postcards and other swag. You can also hope it makes your book hop off the table at signings and school visits.