Julie has worked with SparkPress since 2012, and over the course of designing dozens of successful fiction, non-fiction and YA book covers, we realized something: Authors need to have a better understanding of not only the book design process, but the industry-driven perspective that goes into it. Throughout her Ask the Designer column, she shares her perspective on and experience with successful cover design. Here’s what she has to say about YA (young adult) cover design.
For those of you with kids in high school, or perhaps some very sophisticated middle grade readers, we’ll take a look at three YA novels with complicated heroines and rich, dark stories.
One of the new trends in YA books is that increasingly they don’t look much different from adult titles, except that when main characters are shown, they will be teen or young women. We are striving to appeal to a very opinionated group of younger readers, and we never dumb down a novel in terms of design because today’s young adult readers, exposed to so much design through their online life, are plenty sophisticated.
The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman deals with some difficult material—mental illness and the struggle to understand one’s true self and place in the world. I wanted to capture the feeling of a heroine who is unsure of her self, vulnerable and on edge, as she is at the outset of the story. The author supplied some shots of a young woman in a hospital gown, but while I liked the model and the environment, I felt we needed to create more of a surreal mood that could suggest the heroine’s state of mind.
I was able to get some cool effects by opening the photo file on my computer and then re-photographing the screen image using Hipstamatic, one of my favorite iPhone apps. If you don’t already have this app, all I can say is that I’ve not had this much fun with a camera since I was taking pics with my Polaroid SX70, alas, now defunct since Polaroid decided to stop making the film. For the type, I kept that mood of edgy uncertainty. The novel is finding its audience and was a finalist for an Indie Book Award as well as a Reader’s Favorite Award.
Running for Sky and Water is a love story that takes place in real time as Bless, the heroine, races to find Liam on the shore of Lake Michigan. This story is fast-paced with a lot of suspense, like a movie unfolding as we turn the pages.
This image we found of a girl standing on a beach near the ocean jumped out for us right at the start—the super-heated colors, the simple composition of sky and water that echoed the title, and a wonderful sense of tension and motion, even though the girl is standing still. It feels like a great movie still. I let the asymmetrical composition of the image dictate the layout for the hand-lettered typeface.
Within Reach is another love story filled with urgency and tension and some magical realism. The heroine is a dancer. We found a gorgeous image of a young woman photographed from behind with her hair tied up in a bun that was perfect except (a big except!) that the woman was nude.
Having been faced with this problem before in my career I knew that this was a problem we could solve. Here I must give a well-deserved shout-out to Windy Waite, our amazing photocomposition artist, who “dressed” our heroine in keeping with her identity as a dancer and the moody aqua colors of the image.
Want more of Julie’s cover art expertise? Check out:
- The 7 Successful Elements of a Book Cover
- Last Minute Touches That Made 4 Book Covers Stand Out
- How a Cover Can Showcase an Edgy Theme
- When a Photo Just Won’t Cut It