Today, author Ellen Potter talks about Book Jackets and the Closet Sprite
Imagine this: You wake up in the morning, wolf down your Corn flakes, and argue with your sister over who busted your mother’s iPod. Back in your bedroom you open your closet. Out flies the Closet Sprite. She is there to choose your outfit for the day. You hope with all your heart that your Closet Sprite understands who you are, deep down. You hope that she knows you look great in blue and that you feel weird in hats, because the outfit that the Closet Sprite chooses for you is the one you will have to wear all day. All your friends will see it. All your not-so-much-friends will see it. The Closet Sprite is in charge of the first impression you make, so you’re hoping against hope that she’ll get it right.
This is exactly how I feel about the cover art for my books. After all, I have just spent a year or so toiling away on my book, trying to get every word exactly right, and I desperately want the cover to get it right too. Yes, there’s that old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But honestly, when I’m poking through the shelves at my local bookstore, I tend to pick up the books that have really great covers. Don’t you?
Lots of people think that authors tell their publishers what they want their book cover to look like. Not at all. In fact, for the most part, authors only see the covers of their books once they are nearly finished, and we almost never talk to the artists directly. So you can imagine that scary moment when your editor e-mails you saying, “Hi, Ellen. Here’s a jpg. of the cover for your book. What do you think?”
I spent the last year and half writing a book called The Kneebone Boy. It’s the story of the three Hardscrabble siblings and their search for the legendary Kneebone Boy. The Hardscrabbles are a little odd, but they are also brave and good, and I grew to love these kids. I could see them in my mind so clearly. I wanted the artist to “get” them the way I did. I wanted him to capture their bravery, their strangeness, and the way they stuck together. When I thought about what the cover should look like, I imagined them being chased through the nighttime streets of London or crossing a dangerous bridge high above a deep gorge or some equally thrilling scene.
A few days ago my editor, Jean Feiwel, e-mailed The Kneebone Boy cover art to me. I was afraid to look. I closed my eyes. I said a silent prayer. I even did my little “good luck” gesture which I won’t tell you about because it’s too embarrassing. Then I clicked on Download Attachment. Bit by bit, my computer screen unraveled the image . . .
There they were! My Hardscrabbles, just exactly how I had seen them in my own head, but better somehow. Wiser. Bolder. Even a little stranger.
Look at them! Look at the way they stare out us defiantly. It’s almost like they are protecting something. Did you notice that the cat has five legs? Hmm. The background looks sort of creepy. Are they in trouble? Oh, and look, there’s a boy in the tree. Is that the person they are protecting?
The artist, Jason Chan, created the sort of book cover that starts to tell a story even before the reader cracks open the book. And that, I suspect, is the secret of great cover art.
No, this cover has no midnight street chase, no dangerous bridges. In fact, the Hardscrabbles are not doing anything at all. But sometimes a good artist (like a good Closet Sprite) knows exactly what you want even before you do.