There it is. The cover to The Boy Who Knew Too Much. Nothing can describe the thrill of the first time you see the cover to your first book.
For me that thrill came one morning in January at the YMCA when I looked at my iPod to check my email. I had an email from my publisher and the subject line said something about book cover. This caught me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting to see my cover until February. I opened the email, clicked on the attachment and there it was. This is how The Boy Who Knew Too Much would look to the world, and it looked great!
However, the email’s timing wasn’t fully opportune. I was waiting in the hall for my favorite aerobics class, Group Groove, to begin. Along with the other women in the hall (I’m usually the only man in the class), I was commiserating over the recent death of one of our classmates. In the midst of this sadness, I had received a message that caused me great joy and excitement. I couldn’t contain myself and had to share. “Look! I just got the cover to my book!”
About a minute later it hit my this wasn’t the most appropriate time to share my good news, and I subdued my feelings. I felt awkward about my outburst of enthusiasm, but I reminded myself that the woman who died, Gloria, was the one person in the class who always asked about my writing and was glad to hear my book was being published. If Gloria had been there that morning she would have been the most excited to hear my news, so I don’t think she would have minded me sharing it. I am sad that I missed the chance to show her the cover. I just have to believe wherever she is, she shares my happiness.
I’m sure that almost every author, except the mega powerful ones who can veto their marketing department’s decisions, shares the same apprehension I felt before I saw my cover. People do judge books by their covers, dammit, but the cover is the one major creative aspect of a book the author has little control over. I didn’t want to have spent years working on my book only to see it receive an ugly cover.
My publisher did ask my input, and then wisely ignored it. My suggestion was an homage to Richard Chopping’s famous cover to the original UK hardcover edition of From Russia, With Love. Instead of a revolver I suggested a squirt gun, one of those translucent plastic ones from my childhood (I know they still exist because they’re used in the promos for Psych), crossed with a sprig of lavender instead of a rose. I mention lavender a few times in my book as my characters cross the Pyrenees.
I figured that even though 99 percent of my target audience wouldn’t catch the reference, the image would be strong enough to work on its own. I’m probably wrong, and my suggested cover would have been ridiculously artistic and not liable to sell books. If I ever get a UK publishing deal I might suggest it again, though, because the From Russia, With Love cover is probably more recognized in Britain. You must admit it’s a beautiful image.
The Running Boy
In a big way, I was surprised how much I loved my cover, which was created by Instinctivedesign. Right up until the moment I opened the attachment, there was one image I did not want to see on the cover of The Boy Who Knew Too Much: a kid running. Almost every teenage spy novel has a kid running on the cover. I wanted my cover to be different, to avoid the cliche. Yet when I saw the cover to my book, that prejudice vanished. All right, so I have a picture of a kid running on the cover of my book, but I have the best picture of a kid running on the cover of my book.
Moreover, I had a picture of two kids running on the cover of my book. Not just main character Brian Parker, but the French girl he meets along the way, Larissa DeJonge. I wasn’t expecting to see Larissa on the cover, and I am thrilled she is there. Larissa is such an important part of the book, and so is the romance that develops between her and Brian, that she deserves to be on the cover. And the leather jacket she is wearing befits her standing as a Ramones fan. Joey would approve.
The first time I saw my cover I loved everything about it. But when I checked it out on my laptop and saw it on a larger screen than an iPod, my opinion sagged a bit. I loved everything about the cover except Brian’s face. First, and this wasn’t a major problem, I was unnerved that the illustrator gave Brian the same haircut — or rather, the same insolent lack of a haircut — that I had when I was in high school. Yikes! Had the artist gone through my old photos on Facebook? This Brian also had the same brown hair that I once had (and still do, just much less of it), and in the book I describe him as a blond.
A Change of Expression
But the bigger issue was his expression. He looked bored. He’s supposed to be running for his life, but he looked as if he were running on a treadmill. I asked my publisher if it was possible to add emotion to his face. Be careful what you ask for. A week later I opened another attachment, and this time Brian was raising his fist and shouting. He looked like Rambo. (I’m tempted to share this image, but my publisher might not appreciate it.) My wife suggested I change the title to The Boy Who Drank Too Much Caffeine.
To my relief, in the email that accompanied the new cover my publisher stated she didn’t care for this version, either. We agreed a middle ground could be found between bored and psychotic. There was another attachment that contained the final image, a now blond Brian with a suitably intense look.
Everyone who saw the cover loved it, particularly the dynamic starburst effect behind Brian and Larissa. I was ready to splash it all over Facebook, but my publisher told me not to unveil it until March 1. I played along, even though the cover appeared on the Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million websites more than a week ahead of schedule. Amazon added it a few days later. Yet I waited until March 1 and revealed it on my website with links to Facebook, Twitter and this blog. The immediate reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
You expect your family and friends to praise your book cover. Fortunately I was able to receive some impartial opinions. In late January I received my advance copy of the novel. I showed it around the Love Is Murder conference and everyone there said it had a great cover. I had a meeting with the young adult librarian at my local library and she told me it was the type of cover that attracts young readers, which I was gratified to hear.
But the true test came when I was leaving the library one day last week. As I passed the front desk, I heard a mother discussing the overdue fine on her son’s book. The title was Scorpia Rising.
“Oho,” I told myself, “this could be a potential reader.”
“Excuse me,” I said to the boy, “do you like Alex Rider?” (Fortunately, the library staff knows me well enough that no one called the police on me.)
“I’ve read the whole series,” he said.
“Then maybe you’d like my book. It’s also a teenage spy story.”
I handed him my book (I usually have the copy with me at the library). The first thing he said was, “Nice picture.”
And my day was made.
Overall, the boy’s mother was more excited about my book than he was, but a reader is a reader, right? More importantly, a boy in fourth or fifth grade (I didn’t ask) liked the cover to The Boy Who Knew Too Much. A few hundred more like him, and I might make some money off this thing!