Cover Girls

First of all, my thanks to the team for inviting me to contribute to the blog.

I write YA fantasy novels, often with fairy tale themes. My second book, Aurelie: A Faerie Tale, has just been released in paperback with a brand spankin’ new cover. For the record, I’m pleased with both the hardcover and paperback art, but I especially love that they’re so different, considering that none of the words inside have changed. Now the game is to decode what my publisher’s marketing department wants to achieve by the switch.

Consider Exhibit A: the hardcover and paperback editions for Aurelie: A Faerie Tale.

Cover art by Julie Paschkis (left) and Larry Rostant

In its cheerful folkloric style, Aurelie‘s first (Paschkis) cover reveals numerous story elements: three of the main characters, a goat on a tombstone, two dogs stealing sausages, and several critters who’d fit right into the pages of a medieval bestiary. The art promises a book about friends having adventures (with ice-boats!) in a world that’s not quite our own. Which is true.

The same two central figures, a young woman and a large bird, dominate the paperback Rostant cover, but the mood has changed. Here Princess Aurelie stands alone in her gorgeous dress, contemplating a snowy wasteland and perhaps her inner demons. It looks like a tale in which hard choices will be made, by a young woman confronting danger and cold and loneliness. Which is also true.

My conclusion: the paperback cover has to attract new readers to a text that’s been available for a year or more already. Parents, librarians, and other adult gatekeepers have had plenty of time to buy the hardcover. Now it’s time to convince a teenage girl to part with her cash.

The same dynamic, with the cover message shifting from “sweet! wholesome! entertainment! suitable for your twelve-year old!” to “ooooh, mystery…” played out with The Swan Maiden, my first novel for teens, and its re-envisioning in paperback, as per Exhibit B:

Cover art by Julia Breckenreid (left) and Ann Field

More personally, watching these book covers evolve has resurrected the same combination of intense excitement and anxiety I remember feeling as a teenager. Like changing schools, or moving to a new town, a second book jacket is a chance for self-reinvention, for “repackaging” the look or attitude you project. After all, it’s hard to make the neighbors, teachers, and peers who’ve known you for ages understand how much you’ve grown up. New people don’t see you through the prism of the embarrassing things you did in fifth grade; distance wipes that slate blessedly clean.

This happened to me, my junior year in college. In France, I gave up the jeans and sneakers that shouted “American tourist.” I became a person who wore scarves over my flea-market greatcoat and navigated Paris’s Metro with casual confidence. During that transformative time in France, I also learned that makeovers only go so far. I could (and did) change my appearance and accent to blend in with the locals. Throw a baguette or a bunch of flowers into my satchel and voilà, people stopped me on the street to ask for directions. But the change from unsophisticated country girl to blasé international city dweller had a limit, and I reached it when I signed up for a philosophy class. Arriving at the first session, I choked in a smoke-filled classroom where most of the students brandished lit cigarettes. Naively, I hoped the smoking would stop when the professor arrived. Alas, no. He pulled out a pipe and proceeded to light it before going over the syllabus. Zut alors! I decamped for the clearer atmosphere of the history department.

Likewise, I doubt my cover girls will ever sport seriously provocative skin, attitude, or dangling cigarettes. That’s just not our style.

Heather Tomlinson lives on a sailboat in southern California, where she reads and writes fantasy novels for teens. Her latest book, Toads and Diamonds, is forthcoming spring 2010 from Henry Holt.


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