Meagan Macvie On The Cover Art Process

Today’s guest for the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) is Meagan Macvie, author of The Ocean in My Ears, which was named a 2017 Best Teen Book by Kirkus. Her short work has appeared in NarrativeBarrelhouseand Fugue, as well as the regional anthology, Timberland Writes Together

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Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

I’d been dreaming up cover ideas well before my book ever had a publisher (so yeah, for many years), and of course, those ideas shifted radically over time. As an avid YA reader and follower of YA authors on social media, I keep an eye on cover trends. I’m always sizing up a book by its cover. That’s kind of the point, right? A good cover opens a visual door into the story that readers are keen to enter.

Soon after my book was acquired by my publisher, I began saving covers that made me feel something and, more importantly, made me want to read the books. The moment I saw the reveal for Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay, I knew I wanted an illustrated cover (rather than a photo image). The art, the colors, the mood—that image took my breath away. It was the most beautiful cover I’d ever seen.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

I published with a small press (Ooligan Press), and they started discussing cover images with me about a year before my pub date.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Thankfully, yes. Per their request, I had the opportunity to send Ooligan a document full of my thoughts and ideas—everything from trend observations to cover examples. Of course, the We Are Okay cover was my top example, in addition to several other gorgeous illustrated covers, including American Girls: A Novel by Alison Umminger, The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lillian Rivera, and Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block.

In addition, I sent photos from the town in which my book is set—Soldotna, Alaska—and even tried to create a few cover concepts of my own using a phone app. I’m not sure I’d recommend this last one, unless maybe you have a background as an illustrator. My own unskilled mock-ups were horrible and embarrassing.

How was your cover revealed to you?

The reveal was a process. First, they sent three concept ideas. I provided feedback, identifying for each design what I considered the strengths and improvement opportunities. Ooligan is a teaching press, so everyone in the press weighed in on the designs. The designers then presented two designs based on all the feedback they received, and the press (including me) voted to decide final concept. In the end, both designs had strengths, so the final cover took the best ideas and incorporated them into the final design. I had thought the final would be winning design as-is, so was super happy to see the actual final cover after all the ideas were incorporated and last-minute tweaks were made.

Was there an official “cover reveal” date for your art?

Yes! We did the cover reveal in February and my book published in November.

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

Not that long—maybe three weeks. But I’d seen all the concepts leading up to the final, and that process (the design phase) took about four months.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Definitely. But it was also nice to have a chance to process the final design before having it out in the world.

What surprised you most about the process?

I guess I was surprised by how stressful putting a singular “face” on your work can be. It’s kind of like reading a book and having a strong connection with the characters then seeing the movie version and being weirded out by the actors chosen to portray the characters. It’s tough to transition to another person’s concept.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Other authors have shared how great it is to have an agent serve as a buffer between them and their publisher during high-stress times, but I didn’t have an agent (am still unagented), so I used techniques from my former job as a communications director to try to stay professional and courteous during what is generally a difficult process. I was moderately successful.

Here is my best advice: Stay as positive as possible. Think about how much more inspired and productive you are as a writer when critique partners and beta readers tell you what’s working in a piece as well as what’s not, and when they deliver critical feedback in a way that tells you they are bought in and want to help make the writing and story better.

Provide the designer(s) with feedback in a similar way. Take the time to highlight excellent aspects of the design in addition to the elements you think could be made stronger. Try not to get into an adversarial space. During the design phase, you will likely hit points where you want to scream. Maybe unplug and take a walk when you’re feeling that way. Or call a good friend and rant for a few minutes.

Most important is to give yourself time and space to adjust to another person’s artistic vision. That may mean “grieving” the loss of your cover vision, kind of like breaking it off with an ex. Once I let go and got on board with the designer’s concept, I totally fell in love with it.

Trust the process. Remember that everyone is working hard to make your book a real thing. They’re on your team; they want the outcome to be as spectacular as you do. As the writer, I had to surrender my need to control the design and embrace the amazing gift of having a skilled, talented artist create the book’s cover image. The outcome was so much better than anything I imagined.