Cover Talk with Carmella Van Vleet

I love talking to debut authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest is my fellow Ohioan Carmella Van Vleet, here to talk about the cover for Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Big, Fat Quitter in which a preteen girl struggling with ADHD must stick with a summer taekwondo class to prove that shes dedicated enough to pursue her true passion: cake decorating. Available from Holiday House now.


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

Sometimes I use clip art to create my own covers, but for this particular book, I didn’t. I was reasonably open to just about anything. The only thing I was really concerned about was it being too girly. Especially since I’d written it so teachers could read it out loud without alienating half of their class. The other thing I was concerned about was a having “cake” cover. (There’s a cake decorating aspect to the story.) Not that there’s anything wrong with cake or baking covers. But I was really hoping the publisher would focus on the martial arts aspect.

Well, shoot. Apparently I DID have some pre-conceived ideas about what I wanted after all!

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

 ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER wasn’t coming out until February, but I was attending a book event in November (with some of my other titles). I wanted to be able to print out some bookmarks or at least have some kind of sign about the upcoming title, so I contacted my publisher and started bugging them. (Nicely, of course.) As it turned out, the art was just about ready so I didn’t have to wait long. The publisher sent me a file so I could see it and use it.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Nope. None at all. I tried to get it into my contract that I could see and approve it, but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my publisher to do a good job. (Because, frankly, they do this all the time and know what they’re doing.) But as a 3rd degree black belt writing about a girl taking up taekwondo, I wanted to make sure any uniform on the cover was accurate. Many people think a dobok (taekwondo uniform) and a gi (a karate uniform) are the same thing. Dobok collars are different, too, based on the person’s rank.

Thankfully that wasn’t an issue. And even if it had been, I’m confident my publisher would have been open to my input. They don’t want a mistake any more than I do.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor sent me an email with the cover attached. Her note said, “Here it is! Smashing (no pun intended), isn’t it?”

I told it was and to please let the artist know how thrilled I was with it. I think it has a “Ramona” feel to it, which I love because the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary were the first books I remember reading on my own.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

After the editor sent to me, I asked if she had any problem with me sharing it on my website and all that. She didn’t, so I posted it and began sharing it pretty much immediately. I didn’t have any big “cover real” or special promotional event. I know other publishing houses and authors like to do that, but *shrug* I’ve never done that.

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

I had no idea what it would look like before my editor sent me the file with my cover. But it was four months before the actual release date that I got to see it and share it.

What surprised you most about the process?

This is my 17th book and what surprised me the most about the process is how scary it (still) is while you’re waiting to see your cover for the first time! We invest so much in the writing and we know - right or wrong - how important covers are in attracting readers and selling books. The whole process is nerve-racking. I didn’t know just how anxious I’d been feeling until I saw it and like it. There was this big feeling of relief. I’m not going to lie to you, a couple of my books have covers I really don’t like. (And no, I won’t tell you which ones.) It can affect how excited you are about the project.

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

First, try not to invest too much energy in what you think the cover should or will look like. Most of the time, it’s something that’s completely out of your hands anyway.

Second, I know you know your book better than anyone else in the world, but your publisher has likely been selling books for a long time. Trust them to know what they’re doing.

And finally, take some time to process the cover once you do see it. You’ll have a gut reaction and that’s fine. If you love it, congratulations! Go celebrate. But if you hate it, wait and get other people’s feedback before you go complaining to your publisher. Sometimes it just takes a few days to grow on you or for you to appreciate what the artist did. I know several authors who’ve had legitimate concerns about their covers. And in each case, they were able to calmly articulate those concerns to their publisher and have the cover changed - even first time authors. So no panicking allowed!