Cover Talk with Cat Winters

I love talking to my fellow 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 Cat Winters, author of In The Shadow of Blackbirds.

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

There are two scenes in this book in which my main character, Mary Shelley Black, poses for a photographer who claims to capture the spirits of people’s loved ones in his pictures. I was really hoping one of those two ensuing photographs would appear on the cover—which is exactly what happened. The book’s designer, Maria T. Middleton, said that as soon as she finished reading the original manuscript, both she and my editor, Maggie Lehrman, agreed that the cover had to involve a sprit photograph. 

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

Around June 2012, ten months before the pub date, Maggie told me I’d probably see a cover by the end of the summer. She didn’t say what would be on the cover at the time, but I knew the design was going to be in the works. In July, she sent me a behind-the-scenes peek of a photo shoot, and I went running through my house with my laptop, screaming, “They’re doing a photo shoot! They’re doing a photo shoot!” My husband worried something horrible had happened because of all the shrieking. It was absolutely surreal to see a team of talented people recreating an image that had originated inside my own head.

Maggie also sent me a link to the website of the photographer, Symon Chow, and as soon as I saw his sample photographs, which all have an eerie, vintage vibe, I knew the cover was going to be amazing. 

Did you have any input on your cover?

My agent, Barbara Poelle, put a clause into my contract saying that the publisher was required to consult with me on the cover, which they did, although I honestly didn’t have any suggested changes. I thought the photo shoot sneak peek looked perfect—the cover model shared my main character’s eye and hair color, she was dressed like my main character, down to the goggles around her neck, and she was an actual teenager, not a twenty-five-year-old woman pretending to be sixteen. I definitely gave my approval at that stage, and when I saw the sample cover treatments, I was one-hundred-percent in agreement with the cover that everyone at Amulet Books liked best.

How was your cover revealed to you?

On August 9, my editor sent me an email containing five cover treatments. All of them contained the same photograph and lettering, and only the borders and the color of the font varied in each sample. I loved three of the five options, including the design that was chosen. 

The biggest surprise for me was the font Maria used. I was expecting lettering that would be a run-of-the-mill Gothic historical font. What I got instead was bold and edgy and perfect for my 1918 time period, an era that marked the beginning of the 1920s art deco style. I believe there may have also been an American Horror Story influence.

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

No. Amulet Books doesn’t really work that way. My editor sent me the final cover on September 26 and said I was free to share it. I immediately sent out teaser tweets and Facebook posts saying I would reveal the cover the following morning at 5:00 AM Eastern Time, and I prepared a post to go live on my site at that time. When I turned on my computer the following morning at 7:45 AM Pacific, I saw nonstop tweets about the cover. Even though it was a spur-of-the moment reveal on my own website, I felt it went really well.

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

Seven weeks.

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

Yes, definitely. I shared it with my mom and sister with emails that strictly stated, “Do not share this ANYWHERE online.” I had dinner with authors Kendare Blake, Marta Acosta, and Lisa Desrochers during their summer book tour in August and snuck them a peek at a printout of the cover. Their jaws dropped when they saw it, so I knew I’d struck gold with my designer. 

What surprised you most about the process?

How easy it was. I had heard so many awful stories about authors who hated their covers and had no say in them, plus most authors typically watch their covers undergo several alterations before everyone decides on the best design. Mine was a case of “Here are the cover samples, and here’s the one we like best,” and my agent and I were in complete agreement. We didn’t even ask for any minor tweaks. I don’t think that happens often, and I feel really, really lucky. 

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

Ask your agent to put a clause in your contract that allows you to have a say in the design, which will give you peace of mind when you’re waiting. And don’t read too many cover design nightmare stories. Those scenarios don’t happen to everyone.