MG Hennessy & THE OTHER BOY: The Importance of Author Input On Cover Design

I love talking to 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 for the CRAP is MG Hennessey, author of THE OTHER BOY, a recently released MG novel about a transgender middle grader. M.G. Hennessey loves Star Wars, the San Francisco Giants, strawberry ice cream, and dancing. A supporter of the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum. and the Human Rights Campaign, she lives in Los Angeles with her family. Be sure to enter the giveaway below!

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

Design is definitely not my strong suit. But I knew what I didn’t want it to look like: I didn’t want any photographs of kids; I didn’t want a pair of sneakers or a baseball cap (‘cause there are wayyy too many of those on upper middle grade books); and above and beyond all else, absolutely no pink. The story is about a transgender boy who gets outed after living stealth for years, so that was a particularly important for me. I submitted a bunch of recent book covers that I loved for the art department to use as a guideline.

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

It was about a year before publication, and we had a final cover by the end of January.

Did you have any input on your cover? 

Lots and lots!

Having been around the block a few times, in my contract I requested (and received) “meaningful cover input.” If your agent can negotiate for that, it’s such an important thing to have; otherwise, by the time you see the cover it’s usually a done deal, and very little is liable to change.

My publisher was great: initially they sent me samples from the artist they wanted to hire. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled; her style didn’t match what I’d pictured. But they wanted to give her a shot at it, so we did.

Unfortunately, when the cover samples showed up, not only was pink featured prominently in every last one of them (a pink backpack, a pink baseball hat (!), a pink shadow); I also just really didn’t like them. They all seemed a little grim for this book; despite The Other Boy’s subject matter, it’s overall a positive, hopeful story.

My publisher listened to my concerns, then sent samples from four other artists. I ranked them in order of preference, and was lucky enough to get my top choice! The cover artist we ended up going with, Erwin Madrid, really hit it out of the park. The cover design changed very little from the sketches he’d initially submitted.

It meant a lot to me that the art department let me be so involved, and really responded to my feedback. That’s all too rare in this industry.

How was your cover revealed to you? 

For the first artist, I was shown five different versions of the cover in full color. For the second, I was sent early sketches of the design (black and white) for approval.

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

There wasn’t, actually; I guess with upper middle grade books, that’s not quite as much of a thing.

What surprised you most about the process?

Honestly, the amount of input I had. 

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

Get cover approval or input in the contract if at all possible; that’s really key. And if you get a terrible cover, make sure to detail precisely what about it you don’t like.