The Progression of a Book Cover – Part One

After a solid round of voting, the masses have spoken. You wanted to see a post that covers the sequence behind how a publishing house settles on a particular cover for a book. As many of you know, my first novel is entitled Nyxia. It’s the first in a science fiction trilogy, and I’ve had an amazing three months celebrating it’s release into the world. But it wasn’t always called Nyxia.

I’d like to take you step-by-step through the various covers we saw for this project, as well as the general discussion that happened around each version. Let’s dig in.

So the first title for my book was The Babel Files. On some level, that is always going to be how I think of this book in my head. Long before any other human ever set eyes on my book, that was the name of the document I had in Microsoft Word. The first title discussion happened after I paired up with literary agent Kristin Nelson. We talked about that title and there were two particular factors that went into changing it.

First, there’s a relatively popular series by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufmann that’s entitled The Illuminae Files. There’s no such thing as complete originality. After all, Brendan Reichs and I have discussed several times that the word Nemesis appeared in several books around his publication date. But my book was clearly shooting for the same market and space as Jay and Amie’s work. Having such a similar title felt a little self-defeating, especially when you want to stand out.

Secondly, my agent felt it evoked The X-Files. Considering my book is not about aliens (or the denial of said aliens) we decided to go a different direction.

And so the second title of the book was born: The Black Hole of Broken Things. We pitched the book to editors under this title. It comes from a line in the book where my narrator, Emmett, accidentally knocks the hell out of a fellow competitor. The line is: “I slide the gloves off and climb out of the pit, trying not to think about black holes and broken things.” It was a very narratively appropriate title. Emmett reflects several times on the idea of becoming a black hole. The idea, too, of being broken things in the eyes of Babel comes up. So we had a green-light in that regard.

And it turns out my editor adored that title. So we were set. Right?

Here’s the first cover that came out of our Random House think tank:

Blog - Cover 1

So let’s talk about this one. I’ll admit to originally loving this cover. Let’s be honest, it was the first time I had EVER seen a work of mine made real through any kind of illustration. There was a cover. With my name on it. That was more than enough to satisfy me.

And I think there are certainly features of this cover that I still adore:

  • The font of the title. As with the final Nyxia cover, there’s a certain strangeness to it that I felt was really cool and fitting of the story. It’s a great font, especially on those Bs in The Babel Triad.
  • The colors. I still love the great sprawling purples and how strange it all looks.
  • Did I mention MY NAME was on a cover of a potential book? Yeah. Awesome.

At the same time, I think there were several things we didn’t love about the cover, too:

  • It’s pretty on the nose in terms of metaphor. The contestants being sucked into a black hole in the pit of space? Kind of direct.
  • The black hole itself, acting as an O, just looks a little strange and… sphincter-ish. Sorry if you’re reading this mom.
  • Overall, the biggest deterrent was the fact that this screams science fiction. Now, the final cover definitely evokes sci-fi. It has the glint of a star, and the black of space, and that ethereal swirling substance… But this one is an in-your-face shout out to space. There’s no mystery or intrigue, really, about what kind of story we’re going to get. It’s very directly stating: “We’re going to space, whether you like it or not.”

Ultimately, this cover and title were rejected. Some of what I listed above factored into that. Several editors pointed out that this book appeals to people who don’t read sci-fi. It’s very focused on the characters and their relationships. It’s the kind of commercial book that they felt would appeal to a very wide audience (similar to The Hunger Games). So having a cover that is so distinctly a science fiction book has the potential to limit our audience. There are at least a handful of readers, our team felt, that would not pick this book up, even though they would have definitely enjoyed it if they had.

Finally, the title itself was under question. Just to be clear, there are several teams that work on a book. There are sales teams and marketing teams and school/library teams. All of them end up having a say, because they’re all trying to figure out how to take a book they’re excited about and get it most effectively into the hands of readers.

The Black Hole of Broken Things split those teams virtually down the middle. My editor– and many others– adored the title. They thought it was really original, and reflected some of the poetic writing in the book itself. Others found it to be a mouthful. Either that, or just a relatively confusing reference. What would potential readers even get out of that title? What would it mean to them?

I’ll admit to some healthy skepticism as well. So when my editor reached out about changing the cover/title, I was more than happy to jump on board. I think I’d gotten to a point of feeling it was too long of a title. It just was a lot to say, and more often than not I’d share that title with folks in person and catch a kind of mixed reaction. Some people were intrigued. Others had to ask me to repeat it.

So this one bit the dust. What do you think? Are there parts to the cover you like? Something you don’t like about the cover in general? How about the title? I’d love to hear your comments and questions about the process.

Part two is coming, and we’ll talk about the next title and cover:


One thought on “The Progression of a Book Cover – Part One

  1. Pingback: The Progression of a Book Cover – Part Two | it's pronounced rankin

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