The Progression of a Book Cover – Part 3

(link to the first cover and blog:

(link to the second cover and blog:

So the last blog ended with relative heartbreak. We had this gorgeous cover, a title I liked, and we just couldn’t get every team to rally around it. That cover vanished, and I also was left looking at the cover I liked the least in the process:

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So we pitched even more title ideas. Brainstorms like you wouldn’t believe. I went through thousands of poems to look for little turns of phrase. I rooted through old ideas and names of characters and possible world building terms. Of course, there was one little concept that was incredibly central to the book that we had overlooked: nyxia.

It was already included in the series title “The Nyxia Triad” and we knew nyxia was going to be an ongoing and developing piece to the story as a whole. It’s a substance in the book that the company– Babel Communications– wants more of. They’ve hired the ten competitors in the novel to go to a distant planet to get it. And those competitors spend a good deal of their time aboard the ship learning how to interact with and use the mysterious substance.

I thought it was a logical title, but definitely wondered if we’d be seeing an entirely new cover concept. It was a fine surprise to receive this in my inbox:

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In fact, the team went into one of their meetings with this as a backup option. So when the first title/cover lost steam, they put this one in front of everyone instead. It was an immediate hit. Sales and marketing both loved it, and we had a definitive winner. But I also get the “last say” on covers– so my editor sent it very hopefully in my direction. And I loved it. It has the same swirling splash as the cover before it, but this time, we have a font that really is more minimalistic. It seems very appropriate and fitting for the space that it’s inside. It also is just gorgeous. That Y in Nyxia is one of my single favorite letters that exists in the world. I also love that we had gone back to hinting at science fiction.

So we were done… right?

Not quite. You see there are always little tweaks and adjustments to the final package. One of the biggest criticisms of this title was that it is a word people don’t know. That can work, and it has worked, but it certainly was something that the entire team had to weigh. So that “Every life has a price” tag that we had loved for quite some time, well, it got called into question. How do we adjust for the fact that our title now involves a word the reader won’t know?

Use the tools you have to help give them context (the teacher in me was so excited about this). Let’s set the two of them side by side:

Let’s see if you could spy all the tweaks. The first one has to do with color. See how they made that interior circle (the little glimpse of space) darker? So the contrast, and the splash, and all of that are just a lot sharper in the newer version. It also makes that glinting star in the distance a little more… glinty.

The second change is in the tagline. We went with: The Ultimate Weapon. The Ultimate Prize. Winner Takes All. So if the reader is looking a little closer and thinks, “What the heck is a nyxia?” Hopefully there’s some definition right there on the front cover. It’s obviously a weapon of some kind. It’s also seen as a prize in some way. Finally, there will be some kind of competitive occurrence that connects back to it in some way.

And last but not least, they added the wonderful blurb that was provided to me by the brilliant Marie Lu. Definitely not a bad quote to have floating at the top of your book for the rest of forever.

So that was the final cover. But now I have to encourage you to do something. If you have only ever seen my cover ONLINE or through a Kindle version. Go grab yourself a copy of the book. You can order it here off of Amazon: 

Or you can just go find a copy at a local store and take a look. The final touches that they used on that final cover are gorgeous and definitely worth a second look.

Thanks for following along, and I hope this has been educational on the process used to arrive at a “final cover” for a book. I might write a follow up that features my UK cover, which was a much more streamlined/quick process. Thanks for reading!

The Progression of a Book Cover – Part Two

So you can read part one here: (or just scroll down).

We’re talking book covers this week, and I’m specifically walking back through all the titles/covers we had for what eventually became Nyxia. The cover on part one was for the title The Black Hole of Broken Things. I talked a little about the positives and negatives of that cover, and about the importance each internal team plays at a publishing house (sales, marketing, school/library). So that cover got thrown out and I started another round of coming up with titles. I sent a list over to my editor, and kind of didn’t think anything would hit.

To my surprise, she landed on the phrase Iron Sharpens Iron. This phrase pops up in the early going of the story. Marcus Defoe alludes to it as Babel’s “method” for how they want to train the contestants. They believe in a sharpening process. Iron against iron to make the blades sharper. Emmett reflects on this idea, too. He concludes that at the end of the competition he’ll likely be “harder and sharper and more dangerous than I could have ever imagined.” For those who aren’t familiar, it’s also a pretty direct shout to a verse in Proverbs that says, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I’m not sure how aware of that my teams were at Penguin Random House, but I grew up with that verse all but inscribed on my bed frame. I was genuinely surprised (and thrilled) by the idea of it being the title of my first book.

Here’s the cover that came out of it:

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So here’s the thing… This cover rocks. I mean, good gracious, it is lovely. My agent and I were both kind of blown away by it on first sight. Combined with how much I liked the title, it felt like sort of a home run. I was very convinced this is what my book would look like on the shelves of every book store. Here’s what we liked:

  • Once more, the colors. But unlike the first one, these aren’t so absurdly explosive. Really it’s that translucent, ethereal nature that drew me in. I love how the “softness” of the color juxtaposes with the “sharpness” of the stone and the blockiness of the letters. It’s a great effect.
  • The “floating debris” is meant to be nyxia. Really great job of centering an image from the book in a way that makes sense.
  • The 3-D nature of it is really cool. My agent even remarked that she thought this was a very “new idea” in terms of covers. We agreed it was doing something we had not quite seen in the YA industry, and that’s always (sometimes) a good thing.
  • I actually loved how the font kind of folds into the landscape. I also loved how “The Nyxia Triad” snuck into the “I” on the second IRON.

What didn’t we like about it? Nothing. I had no suggested changes for this cover.

So why isn’t this the book and cover and title that landed in your inbox? Why didn’t you read Iron Sharpens Iron by Scott Reintgen instead of Nyxia by Scott Reintgen?

Remember, each section of your publishing team matters. Marketing is going to figure out all these great ways to pitch the book to the public. Sales is going to be figuring out the best avenues and places for the book to be sold. School and library are doing their very best to gain traction with librarians and teachers and students.

In this instance, one of those teams was a big no. They just did not really get the title. What did it even mean? What was the point of it? What did it say about the overall story? After a pretty long debate, it was clear that this team just wouldn’t be as on board with the project if this was the title and the cover. And you know what you really, really want when you’re publishing your debut novel? You want every single person in-house to be on board, and excited to throw your book in every direction imaginable.

So we axed this one. I did receive one other cover as we were in discussions. They were playing around with concepts and figuring things out and I received this in my inbox just before finding out we were making another change:

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I think you see where this one is heading, don’t you?! We have that backdrop splash making its very first appearance. Some of the leftovers from the last cover are there, too. I’ll admit that I really, really hated this one when I first saw it. I just felt like the font was so massive coming out of that much more elegant splash of nyxia, and it looked cluttered and sloppy and just meh. It was the only time in the whole process that I sent back a strong no. I did love the little roses and flowers wrapping around some of the font, but thankfully… this is not where the story of my cover ends.

Stay tuned for round 3. I’ll discuss the final cover, and why every team was so satisfied with our final iteration. Cheers!

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:

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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:


RECAP: Travels and Touring

So it has been a hot second.

I’ve been generally awful about updating this blog, because I’ve been flying to different places, writing and revising, and also being a brand new dad (shout out to my dude Henry). It’s been a lot of fun! Here are some of the highlights since Nyxia released on September 12th this year:

  • School visits. At last count, I’ve visited 23 different schools in the past two and a half months. Special shoutout to my alma mater, Lufkin Road Middle School, for snagging 145 copies. Never seen students so excited to dive into their next read!
  • New York Comic-Con- It’s always good to be in the big city, and especially so when all of your favorite fantasy and science fiction characters can be found ordering mochas in nearby coffee shops. Had the distinct pleasure of paneling with some brilliant YA authors, but also ran into fellow debuts, Julie Dao and Tochi Onyebuchi, in the Penguin Random House Booth
  • Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, TN – So I’m going to fanboy for a second over the fact that I met Catherynne Valente! Her Fairyland series inspired my middle grade novels, and it was such a delight to grab dinner with her and a bunch of other authors. Also, it was really cool to see how tight the YA community is as a whole. Really saw folks supporting each other, attending one another’s panels, etc. The panel I shared with S.J. Kincaid was packed, and just a lot of fun!

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  • Oklahoma City Teen Book Con – So… I was kind of digging Oklahoma City. Our festival was actually in a neighboring town, Guthrie, that had one of the most absurd Masonic temples I’ve ever seen. Really enjoyed the carpool ride with authors (the closest thing we have to a middle school bus experience) and bumping shoulders with some amazing folks. I had the pleasure of meeting Maggie Stiefvater for the first time, as well as saying hey to one of my agent’s first clients, Ally Carter! The high schoolers here were thrilled to be there, too, and that kind of buzz was great for a first time venue.
  • Colorado Teen Book Con – Not to be outdone, the Denver area absolutely rocked it out. Friday night was a drinks meet and greet with local readers and adults. I may have spilled my drink on SJ Kincaid within 5 minutes of my arrival. Enjoyed talking with Kiersten White about “books we were meant” to write, and what a difference that makes. The actual festival took place on Saturday and I was stunned by the flock of teens roaming from panel to panel. Once again, I was with SJ Kincaid talking science fiction, but this time I had the pleasure of meeting fellow debut Emily Suvada, as well as bestselling author Veronica Rossi! It was such a fun panel, but the day was truly capped off by Maggie Stiefvater’s bagpipe performance. Just saying. The other highlight was getting together with my agent, Kristin Nelson, who is based in Denver. She got to meet Henry and have dinner with Katie and I, because the two of them joined me to stay at the Crawford Hotel in Union Station!

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  • YALLFest – Last but never, ever least… YALLFest. I just can’t explain what an amazing time I had here. It didn’t feel like a single minute was wasted on this particular weekend. I was on panels with Jason Segel, Veronica Roth, Alexandra Bracken, Kirstin Miller, Stephanie Garber, and Tomi Adeyemi?! Other events had me chatting it up with Nic Stone and Jeff Zentner and Nicola Yoon and E Lockhart. At every turn, I had the pleasure of speaking with some of my most beloved authors. Jesse Andrews will permanently call me Trent… That’s just a thing now. A huge tip of the hat to Brendan Reichs and the volunteers and organizers who made everything happen. It was such an incredible weekend, and I found my tank as a creator filled up by conversations with authors about craft or the industry or our favorite foods. Continue to look back on it and feel like it happened to someone else in some other lifetime. Blessed beyond belief.


All that to say, I have had a brilliant few months. And it’s only been made all the more enjoyable by coming home to Katie, Henry, and Luna between each event. I love what I do and I can’t wait to keep this momentum going into next year. Cheers!

Launch Month Was a LOT of Fun

It’s hard to truly recap the last few weeks. I was honored by the folks who came out—across the country—to make the release of Nyxia such a special experience. Here are some of the highlights:

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Launch Parties in Cary/Raleigh

On launch night, we had 190+ people come out! It was such an overwhelming display and I had so much fun hanging out with former teachers and students, friends and family… even a few rowdy fantasy football league members.

The next night at Quail Ridge wasn’t going to be outdone, however. We had a great showing of around 60-70 folks. Thrilled to see so many of you in Raleigh, and a special shoutout to the folks from CtK who came out.

Wake County Schools, NC

6 schools in 4 days. You read that right. My time at Cary High School was particularly special, as I visited the school where my story as a writer kind of begins. Each school brought out 200+ students to the events, and I have to give special props to Apex High School for winning the #NyxiaChallenge with over 700 retweets. Their school will be namedropped in book three of the series.

SIBA 2017 – New Orleans

Enjoyed dinner in the company of Brendan Reichs, Renee Ahdieh, S. Jae-Jones, and Sarah Nicole Lemon. It was also just a treat to be back with Nic Stone and hanging out a little bit. Finally, I loved sharing a panel with YA authors Corabel Shofner, Sarah Tolcser, and Alan Gratz. The booksellers we met that weekend were wonderful.

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The school visits here were great, but one of the highlights was certainly spending time with Marie Lu at Changing Hands Bookstore. So much fun to laugh and talk books. We counted our rejections during the talk, but then I spent time counting the number of books people had Marie sign—I think she turned out okay! It was a lovely event. I also have to mention the Valley Ho hotel that I stayed in… It was like this retro-hipster hotel that had me feeling like I was lounging by the pool in the movie Catch Me If You Can. I didn’t steal anything, but I kind of wanted to.

San Francisco

Weather. The weather. I’ll take that 65 and a breeze that greeted me at the airport any day of the week. I took advantage of long mornings by walking to my favorite coffee shops in the area. Enjoyed being back at Sightglass Coffee, as well as discovering Saint Frank’s at the suggestion of Travis Jones.

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I’d say my first event in Palo Alto was highlighted by both familiar and unfamiliar faces. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Andy Weir, Gail Carriger, Anne Nesbet, and Marie Brennan. All four of them impressed with their brilliance on the panel. I was happy to avoid tripping over myself as we chatted with a huge, standing-room only crowd. It was also a delight to have Stephanie Garber and Stacey Lee come out for the event. Both are brilliant writers and it was an honor to have them join us in the crowd.

But back to familiar faces. I got to see Francisco Suarez on back to back nights. So great to catch up with a good friend and favorite roommate—especially when it involved meeting Nancy! Great to get together with the two of you.


Katie and Henry joined forces with me to take Asheville by storm. The stunning highlight of the adventure had to be Henry rolling 4 hours across the state—both ways—without having one serious incident. Barely even cried. The kid’s a rock star.

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I’d say the schools were a huge highlight of our time in Asheville—we loved being at Christ School, Asheville High, Owen Middle, and Owen High. Each campus had its own unique flavors. The campus at Christ School is worth exploring, and the students were a lot of fun. Ashveille High sent me off with a souvenir shirt and had this perfect little auditorium for events. The students at Owen Middle asked me more questions than all the other schools combined. Sorry! Can’t beat that middle school enthusiasm. But Owen High School’s students did put out the red carpet for me, so there’s that. Thanks to all of you for hosting, and to Spellbound Children’s Bookshop for being such a great partner.

Chapel Hill

And last but not least, I loved getting to visit Flyleaf Books and partner up with the hilarious Jessica Cluess, who just released the second book in her series, A Poison Dark and Drowning. Always good to be back in Chapel Hill!

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A huge thank you to everyone who came out to events and had fun at these various stops. I really enjoyed taking this huge step of my writing journey with you at my side.