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.

Huge Prize Pack Giveaway!

Just wanted to announce that we’re giving away an AWESOME prize pack. Get Underlined arranged a gift basket of all my favorite science fiction things in honor of Nyxia’s launch week. Check out the link below for your chance to win!

If you win, you will receive:

– The only annotated version of Nyxia, with notes from me throughout the book
– Stranger Things T-shirt
– My favorite science fiction books (Illuminae, Red Rising, Across the Universe)
– My favorite science fiction movies (Gattaca, Ender’s Game, Fahrenheit 451)
– Star Wars minis!
– And an Alabama Shakes album that features a song that’s a huge inspiration from one of the scenes in the book

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Week One: Recap!

So we’re getting closer to the end of my first week as a debut author… and what a week it was! The whole thing kicked off with an event at Cary High SchoolMy alma mater brought some 250 students to the auditorium and we talked passion, books, and more.

Later that night, I was humbled by the support of friends and family at our Barnes and Noble launch event. We had over 175 people come out! The next night, at Quail Ridge, we had a showing of another 60-75 people. It was honestly so much fun to see all the familiar faces and celebrate Nyxia.

I had memorable school events at Apex High, Apex Friendship, Knightdale, Green Hope, and Apex Middle after that. The one that maybe stands out in my mind is Apex Middle. Those kids were so thrilled to be speaking with an author!

Finally, I was in New Orleans on Sunday for SIBA 2017. I sat next to Alan Gratz, Sarah Tolcser, and Corabel Shofner on stage, talking about our books and why we wrote them.

We close out the first official week with an exciting event in Tempe, Arizona. Marie Lu and I will be at the Changing Hands Bookstore. If you haven’t seen Marie’s WARCROSS campaign, you’re seriously missing out. Not only is it a brilliant book, but the marketing for it has been so much fun.

So here’s my final plea: have you gotten the book yet?! Tracked down your own copy of Nyxia? Consider getting another copy to donate to a local school. Think about gifting it to a young reader who might like these kinds of stories. I’m encouraging folks to go out one more time if they haven’t already as we close out the week! Here’s the link! Thanks so much for all your support:

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September 12, 2017 – NYXIA RELEASES

What a day! What a lovely, lovely day!

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I could not be more thrilled to announce to the world that my book has officially hit shelves. You should be able to find it any number of book stores, order it on Amazon, or through Barnes and Noble. I’m seriously flattened by the fact that this is all REAL.

I think it’s appropriate to share my acknowledgements page here. I’m so incredibly thankful, and this page doesn’t cover half of the ways people have helped, loved, and supported me along the way. I’m thankful for all of you. Please send pictures of the book if you see it in the wild. I hope you love Emmett Atwater and the entire crew of Genesis 11.

Acknowledgements for Nyxia:

I still remember holding my first, published book. I was in fourth grade and I had written The Chronicles of Rascal. Our elementary school class had the projects printed and bound. I turned the pages of a story I had imagined and made a promise to myself to never stop writing.

I’d like to thank the team at Crown BFYR for taking my childhood dream and surpassing all expectations. To Emily Easton, for having an even higher vision for this book than I did. Settling for anything less than my best writing wasn’t an option for you, and I’m so thankful for that.

I’m really thankful for my wife, Katie. She’s far kinder than I could ever be, and I’m always trying to learn from her example. Her hard work gave me the opportunity to write full time while we were abroad. I owe that period of creativity and growth to her. More importantly, I get to laugh with her every night before I go to bed. What would this life be without those brief, eternal joys?

I owe a great deal to my family. Momma, thanks for reading my stories long before they made any sense. You always believed I had something worth saying. Daddio, thanks for diving into new worlds with me and asking the right questions. I owe my love of science fiction and fantasy to my brothers, Matt and Pat. Endless hours playing video games and slaying dragons finally paid off for us! So if you two are up for another run through Molten Core, I’m game. The Zaccardos deserve a hat tip here as well. Thank you for making me feel so welcome and always encouraging my dreams.

A great big thank you to the teachers that inspired me throughout the years. I’m especially indebted to Susan Letts and Anne Dailey. Your mutual conspiring to land me in a creative writing class was such a demonstration of faith for a young writer. I’ve never forgotten it.

And the relationship between teachers and students works in both directions. I’m indebted to a number of brilliant students for reading my book in its earliest stages. The same teens who inspired me to write a character like Emmett eagerly dove into beta reading on my behalf. Over fifteen students offered their sage advice and life experiences to help me form Emmett into a more fully realized character. If you ever need a reminder that you’re capable of moving mountains, all you need to do is look at my first and final drafts. Thank you so much. I hope all of you keep writing, and reading, and thinking deeply: the world needs your brilliant stories.

To the members of the Cramp, thank you. Life is unpredictable, but on Thursdays, you’re all there, waiting to talk shop about whatever project is on the table. The leaps and bounds in my writing career might look impressive to the casual observer, but really it was all of you lifting me on your shoulders and throwing me off of a cliff, confident that I had learned to fly.

To Daniel, Wes, and Scott. You’re a bunch of clowns, but you’re my clowns. Half of what I know and who I am has shades of each of you in it. Thanks for always being there for me.

To my agent, Kristin Nelson, thanks for being such a warrior. From our very first conversation, there was no other option in your mind for this book than to be a smashing success. Such was your confidence and faith in me, and never once did that falter. Thanks for always taking up my fight. That same gratitude should be extended to the rest of the amazing team at Nelson Literary Agency and their affiliates: Angie Hodapp, Jamie Perischetti, Kassie Evashevski, and Jenny Meyer.

Lastly, people always ask what I do for a living. In an effort to sound remotely normal, I tell them I’m an author, but in reality I’m a sub-creator. As such, my biggest thanks will always be to God. I look around at our world, which Gerard Manley Hopkins described as charged by His grandeur, and I’m stunned by the endless creativity. It’s a pleasure to take all that He invented and try to make my own characters, stories, and worlds from it. There’s joy in sub-creation, but always with a nod to the God who was clever enough to envision baboons:

“And you? You shall have a bubblegum butt…”