Every week, I get to interview authors about their book covers. This week, my own new book--Small Town Sinners--is in stores. The New York Times Book Review gave it some love on Sunday, and I hope you'll check it out.


I told my own Cover Story on my blog, talked about different font play (see image below) and I even talked to cover photographer Joe Horne. So in this space I'm interviewing the amazing cover designer Danielle Delaney, about what went into creating this book. Enjoy!


Melissa: Was this concept the idea from the get-go?

Danielle: I’ve always loved Biblical themes and how both the New and Old Testament come out in contemporary art in unexpected ways. As an art and religion history nerd in college, my favorite periods tended to be Early Christian when the “art” was for the sake of teaching the illiterate a new religion, and all other artistic expression or endeavors were considered heresy. We definitely take for granted the notion of art for art’s sake.


Just based on concept alone, this was the book that stood out to me when assignments came around. It seemed innovative and just plain different than some other books that have been done, and done again. Normally, I would dive into image research and visual themes first to get my feet wet, but for this one I really took time to read one of the early drafts and think about a concept before even delving into the design.


Keeping a log of themes that might be interesting visually without being too cliché, I knew the cover needed to convey a whole slew of diverse concepts beyond just the religious aspect of the book. It’s tricky sometimes dealing with religious themes, especially for teenagers, because there is always the chance it can lean towards hokey or overdone if not handled well. Additionally, imagery that will attract a teen’s attention is very different than what will attract an adult, so I knew I needed to be conscious of keeping it on trend and fresh. Strangely enough (and this is the only time this has ever happened in my design life), the original idea and composition I proposed was the favorite from the beginning. I kept anticipating a revision or a fix, or a “please start over.”


Everyone wants a book to do well, from the author to the sales team. Book covers get a bad reputation sometimes because many people see them simply as the advertisement for the book. Most buyers do not necessarily understand that there are many (at times, very very many) rounds of thoughtful revision that go into each book. Sometimes as many (or more than) 100 compositions and images are suggested, played with, and photoshopped until type and image become one design. Although it’s true that marketing and publicity have a large stake in wanting the image to appeal the broadest audience, it’s definitely the designer’s main goal to stay true to the story. Not only does it need to be a good design, but it also needs to sell well. That balance is difficult to achieve.


Melissa: How did you find the photo?

Danielle: As a designer, you can have a huge budget, all the stock sites and photographers in the world at your fingertips, but a good book cover comes down to the concept. It’s the hardest thing in the world to go into a design with no ideas. Sometimes you can jump onto a website to hopefully lead you to different concepts, but most of the time, a designer really has to tailor his or her searches so they don’t spend countless hours looking at useless imagery.


This image is composed of two different photographs. One image, which is of the girl, foreground texture and original apple, was found directly on a fine art photographer’s portfolio website that I had been familiar with. The other image, the heart in the apple was found using stock websites. Since the image of the girl was found directly from a  photographer there were several outtakes to choose from for form and composition.


Due to the complex emotions and questions in the story, I knew that the image needed to have layers of meaning and understanding. I really appreciated the hierarchy that this image had to offer. The apple is seen first, then secondarily the heart, and then the girl. The girl’s pose is quietly emotional, and that I knew it would be a perfect fit for the internal struggles the main character was facing.


[Below: A few tried-out font treatments]:


sinners fonts.jpg


Melissa: Was there anything especially challenging about this book cover?

Danielle: For many books, different departments may not be sure where the book is going to be “placed” in the market just yet, so there tend to be too many ideas that idealistically should be conveyed through the image on the jacket.


For example, a random sampling of various suggestions may include some, if not all, of the following:

• This book is romantic, so please create some indication of a relationship, but don’t make it too sappy.

• Books with girls on them sell well in the teen market, but don’t make it all about the girl.

• If there is a guy, please make him good looking, but not too model pretty.

• This book includes very strong religious themes, so while trying include religion, please make it a bit more universal emotionally, so that we don’t pigeonhole the book thematically.

• While it should be emotional, it can’t be too quiet. We would like to grab people’s attention, but still try and capture the emotionality of the story.

• Also, we really see a trend in the color purple in paranormal books, so please try to steer clear of that color as to not make people think there is magic also in this book.


Sometimes what is asked for is downright funny. Sometimes it’s an intangible emotion that can’t be captured. But, it is my job to come up with a solution that manages to touch on most of them. Combining and using all the suggestions is not usually achieved. Really strong jackets tend to have a simple concept from the beginning that just clicks into place. What was interesting, was that this book had so many angles of how it could be advertised (such as, romance, coming of age, teen girl, religion, and small town themes) that it was at first difficult to figure out which should be the “focus.”


Personally, I am all about the impact that the image has. I always hope that I do my best to present and preserve the “essence” of the novel on the front, and as for the package as a whole. That means not only capturing all the important details, but also representing how the book reads, what the reader feels when reading, and how the language moves. This particular image just seemed to have that sweet, yet thoughtfully sad quality about it that most girls feel at times when they are growing up.


Melissa: Will that apple be on the spine?

Danielle: I think that would be adorable!


Thanks, Danielle! And (yay) the apple is on the spine! So... what do you guys think of my cover?



Want to keep up with my Cover Stories, and all of Barnes & Noble’s exclusive reviews, authors interviews, videos, promotions, and more? Please follow us on Twitter: @BNBuzz!


Melissa Walker is the author of five Young Adult novels, including the Violet trilogy, Lovestruck Summer and the just-published Small Town Sinners. She is co-creator of the popular teen newsletter I Heart Daily and the awkward-stage blog Before You Were Hot, as well as the blogger for readergirlz.com. Her author blog, where Cover Stories originated, is melissacwalker.com.

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by on ‎07-20-2011 06:35 PM

Hi Melissa,


It's taken me a while to read through this article, links and all....and digest it.  The cover designer, Danielle Delaney, has given an outstanding interpretation of what a designer has to deal with when creating a cover...yes, outstanding!  And a good review, as well!


Melissa, I know the cover is finished, so whatever I say will not change it in any way, but I'm afraid I'm going to make myself sound a bit arrogant in giving my opinion of it now.  I'm only one opinion, and obviously more minds were consulted, not just one, so who am I to say?


In some ways I do like this cover, but, in other ways, I don't....unfortunately, there is going to be a but....I think Danielle hit on one of these subjects:  Does the designer want the appeal to be directed towards an adult, or a young adult reader?  I'm coming from an adult, but trying to be object.


I know you seem to be attached to that apple...and I do know the significance of an apple, as it relates to:  Sinner...biblical references, etc., But, I have a hard time looking at that particular apple, sitting there all by itself, with a heart gnawed out of it.  Now, really, how many of us gnaw on an apple, and make designs in them?  For me, it leans towards schmaltzy advertising.


If the apple is in the picture, which would be fine, I see it as if it has a single bite out of it, but with the girl on her back, right arm/or hand across her face, hidden..and her left arm extended on the ground,  with the apple sitting in the palm, or near the fingertips, as if suddenly dropped while in this lying position (giving a hopeless feeling)...not have the apple a foot or two away from the girl, in that yucky gray straw-like substance that simply looks irritating to the skin...she should be in a field of grass, as green is shown in the background.  This apple, and its relationship to this girl, on that surface, says, huh?, what the hell is she doing there?  


I like the girl, I like the font...everything else....is history. 


I do wish you all the best with your book, Melissa...  I'm sure your readers won't look at the cover and dissect it the the way I have.... :smileyhappy:  I can understand if you don't want me back.  It's hard to be truthful, without stepping on toes.  I sincerely  apologize if I have.



by Blogger Melissa-Walker on ‎07-21-2011 11:07 AM

No toes-stepping at all, Kathy! I really like the cover, and I feel confident in that. Meanwhile, I welcome all opinions. Truly!


I also think the heart is very YA. The indication of a love story is key for me. And a cover is really marketing material at its heart, I think, even if we romanticize things otherwise. 


Thank you for your thoughtful comment! Please do continue to weigh in on the Cover Stories--it's always nice to hear your thoughts.

by on ‎07-21-2011 11:57 AM



Thank you for not throwing me out on my ear! 


I think I see these covers as my moods dictate to me.  I can come off with a blunt reaction, saying:  what in the world were they thinking, not seeing all of the subtle qualities that these covers contain.  So many eyes to see, so many different aspects!


I do see your point, as the heart in the apple represents YA = Love story...this picture radiates a lost love.  I thought, later of the ground (surface) that this young girl is lying on...it does show a contrast to the green in the background - harshness in a kind of 

gray-death-lifeless, loss, vs the greenness of living-life.  This young girl is lying someplace in-between. 


For this cover, Melissa, I do think you have a winner.   I would make a lousy cover designer!  I can't stay consistent in my objectivity, or maybe I didn't think it out a little better/slower.  First reaction vs thoughtful conclusions.


Have a good one!


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