When I saw the cover of Amy Franklin-Willis's The Lost Saints of Tennessee, I thought just one thing, "Summer." And the title makes that come with a sigh. I feel a sense of joy, and a sense of loss when I look at this book, in an instant. Here's Amy to talk about how the cover came to be:
"After I’d been working on the book for a number of years, I had definite ideas about the core idea of the story and how I thought the cover might express it. The Lost Saints of Tennessee is about a man trying to get over the death of his twin brother. I believed the cover should encapsulate the joy of their growing up together. I came across a photo in the San Francisco Chronicle taken by photographer Marc Silber from his 'My Mexico' series that featured two young boys, who could be brothers, walking down a dirt road together and I fell in love with it. They looked so happy together. I thought it perfectly captured what my main character had 'lost' when his brother died.
"I was also sure about wanting the cover to express joy. The book explores the serious themes of grief and loss though there is a vein of humor running throughout. I felt that if it had a 'serious' cover it might turn off potential readers who would perceive it as too heavy or too depressing and Lost Saints is ultimately a redemption story.
"Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (left) was a classic Southern gothic story, full of heartbreak and extreme family dysfunction. But you never knew that from the cover—it was bright pink with two laughing girls leap frogging over one another. Brilliant marketing move. The title and the cover entranced the reader into thinking it was going to be a light, frothy read when in fact it was far from it.
"I didn’t want a bright pink cover but I wanted joy, joy, joy.
"I shared the images of Marc Silber’s two boys, a photo of my father when he was eight years old, and the Ya-Ya Sisterhood cover. Grove used these as a jumping off point. I was very lucky that I was truly given 'cover consultation.' My editor Elisabeth Schmitz wanted me to love the cover as much as they did. When the first draft was submitted to me, I made careful comments about what I thought worked and what I thought might be re-worked.
"My first cover was a beautiful moody cover that conveyed tension (right). This was not the feeling I wanted the reader to have when approaching my book. I wanted her or him to be engaged by the cover, to feel nostalgia perhaps since the story takes place in the 1940s and 1950s, to want to know what the story was behind the image of the two young boys.
"When I emphasized how important I felt it was that the cover expressed joy—rather than tension, which I felt was implicit in the title--the art department came back with several different wonderful options that captured the heart of the story.
"The cover changed a lot. The first version did not look like a working class Southern family. You might have guessed these two brothers attended a Connecticut prep school. When I sent my father—whose childhood inspired the book [see him at right, along with an inspiration image]—the original image, he sent me a very long email detailing all of the historical inaccuracies in that first cover.
"I did not share the entirety of my father’s message with the great folks in the art department but I selected key points that felt most important. And they responded with a cover that answered all of our main concerns and conveyed exactly the right historical look and feel as well as the emotion I wanted.
"I LOVE my cover. It's a stock image from Getty and it tells a potential reader everything I think they need to know—that the story takes place in historical time, that these two boys are meaningfully connected to one another, that they are joyous together, and the title lets you know that something has been lost—you don’t know if it was before the cover image or after the cover image. But it invites you to want to know what happened to those boys and therefore pick up the book. That’s the ultimate gift an author can expect from her cover. I feel like I won the cover jackpot."
Thanks, Amy! I love the thought behind this cover, and I think they nailed the emotions you wanted.
What do you think of when you see this cover?
Melissa Walker is the author of six Young Adult novels, including the newly released Unbreak My Heart (pictured). Her author blog, where Cover Stories originated, is melissacwalker.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissacwalker.
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