When we updated the Me and Earl and the Dying Girl cover we established a new author look for Jesse Andrews: strong bold color, simple and evocative (and funny!) graphics, and adult appeal for his crossover audience. But with any series or author look I believe you really begin to understand how your branding will work on the second book. What works, what doesn’t, and where you can push each book to be distinct from the last.
I asked Jesse what he envisioned for The Haters before he turned in the manuscript.
“With Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I learned that my instincts for book covers are pretty terrible. I wanted something kind of aggressively depressing, because in the abstract that seemed like a funny and interesting choice to me for a funny book. So I described a hypothetical cover to Maggie Lehrman and it turned out to be—in addition to wildly unappetizing to everyone at ABRAMS—the cover of a book that already existed. That book was about the Columbine shootings.
“So this time around I pretty much didn’t even let myself imagine what the cover would be because I knew you and Will would come up with some great ideas and I wanted to be open to them. And you did!”
When starting work on a cover, I like to break down the story into simple concepts first. The Haters is about music, love, friendship, and freedom as three young musicians following a quest to escape the law long enough to play the amazing show they hope (but also doubt) they have in them.
A lot of stuff to work with. So how do we focus? First, hire the best designer you know who is also most familiar with Jesse’s work: Will Staehle. He designed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. (The subject of a previous cover evolution post.) I shared with him our initial thoughts about the book, and asked for a bunch of ideas.
He sent a bunch of awesome images, including a bunch of album parodies. These are the ones we wanted to explore more.
From there we started narrowing it down—we thought the x’d out faces were eye-catching. We tried some different colors…
Until one color comes forward from the others. We also cut some faces for more impact and immediate recognition.
At this point, though we loved this cover, we felt we’d gotten too far away from the simple graphics on the Me and Earl cover. And maybe this direction was too angry, not funny and warm as the interior of the book.
So we went back to the drawing board.
We tried out some concepts that directly play off of the Me and Earl and the Dying Girl cover.
But that approach was maybe too warm, not edgy, funny, ”cool” enough.
Now is where Will and I started spit-balling completely new approaches. Our deadline was approaching fast . . . no pressure!
Now we enter the final round. The red dot Mr. Yuck face was funny, edgy, and cool. It had been in Will’s first round of concepts, but I passed over it because the red dot face was off-putting and it didn’t make any sense at the time. In the beginning, we were so focused on being edgy we forgot it was okay to be funny. So we took that image and we tweaked the design to bring a simpler idea forward.
Finally, we had it! A cover that looked amazing next to EARL and was funny, edgy, bright, warm and cool. And it conveyed music, bands, and the emotions of complicated relationships, i.e., any meaningful friendship. We LOVED IT!
I asked Jesse what he thought of the final cover, and here’s what he said:
“It’s terrific. Very simple, eye-catching, funny but kind of elegant at the same time. I loved the Xed out faces and was a little sad when we pivoted away from them, but the final idea is even better. The Spinal Tap reference (the amp dials go to 11) is sly and not overdone. And the bass on the case design! Oh my God, that thing is beautiful. It makes me want to retire a little bit. Just in the name of going out on top.”