The cover for The Movie Version took a lot of twists and turns. If you received one of our galley samples for this book, you may have been surprised when the official cover was revealed and it was completely different than what was on our ARC or in the catalog. Sometimes that happens – we like to keep our readers on their toes! The truth of the matter is, this book had two really awesome covers. I’d like to share where we started originally, and then the evolution for the illustrated cover we now all know and love.
Our original cover was photographed and lettered by the incredibly talented Jen Mussari. We wanted to do something a little moody, edgy that felt a little hazy/dreamy. Jen did just that. She went out into the streets of New York with a film camera and a friend, and captured a wide array of shots that conveyed the serious mood of the story. Paired with her lettering, we thought this cover would represent the tone of the story perfectly – it definitely had the “cool” factor we were looking for, too.
That’s when things got complicated. A lot of input from many teams goes into making the best possible cover for a novel. Although we liked Jen’s final cover, the team decided in the end, it wasn’t hitting the angle we wanted to emphasize for The Movie Version. This book is very serious, but it’s also full of life and optimism and is a true YA coming-of-age story. We needed to re approach this cover and find a way to infuse it with a little bit more playfulness. This is when we reached out to Sunra Thompson to work on The Movie Version cover 2.0.
Sunra was nice enough to join the conversation about this cover, so you’ll see some Q&A with him throughout this cover breakdown.
We sent Sunra the manuscript, and kind of left the direction pretty open. The only thing the editor and I really pushed for was showing the contrast of real life vs. “the movie version of life” a.k.a. the rose-tinted, fantasy, everything’s great version of life. Below was Sunra’s first round of sketches.
AN: You’ve illustrated a few book covers in the past, and design books as part of your day job, but this was your first YA novel cover. How is designing for Young Adult different from the other covers you’ve done?
ST: The trickiest thing about this cover was figuring out the right tone. The book is both heartrending and heartwarming, and my first impulse for this cover was to make something dark. But my first sketches looked more like something you’d see on the cover of adult fiction, which is the kind of thing I tend to work on. Because of the book’s audience, the goal was to inject a certain amount of play into the cover, even though the subject matter was dark.
We thought Sunra’s sketches seemed a bit too adult for this book, as cool as they were. We asked him to take another stab. Something younger, more playful. We discussed icons that convey glamour; sunglasses, convertibles, Hollywood, etc.
We liked these ideas a lot more, and they seemed to be closer to the tone we were looking for. So naturally the next step for ME was ruining them by mocking up my own version using elements from his work. Joking aside, moving around his sketches was a way to have conversations in-house and look at changes or ideas without wasting too much of Sunra’s time. I’m a visual problem solver, so it was a lot more effective for me to do this, than try to explain to our artist that we wanted a car driving on a film strip in color bubble that takes place in an otherwise black and white world (sounds crazy, right?). Despite all of the different ideas being mushed into one, people seemed to feel like we were onto something, so we continued the conversation with Sunra.
Sunra, luckily, did not get mad at me for messing with his sketches, instead he worked with me and the ABRAMS team to refine this concept (again, and again, and again).
AN: Can you talk a little about your approach to cover design, and illustration process?
ST: A lot of the covers I’ve done are illustrative, and my goal with those covers has been to make the most harmonious image possible. Basically, I try to make the text and image feel like one inseparable thing (though lately I’ve been trying to move away from that approach). When I first start working on a book cover, I probably think about the book’s tone more than anything. To me, tone is a low-pressure way to start thinking about a cover: you can start toying with things like color without have a particular concept in mind. Anything that gets me to start putting ideas on paper, even if they’re terrible ideas (and they’re usually terrible, horrible ideas), is enormously helpful to me!
I think at this point we were all equally excited about this cover, but feeling like it wasn’t QUITE there yet. We went back and fourth on title typography a few times. The composition was feeling busy, and we weren’t sure if visually, the cover was an easy read. Were people going to “get it”? Luckily, Sunra pulled out THE perfect cover magically at the last minute. I’d like to think that it was his plan all along. I received his final cover image really late one night, after work, via email. When I opened the attachment it was just like, this is it. This is the cover. The team loved it immediately, and well, the rest is history!
AN: We went through quite a few iterations before we landed on the final cover, and your initial concepts were super different than where the cover actually ended up. What did you envision at the onset of this project? How do you feel with the final product?
ST: I’m happy with the final cover! I think my initial idea was to make something moody and sad, but that’s probably a hard sell in YA!
AN: What in your mind makes a great book cover?
ST: I think my favorite covers are usually simple and direct and a little weird. But I also like obnoxiously busy covers. I like really simple covers and really busy covers!