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Judging My Book

A few weeks ago, my friend forwarded me this tweet. It was posted by authors Brendan Reichs and Daniel José Older and was making the rounds in the Book Twitter community:

The tweet came from a larger conversation around an author’s power once they enter into a book contract. Many writers are absolutely giddy about receiving a book offer in the first place (you know this girl was), and thus may sign away important rights without realizing it. Book contracts are sticky, tricky things, and they take longer to iron out than I ever could have imagined. I got my book offer for the Daredevils in July of 2018 and signed the finalized contract over three months later.

In between those three months, there was a lot of back and forth on different contract features. But the one that mattered to me most has a lot to do with covers, which is why my friend forwarded me the tweet days after I saw my final cover.

I feel very fortunate to be 100% head-over-heels IN LOVE with the cover for The Derby Daredevils. It was revealed just yesterday over on Pop! Goes the Reader, but the journey to this phenomenal image started a year ago, right around the time when I was wading into my book contract and figuring out all the terms.

Because my publisher envisioned The Derby Daredevils as an illustrated series, that meant the first thing we had to do was choose the right illustrator. As a middle grade writer, I had never really thought about having an illustrator before. But with around 75 contracted images to go with the text, it soon became the crucial issue as we moved forward with the book’s production. While viewing illustrator profiles, I was drawn to one style of illustration in particular… and really, one illustrator in particular. Every day I would peruse her portfolio, finding bits of my characters in her sketches. I would dream about having her pictures interact with my words on the page.

But getting a whole team on board with the exact thing you want isn’t easy. There was a lot of convincing to do, especially since I was a debut author who was afraid to push back without souring relationships. I remember sobbing to my agent on the phone because I had become set on working with this ONE PERFECT ILLUSTRATOR, and yet there were so many hurdles in the way. How could I make sure the whole Abrams team would agree with me? How would I know if she would even agree to the project if offered? The whole thing had me wishing on every eyelash, blown-out candle, and blinking satellite. I was a ball of anxiety and anticipation.

Throughout this time, I often found myself venting to writer friends. I wondered if I was coming off as difficult to work with. I worried that the whole process was for naught and the illustrator wouldn’t want to work with me in the end anyway. A lot of phone calls took place on my floor as I rolled back and forth in a cocoon of angst reminiscent of my teenage years.

Then, in September, I got news that made me jump and cry and twirl. I received this news with the same pure joy that had come from the initial book offer. Sophie Escabasse—the illustrator of my dreams—had signed onto the Daredevils project!

From that moment on, something about the publication process shifted. With Sophie illustrating, I knew the book couldn’t just be good. It had to match her immense talent and heart. Knowing that Sophie’s hand would be behind my characters made me want to give even more to them. I rewrote scenes and added small, tender moments between characters, wondering if I would see a particular expression or movement in her pictures.

I will always remember the first time I saw Sophie’s early sketches for the book. My editor had sent a character line-up in late November. My hands shook as I opened the attachment. I could barely scroll through the set of pictures before I broke out sobbing. They were perfect. The girls were exactly who I had been imagining the whole time. Every subsequent stage of the book brought news tears, and as excited as I was to see my words printed in my Advance Reader Copy, I was even more excited to see Sophie’s pictures in print.

Of course, Sophie was also the artist behind the Daredevils cover. She worked with my cover designer John Passineau to create the most explosive riot of color and movement. When I saw the cover, I couldn’t help but cry. It’s one thing to see a book and know that it’s your book… but how great is it to see the book cover and just whole-heartedly love it? To imagine kids you’ve never met walking toward that cover in the bookstore or library? In that moment, I realized all the campaigning I did for the right illustrator was worth everything.

I’m endlessly grateful to my agent Lauren Spieller for seeing how much I loved Sophie’s work and advocating for her on my behalf. I’m also endlessly grateful to my editor Courtney Code and the entire team at Amulet and Abrams for listening to my input and really giving me a seat at the table.

We’re told to not judge a book by its cover, but in so many ways, whether authors like it or not, that cover becomes part of the book. We can overlook uninteresting covers or criticize covers if they don’t seem reflective of the narrative, but ultimately that cover is connected to the reading experience. I’ve worked very hard to ensure that my cover is a meaningful element to the story, and I hope you love it even a sliver as much as I do.

Because if I haven’t already said so, I love this cover—and my illustrator—a lot.

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