Since Carol already covered the path to publication of my second book (Light Messages/July 2018), we thought it would be fun to go into detail about the cover development process.
First, the title has been changed from Heart Behind These Hands to Behind These Hands. Here is the blurb:
Fourteen-year-old Claire Fairchild has always known music would be her life. She enters a prestigious contest pitted against Juan, a close childhood friend. It doesn’t help that her thoughts about him have turned romantic. But nothing compares to the devastating news that both younger brothers have Batten disease.
While attending a conference about this rare neurodegenerative disorder, Claire receives word that she has won the contest. Her musical goals no longer seem relevant. She can’t reconcile the joy that classical music would bring to her life while her brothers are succumbing to an early and ugly death.
When Claire accompanies a friend on a school newspaper assignment, she meets a centenarian with a unique musical past and only one regret in life. Claire knows something in her life has to change before it’s too late, but what will it be?
I am fortunate to have an editor, Elizabeth Turnbull, who has drawn me into the cover selection process from the beginning.
When Elizabeth sent me this first cover proposal, she liked that it was bright, fit the Teen/YA motif, and that it illustrated the musical aspect without being too literal. She acknowledged that while this book has a serious theme, the cover was playful enough not to scare readers away.
My first reactions were positive but I had questions. At that point we were still uncertain about the title, so I wanted to know if Behind These Hands would work with this picture as well as Heart Behind These Hands. I wondered if the picture of the girl with the hand-heart signal shouldn’t be bigger. At first glance, I liked that the colors were youthful and bright.
Elizabeth agreed that the hand-heart might be more prominent, and at that point, she was leaning towards the longer title, but she asked if I would like her to test the two options with young readers. I immediately said “YES” and thought how lucky I am to have an editor who values my opinion. Maybe that emboldened me because I confessed that pink had never been my favorite and could we try some other bold colors. I made another suggestion, accompanied by a picture of my granddaughter making the heart shape closer to her heart instead of her eyes.
Enter Carol after I invited her into the conversation. (remember: joined at the hip writing buddies?) She was unsure about the colors, but she asked if I wanted her to send out the picture to several teens, some of whom had taken her writing classes. “YES!” I shouted again.
These teen readers responded with variations on the same reaction: the cover implied this was a “cute, fluffy read” or a “light romance.” One indicated that the color combos weren’t her favorite either, and she suggested replacing the lavender font with a navy blue. When I passed this info on to Elizabeth, I began to worry about whether we had gone too far in the wrong direction. I asked if we could try a girl at the piano.
Elizabeth was way ahead of me, and said they had already tried that and visually, it didn’t work. She wanted to avoid getting too literal with the book and the characters. She also said after testing the two titles broadly with young readers and on Twitter, they were running neck and neck. She agreed the color scheme should be changed.
At this point I felt both appreciative that my input had been sought, and confident that those who know more about cover art than me were hard at work. Then one day, while I was sufficiently occupied with revisions, this new image appeared in my inbox.
Elizabeth felt that the model covering her eyes reflected the protagonist’s desire to do the same. She said the color scheme “popped” and had definitely moved away from “fluffy.” She graciously said “I’m glad you pushed us to keep rethinking.” She requested my input again.
I loved the colors, but experienced a “disconnect” about the covered eyes. I just didn’t relate to it—at first.
Elizabeth responded with solid reasoning. “I think the hands over the eyes also add movement and interest. They build curiosity. You want to allow the reader to picture the character in their own imagination. So that's why you'll see so many profile shots, back shots, or other obscured views of models.”
Sensing that I still had hesitations, she elaborated on the market research. “When we tested the idea of a piano image, your target readers indicated they'd be less likely to pick up the book because they'd be afraid it was ‘boring’ and only about ‘classical music.’ One of the things I love so much about Behind These Hands is that it IS about piano and classical music, and it's presented in such a fresh and youthful way that all kinds of readers will get into it. You make these themes cool and relatable, but first we have to draw the readers in with the cover.”
These words from Elizabeth turned the tide for me. She knows infinitely more than I do about cover appeal, and besides all that, she believes in my book!
I was humbled and responded, “I appreciate your empathy for the teen market. Another thing that just occurred to me is the tie in to the eyes and the ability to see. Blindness is a big part of Batten Disease. And then there is Claire’s own evolving vision of how she sees herself in relation to her brothers.”
Elizabeth and I went back and forth one more time about the title, and in the end, we both agreed Behind These Hands was the best fit. She said, “It's a strong title that invites the reader to wonder ‘What is behind these hands?’ Nobody will mistake this for a teen romance!”
Elizabeth sealed the deal. “I'm so glad you like the cover! We'll start populating online sites with the book data and cover. P.S. You might want to do a "cover reveal" with your readers!”
And to that I say, “Thank you, Carol, for once again giving me entrée into the writing world.”
Linda Vigen Phillips has a passion for verse and realistic fiction that offers hope and encouragement to anyone facing mental or physical health challenges. Her debut book, Crazy, has led to mental health advocacy through NAMI and the development of a drop-in center for persons with mental illness in Charlotte. Visit her at www.lindavigenphillips.com.