"What a great and timely period to be talking cover art!! I’m sinking my teeth into this topic like it’s a big ol’ juicy steak. When the first book in my series was acquired I had soooo many ideas for the cover, but the most important thing was I wanted it to be inclusive. My main character is African American with a White best friend and their circle of friends is also diverse, so I wanted a cover that complemented the cast. Even before the book was acquired, it’s all I thought about. "My editor at the time asked for my thoughts and I regurgitated all the ideas and feelings and vibes and messages that had lived in my head for the two years before the book sold. I said things like "funky fonts, teen friendly, colorful, inclusive." And somehow the cover of So Not The Drama came back with the perfect vibe (left). How the art department was able to turn my ramblings into an actual cover, I’ll never know! But here’s where the story changes course…the covers for the first two books were graphic covers. But by book three my current editor broke the news to me that they wanted to go with photo covers because the graphic covers were not reaching the primary audience – African American teens.
"My last three covers were all photo covers, shot with models. I was still allowed input regarding the look of the models and the type of clothing they’d wear. I was glad to have the input…but, honestly, by the time we got to this point I was pretty disappointed that my grand experiment to be inclusive had basically failed when it came to sales. It’s sort of ironic that the furor over Liar was that a brown face wouldn’t sell books when the flip side of that argument is many brown readers pass by books without brown faces.
"Although I wrote my books to appeal to a broad teen reader base, in the end a book has to have at least one particular audience and the reality when marketing to African American readers – publishers want the reader to know the book features a Black protagonist. So my books were in a weird limbo because of the marketing dynamic of publishing.
"When I first saw my graphic covers, I loved them! When I first saw my photo covers I didn’t hate them. How’s that for honesty? It’s nothing personal, but I’ve never been a fan of photo covers. I’m the type of reader who wants to imagine what the character looks like. I don’t want to be force fed an image via a model/photograph. I’ve had people come up to me and say (about the photo cover) 'Oh my goodness, this is exactly how I pictured Mina.'Funny, because none of the models on my covers look like the characters in my head.
"I actually really like the covers for That’s What’s Up! and Who You Wit’? because they evoke a level of teen sassiness that my characters embody. However, the cover for Flipping The Script, the final book in the series, is far too generic. It’s of three smiling girls. Well, first of all, the book focuses primarily on the male characters of the cast and two, ***spoiler alert*** the ending isn’t all that happy. At first, it really bothered me that the cover didn’t match the inside. But no readers have complained. So if they like it, I love it!"
It's so interesting how they changed from graphic to photo covers. I think I'm more into the graphic ones, as well, but finding readers is definitely important! What do you guys think?