Matthue Roth shared his Candy in Action Cover Story on my blog earlier this year, and here's the scoop:
"The moment that my publishers accepted the Candy in Action, I knew what the cover was going to look like. It wasn't even a matter of, what do I want it to look like. I just knew. It was going to be a sleek, glossy cover with black widescreen boxes at the top and bottom. Then the center was going to be a bright, vivid picture of the Los Angeles coast at night, taken from overhead--all neon lights and a million sparkling house parties--and then a black silhouette of a girl doing a kung-fu drop kick over it. That, uh, never happened.
"The publishers didn't ask for my input. I gave it to them anyway. My first book, Never Mind the Goldbergs, was with Scholastic. At most big publishing houses, if you're a first-time writer and you're really nice to them, you get to say 'no' once, and they might listen to you. I said no three times--I was a total diva. They were cool with it each time, though. [MW note: And Matthue ended up with an awesome cover for that book, I think!]
"Candy was put out by an independent company--which means they're risking a lot more on me, in terms of money and their own time, but it also means that they care about what you think. My editor was totally supportive throughout the book, and we kept discussing the cover together. We went back and forth with all these ideas, almost as though we were fantasizing about it. Well, we were.
"The first cover they sent me--I was in Israel, on the road, and the only way to get internet was in the main shopping district, to sit in front of the storefronts. I downloaded the first cover they had. I don't want to say I didn't like it. Ok, though--I was repulsed. It was green and brown, and it looked so generic...it was the opposite of why I loved Soft Skull. My editor talked me down, though. She was like, 'this is why we do trial runs.'
"The second cover (left), the distributors loved. I hated it again, though--it was a too-skinny girl with blond hair and no face. It felt, well, too porny. And there was this strange Karate Kid motif going on that I liked personally, but didn't know if anyone who wasn't a super geek would pick up on it.
"Again, one of the great things about working with a small publisher--it's not a procedure; you can do basically whatever you want to, and as long as it looks good, they're cool with it. One of the reasons I wanted to go with Soft Skull was because they don't do a certain type of book; they just do books that they love. And the design is almost always amazing. Daniel Nester's books about the band Queen are the size of 7" vinyl records; Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown was done as an old map.
"Eventually, both my editor and I wanted to do a pop-art cover--you know, like the Ray Lichtenstein paintings that look like old comic strips (right). She had a friend, Jaime Mendola (who actually worked for Penguin, yet another major publisher) who took on the project for fun. She came at it with this great portrait of Candy as a Lichtenstein painting (left, the original hardcover cover).
"But Candy was supposed to be a young adult book, and because Candy is 18 years old, the major bookstores wanted to shelve it in adult fiction. So when the softcover came out, we wanted a redesign. Fred Chao, who writes and draws the comic book series Johnny Hiro: Half-Asian, All Hero, had already drawn one version of the cover. We used that for the cover of the CD--there's a 12-track soundtrack of original songs by different bands that you can download for free--and, since the hardcover had come out, Fred had started doing book covers for Harper.
"He'd always wanted to do a project for Soft Skull, and I'm a huge fan of his stuff. He took on Candy--again for free, and again because there are all these truly goodhearted people in the world who love independent presses--and did a bunch of original art for it. I love the look he gave it--it's kind of retro and kind of ultra-modern, Indiana Jones meets Moulin Rouge. [That's the final paperback cover, left.]
"Each version of my cover was completely different. This might have been a mistake, or maybe it was just a miracle; but either way, it was really inspiring. Candy is so many types of books--it's part Veronica Mars and part college novel and part romance and part travel story. And each cover was a different way of saying, you're not going to know what to expect.
"In the end, I feel Love. Glowing, shining love. Soft Skull gave me a bunch of hard copies of just the cover, and I can't decide what to do with them. I think I want to dip them in gold."
I think the final paperback is the best Candy in Action cover. It tells a story in one image, or frame, and it gets across the pop-art-action feel of the story. What do you guys think?