One of the things I love about my publisher is that they keep the authors really involved in the production process of a book. This worked well for me coming out of self-publishing and having already established some marketing with my book that was working. I immediately fell in love with my Editing and Design Team at Tate – maybe because they were young and talented, maybe because they happened to like my books (not being too far off from my target audience themselves), or maybe because they were enthusiastic and GOOD at their jobs.

My cover designer, Kristen Verser (who is sadly no longer with Tate) was the one who had to establish the “face” of the Phantom Island series. This was no easy task since we knew that 1) we were dealing with a series, so 2) we needed a design that could easily flow from book to book on a shelf. In other words, DESIGN WITH LONG-TERM VISION for books that hadn’t even been written yet. And of course, there were the other important aspects – what would appeal to teenagers from a shelf? What would grab someone’s eye and hold it there? And what would fit the target market, but still appeal to all ages?

In my initial correspondence with Kristen, I told her that I really didn’t want pictures of people featured on the cover. This is nothing against the recent influx of YA book covers that feature real teens on them…I think that reaches a specific audience (like girls, to be honest). But as a teacher, I see what girls and boys pick up off the shelf. And a boy will most likely NOT carry a book around school that has a chick on the cover – no matter how good the story is! I wanted my boys to feel comfortable carrying my book around and recommending it to others. Not only that, but I didn’t want my readers boxed in by my own view of how the characters look or what the setting must be like… I wanted my words to create the pictures in their imaginations while my cover invited a deeper, more symbolic appeal. Phantom Island is dripping with symbolic images, themes, and motifs… so the idea of using the tribal symbols on the cover was a slam dunk for both Kristen and me. (And if I’m being completely honest, as I was writing the first book and designing the tribes, I was very purposeful with it – I KNEW I would totally use these symbols to market these books someday. SCORE.) So I sent Kristen two covers I happened to really like at the time because of their colors and symbolism. I was drawn to a single focal point image (symbol) with a textured background…

Fortunately, Kristen was in total agreement and commented that she herself was a fan of the Incarceron (by Catherine Fisher) cover as well. The other thing I REALLY wanted was a trademark Phantom Island font for the titles… Harry Potter had its own font design. Twilight had its own font design. I wanted there to be one that would be identifiably PHANTOM ISLAND. Once again, she agreed and then set to work. She took my newly designed tribal tattoos (thanks to tattoo artist, Austin Bunker) and was going to try and incorporate those somehow on the cover too. We also knew since these were the “Wind” books, we wanted to use the wind tribe’s colors – purple and silver – to make the emphasis on this tribe more prevalent. Hardly any time had passed before she came back to me with three different cover designs. Since Windchaser and Windfall were releasing together, she did both covers together. Here were the specs we had to choose from…

Cover Option #1

What I Loved: The textures in this design were fabulous – all that background was gorgeous and I did like the colors.

What Didn’t Work: These were maybe too dark and though the circular part might’ve popped out from the shelf, I felt that the overall concept looked more middle grade than young adult (like the Spiderwick series). Not only that, but the font, while magical-ish, seemed more “witchy” and “halloween” to me than summery, magical Island feeling. I wanted to avoid coming across too much like what the fantasy genre was already swamped with – witches, wizards, vampires, dark creatures, etc. My books deal with the elements, tribes, hot Island guys… haha.
Cover Option #2
What I Loved: With these, I felt like we were getting closer. I liked the sharpness of the tribal designs and the use of the tattoo birthmark up by the title! And the font for the title was PERFECT. I also liked the same dragonfly design on both covers but in different positions and ranges for each book.
What Didn’t Work: The other font for my name and the subtitle felt weird – maybe too science fiction? And the colors still were not popping right. Maybe it felt too busy or too dark or something, but the purple and gray were just not vivid enough yet for us.
Cover Option #3:

What I Loved: The color scheme worked when we stuck with different purple shades combined with a silver to gold switch. The font was perfect! And the supporting fonts were much more calm and helped bring out the main title. I also loved how she incorporated the tattoo design of the Wind tribe birthmark into the background texture!
What Didn’t Work: As you can see, Windchaser started out in gold and moved to silver in Windfall originally. I wanted it reversed. This was a symbolic preference for me and Kristen allowed me the creative freedom to do so. I felt like switching the silver to Windchaser would symbolize the true colors of the Wind tribe and would also go with the idea of Whitnee “chasing” that elusive “wind” of truth and ultimately discovering her abilities as an Aerodorian. I felt that Windfall would be more appropriate with gold color – not just because it reminded me of a sunset and the closing of this first adventure on the Island, but it also made me think of Gabriel and those gold eyes that burn when he uses Fire. Symbolically, you see Whitnee’s heart turn to Gabriel at the end of Windfall, so gold felt better for that cover. The only other thing we did was shrink and turn the dragonfly on Windfall to also signify a “flying away” as well as a new direction for where the series would head.
And that’s how we ended up with the FINAL COVERS:

And if you missed the news, my cover designer – Kristen Verser – just won second place for Windfall’s beautiful colors and exquisite design in Book Cover Designs at the American Design Awards Winter 2012. Congrats, Kristen! Well-deserved… especially for putting up with me. 🙂
NOTE: Not every publisher allows authors a say in the book cover design. Most of my author friends will just one day receive an email with their new cover and that’s that. Just know that what I got to do is somewhat rare – and was a totally fun experience that never could have happened without such an awesome and skilled designer as Kristen!