Behind the Cover: Six Debut Authors Discuss Their Book Covers

Laura Maylene Walter
July 29, 2020

To celebrate the recent cover reveal for my novel, Body of Stars (shoutout to Carrie from Boston Book Fanatic on IG and Mac’s Backs Books for the cover posts), I reached out to several other debut authors with books coming out in 2021. What matters most to authors when it comes to their covers, and how involved are they in the process? Read on to find out—and view some stunning covers in the process:


The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Park Row Books
March 2, 2021
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About the book:
A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Author Sarah Penner on the cover design: In conjunction with the fabulous teams at Park Row Books and Harlequin, we wanted the cover to convey a sense of mystery and feminine allure; a hint of playfulness and maybe-magic; and a few sinister, haunting undertones. My editor’s exact words were “feminine, fresh, dark, and edgy.”

I’d expected the design team to put an apothecary shop on the cover. So, when the cover came across with the vial front-and-center, it took me a moment to shift my preconceived notions about what the cover would look like. For writers who aspire to traditional publication, this is an important lesson: once you sell your book, your publisher’s expert teams take the reins in many ways. It’s less about your vision and more about a collaborative vision: you + publisher, working hand-in-hand to make the best product possible for the reader. Once I got over the initial surprise, I quickly fell in love; within sixty seconds, I ran into my husband’s office with the image. I was thrilled. Many people have described the cover as “lush”—it’s a feast for the senses!

We went through five iterations of the cover, over a period of about six weeks. The vial stopper was the trickiest part to nail; everyone seemed to have a different preference, and by “everyone,” I mean me, my agent, my editorial team, the art team, the marketing team… it was wild. Eventually we landed on the three-dimensional prism stopper, and I gasped when I first saw it. It’s perfect.


Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
Grove Press
Milk blood Heat CoverFebruary 2, 2021
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About the book: Milk Blood Heat depicts the sultry lives of Floridians in intergenerational tales that contemplate human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance, and the elemental darkness in us all. Set among the cities and suburbs of Florida, each story in Milk Blood Heat delves into the ordinary worlds of young girls, women, and men who find themselves confronted by extraordinary moments of violent personal reckoning.

Author Dantiel W. Moniz on the cover design: My editor sent me the first round of designs—a file with three images—and what would be my cover was the first image. When I saw it, I felt a frisson go through me. I quickly scrolled through the rest of the images and came back to the first and started screaming. Only then did I realize that what I had felt was certainty that the first design was my cover. It was such a pure moment of joy.

I’d made a whole Pinterest board of images for inspiration for my cover. I had no idea what I thought the final might look like, but I’d pinned a lot of brooding, sexy images with texture, a lot of fruit, a lot of twisting designs. And contrary to those ideas, some images that involved the color pink, which is important in the title story. And that the designer, Kelly Winton, came back with this cover as one of the ideas truly took all that I’d wanted—and didn’t know that I’d wanted—and made it tangible. It’s such a FL palette, these bright colors, the texture in the oranges, and I think it makes a much better contrast to the kind of dark heart of these stories. It’s lovely, and I’m glad for it to be the face of my book.


The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
William Morrow/HarperCollins
February 9, 2021
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About the book: The Kindest Lie centers on an unexpected connection between an Ivy League-educated Black female engineer and a young white boy in a dying Indiana factory town when Barack Obama is elected president. The novel examines the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and plumbs the emotional depths of the struggles faced by ordinary Americans in the wake of the financial crisis.

Author Nancy Johnson on the cover design: I provided my editor with a Pinterest board that reflected my sensibilities and tastes, so I was very involved in the process. I wanted vibrant, bold, modern design with bright colors. If we went with a person on the cover, I preferred something artistic instead of a photo. I expressed how I imagined Ruth Tuttle, the protagonist at the center of my novel. She wears a natural hairstyle and her head is held high. A strong, proud Black woman.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I opened the file and viewed my cover for the first time. I was just prepared to be wowed and awed; the William Morrow designer, Ploy Siripant, did not disappoint. The depiction of the house with Ruth at the door reflects the strong family dynamic in this novel. The abstract, highbrow art and hand-lettered script give my book its own unique personality, one that I hope readers will love as much as I do.


Waiting for the Night Song cover Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton
Forge Books/Macmillan
January 12, 2021
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About the book:
An urgent message from her long-estranged best friend, Daniela Garcia, brings Cadie, now a forestry researcher, back to her childhood home. There, Cadie and Daniela are forced to face a dark secret that ended both their idyllic childhood bond and the magical summer that takes up more space in Cadie’s memory then all her other years combined.

Author Julie Carrick Dalton on the cover: Waiting for the Night Song has two alternating timelines. At times my book is joyful, full of the wonder of children playing in woods and streams, the magic of first friendships. But it’s also a dark story about secrets, betrayal, sacrifice, and the realities of our climate crisis. The thing I love most about my cover is that my designer Katie Klimowicz managed to capture all of these elements at the same time. I see magic and wonder in the pink and purple ombre and in the sparks floating above the lake. I also sense darkness in the shadows and in the subtle hint of fire flickering along the bottom edge.


The Speed of Light by Elissa Grossell Dickey
Lake Union Publishing
March 1, 2021
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About the book: The Speed of Light follows a life-changing year in the life of a young woman as she grapples with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, a new love, and a terrifying workplace incident.

Author Elissa Grossell Dickey on the cover design:
Part of the concept of The Speed of Light is how quickly life can change, for better or worse, but the title is also a nod to something discussed in the book: how snowflakes falling on a windshield can be mesmerizing when driving on a snowy night. This cover captures that in such a beautiful way, and it’s really just a perfect fit.

I totally cried [after seeing the cover for the first time]. Seeing how beautiful it was, seeing my name on it—it made this dream come true feel more real.


Finally, I’m thrilled to present my own novel’s cover:

Body of Stars coverBody of Stars
Dutton/Penguin
March 16, 2021
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About the book:
Body of Stars explores fate and female agency in a world very similar to our own—except that the freckles, birthmarks, and moles on women’s bodies reveal the future. When Celeste Morton’s markings reveal a dark fate, she’s driven to challenge the inherent misogyny of fortune telling while attempting to reinterpret the future on her own terms.

What I love most about my cover: I love the visual metaphor of the celestial body set against a sunset, which I think evokes the right mood for the story. The trees at the horizon make me think of a particular setting that appears in the novel, as well. Most of all, I love that the cover is bright and bold but also hints at darkness—perfect for my book!

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