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An Interview With A Cover Illustrator (And Not Just Any Cover Illustrator, but MINE!)

There are a few misconceptions about this publishing business (nope, sorry Mom- I will not be buying you a yacht anytime soon) and one of the bigger ones is that writers have infinite input into their cover designs (or, in the case of picture books, the illustrations). Most people are shocked- shocked, I tell you!- to learn that this is very rarely the case. More likely, the writer will be innocently checking email on an otherwise ordinary day and find a note from our editor that says something like, “I hope you like your cover! Here it is!”

And then (if you’re me) you exhale and do a Snoopy dance around your living room. Seriously, I could not love my cover more if I had drawn it myself (wow- do you really not want to see that!!) I love it so much that I googled my cover illustrator, Annabelle Metayer, and immediately sent a gushy email through her website contact form. Fortunately, she is uber-cool and was not scared off by said gushiness. In fact, she even agreed to let me interview her here about how this whole cover design thing works:

Hey Annabelle! Thanks for being here and letting us uncover a little more of the mystery behind this process. Can you start off by telling us who you work with at a publishing house? In other words, who hires you?

It varies from one publishing house to another, but in most cases, it’s the book designer who contacts my agent with a mandate. Before contacting the illustrator/agent, the book designer presents the portfolio to their editing team. If everyone is onboard, they can sign me!

Nice! And from there, what kind of information does the publisher usually provide you with? Are you typically given suggestions/direction from the publisher for the cover illustration or do you come up with your own?

It is mostly a collaborative task. Sometimes, all I get is the manuscript, with no specific briefing, or I’ll get a few starting ideas. After reading the book, I provide two or three sketches for any kind of scenarios that inspire me, adding the ones that the editor provided me with, if they did.

In some other cases, I have been hired to work on the cover for books that have been signed but for which the manuscript is not yet available. The book designer then just gives me the synopsis and a few ideas to get me started.

And in some other cases, I get a specific briefing, as in ‘Girl sitting in a coffee shop, with books on table, Eiffel tower in background.”

I enjoy all of these scenarios -it’s great to have carte blanche with a cover but a precise briefing allows me to focus solely on character/background development.

And to further demonstrate how this all might look, Annabelle is sharing her process for my cover (swoon!):

(click on images to enlarge)

cover designs

 

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I could look at that all day! Thanks for sharing! Okay, a few more questions. How did you get your start in illustrating?

For me, it was a long process. I always loved to draw but did not quite trust that my passion for drawing could be translated into a career. I opted instead for a happy compromise: graphic design. As a graphic designer, I discovered the joy of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop! After about 12 years, I finally decided to use my Illustrator skills to build an illustration portfolio. After finding my wonderful agent Sally (heflinreps.com) and with a few jobs under my belt, I made the full-time jump, knowing that it takes about 10 years on average for an illustrator to become established (but also secretely lured by the knowledge that this quest can be done in the comfort of my pajamas).

Pajamas influencing your career choice- congratulations, you’re officially one of the tribe! What is your favorite part about illustrating covers?

What’s not to love! First, there is the thrill of being ‘chosen’ by a publishing house to illustrate a cover. Then, the excitement of immersing myself into the universe of a new story and, once the basic layout has been approved, working on the character. Choosing her clothes and hairstyle and finding cute ways to represent the items surrounding her. Oh! and last but not least : receiving positive feedback from the book author. I really never expect it, but at the end of the day, the author being happy with their cover is the ultimate reward! So it’s a bonus, when it happens.

Oh, it happens! And what about some of the challenges?

When sending the very initial sketches to the client (especially new clients!), I can get a bit anxious while waiting for feedback. I compare this to ‘stage fright’, for an actor. No matter how experienced you are, I don’t think it will ever go away. I am very lucky that I can get all my sketches validated by my husband who is an art director, though! Anyways, once the ice is broken and I get a first response, I relax.

Annabelle, thanks so much for letting me interview you. I can only hope I spot your illustrations on a million book covers (including more of mine)!

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Jen Malone: AT YOUR SERVICE

Unlike your favorite hotel employees, Jen Malone doesn’t often answer to a ringing bell, but much like those service masters, she is usually smiling (usually). Today we’re introducing her on the OneFourKidLit blog. Jen is the author of the forthcoming AT YOUR SERVICE, which publishes with SImon & Schuster Aladdin this summer.

ATYOURSERVICE

Four questions. Are you ready?

Bring it! Wait, did that count as the first one?

No! Starting… now. Okay, tell us a little about your book.
AT YOUR SERVICE is about Chloe, who is laser-focused on becoming the best concierge the city of New York has ever seen, despite the fact that she’s only twelve at the book’s beginning. She does have a good mentor in her concierge father and living in a hotel keeps her right in the action (and makes her a legend among her friends: Sleepovers with room service sundae bars! Celebrity spottings! Maids to make her bed!) When Chloe proves herself particularly adept at handling at out-of-control guest, she is awarded the role of junior concierge, taking care of all the kids who stay at the hotel.
All is going well until the children of visiting royalty are placed in her care and the youngest princess pulls a disappearing act. With little to go on except the fact that Princess Ingrid is intent on completing her collection of souvenir pressed pennies, Chloe, her best friend Paisley, and the remaining royals: a perfectly perfect tween princess and her adorable prince (as in actual prince) of a brother have to hit up all of New York’s best tourist destinations to track down the little girl before Chloe’s mistake becomes international news and she loses all chances of future concierge glory.

Fun! Sounds like New York City plays a pretty major role in AT YOUR SERVICE?

Definitely! I consider it another character. I love the city and I head down from Boston several times a year, but most of my early impressions of it were formed from visiting the tourist sites and I still feel that magic of seeing the city through those eyes. I loved making Chloe a proud native and showing her joy in sharing her city with guests, as well as her indignation when Princess Sophie only focuses on its negatives. In fact my favorite lines in the book are when Sophie tells Chloe she’s not a fan and Chloe thinks, “Has she not seen the t-shirts? They don’t say “I FROWNY-FACE NY” No. They say “I HEART NY” And anyone who doesn’t heart it themselves must not have a heart to begin with.” She truly can’t believe anyone could resist its charms (although neither can I)!

What was your favorite scene to write?
Chloe’s first kiss, for sure. Granted, it takes place in front of Sexy Sadie the Bearded Lady at Ripley’s Believe it or Not and it’s for the benefit of a paparazzo, but it is from a cute prince and there’s some dipping involved (though mostly because she can’t put pressure on her newly-sprained ankle). The one I had the most fun researching was the Rockette scene. Chloe escorts a guest to a behind-the-scenes rehearsal at Radio City Music Hall, and I needed to be sure I was getting the details right. I was lucky enough that one of my critique partners is friends with a Rockette so I interviewed her for maybe two hours and she walked me step by step (pun intended) through a session. I had to cut a ton out of the book to keep the story moving along but I could have written ten chapters about this, I was so fascinated. Here’s a fun fact: did you know those dancers are able to keep such perfect formation in part because there are grid lines on the stage floor, marking horizontal lines and vertical lines with letters and numbers? So they learn the choreography according to their grid coordinates for each step. I also did a ton of research on behind-the-scenes hotel stuff, some of which makes me never want to travel again☺

Oh, do spill!

This didn’t make it into the book (though tons of other hotel tricks did), but if you’re rude to a New York City front desk clerk, he or she will assign you to Room 1212. That way, if guests use the phone in their room to dial any New York number (area code 212) and forget to dial 9 for an outside line, the phone in your room will ring. So you’ll likely be taking orders for Chinese food at 3 a.m! Less effective in the age of cell phones, but still pretty diabolical…

 

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Happy Release Day to our own OneFour member, Vivi Barnes!

We’re so excited for an early OneFour release! Please join us in congratulating Vivi Barnes on the launch of her YA debut, OLIVIA TWISTED, a fun and edgy update on the Dicken’s classic, with a teen ring of cyber-hackers, a motorcycle-riding hottie, and… oh please, you need more after that awesomeness?

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Vivi, I completely adored this update on a classic!  What was it about Dicken’s Oliver Twist that spoke to you and called out for a modern spin?

Thank you! I grew up watching the movie Oliver! when I was a kid, then read the book later. It’s not an easy read, and one reason I wanted to do a retelling was to reintroduce the classic in a more relatable, contemporary way. Immediately, I thought of Olivia Twisted but with a female protagonist. The original story really made society the protagonist and Oliver a victim. I wanted the external influences to play a large role with Olivia, but I wanted her to also make her own choices and be stronger than poor Oliver.

So basically, I started with a title and went from there!

One of my favorite things is when authors annotate their own books with fun tidbits about why a certain character trait, name, or tidbit was included. Give us a teaser of what we’d learn if we peeked at an annotated copy of OLIVIA TWISTED.

I laugh because I have a lot of these things—too many to list, probably. But the character Jen could possibly be named for my friend Jen, who is actually one of the sweetest people ever. Jen “gets” that the Jen in the story isn’t horrible. She’s just misunderstood.

I also have a few fun Oliver Twist references. One of the kids in the house references Z as “Dodger,” and at one point Z tells Liv “It’s not like we pick pockets.” Those were fun to reference. I couldn’t work in “Please sir, I want some more.” That just…yeah, no.

Aww. Power to the Jens! Name one thing about this publishing process that has you giddy with excitement.

I’ve spent most of this past year being giddy or freaking out. Not much tops the cover reveal—that is one of the most exciting moments! And Entangled did a fantastic job with it. I also loved the great reviews, especially getting RT Book Reviews Top Picks!

I have a feeling those great reviews are just beginning. Tell me something that’s completely surprised you about the publishing process?

I was surprised at exactly how many hands touch a book—from editors, interns, assistant editors, second pass readers, etc.

So true! Now, we’ve got a pretty funny post going on our message boards where everyone posts their pre-publishing stress dreams. Had any of those?

I dreamed the publisher accidentally published a book I had written as a kid instead of Olivia Twisted. I think the book had to do with how mad I was at my brother or something! (Fact: I didn’t write a full book about being mad at my brother; more a letter to my mother about how he should clean the dishes or else.)

Sounds like you’ve got a follow up to Olivia Twisted there. What’s on tap for release day today?

I am going to be lurking in bookstores, taking pictures until they make me leave because I’m creeping them out!

One last question: as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d love to know two or three books that inspired you as a kid!

Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, David Eddings’ Belgariad series, and just about all of Judy Blume’s books! Random, I know!

Thanks, Vivi! Wishing you all the best and have fun seeing your book baby out in the world!

 

Jen Malone has visited 50 countries, met her husband on the highway (literally) and went into labor with her identical twins while on Stevie Nick’s tour bus. These days she prefers to keep the drama inside the pages of her books. Her debut middle grade, AT YOUR SERVICE, releases in August from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Please visit Jen on Twitter @jenmalonewrites.