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Cover Creation: Behind the Scenes of TO BE HONEST

Designing book covers is a lot of work, but it's a pretty great job. Every book is a little different, and you never know what the process will be like. For To Be Honest, it took some time to nail our cover concepts, but I'm very proud of what we've created.

Thought Process and Mocking Up Ideas

I immediately loved that our protagonist Savannah is not the reed-thin girl typically found in a YA novel. When mocking up options for covers, I usually like to try a variety of styles, such as photographic, illustrated, type-driven, etc. But when I have a protagonist who is from an underrepresented or marginalized group, it is so important to bring them to the forefront if possible. 

So when it came time for cover voting, we selected three options that showed off Savannah... and the response from the Swoon community was amazing. Commenters were so excited to see a beautiful plus-size girl featured on a YA cover. In fact, the winning cover had the most votes EVER in the history of Swoon cover voting! It was fantastic to see people appreciate our efforts to make a statement.

Photoshoot Fun 

Once cover voting closed, I set up a photoshoot so we could choose the model, styling, lighting, poses, etc. I showed the photographer the rough cover and explained my vision, then began to review model options. As soon as I saw Eva, I loved her young, fresh, girl-next-door vibe—and luckily Emily, the editor for this book, agreed! After we booked Eva, I shopped for wardrobe options to bring to the shoot. It's definitely fun to go on a shopping spree for work, and think not just about what you like but what the character might wear and what will photograph nicely.

On the day of the shoot, Emily and I walked to the photographer's studio, which is luckily just a few blocks away from our office in Manhattan. When Eva arrived, our stylist Agata worked her hair and makeup magic.

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We unpacked our wardrobe options and I finalized the outfits that I wanted to try shooting. Time is definitely money during a photoshoot, and switching into a bunch of different outfits is usually not a good idea. I wanted to try replicating the outfit from my rough cover—jeans, a black tank top, and a black mesh shirt. But since Savannah is more of an everyday high school girl, we also wanted to try some more simple, but pretty, options.    

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I've worked before with our photographers, Michael and Tanya, and they do such a great job of capturing exactly what I want. They gave Eva notes as we shot and had her try different poses, try walking, try shifting her stance. As we reached the end of the shoot, Tanya double-checked if there was anything else we should try. Eva had such a lovely face that I asked for some close up portrait shots so there would be even more options to choose from for the rest of the jacket wrap. So while we've cropped Savannah's face for the cover, rest assured she'll be all over this book!

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Finalizing the Cover

After the photoshoot, the photographer sent me lots of shots to choose from. Since the photo from the rough cover and photos from the shoot are rarely identical, it usually takes some experimenting to choose the photo that works best and harmonizes with the type. Along with picking a photo, I also wanted to change up my type a little—still a handwritten script, but more modern. I also tried different color combinations, but we still loved the teal and pink that the community voted for.

Once I mocked up different options with different poses, the editorial team weighed in on their favorites, and we sent our choices to author Maggie Ann Martin, who made the final decision. And so, without further ado, here is the final cover for To Be Honest:  


I loved that this pose is relaxed but has quiet attitude and creates rhythm through asymmetrical weight placement. As mentioned before, we wanted Savannah to look more like a regular high school girl than she did in the rough cover, and I think we totally accomplished that while also capturing the model's natural beauty.

As a woman who has rarely seen her body type celebrated, I'm so proud to bring this cover into the world with the help of my creative director, along with Lauren and Emily at Swoon, and our awesome photographic team. 

What do you think of the finished cover, Swooners?

Author spotlight

Carol L.

Swoon Reads designer, cat hugger, and couch potato.

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