When it came time to design the Game of War’s cover, I returned to first principals. I heard some advice that the author’s passion and vision should drive the novel’s concept, but should steer clear of the cover. Instead, the cover should be driven by the market.
I did not follow that advice for the Child of Chaos’ original cover. Instead, I wanted it to tell a story and incorporate the title into it, but the elements weren’t clear–even the name was hard to read in a thumbnail–and it didn’t speak to my target audience. I realized that, if I was improve my approach for the entire series, I had to start with my first book.
A little research revealed that many fantasy Young Adult covers tend to fall into two different camps: a (usually) female character standing against a (mostly) monochromatic background, or an iconic item surrounded by an intricate pattern or design.
With that in mind, given that my original concept was so complex, I wanted to start simple–perhaps use the dice as that iconic object. I contacted MiblArt, a studio known for their YA fantasy work and tasked them with it.
They quickly came back with this.
I was really impressed with many of the elements here. The title font was striking, genre-appropriate, imaginative, and clear–even for a thumbnail. I like pieces of the rest, but the major problems were the flaming crates in the middle and the hole behind them. No one could figure out what they were supposed to be.
One of MiblArt’s strengths is their willingness and ability to incorporate feedback to change the image until it’s perfect. I suggested that maybe the problem was scale; since we had nothing to measure the boxes against, there’s no way to know that they’re supposed to be dice, not crates. Perhaps adding a hand would solve that. Also, I wanted something stronger for the series branding, something distinctive that I could put on every book in the series.
They came back with these:
We were definitely making progress. This time, I loved the series branding. And while the hands did solve the problem of scale, they weren’t quite working in the image yet.
I sent some examples of the hand position I was envisioning as well as some examples of magic fire to better bring the dice to life. Also, while I liked the idea of a border, I was concerned that the printer would slip, and any mistake would add space to one (or more) edges. It might look bad.
This version was much closer. The hand and the dice were incredible. They tried to keep the border but make it much more subtle by making it one color and having it fade in and out with the fog. It was better, but in the end, I didn’t trust the printers not to slip, and I didn’t want to lock myself into a stylistic choice that would influence future volumes in the series–and I was envisioning covers that wouldn’t work with a border.
They nailed it with the next shipment. In the end, we didn’t have just a character or just an object, but something that split the difference. It wasn’t interchangeable with any other YA title, but hopefully felt familiar enough to those readers that they would give the title a chance. And I’m already thinking of ways to leverage this approach with the future titles.
In case you’re interested, here are some other versions of the final!