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Have you ever found yourself sitting in a room and listening intently to a discussion, then have your attention completely derailed when you become fixated on an object? Unfortunately, it happens to me all the time. Fortunately, it happened when I saw the spine of Andrew Smith’s upcoming novel, Winger.


Spines don’t often get a lot of love, but I think if this one can distract me enough from remembering who was talking at the time, that’s saying something. And no, not that I’m a poor listener, either. (Okay, maybe so.) Bold colors, a good hefty type and a what is going on with his face can do things to a person’s brain. Namely, it can cause you to clear the 30 feet that separates you so you can find out what the book is about.

Things got even better when I saw its pretty (messed-up) face, too.


Even better? Here’s the back, which was illustrated by Sam Bosma.


It’s the type of cover that shocks you (in a good way). It has an arresting, in-your-face photograph that makes you wonder about its MC, Ryan Dean West. But it’s the back of the jacket that ultimately pulled me in, hook, line and sinker. Is the cover how we see West, and is the illustration how he sees himself? I’m eager to find out come May 2013, that’s for sure.

And it’s my pleasure to have author Andrew Smith on the blog today, who let me pick his brain for this bout of authorthoughts. And spoiler alert: he loves it.

Welcome, Andrew!

TCG: When you were writing Winger, did you have any initial thoughts on what the cover should look like, how best to represent this novel and draw readers in?

AS: I’ve always played around with art and graphic design, so like a lot of authors do, I usually invent covers for my books after I’m finished with them and while I’m in the long boring period of waiting for editorial notes or waiting for contracts. Since most of the characters in Winger play rugby (and I coached and played the sport for many years), I used a photograph I’d taken — an extreme closeup of boys’ hands bound in a scrum. I know this is all sports-nonsense to a lot of people, and the book truly is NOT a sports book, but I liked the image of the bound hands because the book has so much to do with friendship, trust, and love. That said, what Simon & Schuster did for the cover — and the artistic presentation of the novel — are WAY more effective than anything I could ever have come up with. And that says an awful lot about the power of a team, which is another important concept in the book.

What was it like working with S&S on this particular cover? At your YALSA Lit Symposium panel you’d mentioned that you were able to pick out a model from a crop of Polaroids — what was the process like? What exactly did the model have to endure for that shot?

First off, TEAM WINGER: (I think every one of these people had some input on the cover and presentation of the book) David Gale, editor; Navah Wolfe, editorial assistant. Lucy Ruth Cummins is responsible for the jacket design. The cover photography was done by Meredith Jenks. And, of course, Sam Bosma illustrated the back cover and did all the interior artwork as well.


As far as the model was concerned, yes, David Gale sent me some Polaroids of the kid, and I thought he looked like a perfect Ryan Dean West (the narrator of Winger). All I can say about the photo shoots was that, based on the pictures that were culled out due to what I like to think of as pure ballsyness (and I’m not going to say what they depicted), the cover kid had to do some things that we never before attempted in the history of book jacket production.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that shoot.

What’s your favorite part about the jacket design?

When I first saw the cover, I gasped and laughed out loud. I think David (and my agent, Michael Bourret) were both waiting quietly to see how I’d react to it. Maybe they were a little worried I’d have a how-the-hell-can-you-do-something-like-that-on-a-book-cover reaction. But I LOVE this cover. I especially like the hand-lettered blurbs that wrap around Ryan Dean’s face on the back, and how the spine is actually the school tie from Pine Mountain Academy (where most of Winger takes place).

You’ve published your books through different pub houses over the years, and have had some pretty great covers to say the least. How has the design process differed between publishers?

I really enjoy the process, but it is a bit different at every house. At Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), the Art Director Rich Deas hides in his art-cave for months toiling over the perfect representation of elements on the cover, and then — BAM! — he drops it on everyone. He’s never disappointed me. It seems that the process is a bit “bigger” and more collaborative at Simon and Schuster, and there’s an awful lot of square footage in that building dedicated to their art department. I’m also working on a novel (Grasshopper Jungle) for Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton (Penguin), and, naturally, I have “invented” my own cover for the book, but I’m sure Julie’s already come up with some things she’d like to see on that jacket.

Have you ever had a reader tell you that he/she picked up your book because of the cover art?

Definitely! I probably have heard that comment most of all coming from readers of The Marbury Lens. It has a cover that makes people want to pick up the book. No doubt in my mind that the cover for Winger is going to have the same effect.


You mention in your post about the cover that you liked how your MC, Ryan Dean, didn’t look like a YA Cover Boy. My favorite trope to call out in YA cover land has involved the Sad Girl in a Pretty Dress, which thankfully we’re seeing less and less of nowadays. How do you feel about the current standards for YA cover art — are there any covers out there that you see doing the YA sphere justice? Any other tropes that you feel need to be banished from jacket art forever?

Yes — I like the representation of Ryan Dean on the cover of Winger for the following reasons:

1. You can see his face

2. He does not look like an Abercrombie and Fitch model

3. He is fully clothed

4. He looks vulnerable and real — not some airheaded object of sexual fascination

Saying that probably effectively conveys some of the things I find tiresome and vacuous in many examples of YA cover art. Enough with showing teenagers from the midsection down — wearing 501s and Converse high tops! Teenagers actually have heads!


Andrew Smith with his copy of WINGER. If only I had the privilege of photographing every author on this blog with his or her book.

How does cover art speak to you as a reader and a writer? Is it important to you? Do you tend to overlook it?

This is probably the biggest weakness I see in e-books. You can’t hold on to the cover, and it’s a chore to go back and look at it, which is something I enjoy doing when I’m reading a book. Don’t get me wrong — I have lots of books on my iPad, and I appreciate the convenience of shopping for books and carrying a virtual library around with me, but there is no escaping the power and effectiveness of a great — REAL — book cover.

I’m the exact same way – I love reading a book and having those little aha! moments that make you flip back to the cover and search for correlations and clues.

What are some of your favorite covers?

Off the top of my head, here are four covers from recent titles that I absolutely LOVE:


1. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King. It is absolutely perfect.

2. Going Bovine by Libba Bray

3. Rotters by Daniel Kraus

4. The Raft by S.A. Bodeen. At the risk of embarrassing myself by using a word I never use, it’s a gorgeous cover.

Thank you so much for the interview, Andrew! Winger is in the top 3 of my 2013 reads list, and May can’t get here soon enough.

Bryan Williams