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  • Writer's pictureErin McMahon

Dead Cover Society

I've designed covers for hundreds of books over the years, and each one of the covers went through several rounds of concept, revision, concept, revision, concept, get it. I was recently scrolling through old photos on my phone when I came across these shots of covers comps I found in my desk in 2017 while packing for our move from Brooklyn to Philly. Most of these are from my last year working in the Young Adult Trade dept. at a major publishing house. I don't know what possessed me to take these photos on our living room floor, but here there are in all their glory. (Yes, that's a cowhide rug. We call her Bessie.).)


The last book I worked on before leaving my first publishing job for a new position. I don't remember much about this book. To be honest, I probably didn't read the whole thing, but clearly, it involved a surfer boy and took place in Venice Beach.

Final cover. Gets the job done.
Neon spot colors and matte black. Need I say more?
What teen girl wouldn't love this cover? ;)

The final cover is OK. Pretty generic, but has decent mass appeal. I think some of my other comps were a lot stronger, but I was on my way out and wasn't going to put up a fight. I'm bummed that I can't find the files for these comps. I would have liked to look at them closer.



This cover was challenging. I needed the cover to convey a story about three girls on a shoplifting spree, but make it cute! *Face palm*

The epitome of an early 2000's YA cover
Going to jail, but make it FASHION
This image has been filtered within an inch of its life.

After months of scouring photo sites for "cute girls stealing," it was clear working with stock photography wouldn't cut it, so it was decided a photoshoot was needed. Since the budget was basically zero, the author called in some favors and got a budding photographer to do a shoot for next to nothing. The photographer was 17, she had her friends model, they all styled themselves, and I wasn't able to be at the shoot to art direct. All of these factors seemed to spell dissaster. But the cover gods were shining on me with this one. The photos came in a little out of focus and scratched up. But, with the help of some filters and photoshop work, I was about to get them looking like an Instagram post. BOOM! Shoplifting, but cute.

*Fun Fact* This was turned into a Netflix series in 2019. Check it out!



It's been a while since I read this one, but I remember it had something to do with a girl losing her virginity. The final cover is still one of my favorite covers. The open lock was my tamed down version of a chastity belt. It's so simple, but there is a lot of detailing in the lock, and the teal color is so vibrant. I'm not sure where I was going with the cake. Maybe something about the main character's birthday? I think the bolt and screw option was pretty on the nose. Probably too much for a 12-year reader, though.

John Harwood created the 3D rendering of the lock. It's beautiful.
Apparently, cake was a major source of inspiration for the title.
Naughty, naughty!


I think this kid was in a band? I'm pretty sure the main character's journal/writing was central to the story. I do remember that the main character was a pain in the ass.

This one looked to "artsy" according to be people who when to art school.
Still my favorite. RIP teddy bear head guitar player. You were loved.
The addition of the guitar was not my call. I think this was overkill. It helped make the cover more juvenile, which is a good thing in this case.

I ultimately created a cover that looked like a beat-up old MEAD notebook. I actually beat the crap out of a note book cover and cut the letters for the title out by hand. I always loved it when I was able to physically make something for a cover.



I was pushing for the cassette tape cover, but I was told that "kids wouldn't get it." Personally, I think I was right on the mark with the retro vibe at the at the time but was overruled by the powers that be. I still think this was a missed opportunity. Shrug.

Don't you just want to stick a #2 pencil in this cover?!
Final hardcover version.
Final paperback version.

That was a fun walk down memory lane.

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