Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2015

by Diana Sousa

I’ve been wanting to do a post like this for a while, mostly so I remember to keep an eye out for these books. But I also think that this is a good way to find out about books you might not have known about, specially if you have common interests with the person writing said post.

So please, if you know about a book I haven’t put here which you think I might like, throw it at me!

(I also did a bit of code magic – if you hover the image you’ll see information about the book, and you can click the image and it will take you to its Goodreads page! [Unless you are using older versions of Internet Explorer… but why would you do that?])

Here they are! I’m sure I’ve forgotten some and I’ll still discover other amazing ones. But for now it’s shaping up to be an interesting year in terms of books.

And you? Tell me about the books you can’t wait to read!

Behind the Cover – Patrick Insole
(The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCoverThis week we’re joined by Patrick Insole, designer and art director for Headline Publishing Group. He was responsible for making the UK cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, published by Headline.

Twitter | Headline Blog

How did you become a designer? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

I originally trained as an illustrator and, for a long time after graduating, that continued to be my ambition – I certainly never set out to become a book designer. My first job out of college, drawing and designing 3 dimensional maps, was really just a way to provide a regular income while I got my intended illustration career up and running.

My first job in book publishing, as a junior designer at Walker Books, was little different – despite loving books and reading, at the time I didn’t really consider it as a long term career option. Once there, though, I quickly fell in love with designing books – it marries the skills of an illustrator with those of a designer in a way that felt natural, and working alongside such talented and passionately creative people, not just other designers but everyone involved in the publishing process, I learnt such a lot, as I continue to today.

How was the process of developing the cover for such a genre defying book? Was there a clear goal in mind?

It’s actually really refreshing to work on something that is so difficult to categorise – so many of the covers we work on have, to some degree, to conform to the conventions of the book’s genre. The cover for Ocean At The End Of The Lane was very much a blank canvas, and a very open brief. That can be quite scary for a designer, and certainly at the outset there was some anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to come up with any ideas, but reading the manuscript, the book is so rich in imagery I needn’t have worried. As with many of Neil’s books, though rooted in reality, magic permeates through the story and I knew I wanted to make a cover that somehow combined this sense of the strange with the everyday, the difficulty being how to portray these contradictory qualities without giving too much away, or being too descriptive.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Neil Gaiman, any ideas or suggestions?

Neil has a very open-minded approach to his covers – allowing us pretty much free reign to explore ideas and to see what we come up with. Once we’d got some ideas that we liked we sent them through to Neil and between us we pretty quickly settled on a version of the final cover. From there it was just a case of refining the details.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

We actually got to the final cover quite quickly – there were a few other ideas that we tried (see below) but quite early on in the process I stumbled across the image of the diving boy taken by the very talented photographer Hengki Koentjoro, which I felt worked perfectly – dark and mysterious with a suggestion of travelling from one world to another.

Ocean_roughs_Page_1   Ocean_roughs_Page_2

Ocean_roughs_Page_3   Ocean_roughs_Page_4

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer have free reign?

It should be, and usually is, a very collaborative process. I work as part of a team of in house designers working for the publisher, so every cover we work on there’s a constant dialogue, sharing ideas between ourselves, the author, editor as well as the sales and marketing teams, so whilst ultimately the publisher and author have the final say, usually what we end up with is something that we’ve agreed on collectively.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this book cover, interesting facts you’d like to share?

It was actually an unusually straightforward process in the end – the expectation, when working on covers for such high profile authors, is always that it’s going to take longer and be a more difficult process, but sometimes as in this case, an idea can stick surprisingly quickly. For me, though, this was a very special project to work on. Neil has always been one of my favourite authors, so having the opportunity to design a cover for his latest novel was, though daunting at first, a real privilege and an ambition fulfilled.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

That’s a tough one! So many great covers, that I like for so many different reasons.

I love covers by Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand’s classic American designs for books like Kafka’s Amerika and Nicholas Monseratt’s Leave Cancelled (respectively) – such clean and simple designs that feel as fresh now as when they were first published in the 1940s. In the same tradition, though much more recent, Jon Gray’s cover for Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is also one of my favourites.


Thank you Patrick for your time!

If you want to know more about Patrick’s work, you can follow him on Twitter! I hope you liked this interview, and here are some other examples of his book cover design.


Behind the Cover – Jon Smith
(The End Games, by T. Michael Martin)

by Diana Sousa


Today’s artist, Jon Smith, is the illustrator of The End Games by T. Michael Martin, published by HarperCollins. Thank you for your time, Jon!

Twitter | Facebook

How did you become a designer and illustrator? Were they areas you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

As a kid I was really serious about illustrating comic books. I think I was 13 or 14 when i started doing full 10″x15″ comic book pages and taking them to comic book conventions to get critiqued by my favorite artists. It was a fun and enriching exercise because at that time (and it probably hasn’t changed too much now) the only way to make it in comics was to submit samples to publishers and get rejected over and over and get brutally critiqued by artists who have made it because there’s a standard you have to reach to actually get work and they’re not shy about letting you know.

I don’t care how bad it is or how bad I am I just want to know where I stand, y’know?

But anyway everything turned on a dime when I committed to the Art Institute of Seattle out of high school. There’s nothing wrong with the school I just didn’t know what I was getting into. I told them I wanted to be an Illustrator, they told me Graphic Design was the program that fit me best…I didn’t really kow what that was but in my mind there would be bad ass Illustrators teaching me in this school, sharpening my already amazing talent :)

But the reality is, it’s a for profit school that makes money based on placement rates. They get people into their school by showing prospective students and parents thereof the numbers – if you enroll in program X there’s a 75% chance you’ll get a job in that field… whatever the percentage is.

The problem with Illustration is you HAVE to be good to get a job when you graduate, which kills the whole placement rate thing. They can’t make you talented, BUT you can teach people how to use Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Indesign yada yada and they should find a job somewhere. So when I started they were phasing the Illustration program out which is why they funneled me into Graphic Design.

When I realized this I wanted to quit but the contract my parents signed for payment (which was a lot!) was irrevocable so it was pretty frustrating, but by the end I started to figure out what design was and how I can fit within it… but I wasn’t really ready to get a real job, I never even applied for an internship anywhere which is weird but I was young and dumb so I fell into doing concert posters randomly which I guess makes sense because it’s not unlike the comic book scene. You throw yourself into it and if you’re good you stick.

How did you get involved with this cover? Did HarperCollins contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

They saw my posters on and contacted me. They were looking for someone to incorporate the type as the main design element. I believe this Eric Church poster is the poster they referenced, and I think Fitz & The Tantrums.

(click on the images to make them bigger)


How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

I just kept throwing (ugly) comps at them with clever usage of type as the main element of the illustration until one stuck. I hate making comps because my stuff doesn’t make any sense or look right until it’s fully fleshed out. It was a fun process though, I love the work and my art director at HC is the best. We have a lot of fun in the Email exchange.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with T. Michael Martin, any ideas or suggestions?

T. Mike (I’m sure I’m the only one who calls him that) wasn’t directly involved, which is good. Having channels is good for the process because there’s the publishing/sales side and then there’s the author and the editor. So I submit comps and whatnot and then wait for the feedback after HC/sales and T. Mike and his editor have talked it over. That process repeats until everyone’s happy.

On the next book with T. Mike I went rogue and contacted him without telling anyone, which can be dangerous in that it can complicate things but I was mostly just asking about particular details of the story. I wanted to make sure I understood and whatnot and I think we both respected the fact that too much back and forth could gum up the process.

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator (and in some small ways, the writer) have free reign?

The book is a product, at the end of the day, and the publisher is the seller of that product so they have to get what they need so I’d say they have the strongest hand in the stirring of this creative stew. But HC, in my experience, has been good at balancing their needs with the authors needs.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this illustration, interesting facts you’d like to share?

I think it does a good job of including a lot of aspects in one image, the brothers, the dark creepy backwoods, the mountains and the zombies. I think it works for the most part, blending the photorealistic elements (the boys in the foreground and the mountains in the background) with the stark silhouette graphic of the trees but in a way the detailed illustration of the brothers goes against the grain of how “designy” the other 90% of the cover is. I guess it just leaves a little bit less to the imagination…but that’s nit picky, they are small and you can’t see their faces or anything.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. Going back to the comic book thing that was my strongest influence as a kid, that Scholastic pamphlet that would come to school with just the cover images and brief description of new books always made me drool. I ordered books based on the covers alone… mostly Goosebumps and Calvin and Hobbes as I recall.

And the covers of movies and video games at the video store as well.. and as an adult of course posters have pretty much consumed my creative life. I’m bad at picking favorites but I’d have to say the stuff I like best is all the old pulp/scifi/noir stuff from the 50’s and 60’s. From the amazing painted stuff to the clever minimalist design, all very very fun.


Thank you Jon for these amazing answers!

I do agree that college/university can teach you the basics and how to work with certain software, but teaching you how to be good is very hard. That you have to learn mostly by yourself, because it only comes with hard work and dedication.

You can see more of Jon’s work on his portfolio and GigPosters website.


Behind the Cover – Alexandre Chaudret
(The Iron Trials, by Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare)

by Diana Sousa


Our next artist, Alexandre Chaudret, is the illustrator behind the cover of The Iron Trials, written by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, published by Scholastic. Thank you Alexandre for answering these questions!

TwitterDeviantArt | Behance

Based in France, Alexandre graduated from Supinfocom, Valenciennes, in 2011 as a GC Artist. Since then he worked as a freelance illustrator for several companies, designing characters, illustrating board games and trading card games, and, as in this case, book covers. He currently also works for Spiders Games in Paris, France.


How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

Since I was a kid, I always loved to draw. In fact, I always liked to tell stories, so I learned to draw them. Then to paint them. Finally, when I chose to do art for a living, I studied fine arts and traditional arts, before going in a 3D CG School (Supinfocom, France) where I graduated as a 3D Director. Since then, I worked in the video games industry, as a Cinematic Director and Concept Artist. Finally, I also have a freelance activity: that’s where I do illustrations and character design, as well as book covers, and role playing games or miniature figurines.

I can’t say if  was “driven by destiny” to become an illustrator, but let’s say it was close to fate!

How did you get involved with this cover? Did Scholastic contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

I was contacted directly by Scholastic. They had discovered my work on one of my websites, Behance, if I recall well. It was a great surprise, and I got involved in the project quickly. I think they wanted a kind of “concept art” approach for the cover, and my double activity may have been an advantage in the process.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

I was given a lot a liberty in the sketch phase, which I always do in black & white values, just to get the composition right. I think my main focus was on the Enemy, because it was a very cool figure from the book. Once the sketch is accepted, it is just a long journey until it  gets finished, from first colours to final details. I always had a great liberty on the piece, through each step of the process.

How were the authors involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, any ideas or suggestions?

I was not in direct contact with the authors, but of course, they were fully involved in the process. Each step had their validation. It is their baby. I had absolutely to get the right idea of their story, characters and mood.

I am just a “hand that paints”. They are the genesis mastermind!

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator (and in some small ways, the writer) have free reign?

From my personal point of view, and my way of working, that is not the case. These kinds of projects are a team work. Everyone is involved, every one is important and has their responsibility. Of course, I am paid for this work, so my first goal is to please my client, editor and author as well.

In fact, I don’t really mind about “who has the final word”. I just want the project to be the best possible and please everyone. And I guess everyone I’m working with has the same vision. Anyway, I hope so!

The fonts are also particularly evocative. What can you tell us about those (names, reason you chose them, anything you’d like to mention)?

Ha ha, well you will have to congratulate the artist who did those beautifull letters. It is not mine! As I said before: everything is a matter of confidence. I was fully confident in the artist of the typography, and he did a great job.

(Alexandre doesn’t know the name of the typography artist, they worked independently)

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this illustration, interesting facts you’d like to share?

As I said, I am more often asked for concept art and character designs than for full cover illustrations. So this was already a new experience. I really enjoyed it, taking time to get a really cool image done with all the details and stuff.

I don’t have a lot of fun facts about the process and all, but in the early sketches, I had done a “iron skull” mask for the Enemy. I guess we can’t change a guy painting skeletons and undead warriors all in one try, haha.

Will you be involved with the covers of the sequels? If so, are you allowed to share a sneak peek?

I don’t know if the second volume has been announced yet. But I think you should keep in touch ;)

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

That’s a hard question…

I’ll just check the books I can find on my desk. Well, near to me are some mangas, and especially one serie I find absolutely extraordinary: Berserk, by Kentaro Miura. The author usually paints beautiful oil paintings for the covers, absolutely incredible.

Oh, all the Hellboy comic books by Mignola are absolutely gorgeous too.


Merci, Alexandre, for your time!

If you liked this interview and want to see more of Alexandre’s work, you can check it out on his website!


End of Year Book Survey 2014

by Diana Sousa


I found this fun survey by Perpetual Page-Turner that I thought would be interesting to do! Feel free to do it too and link it to me, or comment with your own favourite books!

2014 Reading Stats

Number of books you’ve read: 40

Genre you read the most from: Science Fiction (category would be YA)

Best in Books

1. Best Book You Read In 2014?

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (in a disappointing way)

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?

The Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan

5. Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

– The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer

– Shadowplay, by Laura Lam

– Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #6, by evil heart breaker Zack Whedon

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

Marissa Meyer

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

The Diviners, by Libba Bray

9. Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I don’t usually reread, I have a very good memory and would rather read new things. But perhaps Serenity: Leaves on the Wind.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?


11. Most memorable character of 2014?

Amy Dunne from Gone Girl

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

Pantomime, by Laura Lam

13. Most Thought-Provoking / Life-Changing Book of 2014?

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?

The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

“She got on with her education. In her opinion, school kept trying to interfere with it.”
– Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)”
– Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2014?

– The Diviners, by Libba Bray – 583 pages

– Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett – 283 pages

– The Fisherman’s Net, by Laura Lam – 20 pages (short story)

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (even though I guessed the plot twist!)

18. OTP of the year

(Can I say Zoe and Wash even though one of them is… you know… dead?)

– Micah and Drystan (Micah Grey series)

– Thorne and Cress (The Lunar Chronicles)

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

– Rocket Raccoon and Groot (comics)

– Thorne and Iko (The Lunar Chronicles)

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett

21. Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure.

I don’t usually read anything based solely on peer pressure or recommendations. At least I didn’t this year.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?

Huh… no one.

23. Best 2014 debut you read?

I haven’t read any 2014 debut, I know, shame on me! I’ve bought a few, but haven’t gotten to them yet.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

New York City in the 20s in The Diviners by Libba Bray.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Rocket Raccoon, by Skottie Young

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

…Serenity: Leaves on the Wind. Are you noticing a certain theme by now?

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

Rocket Raccoon #5 (90% of the dialogue is “I am Groot”)

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (ugh ugh ugh)

Looking Ahead

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2014 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2015?

– Jackaby, by William Ritter

– The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2015 (non-debut)?

Winter, by Marissa Meyer

3. 2015 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

None of the Above, by I. W. Gregorio

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2015?

The Shadow Cabinet, by Maureen Johnson

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading Life In 2015?

Read a lot more books than I did this year.

6. A 2015 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone.

None, unfortunately!

(Actually… there is one, but I can’t tell you about it! Secrets secrets!)

Behind the Cover – Nathalia Suellen
(Splintered by A. G. Howard, and One by Leigh Ann Kopans)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCoverToday’s artist is Nathalia Suellen, creator of the covers for the Splintered series by A. G. Howard, by Amulet Books, as well as the One Universe series by Leigh Ann Kopans, self published.

Twitter | Facebook | DeviantArt | Instagram

Nathália Suellen is an independent artist and commercial illustrator based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Entirely self-taught, Suellen’s signature style incorporates female in surroundings of a twisted and disturbing world characterized by the use of dark elements, pop-surrealism, haunting sceneries and otherworldly creatures done through a mixture of photography, 3D, and digital painting.

How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

I think a better question would be how did I become a professional illustrator because that was a thing that simply happened. Before working for clients I worked for myself, art is part of my life, as a way of expressing myself when I cannot express with words.


How did you get involved with these covers? Did Amulet Books contact you directly, or did they already know your work? 

They contacted me through email and we started discussing about the series. I became interested immediately.

How was the process of developing these covers? Was there a clear goal in mind?

I knew roughly about the story through the art director and, of course, I had some requirements to comply but nothing too specific. I remember starting the first sketches thinking in three essential things: bugs, strangeness, and eye-catching colors.

The very first Splintered sketch was a full body Alice with gothic clothes, striped socks, windy hair and a scenery full of bones, mirrors and bugs around (the model was insanely beautiful too). We spent a month or so in this first idea but things got too nice and serious that they decided to move the whole idea for a close up Alice, which I think now was one of the most important things for achieving this “special” thing, it somehow turned the cover more powerful and movie-like.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with A. G. Howard, any ideas or suggestions?

I had no direct contact with the author just with the company. But of course Anita’s opinion was essential and taken in account for every single change done, she was behind everything. But there are other parts involved too, including the art director, marketing department, sales and so forth.  I think my job is to please them all.

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator (and in some small ways, the writer) have free reign?

As I said before, there are many departments involved, there are important things for a publisher that it’s not quite clear for the artist in the first instance. The model we chose, for example, needs to be “the one” and even though we think we have found the right model, sometimes the sales/marketing think its too old or too young. I don’t think there’s a final say, we work as a group with different views and purposes and every opinion is important, many things are taken in consideration for a cover.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about these illustrations, interesting facts you’d like to share?

I could feel the public waiting Morpheus and Jeb’s cover. They were really crazy for the cover reveal. Everyone was really excited for the next books and was somehow a big responsibility to me. I mean, I was the one who had to find the right Jeb and the right Morpheus and turn the whole story into existence. That was an incredible feeling.


How does it work when it’s the author themselves contacting you, and not the publisher?

Same thing but more informal.  It’s only you and the author and it’s faster.  Perhaps the big difference is you are more free to try unusual things. If the author said yes, you just go ahead.

How was the process of developing these covers? Was there a clear goal in mind?

No specific goal, I think… but it was clear the main characters were able to fly. So I just had to do something with that. Later we decided to play with something related to DNA and from this came the DNA wings.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about these covers, interesting facts you’d like to share?

I don’t think there’s nothing particularly different but was nice the idea of connecting both covers through their wings. I like to do that.

From your experience, is it better/worse/or any different working with the author directly, instead of having a publisher as an intermediary?

There’re good things in both cases. Not better or worse. I like to make art so it’s always a pleasure to work for someone. It’s good to work for a group and see your art around the world but its also good to work for a single person and challenge yourself, try different things and see a book grow. There’s advantages in both experiences.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

I like Cinder cover art really much. Simple and elegant.


Leigh Ann Kopans has some words to say about her covers!

My goal was to publish a book that was indistinguishable to my readers from any novel from a Big Five publisher. Your book’s cover is one of the most important things for making sure it reaches the maximum amount of readers. I know we say that people shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but that’s ridiculous. Your book’s cover is the outward representation of what’s inside. If you didn’t invest creativity, care, and professionalism into your cover’s design, how do you expect your readers to think you did anything differently with the words and story inside?

I just can’t shut up about how extremely, incredibly, unregrettably DELIGHTED I am that I had complete control, both inspiration and veto-power wise, over this cover. And if I wasn’t self publishing, I most likely would not have had the fine-tuning control over this most important of book aspects that I had. Basically, this cover business is one of the things that most makes me love, love, LOVE my decision to self-publish ONE. And a HUGE “thank you” is due to Nathalia, for being so patient with me through the whole process, and, of course, creating a GENIUS cover. Genius genius.

I’m still getting comments on how gorgeous the cover is. And I think it went a long way toward making ONE’s release as successful as it was.

(You can read more about the process here)

Obrigada Nathalia for your time, and thank you Leigh Ann for your thoughts!

I hope you liked this interview, and if you want to see more of Nathalia’s amazing work, you can check out her website. Here’s a preview of what you can find there.


Behind the Cover – Tom Bagshaw
(Pantomime and Shadowplay by Laura Lam)

by Diana Sousa


Our first artist is Tom Bagshaw, the creator of the Pantomime and Shadowplay covers, written by Laura Lam and published by Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot). Thank you, Tom, for joining us!

Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram

Based in the Georgian city of Bath, England, Tom Bagshaw works as a commercial illustrator under the moniker Mostlywanted. For his personal work he has developed a highly rendered digital painting style through which he explores themes of fantasy, beauty and mysticism. While his work deals with imaginative content, it also aims for a strong level of realism in its presentation. Feminine beauty and portraiture play a large role in his work, but the women he depicts are never frail damsels in distress. More often than not they are strong, intriguing characters, with an air of mystery to them.


How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

I had always wanted to do something creative and set out with an idea of becoming an illustrator or fine artist. What I’ve done has changed over the years, but I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve done.

How did you get involved with these covers for the Micah Grey series? Did Strange Chemistry contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

I was contacted via my illustration agency (Central Illustration Agency) – they had been approached by the publishers and were interested in working with me on the covers.

How was the process of developing the covers, and was there a clear goal in mind?

The publishers had a strong idea of what they wanted me to do and fortunately it was something I could really go with – sometimes it really doesn’t happen that way!

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Laura Lam, any ideas or suggestions?

After a rough version was sent to the publishers for feedback I had some little changes to do which were things that Laura wanted to add in (things that were more relevant to the story).

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator have free reign?

It really does depend on the job – some publishers are incredibly specific and will be completely inflexible making you do a piece that isn’t your best. Others are wonderful and allow free reign with a little direction – but those with no clear direction are actually some of the worst to deal with, all they can tell you is what they “don’t” like. That’s not good direction.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about these illustrations, interesting facts you’d like to share?

Because of how well the publishers and author were able to communicate and give clear direction these were the most hassle free and enjoyable book cover commissions I’ve had!

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

I don’t really have any one book that is a favourite but since my youth I was always very fond of Josh Kirby’s work for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.


Laura Lam is also here to give us her opinion on these amazing covers!

I love Tom Bagshaw’s work and feel he did such a wonderful job representing Pantomime & Shadowplay. I wasn’t involved in Pantomime’s initial brief, but when I saw the image I found it very striking.

I came up with the concept for Shadowplay and was delighted when it went through. I suggested some details to have it fit the story better on both covers, which Tom integrated really well. For instance, the mask on Pantomime initially has a lion, but it changed to a dragonfly. I doodled some crude designs for Cyan’s forehead markings on Shadowplay and he took them and made them beautiful. Love these covers.

Thank you to both Tom Bagshaw and Laura Lam. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and until the next one I’ll leave you with more work by Tom. You can see more amazing pieces such as these ones on Tom’s website.


Behind the Cover – New Blog Series

by Diana Sousa


As some of you might know, besides being a writer I’m also a designer and aspiring illustrator. In a way to unite all those interests, I wanted to start a new blog series about book covers and illustrations, where I’d interview the artists behind some of the covers I love and admire.

And so, I’m announcing Behind the Cover! I’ve been talking with some talented designers and illustrators to bring you interviews about the process of creating a book cover – how do publishers contact them, how much the author is involved, how their creative process is, things of the sort! Some great minds have agreed to answer my questions, and I can only thank them for that.

On the following weeks (and for as long as I can) I’ll be posting these interviews, and they’ll be posted 5-7 days apart from each other. Please feel free to suggest covers you like (and the name of the designer if you know it!) and I’ll try to add them to the series! Hopefully this will be something helpful to writers and designers alike.

The first interview will be posted very soon, and it will be with the amazing Tom Bagshaw, about the covers of Pantomime and Shadowplay by Laura Lam. See you then!

#PitMad Pitch Critique

by Diana Sousa

#PitMad is quickly approaching (December 4), and since this year I won’t be participating I thought I could help instead – by critiquing your pitches!

#PitMad is a pitch party created by Brenda Drake where writers can tweet a 140 character pitch for their completed manuscripts. You should have different variations of your pitch so you can show different aspects of your book, and make it more interesting. And remember, don’t spam the feed! Once every hour should be enough for agents to read it.

Please remember that although I have some experience with contests of this sort and I’m a literary intern, I’m not actually a professional editor. A lot of great people can help you for a small fee if you want a professional critique, you can find many of them on the Twitter feed for the contest.

Here are two great posts about twitter pitches: one by Diana Urban, another by agent Carly Watters. Those and Brenda Drake’s page should give you an idea of what you should be aiming towards. Your pitch should have your age category and genre, plus the hashtag, all of it counts towards the 140 characters.

And now here’s the giveaway: I’ll be using Rafflecopter so it’s easier to organize everything, and I’ll be giving away 5 critiques (I might offer more if there’s a lot of requests)! This will run until the 30th of November, and then I’ll contact you and help you with your pitches.

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Word Counts in Large Amounts

by Diana Sousa
Paper Crane by ADrawer4ever

My latest worries (which my inner editor keeps taunting me about at the worst times) are about word count. Is this chapter too short? Are things happening too soon? Should I add more random words here? Can I even write a long book, or is that impossible for me?

So I started to do a bit of research, which I think might be worth sharing. I’ve seen a lot of questions about word counts, and if this can help even just one person I’ll be glad. Even if that person is me. Because I really shouldn’t be worried about this.

Some great people have said it better than I ever could here and here. But I wanted some FACTS. Facts are good to calm silly brains. This will focus mostly on YA since that’s what I write, but I can update it with other categories if anyone wants.

So, according to those links YA books should be around 55k to 75k words. If you are writing science-fiction or fantasy, this could go a bit higher (85k, perhaps even 90k); but anything higher than 100k and you might raise some red flags. These are safe numbers for debut authors, but there are always exceptions. Lately I’ve seen higher word counts even when it’s the writer’s first published book. If you’re an established writer, or if you’re writing sequels, more often than not you’re allowed to disregard this.

And now some shiny numbers:

Debut Authors/Books:

– Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan – 51,8k (Contemporary)
– Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher – 62,5k (Contemporary)
– Mexican WhiteBoy, by Matt de la Pena – 65,7k (Sports)
– Ash, by Malinda Lo – 67k (Fantasy)
– Jackaby, by William Ritter – 67,2k (Historical Paranormal)
– Looking for Alaska, by John Green – 69k (Contemporary)
– The Key to the Golden Firebird, by Maureen Johnson – 70k (Contemporary)
– Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo – 81k (Fantasy)
– Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins – 81,1k (Contemporary)
– Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis – 86,7k (Fantasy)
– Cinder, by Marissa Meyer – 86,7k (Science Fiction)
– A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray – 95,6k (Paranormal)
– Pantomime, by Laura Lam – 100,5k (Fantasy)
– Divergent, by Veronica Roth – 105k (Science Fiction)
– The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern – 121k (Fantasy)

Average – 75k

Science Fiction / Fantasy average – 93k

Authors with previous books:

– 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson – 63k (Contemporary)
– Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Saenz – 65,5k (Contemporary)
– The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green – 65,7k (Contemporary)
– Every Day, by David Levithan – 74,6k (Magical Realism)
– Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins – 78,5k (Contemporary)
– Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones – 75,4k (Fantasy)
– Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater – 91,7k (Fantasy)
– The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson – 92k (Paranormal)
– Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein – 92,2k (Historical)
– Adaptation, by Malinda Lo – 94,7k (Science Fiction)
– Shadowplay, by Laura Lam – 99,5k (Fantasy)
– We Were Here, by Matt de la Pena – 105k (Contemporary)
– The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey – 117k (Science Fiction)
– Cress, by Marissa Meyer – 138,2k (Science Fiction)
– The Diviners, by Libba Bray – 157k (Paranormal)

Average – 94k

Science Fiction / Fantasy average – 108k

Conclusion: Too many numbers, and I don’t know what I’m doing.

No, actually, as everyone can see YA has a lot of flexibility towards word count, but it tends to be higher rather than lower. There are always exceptions, of course (“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart is 50k, “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman is 49,6k, “Artemis Fowl”, by Eoin Colfer is 56,7k) but it seems these days books tend to be longer.

I knew I wasn’t going to reach a proper conclusion with this, I just wanted to analyze some numbers and see if that would help me have less questions. And it did. It seems I should be aiming a bit higher with my word count, since I write mostly fantasy and science-fiction. Try and be the rule instead of the exception kind of thing.

But what I should be doing, actually, is writing. If I don’t get the writing done, I won’t have any word count to worry about. At least now I have some answers, and I know I can get there. Agents and editors are also excellent people that can help you raise that word count if that’s needed, and beta readers will also tell you if the book needs to be longer or not. What’s important is the story, and the pace it needs, not what is expected as a general rule.

So I should focus on that, on putting the words on paper. Stop worrying so much. Stop using these worries as a way to procrastinate (ahah, as if *cough*). Get the story out, worry about the rest later.

So I’m going to do that now. I’ll see you when my next worry comes along ;)