Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A Novel Cover Up: Jane Griffiths on The Disappeared by C.J. Harper

A Novel Cover Up

A Novel Cover Up is a irregular feature that looks at how covers are made. Thanks to Simon and Schuster Children's Books, I have been fortunate enough to interview Children's Fiction Commissioning Editor Jane Griffiths about how the cover for The Disappeared by C.J. Harper. Other than the cover, all images in this post are used with permission, are not to be used reproduced, and can be clicked to enlarge.

The Disappeared by C.J. HarperCan you tell us about the cover for THE DISAPPEARED? What do you hope it tells readers about the story? How did you come up with the idea for the cover?

THE DISAPPEARED is a wonderfully rich and atmospheric dystopian thriller, and the
starting point of our cover discussion was to make sure that we created an image that was bold and striking enough to really stand out in the ever-growing dystopian genre. Everyone wanted to make sure we found something that felt different but would still appeal to fans of the genre, as well as be something that both boy and girl readers would want to pick-up because the book really does have universal appeal.

The story itself is about Jackson, a boy who is ripped from his privileged life by a twist of fate and abandoned in the harsh and brutal world of the Academy – society’s dumping ground for unwanted kids who are then “trained” to be factory workers. So, the idea for the cover spawned from the fact that these kids are the lost members of society who have ended up in the Academy for various reasons and are now hidden from view. This concept of “lost” kids made the designer (the very clever Nick Stearn) think about the walls of photos and posters that you see for missing people after devastating events like 9/11, moments where people can just disappear without a trace. Nick then started working with the idea of having lots of faces within a bigger image of some sort and, after going through a few ideas, we discussed using the photos to make a bigger face that would represent Jackson himself. Put all that together and you get our cover. I think it really works, both in terms of showing some of the elements of the story and creating an image that grabs you. Hopefully readers will agree!

The images of the children are competition entries as well as staff members of S&S, aren’t they? Can you tell us how that came about?

Yes, that’s right, all the smaller photos on the cover are either competition entries or S&Sers, and in fact C.J. Harper is on the cover too!

Because we were all so excited by the look of the cover when we saw the first mock-up, our marketing team suggested that we use the cover as part of the campaign for the book by getting readers involved and start building a buzz. So, they posted a competition on our Facebook and Twitter feeds asking for people to send us their photo to use on the cover. We had a brilliant response with entries coming from far and wide, and even as far afield as Australia and the US! Then we sent out a call to action in the S&S offices and got staff involved too – which not only makes the cover feel unique, but it’s also been entertaining seeing what everyone looked like when they were younger! Here’s the image of just the small photos, so you can see what it looks like without the bigger face.

The Disappeared early draft

What do you like most about this cover?

I really like the fact that when you first look at the cover you’re pulled in by the strong central image of the boy’s face, but then, as you look closer, you start to see all the other photos that create the image. I think this reflects the story brilliantly, as it’s only when all the kids start working together that they create a big enough whole to be able to change the world around them.

(Oh, and of course, I like the fact that I can now say that I’m on the cover of one of our books!)

Were there any other early ideas for the cover? Why didn’t they make it?

The design process on any book cover always involves various stages and this one was no different. Initially we looked at film and TV posters as well as competition covers to start the ball rolling with ideas, and came up with some mock-ups that just didn’t really work.

One thought we had was to convey the claustrophobic and bleak nature of the book by showing the cell-type feeding chambers that the kids use, but it felt a bit too static. You can see a really rough image of this here.

The Disappeared early draft
Work in progress. Designer’s concept visual. Not to be reproduced. Imagery © Shutterstock 2013.

Then, when Nick came up with the idea of the faces within an image he also worked up something based on a wire fence but this felt a bit dated and didn’t convey the thriller aspect of the novel that well either.

The Disappeared early draft
Work in progress. Designer’s concept visual. Not to be reproduced.

There were various other stages too, but as soon as we all saw the image of the boy’s face, it felt like the perfect fit for the book.

What are you thinking for the sequels in THE DISAPPEARED series? Is there a theme? Have you started working on them yet?

When we’re creating the cover for the first book in a series we always discuss how the concept will work on future titles, as you can have a great look but then not be able to find a way to translate that over more than one book. There are two more books in THE DISAPPEARED series, the next being THE WILDERNESS, and we do have a plan of how we’re going to make sure all three work together – but you’ll have to wait and see what we come up with!

Thank you, Jane, for such a great interview! The Disappeared has such a fantastic cover, and it's great to hear how the idea for all the small photos came about! Be sure to check out The Disappeared by C.J. Harper when it’s released on !

Enjoyed this post? Then check out the previous A Novel Cover Up posts.


  1. JO! I LOVE this feature SO much, and this is such a wonderful interview. I love the idea that the photos are actual readers and members of the S&S staff. SO cool ♥

    1. I know, it's so cool that they've actually used people who would be interested, rather than just stock images. Brilliant!

      I'm so glad you like A Novel Cover Up! :)

  2. I really enjoy these posts! And I love seeing the different stages of the cover art. Love the final cover and the inclusion of actual readers faces :)

    1. I'm so glad you do! It really is cool they used readers faces, it's just awesome! :)

      So glad you enjoy the feature! :)