SPIN THE SKY Author Jill MacKenzie Reveals Her Book Cover Design Story

Go behind the scenes of the cover creation process with Jill MacKenzie!

On top of a great story, books also need a great look to help draw fans in. But as Jill MacKenzie, author of Spin The Sky, can tell you, getting a great cover isn’t as easy as you’d think. Jill’s sharing her journey so you can see what input some (and only some!) authors get on cover designs and what it’s like to tweak as you go.

Without further ado, here’s Jill’s story in her own words:

Most authors or soon-to-be authors know that when you write a book, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have any say in what the final product of said book will look like. It’s a known fact that, upon accepting a publishing contract, you sort of relinquish your rights to that book in a sense, too.

But it still doesn’t stop authors from dreaming about what their cover will look like. After all, (though I can’t speak for everyone here) authors see our books as movies inside our own heads. And those movies come with visual constructs of people, places, movement. Much like a baby growing from atoms and genes and chromosomes into something that lives, breathes, walks, and talks, books start with a character, a scene, a line, or a face and develop from that point of conception. So it’s only natural that authors would already have an image in their heads about what their books should look like visually.

I feel really blessed to have worked with a team like Sky Pony (an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing.) Not only did they want my input, they asked me to send them some current YA covers that I liked so that the designer, Georgia Morrissey, could get a feel for the kinds of covers that appealed to me. Since I’m the kind of girl who knows what I like and don’t like pretty instantly, that was easy for me. I didn’t want an illustration. Not that I don’t love illustrations on covers (I do—have you seen David Arnold’s new Kids of Appetite? The cover is stunning) but I didn’t see the cover for Spin the Sky in illustration form. I always saw some depiction of Magnolia. Dancing, putting on her shoes, backstage, something. It’s what I started with when the idea for this book started to really take shape—the image of Mags dancing and being on stage.

So I sent a bunch of covers, ones like P.S. I Love You by Jenny Han and The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguire. But then came the hard part. Now that they had a feel for previous covers that spoke to me, my wonderful editor at the time, Julie Matysik, then asked me to provide the Sky Pony team with something called a “mood board,” so Georgia could see the types of images I loved, paired with other feelings and color schemes that I felt represented Magnolia and her journey. Shameful admission here: I am terrible with computers. Not only did I not know what a mood board is, I didn’t have a clue on how to make one or where to begin.

So what does any YA writer who secretly/not-so-secretly thinks she’s still eighteen do when she hits the panic button? She calls her bestie. Luckily for me, my bestie, Amie Thomas, is a pretty kick-ass interior designer who does most of her work on the computer and designed my gorgeous and simple website for me. She totally knew what I was talking about with this whole mood board thing (and at this point, my mood could only be described as frazzled) pointed to a few companies that would do this for me pretty cheaply. Through that list, I found a one-man company called Niice (www.niice.co.) The owner, Chris, was so great about helping me one-on-on and taught me how to find images and load them onto a page and rearrange them to depict the pictures I wanted smaller and larger. So there. I knew how to make a mood board.

But it wasn’t as simple as making the mood board. I also had to figure out what sort of images I wanted to include on the mood board. Dancing photos, of course, but also photos that depicted my vision of Summerland, of clamming, of riding bikes in bare feet, of sisters, of loss, of love. I’ve also always been a big fan of contrasts. I love bright pops of color paired with black-and-white photography. So I just started googling images, using any key words I could think of. It wasn’t long before I had a full six pages worth of mood boards. From then, it was much like editing my own books; I had to trim and trim and trim until only the images left were ones that felt so right and so perfect, I couldn’t let go of them.

Here’s my mood board (thanks Chris! You rock!)


See the gif version here!

I sent my mood board to my editor on a Monday morning. I was nervous about it, wondering how she’d feel about what I’d put together. Pretty instantly, Julie responded with these words: I love it and I think it’s so perfect for your book! I was incredibly grateful for the support and pleased that her vision for the artwork was in line with my own. But I needed to wait again and see what the designer said. Luckily for me, she loved it too, and in only a few weeks went by before I had received my initial cover composition.

And everything about it was perfect. Everything, that is, save for the dancer. The dancer! Probably the most important facet of the entire novel, I knew the dancer—her feet, hands, posture—had to be perfect for anyone who actually danced to love my cover. In the picture I was sent, Magnolia was wearing shoes. Sneakers, actually. And her hair was too short. And worst of all…Magnolia herself was the wrong color.

At one point in Spin the Sky, I talk about how Magnolia doesn’t really know who her father is. But she has darker skin than Rose. This was important to me because I wanted to represent all the kids out there who really don’t know their heritage or their lineage. Magnolia doesn’t know why she looks the way she does; she only knows that her genes are something she can’t shake, no matter what. Even though her parent’s history isn’t her history, it’s part of her. It will always be part of her.

But the girl on my future cover was so obviously white.

Again, my Sky Pony team was amazing at rectifying all of my issues. They took it back to the drawing board and with it, my notes. They came back to me with a new dancer, one more representative of Magnolia the dancer, and Magnolia the daughter of a man she’s never met, of a mother who has, essentially, negatively impacted her life. In addition, they added some 3-D-ness to the title, which I’m totally in love with. And, really, there isn’t a single thing now I don’t adore about my cover. Sometimes I stare at it and actually can’t believe it’s mine. All of the time, I’m grateful to have worked with such beautiful, talent artists who not only felt the freedom to design a cover representative of my story, but also used my comments to turn it into the Spin the Sky it is today.


I just love it. Don’t you guys? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Spin The Sky is out today. Order it now via Amazon!


Magnolia Woodson wants nothing more than to get her and her sister, Rose, out of the pitifully small, clamming-obsessed Oregon town that hates them—she just doesn’t know how. Forced to put up with the snide comments and hateful looks the townspeople throw at them, Mags thinks she’s destined to pay for the horrible, awful thing her mom did—and that she’s left her and Rose to deal with—until the day she dies.

But when a nationwide televised dance competition posts tryouts in nearby Portland, Mags’s best friend, George, says they have to go and audition. Not only have they spent the past fourteen years of their lives dancing side-by-side, dreaming of a day just like this, but also it could be Mags’s chance of a lifetime—a chance to win the grand-prize money and get her and Rose out of Summerland, a chance to do the thing she loves most with everyone watching, a chance to show the town that she’s not—and has never been—a “no-good Woodson girl,” like her mother. But will the competition prove too steep? And will Mags be able to retain her friendship with George as they go head-to-head in tryouts? Mags will have to learn that following her dreams may mean changing her life forever.

About the Author:

jill mackenzieJill Mackenzie, a Vancouver native, is an ex-ballerina and contemporary dancer. Now working toward her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Jill chassés between roles as part-time student, full-time mom, and always-writer. Though Jill no longer studies dance, she still tries to dance herself clean whenever she can. Currently she lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she spends her free time beach-bound with her husband and two beautiful daughters.

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By Molly

Molly is a proud Canadian who is currently attending university in Scotland. She loves to read, write, watch films, and talk about Sarah J. Maas books. If not snuggled up with a book, Molly can usually be found tapping at the dance studio, or writing yet another essay.

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