Cover Design

Behind The Design Of It's Not Like It's A Secret!

It’s no secret that Misa Sugiura’s charming new book will steal your heart, and the proof is right on the cover! IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET is the sweet and romantic story about Sana, a Japanese-American girl who moves from a small town to California and starts crushing on Jamie Ramirez, a beautiful and smart girl unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. Check out Sana & Jamie getting cozy on the front cover:



How cute are they!! And that quote on the back? C’mon, who hasn’t had those thoughts running through their mind once or twice, or a thousand times! Read this adorable excerpt to learn more about Sana & Jamie!

The cover art was created by Grace Lee, a freelance illustrator based in Tokyo!  Check out the Q&A with Grace below to find out how this cover evolved and how author Misa Sugiura reacted to seeing the characters in her first book come to life!


How did the cover evolve from your earliest concepts/sketches to the final product? What led you the colors, themes, and details in the cover?


Grace: I was lucky in that the characters Sarah (HaperCollins designer) wanted me to draw where in the style I was already doing that the time, (‘little people’ in daily life, most times faceless). Originally, we had planned on having all the kids spread over the front and back cover. But we somehow ended up with just Sana and Jamie on the front, which works perfectly. Having the girls sitting ‘on’ the title was a lovely way to tie in text and image.



Are there any details in your illustration that you worked hard to get right, or that others may not see at first? What did you find most challenging about working on this cover?


Grace: This is a great question! Overall, I didn’t have too many issues, but there was one small (but important) part that I had to work on—trying to create a bit of tension between Sana and Jamie without anything too obvious like kissing or hand-holding. Then also trying to make Jamie ‘look’ at Sana, especially when there were no faces to work with! Originally, I think the girls were sitting together but not really interacting, Sarah thought it would be a great idea to have one of the girls holding a book of poems with Jamie sort of sneaking a look at Sana. We both worked on trying to get Jamie’s face to sit in just the right position to achieve this. It took several attempts, but I’m hoping that readers think we nailed it! I love that it was a collaborative effort and that the vision we set out to create, was done so smoothly and with such a great team, and of course I love that we had the opportunity to work with such a beautiful story!



Did anything in IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET especially resonate with you?


Grace: I actually really loved the mother character. There was something really familiar about her way of thinking that reminded me of my own upbringing but also now living in Japan, made me empathize with her character. It’s hard to understand parents when you’re young, but as adults you can see that they really only did what they knew how to do, and always in the best way they could. No one is perfect!

And it’s important that these books exist. For me in particular, I came from a migrant family background where we didn’t really talk about young adult issues, and definitely not about love, puberty, feminism, or politics.. to be honest I learnt a lot from Degrassi Junior High!


And here are Misa’s thoughts on her book cover:


“I remember seeing the cover comp for the first time and falling in love with Sana and Jamie on the front. I was also excited to see the diverse groups of friends on the back cover. That diversity is one of things that I love about living and working in Silicon Valley, so it’s so cool and meaningful to me that it’s on the cover for everyone to see.

Another thing I’m really happy about is the fact that Grace, like me and like Sana, is the daughter of Asian immigrants. And she’s living in Japan! It’s just so cool to have a cover artist who has shared some of my experiences, and who has that extra level of connection to the story and the characters.

I feel so lucky to have been included in the design process, and I loved watching it happen. I didn’t have much in the way of suggestions along the way, but I did ask for two things. The first was that the palm tree in the first version of the back cover be replaced with either a redwood tree or something deciduous. To me, palm trees say Southern California rather than Silicon Valley, and to a Californian, that’s a very important distinction! The second request was that the picture of Sana and Jamie on the first cover tell a more specific story. Jen (my editor) and team at Harper suggested the notebook idea, and Grace delivered beautifully, as you can see.

I didn’t get to see the earliest versions with the brighter colors and the groups of kids scattered around—it’s fun now to see them, and to look at the subtler differences toward the end, like the lettering and the way that Sana and Jamie are posed. I love how closely it resembles revising a manuscript, going from the bigger, easy-to-notice aspects to refining details that aren’t as easy to see but are still important. I couldn’t be happier with the final result!”

What do you think of the cover for IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET? Tell us in the comments below! 

Next up: Read an Exclusive Excerpt Of It’s Not Like It’s A Secret