Cover Design 101: Killer of Enemies

Stacy Whitman photo We’re thrilled about the upcoming release of our new YA fantasy Killer of Enemies! In this post, Tu Books Editorial Director Stacy Whitman guest blogger icondiscusses how she and designer Isaac Stewart came up with the final cover concept:

I’m so excited to finally reveal the cover of Joseph Bruchac’s latest speculative fiction book for teens, Killer of Enemies, which comes out in September. The book is post-apocalyptic Apache steampunk (well, steampunk-adjacent), about a monster-hunting teen who has some pretty awesome powers. It’s an action-packed read about which people are saying things like:

Killer of Enemies is a wild teen adventure-fantasy that starts fast, gets faster, and never touches the brakes. A mind-bending fantasy that smashes across genre lines to tell a story about survival, courage, and lots of monsters. Joseph Bruchac brings serious game. Highly recommended!”—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Fire & Ash and Extinction Machine

For the Killer of Enemies cover, I wanted to be sure we saw how awesome (and kind of terrifying) Lozen’s world was, and I wanted to be able to see her face. We needed a model who looked Native American (and as Apache as possible—though Lozen’s ancestry is a little mixed), and we wanted an action shot. Finding a stock photo that did everything we needed it to would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Instead, I reached out to a friend of mine, Joleen Begay. Joleen is Navajo, and she has family and friends in the Native communities of Arizona and Utah. Since my designer, Isaac Stewart, was located in Utah as well, I wondered if she knew anyone who might have a teen daughter who fit the description of Lozen. Perhaps we’d be able to do a photo shoot.

Luckily, Jo did know a few people who might be interested. Through her, I got in touch with Natalie Billie, whose daughter, Raven-Sky, fit the look of Lozen perfectly. Isaac arranged to meet Raven-Sky and her mom, and they started to brainstorm about the look.


Isaac had already put together some concepts for the cover using stock photos (as you can see, not a lot of diversity in the available stock), so what we needed was to find the accessories that would create the look of the concept we decided to go with. Isaac found a few things online, but the best parts of Raven-Sky’s costume came because her mom found a few items at their Native community center. Lozen is a hunter, so it made sense that even though Apache women historically kept their hair loose, Lozen might pattern her look a little after the men of her community—who wants her hair getting into her eyes when she’s wrestling a porcupine-cat? We also wanted a slightly steampunkish look, because the technology of Lozen’s world has been driven back into the steam age. No electronics, no electricity. But guns still worked (that and her trusty Bowie knife) and we wanted to showcase how awesome a hero Lozen is. Isaac cobbled together a look:

costume concept mockup

…and Lozen’s outfit started coming together. Before the shoot, they had a fitting. Here’s the designer, Isaac Stewart, discussing the process through that time:

Isaac: One of the memorable things about this shoot was the process we went through to create Lozen’s costume. Once we had chosen our model, I worked up a sketch of potential costumes, got feedback from Stacy as well as from some concept illustrator friends of mine [as well as from the author, Joseph Bruchac—SW]. With the refined costume approved, I began combing clothing outlets looking for just the right pieces of clothing that would fit the bill. Some things we had to just buy new, like the goggles and the pistol replicas, and other things I borrowed, like the holsters and the black powder bag. We wanted a worn, lived-in look to the costume, so borrowing and buying used went a long way to help with that. For everything else, we relied on a little Photoshop magic to add the grunge and wear that wasn’t already there.

 model with goggles on

Part of what made the shoot work was getting to meet the model and her mother for the costume fittings before the shoot ever began. By the day of the shoot, we’d already met a few times, so it was easier to be relaxed around one another, which is one of the secrets of getting a natural performance from the model. In one of those previous meetings, my friend Daniel Hughes, who has worked shoots before, gave the model some great coaching that in turn helped on the day of the shoot.

photo 1

We scheduled the shoot to coincide with that magical time of the day when the sun is setting and blanketing the world in soft, golden light. The photographer, Stephen, had shot at the salt flats an hour or so west of Salt Lake City, and in sight of Wendover, NV, and he suggested that the terrain would work perfectly for post-apocalyptic world that Lozen lives in. We arrived at the salt flats just in time for the perfect light, but instead of the white, cracked earth we were expecting the whole flats were covered in about three inches of water.

photo 2

If we packed up to drive somewhere else, we would’ve missed the great lighting, so we shot right there, on the banks of the temporary lake that had been formed by spring run off, even though we were smack in the middle of the desert.

Designer Isaac in an action shot
Our intrepid designer, Isaac, really getting into his work!

Our model for Lozen is a soccer player. The photographer, Stephen, has had experience with action shots, so we were able to combine both those experiences. We asked Lozen to run, jump, and move around pretending to shoot the replica guns in a dance similar to the gun katas of Equilibrium. We also shot some quieter portrait pieces ala the Schwarzenegger Commando poster. In the end, we had dozens of shots, which was great for variety, but made our job of picking the right cover image a lot harder!

Stacy:  As you can see below, we had quite a few good choices to decide between. Which would have been YOUR favorite, if you could have chosen?

alternate KoE covers

And, we finally came to a conclusion on which photo to pick for the cover! You can check out the final cover of Killer of Enemies over at:

Diversity in YA

YA Books Central (plus a giveaway!)

Rich in Color

Finding Wonderland

3 thoughts on “Cover Design 101: Killer of Enemies”

  1. Really excited to read this, more WOC in action/fantasy/dystopia/post-apocalypse please. I think I like the two covers on the right the best, but the one chosen was also awesome.

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