Countdown to CHIRP: Copy Edits & Cover Design

Welcome to Countdown to CHIRP, a wonderfully nerdy blog series about the writing process behind my February 2020 MG novel, CHIRP. Here’s a little about the book from Bloomsbury, so you’ll understand what I’m talking about when I share all the nitty-gritty writing and revision details…

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.

Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding–and find the courage she never knew she had?

In a compelling story rich with friendship, science, and summer fun, a girl finds her voice while navigating the joys and challenges of growing up.

CHIRP comes out in less than a week! Have you already pre-ordered your copy? If not, I’d love it if you would… Pre-orders are a HUGE help to authors and in this case, pre-ordering comes with presents! If you fill out this form after you pre-order, Bloomsbury will send you a poster and set of bookmarks to share. And if you order via my local indie, The Bookstore Plus, I’ll personalize and sign your book, too!

Now…let’s talk about the final stages of making a book. After many rounds of revision, the manuscript goes off to a copy editor, who’s excellent at all things grammatical. They read and make careful notes, querying anything that doesn’t seem quite right. This marked-up version goes to both the editor and author for additional notes. Copy edits used to arrive on paper, in the mail, but they’re most often done electronically now, so the pages look like this.  

As the author, there are a few different ways I can respond to the copy editor’s suggestion. Most often, if it’s a typo or spelling error, it’s a matter of accepting the suggested change and moving on. But sometimes, I’ve broken a rule on purpose, for style or voice reasons, and the suggested change doesn’t work. In that case, I write a quick “STET” in the margin, which means the text should be left as it was.

Copy edits are the last chance I have to make substantial changes to the book, so after I’ve gone through the copy editor’s comments, I’ll do another read-through of the full manuscript. I read aloud, so I can hear what the sentences sound like, and when I hit something that feels a little clunky, I make changes as I go along. This is also the time to incorporate any late feedback from writer friends or expert readers.

After copy edits, the manuscript gets laid out as a pdf, so the pages actually start to look like pages in a book. This is where chapter headings are designed and any art is added to the pages. It’s also time for more rounds of proofreading – typically three more passes with multiple readers. At this point, the author can’t make many major changes that affect the layout, but it’s still fine (and important!) to correct any remaining errors.

While all this is happening, the book’s cover is being designed. I’ve been lucky enough to have wonderful artists and designers work on my covers. For CHIRP, Bloomsbury hired illustrator Christopher Silas Neal to design the cover art. I was thrilled with this choice. Chris is no stranger to me – he illustrates my Over & Under picture book series with Chronicle and did the cover for BREAKOUT, too!

Chris begins his work the same way I do – with brainstorming and rough drafts. He starts the cover design process by reading the manuscript and then sketching some possible ideas.

It’s hard to choose just one cover, but in this case, I loved his idea to show the girls jumping off rocks into the lake, especially because this is a story about courage in all of its many forms. Bloomsbury agreed, so Chris took that concept through to final art. The design team takes that art and works with it then, playing around with the type for the title and possible tag lines. Here’s an early version of the cover…

After some revisions to make the title and the girls stand out more – and the arrival of an incredibly generous blurb from the amazing Laurie Halse Anderson – we ended up with this as a final cover. I love it so much.

CHIRP comes out on Tuesday, February 4, so you have a few more days to pre-order. If you do that through my local indie, The Bookstore Plus, I’ll personalize and sign your copy to be mailed out on release day. And wherever you pre-order, Bloomsbury will send you a special gift – a CHIRP poster and a class set of bookmarks to share! Just fill out this form after you’ve pre-ordered.

Pre-order Chirp and get a poster and a set of 30 bookmarks for your school or library. Visit bit.ly/chirppreorder for details

Thanks so much for taking the time to read about CHIRP. I’m so hopeful that this book will find the readers who need it, and I’m grateful for the early praise it’s garnered from readers and reviewers alike…

“Kate Messner strikes the perfect balance of joy, pain, and strength in this deftly layered mystery about family, friendship, and the struggle to speak up.” –  Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of SPEAK and SHOUT

Chirp is so many things: a mystery, a family story, and a story of the power of friendship. It’s about learning to speak out when it seems the whole world would rather you shut up. Sure to be passed from kid to kid to kid” –  Laura Ruby, National Book Award Finalist and author of the York Trilogy

“Once again, Kate Messner has written a book that will be a dear and important friend to her readers. A loving and compelling ode to the joy of friendship, the many kinds of strength, and the everyday bravery of girls.” –  Anne Ursu, author of THE LOST GIRL

“Messner deftly weaves together myriad complex plot threads to form a captivating whole. . . . Rich, timely, and beautifully written.” –  Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

“Messner addresses #MeToo themes authentically and with care as her story moves toward empowerment: Mia displays fear and confusion alongside a hope to reclaim the strength she once felt as a gymnast. Layering mystery elements, strong and myriad female characters, and a poignant analogy involving chirp-less female crickets, Messner gently guides Mia on a journey of resilience that both comforts and inspires.”

–  Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

“Messner honors middle graders by exploring important, relevant issues at their level of understanding. This book will prompt discussions of gender inequality, consent, and sexual abuse. A must purchase.” –  Starred Review, School Library Connection

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