“I love the sound of your novel!”

(Credit for this book cover pic goes to Laura Eckes, also the designer. Illustration: Alex Cabal)

To de-stress and ignore that I’m only forty days away from publishing my debut novel (see that neat countdown widget to the right?!), I found a new obsession: TikTok! TikTok videos managed to pop up on my radar everywhere, even though I didn’t have an account. So, I gave in.

To be honest, I feel like I’m this person every time I mention TikTok:

Most of the TikTok videos I’ve seen feature teenagers . . . dancing? Quoting people I’ve never heard? Doing “duets”? But it’s clear that adults also use TikTok, so I just have to shake off this strange sense of shame. I won’t be showing my face or doing voiceovers in my videos; the introvert in me has to draw a line somewhere! Instead, I’ve found comfort in creating book-related takes.

My first video showcased my book cover with BTS’s “Boy With Luv” as the soundtrack. I found it incredibly relaxing, so I started a request thread on my Slack group with fellow authors debuting next . . . I’m sorry, THIS YEAR.

I’ve talked about my love for cover designers before. They are magicians. I am constantly blown away by their interpretation of our books–and am astounded by the range of comps they conjure up. Recently I saw a comp of Shea Ernshaw’s upcoming adult mystery debut A History of Wild Places, and I literally gasped. I don’t know how designers do it. What I’m more familiar with is the discussion about covers. When we discuss a concept at work, we review “comps,” or books that have done well in the same category. Notice how historical fiction often features the back of a woman’s head, with a wartime landscape in the background. And while it may seem repetitive, this set-up immediately signals “historical fiction.” So: high stakes, yearning, love, nostalgia. Contemporary rom-coms and romance are mostly illustrated these days (including yours truly); this category’s reader just knows to look for colors, bold typeface, and one to two figures (three, if there’s a love-triangle). The feels: Fun, drama, and luuuuurve.

But we don’t rely on comps alone! The art designers also read parts of our manuscripts and listen to editors as they pitch the characters, setting/atmosphere, and overall tone of the book. This makes each cover entirely unique.

Cover art targets our emotions, leading us to grab books right off the bookshelves (or, in these COVID times, smash that pre-order/purchase button). Besides words and pictures, another medium that taps into emotions is music, and I am always listening to music. Editing, eating, reading–I’m probably listening to lo-fi, chillstep . . . or BTS. I even wrote about my playlists here and here. A playlist for A Pho Love Story is also in the works so look out for that!

In the Slack group with about two hundred other authors, I put out a call for volunteers. I look at their covers, read their descriptions, then I search through the sound options on TikTok, or look at my library, or revisit YouTube playlists I like. I leave the cover up while I listen to the music and if what I feel aligns with the art, then I know that’s the song I want to use. Once I have some videos, I run them by the author! I haven’t gotten a negative response so far, and I’m eager to continue this project. Here are some examples below:


My #YA rom-com about two #Viet Am teens falling in ❤️…even though their parents own rival restaurants 🔪. Out 2/9/21. #bookish #booktok #viettiktok

♬ Intro – The xx

THE SHIMMERING STATE / Meredith Westgate, 8/2021. A memory wonder drug brings two ppl to rehab—their recent memories gone. #booktok #bookclub #novel

♬ Human – Sevdaliza

Fantasy 📚: a 👿 emperor turns stolen children into an army of magical fire-wielding soldiers. One 💭 of revenge; another, of home. #booktok #YAnovel

♬ Epic Emotional – AShamaluevMusic

What would your favorite cover sound like?

If you love book design, here are some cool links!

Finally, if you feel like it, please pre-order a copy of my novel today!


  1. dorlan

    I love this book! I don’t read first person but the writing and depth of the characters roped me in. My sister is a big bookworm, and picked it out for me based off the look alone. The story made me laugh, guffaw and kept me entertained late at night. And extremely hungry. All the mentions of Vietnamese food had me salivating to eat out again. I read the book to pass the time during or after long shifts at work, and can describe it as youthful, mild winds, with tastes of nostalgia. Not sure what that means, but its the feeling I got from the book.
    I wanted to add it reminded me of some of my closest Vietnamese friends. It was the furthest way from the way they grew up, but the culture shown through the story reminded me of their homes and fundamental way of life. We spent high school together, going to their houses after school to eating leftovers of dishes I can’t name. I would beg one friend to make me some coffee from specialty instant coffee they import sometimes. He would grace me with stories of his childhood there, the smells, sounds and life of the city. All in all, this will be a book dear to my heart!


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