GOLDEN GIRL Cover Interview: Illustrator Anoosha Syed

Thank you so much Anoosha for bringing the cover of GOLDEN GIRL to life! I’m delighted to interview you! Anoosha Syed and cover designer Molly Fehr were responsible for the beautiful cover of my novel in verse GOLDEN GIRL.

1. What do YOU hope people think or feel when they see the cover for GOLDEN GIRL?
I want people to be intrigued! I designed a girl, decked out in jewels and traditional desi clothing, and she’s very slyly looking over at the viewer like she has a secret. I hope that it gets people curious, and interested in finding out more about her!

2. How did you hear about this project? Does an email land directly in your inbox or go through an agent? 

I have a literary agent (Taylor Martindale-Kean at Full Circle Literary) who handles all my publishing-related projects! Molly Fehr, who is a book designer at HarperCollins, contacted my agent to ask about my interest in this project. Then Taylor sent the details over to me! These details include a plot summary of the book, the character description of our main girl Aafiyah, the schedule of the project as well as the expected budget. 

3. Do you read the whole book before signing on to illustrate/design the cover? What drew you to this project?

I’ll be honest, I don’t always read the book haha. For picture books of course I always do, but when working on a lot of covers at once, unfortunately I don’t have enough time to read all these novels. However, I’m happy to say that I did read Golden Girl! I was really intrigued by the concept of the story and the fact that Aafiyah had a lot of depth to her character. Like Aafiyah, I’m also Pakistani and grew up in Dubai, only to relocate to North America. So I was also pleased to see a book that I was able to really relate to and see myself in, something I haven’t really felt before! 

4. Would you share your design process and vision?

After reading the full book, we got to work on the cover. HarperCollins sent over some initial design ideas they had in mind. Below are their notes:

 As far as cover ideas go, the team is looking to focus on our main character, Aafiyah, who suffers from Kleptomania, and jewelry which Aafiyah is very drawn to. One idea the author had was to see a portrait of Aafiyah from the lips down and to focus on her wearing Pakistani jewelry. We also thought an alternate version of this same idea, only seeing Aafiyah’s full face would be a good comparison to consider as well. We are also open to any ideas you may have! Included in the attachment are some inspiration images the author, Reem, sent to us. 

Inspiration images are always so helpful when it comes to designing the books’ characters. While character descriptions are helpful, when working on something visual like illustration, it helps to have some sort of visual reference as well, especially from the author themselves to correctly portray their image of the character! A lot of people are surprised to find out that on a book project, the author and illustrator have virtually no contact or communication with each other. So having a mood board is a good compromise! I then had a month to create a few sketch concepts for the cover. I knew that we needed the focus to be on Aafiyah, and on gold jewelry. I played with a few different concepts:

1) Here I have Aafiyah looking straight at the viewer, looking a little guilty, and her hands in front of her.

2) Another full body shot with Aafiyah turned away from us, but her head looking at us, hand behind her back.

3) A more mysterious short, of Aafiyah but her eyes are hidden.

Because in the book, Aafiyah has a problem with stealing and her dad is (wrongfully) in jail, I thought it could be interesting to play with the idea of bracelets as handcuffs. I also had to illustrate the backcover. For that, we thought it would be fun if we had a bunch of objects framing the blurb, and all the objects would be things that Aafiyah has stolen in the past, like eyeshadow, bangles and lipstick. However in the end we decided to go against the handcuff idea since we wanted to avoid a negative association against South Asian characters. 

The next step was to work on the color roughs! Before doing the final art, this is where I would do a rough concept of what the colors could look like. For each of the three original cover sketches, I did a rough color concept. I knew that I wanted to include a lot of pinks and golds, and have a more mature subtle palette.


In the end we decided on the cover where Aafiyah is standing with her back to us, but she’s looking over her shoulder. The other adjustment we made was to change the background to a mature beige with golden stars. After the color concept was confirmed, I went straight into final art!

the final cover designed by Molly Fehr and illustrated by Anoosha Syed!

5. A tip for illustrators or designers? 
It’s pretty rare for your first idea to be the winning one! Even if you feel like you’ve got it right on the first try, attempt to do a few more concepts and sketches. The exploration is great for creativity and when digging deeper I find that you’re able to get less ‘obvious’ ideas!

6. Just for fun, where’s your favorite local place to go?
I live in Toronto, and one of my favourite places is The Beaches, a really sweet little beachy neighborhood by the lake. It’s a really nice place to walk around in, with these gorgeous old houses and cute little cafes and shops.

7. What’s your favorite snack?

I love spicy chips! My absolute favourite is Chilli Flavoured Lays, but unfortunately you can only get them in the Middle East. Whenever someone flies back from there I always ask them to bring me two big bags!

8. What’s your favorite beauty product or skin care item?

I have this Nars lipstick in the shade Pigalle. I’ve repurchased it four times and it’s my favourite every-day shade, since it’s very natural but pretty. It’s hard finding the perfect nude shade for my skin tone, so if they ever discontinue it I don’t know what I’d do!

9. Any next projects you have coming up? Please share the links of how we can support and follow you!
I wrote and illustrated my very first picture book, That’s Not my Name! It’s a personal story about the struggle of having a hard-to-pronounce name, and finding love in it! It’s due to come out on July 12, and you can preorder it here.

Follow Anoosha Syed on Twitter here, Instagram here, and Youtube here (her videos are super informative! I’ll be sharing the one she makes from GOLDEN GIRL on this post soon.) Congratulations Anoosha on all your success and advice!

Please pre-order GOLDEN GIRL here from my local bookstore and join our launch on 2/26/22! Pre-ordering an author’s book shows the publisher that you are interested in what we write and makes a big difference. Please make sure you pre-order Anoosha’s book here and mine here! Thank you!


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