Interview and Alternative Cover Sketches with GHOST GIRL Illustrator Maike Plenzke

One of the best things about getting a book accepted by a press is getting to see what your cover looks like. I’m fascinated by book covers and even more so with an illustrator’s ability to bring to life a world that previously only lived in the author’s mind. It’s like magic!

I really lucked out with my GHOST GIRL cover. My illustrator Maike Plenzke did an amazing job bringing to life my characters and I love the fact that she chose my absolute favorite scene in the book!

But considering how great Maike’s work is, it’s no surprise it would be so amazing. I was lucky enough to chat with her about her process AND see some early drafts/different ideas that she had for GHOST GIRL!

1. What do YOU hope people think or feel when they see the cover?
I hope they are curious to dive into this spooky story with all the clues that we left on the front cover! It‘s always fun for me to see people finding the face in the trees. Because I‘ve drawn it, that‘s the first thing that jumps out to me, but for others that doesn‘t seem to be the case.

2. How did you hear about my project?
My agent writes me with all the offers that come in and I decide what I can take on timewise and what sounds interesting to me.

3. Do you read the whole book before signing on to illustrate/design the cover? What drew you to this project?
No, I usually just get a quick summary of a project before I sign on. Seeing the overall theme already helps me to decide if I would actually be a good fit. Sometimes you are asked to work on a project with topics, that you have never drawn before, which is super fun! But sometimes that subject is a big technical spaceship, which I think other people can draw better than me, so I would say no in that instance. 😉

What drew me to Ghost Girl was the cool story summary and the genre. I‘ve never really done horror before! I did work on a mystery novel as my first job back in 2013 but never actually a scary book and I wanted to try it.

4. What does your process look like?
After I sign on, I‘ll read the whole book and take notes with page references. This way I can quickly check character descriptions or scenes again, while I work. On some projects it takes a bit longer to get feedback and you can easily forget details or storyparts in the meantime, so that is a good way to make sure all is correct.

The Art Directors also usually give me a little brief-PDF with character descriptions, story summary and covers in the same genre to show me what they are going for.
Then I start scribbling ideas in my notebook or go directly into Photoshop to sketch there. I like to brainstorm while drawing, which means I try to draw ideas super quickly (they look ugly) and see if it might work. If any of those seem promising, I draw them properly to show to the AD. That‘s usually around 3-6 sketches depending on the book. After the meetings the AD comes back to me with the chosen cover or they ask me to combine two ideas. For me book covers are a very collaborative process, so I‘m always happy to try out ideas the AD has as well. The first sketch I drew for Ghost Girl was  still super rough and after it was chosen, David and I would have made some adjustments to make it even better.
Then the hardest part is done and I just draw a color sketch to see if the team likes the light and color theme and go to final, which is a relatively easy, because all the creative work was done in the sketch and the color sketch.

5. You wound up illustrating my favorite scene in the book – the journey into the woods. Why did you pick that one?
I think I always try to find scenes or overall ideas who best represent the theme of the book, like for a drama I try to tap into the emotional part and for a spooky book ….a scary mysterious scene! And this one was especially great with all the symbolism, but vague enough to leave the reader some room to wonder about it, when it‘s drawn. I included other great scenes in the sketches, but I think those would have been too much of a spoiler, and we don‘t want to give anything away, do we? 😉

6. Any tips for illustrators or designers? How did you get started?

This one is always hard to answer for me because I had a huge amount of luck. I was going to school for illustration (going to college is very cheap in Germany) and back in 2012 tumblr was still super popular, so I was studying and putting sketches and drawings on my tumblr at the same time. And somehow some AD‘s found my work! Dan Nordskog from American Girl gave me my first big job back then and I was so lucky that he took the chance and trusted me to work for such a big publication like American Girl Magazine. The second one I got was the cover for “Not a werewolf story“, also a first for me! I‘m still super grateful to both AD‘s! After that I worked on three comic books and did illustration work on the side until my Agents found me and now I‘m getting all my work through them. So it‘s hard for me to give tips as I never had to do active self marketing apart from the social media one.

7. Just for fun, what is your favorite thing about making art?
It‘s the most fun but also the most frustrating: coming up with ideas! And then seeing that idea take shape is very satisfying.

Thank you so much Maike for answering some questions about your process and art making in general.

And now, here are some alternative cover sketches for GHOST GIRL

Sample sketch of Ghost Girl cover featuring two characters as marionettes and the main character Zee in the foreground

I love the direction in this one with the foreshadowing of the puppetry and what is that in Zee’s hand I wonder? Also I love the hounds on the border.

Alternative cover showing three main characters running from hounds in a chase through the cemetery

This is one of my other favorite scenes from the book, the race through the cemetery! I love how action packed this illustration is and how it looks like Zee and Nellie and Elijah are about the charge right through the frame.

Alternative cover only showing the title with a large faded box covering the image that says "Spoilers!"

HA! This one is my favorite! I know what is behind that spoiler block and let me tell you it is so good but also so spoiler-y!

First draft cover with three characters in the woods, surrounded by hounds. Above silhouetted in the trees is the profile of a shadowy figure

And finally this is the first version of the what would eventually become the final cover. I love how The Bad Guy was initially positioned in this one but when it comes to the final version, nothing could be better than spotting him in the trees!

Final Cover of GHOST GIRL image of three children in the woods, surrounded by hounds and the trees now make out a shadowy figure over the title

Today is exactly three (3) months from GHOST GIRL’s release and I cannot wait for you all the meet Zee, Nellie, Elijah and of course, Principal Scratch. I hope you have as much reading them as I did writing them.

Preorders always help out authors, especially debut ones, so if you would like to you can do that on the Harper Collins website!

Peace, love, and starbursts,


By Ally Malinenko

I live in Brooklyn which is good except when it’s not which is horrid. I’ve been writing for awhile, and have some stuff published and some stuff not. I don’t like when people refer to pets as their children and I can’t resist a handful of cheez-its when offered. I have a burning desire to go to Antarctica, specifically to the South Pole so I can see where Robert Falcon Scott died. I like to read books. I like to write stories and poems. I even wrote some novels. You can read them.

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