Falling Sky


Bright of the Sky: From Illustration to Finished Book Jacket

We've just completed the dust jacket for Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky, the first book in an exciting new epic science fiction series coming from Pyr in April. Everyone is really happy with the cover, the illustration for which was already generating buzz as early as this past summer's World Science Fiction convention. So I thought I'd use it to do something I've wanted to do for a while, which is to talk through the design process of putting a cover together.

For starters, Bright of the Sky is science fiction, but it's got a fantasy feel. Or at least a "fantastical" feel - in that it's set largely in a pocket universe peopled with multiple strange creatures. It's really exquisite world-building on Kay's part, and I wanted a cover illustration that could sell the size, scope, scale of her imagination and the world that has sprung out of it. Kay and I talked over several possible illustrators before decided on Stephan Martiniere. Now, Stephan is no stranger to Pyr, and anyone who reads my blogs knows he's one of my favorite illustrators working today, but in SF he's known mostly - at least up to this point although it's shifting - for his wonderful architectural visions, such as his work on Ian McDonald's River of Gods. But in the case of Bright of the Sky, it was Stephan's work outside publishing - particularly the wonderful outdoor landscapes and creature designs he did for the Myst computer games - that caught Kay's attention and made her think he could communicate some of what she saw for her world. And did he ever come through, as the picture on the top-right attests.

Next enter Jackie Cooke, from Pyr (and parent company Prometheus Books') art department. At this stage, it's about trying all sorts of options. We say we'd rather experiment and then pull back then not try to begin with. So we went through a ton of font choices, placements, and colors. Unfortunately, that was many moons ago, and I don't have those files anymore. But suffice to say we went through a wide range - including a vaguely Asian-brush stroke type front that seemed in concept appropriate to the Chinese-like culture of one of the races in Bright, but which was too heavy handed in execution to use. Also, I don't mind admitting that, although the end result looks nothing like it, we looked to the cover of Dan Simmon's Ilium as one source for inspiration, particularly in the way the bronzed, embossed font of Dan's name communicated the epic feel of the work. Finally, we settled on the design you see to the left. The font, I think, communicates both a sense of grand culture and the imposing dignity you want for an epic, "masterful" work.

So that's the image you see in our catalog, on Amazon, on the website etc... But one of the central landscape elements of Kay's "Universe Entire" is a mysterious river called the nigh. The nigh isn't made of water, but a strange quicksilver substance, about which I won't say anymore because you, well, have to read the book for yourself. But that's the nigh you see pictured on the cover. But the colors on this cover are muted, and so Jackie and I wanted a way to both grab more eyeballs and to communicate some of that quicksilver imagery from the book. She settled on the use of a silver mirror holograhic foil, a special effect offered by our jacket printer, Phoenix Color. Ah, but when you do special effect like embossing, special dyes and inks, foil, etc... you pay per square inch. And it ain't cheap. So, for instance, a book with the title and author name both at the top in close proximity to each other would be cheaper than a book where the effects are placed at top and bottom, like, unfortunately, we have. (If you follow the link, you'll notice that Ilium has embossed Dan's name at the top, but not the title at the bottom. This is why.) So, word came back that the bosses were willing to spring for the holofoil on the title, but not the title and author's name. (Which is still mighty generous, as the effect ain't cheap and they could just as easily have said to do without). That meant we had to find another solution for "Kay Kenyon" at the bottom. So here we have some of the colors we tried. The rainbow effect on the title is Jackie's attempt to approximate the holographic foil, since we can't show it in a jpg, and she wanted me to be able to see how it might pick up on and reflect various colors from Kay's name. Here, I admit that I liked the white, but was wisely outvoted by both Jackie and Kay (we tend to involve the authors in the process - no, this isn't the norm.) The mauve was never a consideration, though a grey that echoed the look of the catalog version was. Eventually, however, we settled on a sand color that was also used in the subtitle as the best match. I'll wait and show it when we talk about the rest of the jacket.

Which is now. Jackie nailed the back cover in one. I love the purple on black, as well as aligning the quotes top left bottom right. I think the whole effect is very dignified and goes a long way towards our intention of presenting what an "important" epic this work is. But, as I'm sure you've noticed, the spine isn't there. Sometimes, grabbing a cross section of the cover illustration can really work well. Othertimes, not so much. It just didn't look - you know it - "epic" to me.So I suggest Jackie try a simple black spine. And maybe grab an image of that horse creature (called an Inyx) or those wonderful flying fish. I pictured placing this image at the top of the spine, but Jackie surprised me by putting it center and surrounding it in that stylish border motif she'd already devised for the subtitle:The flaps are added at this point to. Disregard the white spaces - they won't be there on the final. So now we're almost there, but we still need to add Kay's picture, and Jackie felt the left flap - the grey one - was a little plain, so she decided to added a faded image from the cover to give it some texture. The result is our final dust jacket below, though, of course, you don't see the effect of the holographic foil on the title. Right click it to see larger, as with all these, of course. And since this was a long post to put together, feel free to ooo and ahhhh.
Now tell me, does Bright of the Sky: Entire and the Rose: Book 1 look like a damn fine book or what?


Paul said...

You bet it does, Lou. And I am looking forward to it.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Paul - thanks for the fast feedback!

Tom said...

A really beautiful cover -- the process of getting there interested me. Is it common among publishers for the author to have much input into the art and design process? My sense is that it is not common at all -- why does Pyr do it differently?

I've read all of Kenyon's stuff and it is good -- can't wait for Bright to show up. She tells a terrific story with flair and substance. And you're right about the world-building -- I don't know of anyone on the current scene who does it as well as she does.

Robert said...

Agreed here, too, about the beauty and mystery of the cover. Not to mention the novel itself. Good on you and Pyr for publishing Kay Kenyon.

Speaking as a sucker for good art and graphic design, it's fascinating to have you lay out the creative and commercial process for us. Thanks.

Y'know...I'm also fascinated by the creative and commercial process process that brings forth *bad* covers. Like...ummm...for instance the one from Baen Books that IMO seems to bring forth so many awful covers. Although they must know what appeals to their corner of the market, their readers.


Lou Anders said...

Tom, Robert:
Thank you both for the good words. No, it isn't common at all. And the final decision does rest with the publisher, not the author, but I like to solicit opinions and make this a collaborative process. I'm in this business and this genre, after all, because I like working with smart people. I usually have a gut feeling when reading a manuscript who I want to illustrate it, and we tend to give our illustrators a lot of free reign to interpret as they see fit. It's when it comes to layout that I get obsessive. Glad you like seeing the process.

And now that I've done it, I plan to talk us through some more cover layouts in future too. Be careful about slagging off Baen though - their corner of the market can be pretty big. Remember, the #1 purpose of a cover is to sell books, not to represent their contents or make art history.

Lou Anders said...

I should add, just to clarify, that the authors don't necessarily get to interact with the artist - just the designer. I tend to act as go between to provide artists with author input if they want it, and only rarely have the artist and author been in direct dialogue. This was in the case of Dave Seeley's Liberty Gun, which was in rewrites while Dave was reading for inspiration, and the process ended up reversing, with some of Dave's comments informing my notes and Martin's rewrite.

Robert said...

That's actually what fascinates me about Baen -- what process do *they* use for creating their covers? Since, as you say, they've got a large portion of the SF market covered.

And I buy Baen Books...just NOT because of the covers. In spite of the covers. Although...they do use Bob Eggleston for some covers. That's a good thing.

Also gotta give them credit for their series of classic SF reprints...Farmer, Van Vogt, Schmitz, Leinster, Laumer, etc. I could even see Pyr publishing new Laumer stuff if he was still around...


Robert said...

And re my comment above about Pyr publishing Laumer if he was still alive...don't know how'd he'd feel about this, but I find some distinctly Laumer-ish resonances in Martin Sketchley's novels. Maybe it's that mix of tough-mindedness and out-there speculation sealing with aliens, sex, politics, the military.

And I mean this as a compliment. Think I've read almost all of Laumer's work. Can still see (though alas don't still own) that Ace Double edition of Envoy to New Worlds, with the lovely Ed Emsh cover...

Lou Anders said...

Well, I'm not comfortable discussing other publishers choices - just my own. Though their Laumer Imperium omnibus has tempted me. I have, ashamed to say, never read Laumer, but I am in love with Paul McAuley's upcoming Cowboy Angels, which evolves from the Laumer in interesting ways. The Sketchley comparison intrigues me, as Sketchley seems in many ways like John Ringo forced through a cheese grater named M John Harrison.

Lou Anders said...

I'm leaving for Boskone at 4:45am tomorrow, so shutting down now. Enjoying this discussion and sorry I won't be able to pick it back up for a few... Good weekend to you all.

Robert said...


Understood -- any views expressed her about Baen Books are entirely my own.

Too bad Retief's not here now to cut through some of the current political BS and mendacity.

McAuley's great -- is Pyr publishing Cowboy Angels?

And I confess to never reading any John Ringo. Although I'd love to know where to get one of those cheese graters named M. John Harrison.


Mary Robinette Kowal said...

Thanks for the window into your process.

Brandon Sanderson said...

Man, Lou, that's an absolutely beautiful cover. True, I'm partial to Stephan's work, but I think that's one of the best designed books I've ever seen.

Lou Anders said...

Hey, thank you both.
I'm just back from Boskone, hence the lag in posting.