Epic Universe author Lee Stephen interviews Fiona Raven about the book design process following the publication of his first two sci-fi novels in the Epic series, Dawn of Destiny and Outlaw Trigger.
1. Tell us how you got into book design.
In 1995, I was given the opportunity to design a full-color illustrated book, and that book changed the course of my career. Until then, I’d designed brochures, logos, business cards, and other small business items, but nothing even came close to giving me the satisfaction that first book did! I collaborated with the author, editor, illustrator, and printer, and together we produced a beautiful book—one that was translated into other languages and is still bought and cherished by readers today.
There was no looking back. Based on the success of that first book, I started designing books regularly for a local publisher. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to focus my career and specialize in book design. I now design books exclusively, and since 1995 I’ve designed more than 200 books.
2. What goes into designing a book, for those who don’t know about the process?
Every book has two distinct designs: one for the book cover and one for the pages. My job is to create designs that suit the subject matter and style of the book. As a reader, you should be able to get the feel of a book from its cover, and the pages should be easy to read and navigate.
I start by drafting some rough design samples using both the author’s and my own ideas, then fine-tune the designs based on the author’s preferences. Once the designs are finalized, we have a basic template of what the cover and pages will look like. Next I transfer the text from the edited manuscript into the page template and create all the pages of the book, and finally, I finish the book cover by adding a spine and back cover. All this is done in InDesign and Photoshop, and when the book “goes to press,” that means I send the final digital files to the printer.
3. Is there anything you do before starting a project to get your creative juices going?
I’ll already have some ideas for designs from the author—usually a synopsis of the book, a draft manuscript, and perhaps some images. I like to read parts of the book to get a feel for the author’s writing style; I also review our emails and discussion notes so the author’s personality is fresh in my mind.
Next I browse the Internet for images. By searching image banks for relevant objects, landscapes, and concepts, I find all kinds of interesting ideas. Sometimes a shape will inspire me, or perhaps an unusual combination of colors. Occasionally I’ll get an idea from an image and go in a direction I never would have imagined!
4. What was it like working on Dawn of Destiny and Outlaw Trigger?
I’m a sci-fi fan, so was excited about both the stories and working with an illustrator for the book covers. Working with an illustrator is a real treat, as I can envision any kind of scene for the cover and let the illustrator work his or her magic! Lee knew which pivotal scene would best describe each book, and that was our starting point for the covers.
Dawn of Destiny’s cover was much easier to design than Outlaw Trigger’s, mainly because of the overall concept of the book. Dawn of Destiny is about a hero leading his group to victory, so the cover shows him leading an uphill charge with brightly colored shots raining down all around.
Outlaw Trigger was much more of a challenge to design because the story is darker and we couldn’t give away the plot on the cover. We tried using symbols instead of actual characters. We tried different ways of adding the hero to the cover—first up close, then in the distance, then with other characters, then as a reflection—assuming that the hero would be on the cover of every book in the series. But in the end, the cover looked best with just a broken helmet in the foreground and a ray of light in the background, plain and simple.
5. So right now, Lee’s got main characters who are American, Irish, and British. How fair is that?
Don’t all good stories start with “There was an American, an Irishman, and a Brit…”? As long as Lee doesn’t introduce a Canadian character who’s a wimp, a whiner, or otherwise irritating, it all sounds fair to me!
(Lee Stephen and Epic Universe have since written and published two more books in the series: Hero and The Glorious Becoming. Listen to Lee interviewing Fiona about the ins and outs of book design on YouTube.)