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Paul Carroll  

Fierce – Book Cover Design Process

Every book cover to come from Cupán Fae goes through a similar design process that begins with an examination of what the book is about. In the case of Fierce, our latest anthology, we were looking at hope.

Finding ‘hope’ in the book cover

The book covers for the Fierce Anthologies all share a few common elements. They all:

  • feature a landmark from Dublin
  • include the authors’ names in alphabetical order by surname
  • include the genre of the book underneath the title

When looking for hope in the book cover for Fierce, I looked no further than Irish Fandom. A member of a community group recently shared an exciting announcement that Dunsink Observatory was planning to open an escape room. Combined with the recurring space elements in Fierce, I knew I had my answer to which landmark would feature on our book’s cover.

Sketching the book cover design

A habit of mine when designing book covers is to sketch it out roughly first.

It’s not a fancy process. In this case, I kept to the bare minimum. Sometimes there’s even less detail. This is a small drawing, a couple of inches tall. I usually scribble them onto post-it notes with a pen, something that Kat Dodd regularly expresses amazement and annoyance at.

Sketch of book cover for Fierce

A few obvious details are missing from the sketch for the book. It doesn’t have any text beyond the title, and it’s completely lacking in colour.

I think when I originally planned it, I had other ideas about what to include, and I had notions about what was possible.

Drawing inspiration for the book cover

I’m a sometimes-artist and mostly-designer when it comes to creating anything visual, but one thing I can sure as heck do is find images to work with to help make a book cover. For Dublin’s Fierce City, I needed to look no further than Google Maps, while Fierce New World needed only a photograph I’d taken to build Dublin Castle. For Fierce, the selection of images was more limited.

The few images of Dunsink Observatory online were of a low quality. The one above showed it from the best angle, with the most appropriate lighting. Finding ‘hope’ in the images was a difficult process.

The other image came from the Turning Roads Kickstarter I ran in March of this year. The artist, John Cullen, created a sci-fi reproduction of the Salmon of Knowledge. The Kirby dots and the bright colours loaned themselves to the Fierce book cover. It screamed positivity and curiosity at me, and I couldn’t ignore it.

The final cover

I work in Illustrator, making images from vectors and layers and managing transparency types and opacity levels. It’s not the typical book cover creation process that most indies go through – Photoshop and GIMP are usually their friends! – but it’s the software that felt most intuitive to me.

Book cover for Fierce

The final cover draws from the above images. It has the general shape of the sketch, with the added details thrown in for good measure. The angle of the observatory in the book cover differs from that of the photograph slightly, and I took some liberties with the telescope to make it slightly more obvious what the structure was. The Kirby dots and the gradient of colours stretching across the image come from John’s art, with my own shooting star as an homage to his work.

Feedback on the cover

Typically at this point, I send the cover to Kat Dodd and Helen Carroll for their notes, and pray they’ll be kind. Kat is usually just excited to see the cover, but Helen has in the past given me a bunch of notes. Fiercepunk has about a dozen variations of the cover from all of the feedback, while we struggled to settle on the final look of the book.

This time, Helen had no notes, so I was able to send the cover to the authors on Discord.

We still allow for some minor edits, but people were generally happy with how it looked. The cover for Fierce is the first I’ve designed in a long time, probably since I worked on the covers for Fierce & Proud and Fiercepunk. (Not counting the cover for Turning Roads that I didn’t use!)

With the complete book cover, and then six complete stories, Cupán Fae had officially made its sixth anthology.

It’s one of the most fulfilment and exhausting projects we take on, but I couldn’t not release an anthology in 2021. Next year, we’ll just have to play catch up on where we wanted to be before the world shut down. Easy, right?

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