Evolution of a Book Cover: The Root of the Spark

Behind the Scenes with April Martinez: Michele Fogal’s Root of the Spark Cover Art

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “behind the scenes” of a book cover, so I thought I’d talk about Root of the Spark. For this one, the author (Michele Fogal) had collected some images for inspiration on a Pinterest page and described some of the character details and personalities. She also described some high-concept ideas and listed a number of words and phrases that would be ideal keywords and tags for anyone searching for her book, a science fiction fantasy about a person of ambiguous gender.

As an artist who hasn’t read the manuscript, however (we very rarely get to do so given how tight the production schedules are), and who latches on more easily to images than to words and more readily to brief, visually descriptive texts than to plot-related thematic concepts, I digested all of this information a little bit too literally and designed something I thought was exactly what was asked for — a cover that showed an alien place remarkably like a Greek island village and an androgynous man.

First cover draft for Michele Fogal’s Root of the Spark. Art by April Martinez.

This first cover draft then sparked an e-mail discussion between my art manager and the author about the representation of the story on the cover, the sort of feel and style the author wanted for her cover versus the publishing house style, the nature of the too literally detailed cover versus a more simple and iconic one that tends to cross into the mainstream, etc. I got to see this discussion after, and I’ll admit, none of what was discussed had been in the original brief — I never would have gotten that intended sense of the book at all, but that’s why I’m the artist and she’s the author.

After the extended discussion, my art manager suggested: “What if we did something like a black bottom half with brown/golden roots reaching down, and the characters in silhouette against a starry blue sky?”

…which is infinitely more like the sort of cover art concept description I like to get. This is what good art managers are born to do — they take an entire volume of words from an author and boil it down to something small and precise that artists just “get” right away.

The author was open to the idea and even added that she was open to having roots that were more a mushroom white.

…which, of course, I took quite literally. Again.

Second draft of Root of the Spark cover art by April Martinez.

Turns out the seed is supposed to be an acorn seed, not a mushroom, which had not been very clear to me until that point. Specific detailed words can be obstacles sometimes, and that’s exactly what the word “mushroom” did to me, paired with the mushroom image I saw on the Pinterest page. The story had nothing to do with mushrooms, really, but mushrooms were what stood out for me in the author’s words and images. Go figure.

So changes were made. More points were brought up, and more changes were made.

Successive drafts of Root of the Spark. Art by April Martinez.

In the end, we came up with something I think everyone was happy with. Success!

But the moral of the story is that communication is key. In order for a cover artist to design a cover that conveys just the right message to the potential reader, the author first has to write a brief that conveys just the right message to the cover artist. Otherwise, it’s just a bad game of Telephone or of Chinese Whispers.

Final cover art for Michele Fogal’s Root of the Spark by April Martinez.

Root of the Spark: A Wild Seed Novel by Michele Fogal

Dell doesn’t want to hide anymore. As the first hermaphrodite on the human colony planet of Ameliaura, Dell has spent the last year trying to blend into the crowd. Dell used to snub the public eye with flamboyance and scandal, but lately the attention just feels like loneliness. After surviving a vicious attack, Dell falls into the arms of Zavvy, a man who has made it his mission to help abandoned hermaphrodite children.

Zavvy has been alone for years. No one can understand why he’s given up everything to take in street children and any hope of romance is out the window. Until Dell. Found naked and bleeding by the kids, Dell fulfills Zavvy’s every youthful fantasy of the City’s unashamed exotic night life.

The needs of an impromptu orphanage leave little room for a relationship, but harder still, Dell’s past has come back with a vengeance. Dell will have to step into the light again to fight for a home before the age old tide of violence rises again.

Root of the Spark is available from Loose Id, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine e-books are sold.

Get Unleashed