With SPIN OF FATE’s cover reveal out, I wanted to take some time to elaborate on the cover creation process. As a debut author, I did not expect this level of involvement—to be frank, I was worried I’d end up with a cover that didn’t quite fit my personal tastes, but was deemed marketable or sellable. So I am overwhelmingly grateful and touched that my editor Polo, as well as my designers Jessica and Tony, involved me closely in every stage of the cover design, and considered all of my (verbose) input to give me the cover of my dreams. For the first few weeks after the final image came out, I’d open it on my phone a few times every day just to stare at it in awe. I think I might cry when I receive an ARC.
How did we get to creating such a beauty? While I'm sure there was a lot of work done behind-the-scenes, here's what it looked like from my perspective.
Step 1: Finalizing a concept and art style
So in February 2023, I got an exciting email from Polo with an art form attached. He had put down some ideas for potential cover concepts, which I added my thoughts to. If you're interested, the below 2 options were our top contenders. As you can probably guess, we were both overwhelmingly biased toward option A.
Option A featured the nagamor (one of the original beasts in the book) front and center. Subsequent books would feature other beasts that play pivotal roles in those storylines. Some key words we had here included epic, iconic, exciting, strength, magic, adventure. At this point we discussed keeping the nagamor in a circle (to go with the whole "spin" concept, which is pretty important to the book), with its beak touching the tip of its tail—an idea later discarded for a more dynamic pose.
Option B featured one or more POV characters on the cover, with the key words being lush, dynamic, magical, character-driven. Aina was the initial option, but I was adamant that if we went this route, I wanted all 3 POV characters displayed equally (since their story arcs and number of chapters are equal). For spacing reasons—and the fact that we'd be adding 1 new POV character with each subsequent book—this would pose a logistical hurdle. We discussed keeping Aina front and center, with the other two smaller at the back. But I wasn't keen on this as I didn't want Aranel and Meizan relegated to sidekicks. So we ended up scrapping this option.
The art form also included a section on styles of covers that we liked... and disliked, which I won't delve into further for obvious reasons. Overall, it was cool that Polo's and my opinions resonated. We both knew what we wanted—and it was the same thing.
Step 2: Finalizing a cover artist
Come March, and the cover artist conversation began. Polo and I wanted a hand painted style, with brushstrokes visible and all that. The first few artists we considered, while absolutely beautiful, seemed a bit too ethereal—given the tone of the book, I felt something with stronger colors and lines might be more fitting. I wanted something that felt a bit dated and classic (I am a huge fan of Darrell K. Sweet's original WHEEL OF TIME covers). And I wanted, if possible, an artist with an Indian background.
It seemed like fate itself when on March 9th, one of my favorite authors, Christopher Paolini, announced a 20th anniversary edition of Eragon... illustrated by an obscenely talented artist named Sidharth Chaturvedi. From the sneak peak CP posted, I fell in love with Sid's art. I stalked his website (you should too!) and had that kind of visceral reaction—when you know something is meant to be. Or rather, you really want it to be and hope that all works out. I immediately sent an overly excited email, loaded with screenshots, to Polo. He shared my enthusiasm that Sidharth would be the perfect fit.
Thing is, we weren't sure we'd get him. He was obviously busy with Eragon, as well as all the other amazing fandoms he already worked with (card art for LoTR, GoT, SW... D&D and LoL art... you name it, he's done it, and looking at his portfolio made me somewhat salivate). Then in April I received a mail from Polo telling me that Sid was excited to work on SPIN and we'd officially booked him. WHAT? I spent much of that day messaging various friends and family members the news. And fangirling over Sid's portfolio a bit more, because he was going to create something for me too!
Step 3: The black-and-white sketches
We had a total of three draft pencil sketches from Sidharth between May and July. While I won't be able to share his brilliance here, I will show you the somewhat egregious reference I sent over.
Yeah. Poor guy had to work with that. In my defense, this is something I drew on Procreate in <5 minutes at 4 AM JST.
The initial idea was for a narrative cover, depicting the nagamor staring through a carved gateway (known as a torana in the book). The foreground features a silhouette (Aina) collapsed on the ground, facing the beast. She is in the upper realm Mayana—hence the field full of flowers in the foreground. The background, where the nagamor is, depicts the lower realm Malin behind the gateway—a fiery, shadowy sort of hellscape.
I also provided this marginally better piece of art (a stained glass style version of the nagamor, by yours truly) along with a description of its key physical features—body of a snake with blue scales, head of a peacock with a sharp beak, plumed tail of peacock feathers, red eyes that will trigger hyperrealistic hallucinations that force you to live out your most painful memories. (One of the several reasons I comp'd this the way I did when querying)
The first draft from Sid and our design team didn't include Aina, but did include the gateway as a framing device of sorts. Behind its pillars, the nagamor was this twisting, looping mass—the motion in its form was so dynamic. The moment we saw it we knew we'd made the right choice of cover artist.
However, we felt the cover was a bit too crowded with the gateway, which we decided to discard. After all, Sid excelled at painting beautiful and terrifying creatures; we wanted the nagamor to be the focus, with nothing to distract from it. There would, however, be a glimpse of Malin in the background.
Sid's initial rendering of the nagamor was also a bit too pretty (I fear my stained glass drawing may have limited him a bit, although I so appreciate his trying to stay true to it). So we told him to use his imagination and make the nagamor scarier, since it is supposed to be one of the most dangerous beasts to populate the realms.
Sid's second rendering of the nagamor was perhaps my favorite. It was downright terrifying. I wish I could show it to you. It had spikes and spines and these grotesque bug-like eyes... I adored it. But the consensus was that it might be a bit too creepy and gross for a YA fantasy. So we asked him to dial back on the ick factor a bit.
This was also when we made the decision to have the nagamor side-eyeing the reader instead of staring head-on. The latter was giving very "Legendary Pokémon appeared" vibes, while the side profile would allow us to better distinguish the nagamor's beak.
The third rendering was the one that made me put my phone down and think: "Oh. This. This is it." It was essentially the sketch you see on the final cover, but in greyscale. I loved everything about it—the movement of the nagamor, the detail on its tail, the way its beak opened wide as if screaming in warning or in pain. Sidharth and the design team also made the great decision to keep the nagamor's sweeping tail at the bottom half of the cover, thus creating a nice separation, and also background for the title (initially, the tail had been at the top).
Step 4: Color sketches
I did not realize this would be a step in itself. But come August, Sidharth gave us a colored sketch of the nagamor so we could get a better understanding of how the colors would look (and print).
His initial coloring was quite a bit darker and grittier than the final product. Personally, I thought it was perfect. Malin is supposed to be this drab place, drenched in misery—and the tones he used really conveyed that. However, we were afraid that going too dull on the cover may make it less likely to 'pop' on a bookshelf. So we asked him to make the colors brighter and more vivid.
Interestingly, there was also a point where we discussed foregoing color altogether. Sidharth does stunning ink work, and we considered having an inked version of the nagamor on a plain background to give a more mature vibe (think the Gollancz Mistborn covers). Polo and the design team were kind enough to defer to me on this one. After much thought, I decided to stay with our original idea of a colorful, painted version—since this was what I'd seen on Eragon, what had first drawn me to Sid's work.
This stage is also when I learned we would be getting not just a front cover... but an entire wrap-around! This news thrilled me, as I really wanted a bit more of Malin scenery to be featured on the cover. I also begged Polo and the design team to ask Sidharth if he'd be willing to add in a little volcano for the back cover... and he very kindly obliged. (That volcano is the location of a formative event in the story, so despite it being a small detail, it was a pretty big deal for me).
Step 5: Final artwork
For the final artwork, Sid took our feedback and made the nagamor much brighter. At this point, I feared the colors were looking a bit too saturated (even considering they would print darker) and wondered if it would be too much to ask him to tone them down a bit—to something in the middle of the previous color sketch and this one. I honestly did not have high hopes when I made this request, since we were already at the final stage. It was September 19th, less than 10 days away from the planned cover reveal.
But lo and behold. I woke up the next morning to find that in a matter of hours, this man had worked a miracle. There it was... the nagamor with its scales almost entirely repainted, looking like absolute, glorious perfection. Not to mention my little volcano. I set the cover art as my phone wallpaper (replacing my dog and baby for a day, which is a big deal). I looked at it about a dozen times every day for the next few weeks. I couldn't believe that someone had taken my words and my sad little drawings, and turned them into something so majestic. So stunning.
Step 6: Text and other elements
Before I get into details, feast your eyes on this amazing wrap-around!
We're still in the process of finalizing the back cover, spine, inner flaps, etc. However, I can talk to you about the front cover elements, which were iterated on alongside each draft.
Firstly, the series name. Initial markups had this displayed at the very bottom, with author name at the top, and title somewhat centered. But if felt like too much text, and we decided to keep the series name in the inner cover and forego displaying it on the front cover.
Font was another thing that design experimented with a bit. They tried a couple swirlier, more embellished, and more stylized fonts. I requested something more classic and simple, and was absolutely thrilled with the final choice.
A cool idea design tried out was having a couple peacock feathers overlying the title; as if the nagamor's tail was brushing over the letters. I was a fan. However, there was a (very valid) concern it might impact readability, so this was foregone as well. I personally also wanted the text to have a crumbling, corroded effect. While we couldn't make this work for the front cover where readability was a priority, I was overjoyed when my lovely interior designer Suki Boynton added this effect for the inner cover.
Design also created the little embellishments you see framing the title. I love how they look almost like stylized nagamor. There's also a little easter egg in their design. Well, actually it's a pretty huge easter egg when you realize what it represents. If someone manages to figure it out within the next two years (that is, before book 3 releases) I will be so thrilled.
At some point, design and Sidharth also experimented with giving the nagamor a forked tongue, to make it a bit more serpentine. It was very cool (and it glistened), but a bit distracting. Hence, the tongueless nagamor.
I initially wanted the color of the text to be bronze, rather than gold. Reason being, the gateway leading to Malin (the realm of the nagamor) is described as bronze in the books. Following this logic, I wanted the font of book 2 to be silver, and book 3 gold. Design was kind enough to experiment with this idea, but found it would impact readability again. So now we're sticking with gold throughout!
Two months before the cover reveal, we started to brainstorm the tagline. It had to be something short and sweet, but also impactful. I had no idea how we were going to come up with this, and was a little bit worried. But I went to bed, and woke up the next morning with the words in my head: "Break the Skies. Wake the Gods". I emailed Polo, who shared it with the team. I was surprised that they loved it, and we had our tagline! We did consider a slightly longer version that went "Break the Skies. Wake the Gods. Forsake your soul." But it seemed a bit too long, so we decided to stick with the snappier one.
So that's it on cover! Overall, I am so grateful to all the talented people who worked to make this happen. I am also honored that they were kind enough to take my input every step of the way. It was such a collaborative process, and I'm so thrilled with how it turned out.
Stay tuned for updates on interiors and maps... though those might be awhile coming, since they would end up a bit spoiler-y.