Author Spotlight: Shannon Knight guest post

Guest Post: Creating the Insiders Cover by Shannon Knight

Shannon Knight today stopped by to talk about the process behind creating the Insiders cover, her latest space opera novel, which is available now!

Meet the Author
Shannon Knight

Shannon Knight is a science fiction and fantasy author living in the Pacific Northwest. After catching the novel COVID-19 virus in the spring of 2020, Shannon spent the next two and a half years primarily bedbound. Once she was able to sit up again, she focused on creating her imprint, Winter Moon Press, and completing the publication of Grave Cold, Insiders, and Wish Givers

Grave Cold is a near-future, biopunk novel about a beautician necromancer and medieval reaper working together to save the dead from being used as an energy source. Insiders is a space opera about a sentient plant and a small crew each overcoming their personal demons and lending their individual strengths to save the universe. Wish Givers is a fantasy set on a tropical island featuring tattoo magic and a woman who must save her clan and destroy her greatest enemy by granting his every wish.

Connect with Shannon Knight

Guest Post
Insiders by Shannon Knight

The design for the cover of Insiders was a real puzzle. The book is a character-focused space opera. Spaceships zooming through the void wouldn’t convey that. Thematically, it’s a sweeping story that showcases many perspectives. The focus is on a crew of five, plus one stowaway wrapped in sentient plant. Six faces are way too many for a book cover. (Although I did spend some time considering how I might do that.) The stowaway in her plant suit has a unique role, which makes her a good choice for the cover, but she’s also a teen, and a teen on the cover is code young adult. Insiders is an adult novel.

    Initially, I’d been considering a photo-manipulated cover. Not abhorrent, thieving, generative AI, but the work of graphic artists. A painted cover opened up many more options. It also makes a firm statement of support for the artistic community.

    Then it hit me—the plant suit, which covers Sachi entirely, means that no one would see Sachi’s age. As a painting, the figure would be both alien and familiar—an attractive prospect for space opera fans!

    Custom book covers often show scenes from the book, but they don’t have to. What they need to do is convey enough of the story to attract the right readership. First, I considered some scenes I might use with Sachi, the teen, and Botan, the plant. As I researched and wrote Insiders, I often found myself saying, “PLANTS IN SPACE!” I created designs based on that vibe.

    I had been on the lookout for prospective cover artists for months. I’d found the artist I wanted to paint my cover for Wish Givers, my fantasy novel, but as I looked at portfolios, I wasn’t finding nearly as much sci-fi art as fantasy art. The first thing I noticed about Isabeau Backhaus’s portfolio was the inclusion of sci-fi. Looking at her work, I liked her compositions and colors. I really liked that she had diverse skin tones and body types. I was completely sold by her textiles and costume design. She even had plants in her nonfiction section. I had found my artist.

    I described my cover ideas to Isa via email. The description included a lot of maybes. Maybe Sachi’s plant suit would appear as described in the book, or maybe it would show more plant variety and textures. Maybe Sachi would be floating in space alone or maybe she would be circled by a ring of plants. I wanted Isa to have a clear idea of my vision with the room to include her own ideas or interpretations. I hastily sketched several thumbnails of the images I’d described so that my meaning would be clear. After the price and timeline were determined, there wasn’t much for me to do except wait. I would have the opportunity to offer feedback or ask for revisions, with limitations, after Isa completed the color sketch and after the final draft.

    Isa’s first sketch was magic. I aimed not to reply too quickly with my enthusiasm, but to consider her image carefully. Isa had chosen to show Sachi’s face, hands, and feet outside of the suit. While it didn’t match the story and lessened the scientific realism, it worked very well to attract prospective readers to the character. Even showing Sachi’s face, the image didn’t look YA, which had been my initial concern. However, I noticed three points of consideration. First, there were some details with Sachi’s hair. She has one longer strand, and the placement didn’t match the book. (Really, in the book the strand is on the right side of her head, but that isn’t important.) Mostly, I aimed for hard science in my space descriptions so that the more fantastical elements were more believable. Therefore, I wanted Sachi’s hair to have a zero gravity effect. I suggested Isa use a shorter haircut, so that Sachi could still be styling in the image, even with her hair up. Isa had also chosen a plant type and used the same very identifiable foliage on the plant suit, the surrounding plant ring, and the passing asteroids. Aesthetically, the image was pleasing. Storywise, we could easily see the interconnection that all the plants are Botan. However, I wanted it to be clear that Botan is more. Botan is always talking about ecology and interconnected biomes. I asked Isa if she could keep her design and add more epiphytes. Plants on plants could solve it. Finally, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure about the balance with the asteroids, considering the later addition of typography, but left that with Isa.

    Of course, Isa adjusted the sketch seemingly with ease. I had sent her a bunch of photos of plants on plants from my area to demonstrate my idea. I also suggested some online photos of a pixie hairstyle. Communicating in images felt more useful than paragraphs of words. Isa sent back a selection of epiphyte photos from the Internet she thought would work well. She updated the sketch, and I approved it. Then it was back to waiting for me as Isa put in all the hours of work to create the final painting. I was a little worried that I’d messed up her color palette by adding plants. My worries were unneeded.

    The final cover is gorgeous. My eyes go straight to Sachi’s face. I’m not quite sure what Sachi is thinking here, but it’s captivating. The nebula behind Sachi is luminous. It just glows. Together, Sachi’s pale skin and white hair appear radiant. Sachi’s floating form, particularly her relaxed hands and slightly back-tilted position, create an impression of surrender. Sachi is surrounded by Botan, and she trusts him. Her plant suit and ring of plants in space create a mysterious juxtaposition that should appeal to sci-fi readers. I adore the epiphytes. The way the light and shadow play on the plants, especially the moss, is delightful. The colored lights double as distant stars or magical plant pollen. There’s so much story here. I love this cover. Isa did an amazing job.

    The last part of the cover creation was the addition of typography. I had asked Isa to aim for her image to be able to overlap with the title. By tucking the title behind Sachi’s head, the typography integrates well with the image, like it’s part of the landscape. I already had the internal document of the book created using the font Megrim, by Daniel Johnson, as the chapter header font, so I knew the font I wanted for my title. With the glowing stars or pollen in the background, I decided putting a glow on Megrim would be the best effect. I selected colors from the painting for my typography. Because the dimensions are different between book editions, the typography placement is different as well. Isa had courteously and conveniently provided her image with layers, so I could easily move the asteroids on the back to fit around my text. I could also adjust the placement of Sachi’s head and torso on the book spine, adapting it to fit both the hardcover and paperback dimensions. After ordering multiple rounds of proof printings of both paperbacks and hardcovers and adjusting as needed, I finalized the cover and completed the project.

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    I shared the cover with an early reader and was very satisfied to hear him praise it as not only beautiful, but also capturing the feeling of the story. The true test will be if it pulls in prospective readers to try a new, independently published author. Did it work?

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Grab a copy of Insiders by Shannon Knight!

Insiders by Shannon Knight

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