Publication + Process

Congrats to Nicki on publication day for The Detective’s Guide to Ocean Travel!!! To celebrate, I’m gonna share some of the cover process.

I came into the cover process for The Grandest Bookshop quite late in the piece, after all the major design decisions. Not so with The Detective’s Guide! Here, with a full cover illustration, I was involved from the start, and it was a blast.

Those of you who are super quick off the mark and have already read the book will know that the characters are a really big focus. There’s the kids, of course, and there’s also the rich (and weird) first class passengers (aka suspects). Nicki writes them all with such joy that I really wanted the cover to feature a whole bunch of characters.

Then, of course, the setting is vital. The fact that they’re on a 1920s steam liner is a really cool thing that lots of readers will love, so that’s got to be obvious. Not only obvious, but dramatic and opulent too!

Those two key components (interesting characters + huge beautiful ship) provide something of a conundrum for an illustrator. How can we make the ship look big without the characters being tiny dots? How can we show lots of characters without relegating the ship to mere backdrop? These were the questions, and I have infinite gratitude to my AD Meg Whelan at Affirm for helping me answer them.

First I had to sketch a lot of steam liners, to see what compositions might be possible and workable. These are some of the early ideas, after the first research phase. I’m still stuck between wanting to focus on the ship and wanting to focus on the characters.

But both aspects were too important to let one slide, so we pushed a little further and tried using the dock to give us some more options.

The dock was a useful idea, but the lure of actually being at sea won out! Onto colour sketches…

And then, to the final: