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The Qwillery

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Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

No Whitewashing! Author Input! – A Good Cover Design Story

To celebrate Regeneration’s US cover reveal, I thought I’d tell you a story. A true story this time, and like many truths, one that confounds conventional wisdom – in this case, the oft-repeated tale of woe in which an unapproachable and unaccountable publishing behemoth slaps an unrepresentative (or just boringly generic) cover onto a book and sends it out into the world, insensitive either to the text or to the opinion of the person who wrote it.

Sadly, we’re not talking urban legend here: this does happen. Even famous, best-selling authors bemoan having no input, nor even seeing their covers before they’re published. Sometimes, when the wrongness of what they’ve done hits a particularly frayed public nerve, the resulting furore becomes fierce enough to force a change on the part of the publisher. But the conventional wisdom remains that authors, as a matter of course, have no say in how their books are packaged.

Here’s the thing: while this may be often (and appallingly) true, it’s by no means universal; and it does a disservice to the publishers who do work with and listen to their authors to tar them with the same brush. Despite being neither famous nor best-selling (yet, they insist, just not yet), my publishers have always shown me my covers as works-in-progress. They have always asked for my feedback, and I’ve never been ignored. It’s been my experience through six covers now: the UK and US editions of Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, published by Quercus Imprint, Jo Fletcher Books in both markets (although the two series wound up looking quite different to each other).

Never has this spirit of enthusiastic, respectful collaboration been more evident, or more important, than in developing the US cover for Regeneration. It was the first time that I found myself not just suggesting tweaks to an image that I was basically OK with, but having to explain what was wrong with it and asking for it to be significantly reworked. Now that the final happy result has been revealed to the world, I want to share the story of its evolution from that somewhat shaky beginning. I pitched the idea to Quercus, who have very kindly agreed. We both think it’s important to demonstrate how things are done when they’re done well. And to tell more than one kind of story.

The following is lifted largely from our email correspondence, with some additional context from Quercus on how they approached the cover and responded to my comments.


Designing the US cover for Regeneration, the final book of the ®Evolution trilogy

The US covers for Gemsigns and Binary
Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Round 1

Quercus’ original idea:

We were lucky to have the same cover designer, Daniel Rembert work on Gemsigns, Binary and now Regeneration. We have been very conscious of wanting all three covers to be coordinated so that the sense of a trilogy would be recognizable. There are several dynamic plotlines to pick from, but we chose to focus on the gillungs’ story – as it directly reflects the progression of the gems from chattel fighting for their rights, to better integrated members of society, to community leaders and innovators. We wanted the image to be underwater but to convey the idea of the quantum battery technology and its use as a power source.

Quercus initially approached Stephanie with the below first cover ideas for Regeneration:

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Stephanie’s original thoughts:

“These are beautiful as a picture, but: why is the central image of a naked nubile female? And: who is she supposed to be? The only teenage gillung woman in the text is Agwé, and Agwé is black. So if it’s meant to be Agwé it needs to look like Agwé, which means properly dark skin and CLOTHING. But much as I love her — and believe me, my soul would soar at the sight of beautiful black Agwé with her glowing green hair and cherry-red bodysuit as the cover image — she’s very much a secondary character, so I’m not sure why she’d be the cover? That suggests a YA novel. And she certainly wouldn’t be in such a passive pose, none of them would. If we’re going to do a gillung underwater against a turbine they should look more engaged, more dynamic.

“I think part of what’s thrown me as well is that this composition is such a departure from the Gemsigns and Binary covers, which had been developing a motif that I really liked: the raised arms/ fist, the crowd of people, the sense of an engaged urban community. Regeneration continues that whole theme of the collective and the communal, and brings it to a climax with the intersections of family, friends, workmates etc.

“(I’ve lost a bet with myself; I thought it might be an underwater viewpoint, but looking up through the water at the quayside crowded with people and the huge egg-shaped Thames Tidal building rising up alongside. Something that, when the reader got to the penultimate chapter with Gabriel desperately trying to get people to leave, they’d look back at the cover and go ah-ha! …Not saying it should be that, mind, it just seemed like it would be an obvious continuation of the motif.)”

Quercus’ cover design team went back to the drawing board with Stephanie’s suggestions in mind.

Round 2

Quercus’ thoughts:

“Stephanie provides fantastic, detailed feedback and we went back to the designer with it. We have been back and forth with the designer about these covers from the very beginning, so it’s no surprise that the first interpretation wasn’t quite right.

Featuring a gillung is essential, we agree, and I think the color palette here is good—figuring out how to pull off the composition in a way that captures the same sense of dynamism and community focus as the previous cover designs is just part of the challenge. We were not feeling 100% about the main figure (if we were to use her, our designer would definitely need to finesse some of the detailing with the wet suit and the skin tone but we really loved the general composition/direction.”

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Stephanie’s thoughts:

“I too much prefer the overall direction of this composition, and in general I like the first image, with the central figure rising vertically and purposefully, best of all. The background figures are better in this as well; in the others it’s not clear whether they’re swimming or drowning, but in the first one it’s pretty evident they are all in their element. However I also like the fact that more of the topside buildings are visible in the second image; it sort of contextualises the swimmers. So I don’t know if it’s possible to maintain that general upward thrust of the figures in the first image while having more of the buildings from the second image as well? (I realise part of this also has to do with where the title sits on the cover, and the designer will no doubt play around with that far more efficiently than I can visualise it!)”

“As for the central figure, yes she’d need to be a bit darker and more detailed. I’d love her to be a teeny bit curvier and her hair a bit more cloud-like. The main thing to remember about the gillungs’ physicality — apart from skin tone — is that they are powerful people. This is a very subtle thing; I don’t mean to suggest that they should be large or blocky, but if you think of any aquatic mammal from otters to whales, there is a sort of muscular solidity about them.”

“You said you’re not 100% certain about the main figure; are you thinking about alternatives? Who/ what would you use instead? Because it does need a strong central component, I think, and at the moment she’s it …”

Round Three:

Quercus’ thoughts:

“We are always grateful for Stephanie’s very helpful and comprehensive feedback. Our designer has incorporated some of these tweaks. The differences are subtle but effective.”

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Stephanie’s thoughts:

“I really like this, and I think it does the job well — it’s both attractive and accurate, if you know what I mean. Holding the earlier two covers up to look at all three in a row, it’s clear that although the images are different from each other they are thematically related, having a sort of family resemblance — the altered human figure against a crowded urban backdrop, the sense of energy and urgency. I like the cover itself, but also the sense of a continuum.”

The final cover:

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Available in bookstores and online, May 2016!

Daniel Rembert's design work can be found at

Click each cover to see it full-sized.

Melanie's Best Books of 2014

 Melanie's Best Books of 2014

Melanie's Best Books of 2014
Dawn's Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

I absolutely love the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series and Dawn's Early Light was another fantastic instalment in this series. My favourite agents - Books and Braun - find themselves across the pond and joining fellow agents from the Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical to stop the dastardly Thomas Edison and the evil House of Usher. This book (and series) has the perfect balance of action, character development and steampunky coolness. I also have a secret crush on Books so enjoy everything and anything to do with my favourite hero. (See Melanie's Review here.)

Melanie's Best Books of 2014
Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter

Gemsigns was one of those big surprise books for me in 2014. I wasn't expecting to like it quite as much as I did. Saulter writes very convincing science fiction with likeable heroes and baddies who you aren't sure are going to get caught which makes it all the more gripping. This book is so well written and chapters that explain the 'science' are exceptional. It's hard to believe that this is Saulter's debut novel. (See Melanie's Review here.)

Melanie's Best Books of 2014
Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

Magic Breaks is the 7th in the Kate Daniels series and Andrews made a very brave decision. The authors' change the format and make some very bold decisions for their characters. I have enjoyed this series and some books are stronger than others but this one stands out for me not just for how it is written but for what happens to the characters. Kate is one of my favourite heroines and can hardly wait to find out what happens next. (See Melanie's Review here.)

Release Day Review - Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter

Author:  Stephanie Saulter
Series:  ®EVOLUTION 1
Publisher:  Jo Fletcher Books, May 6, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:  $26.99 (print)
ISBN:   9781623651602 (print) (US Debut)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Release Day Review - Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter
Starburst magazine raved that Gemsigns, the first novel in a series, is “a fascinating and compelling read, exploring the boundaries of human behavior, religious influences, and the morality of the everyday person. It comes highly recommended.” For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems—the line between survival and ethics was radically altered. Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies that created them, and against the Norms who see them as slaves. And a conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom. But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the Gems are up against forces that may just be too powerful to oppose.

Melanie's Thoughts

The story starts with a community of genetically enhanced humans - aka Gems - who are trying to find their place in a 'norm' world. Humanity had been on the brink of extinction and in order to survive they developed a genetically distinct race who would effectively do all the jobs that they couldn't/wouldn't be able to do - mining, farming, manufacturing, surrogacy etc. The gems are controlled by large corporations who have everything to gain and nothing to lose by ruling this genetically modified offshoot of humanity. The story largely focuses on Eli Walker who is an anthropologist researching whether gems are really human. He is caught between the gorgeous, powerful Zavcka Klist, an executive working for one of the companies involved the creation of the gems, and equally beautiful but badly deformed gem, Ayral Morningstar. Tensions rise to a fever pitch as the ethical debate plays out. Its only a matter of time before the debate leads to violence and everything Eli thought he knew gets called into question.

Gemsigns could have been have been just another story of one race persecuting another but Saulter layers a number of themes to tell her story including fascism, slavery and religious fanaticism. The theme of whether genetically enhanced humans should be subjugated for their powers/abilities is not new. X-Men came to mind as I read this book. Saulter avoided mediocrity and adds a few twists to make the story unique and engaging.  She blended some relatively uncomfortable themes with great characters and excellent writing. There are parts of the book that are so eloquently written, those discussing the 'humanity' of the gems, that I felt like I was reading a interesting thesis I might add. I found the first couple of pages a bit odd but as soon as it launched into the main story I was gripped and stayed that way until the end.

This is Saulter's debut novel and if it is an indication of her abilities then she is destined to have a great career as an author. This book is a winner in my humble opinion. I am also very lucky that I don't have to wait for book 2, Binary as it has already been released in the UK. Sorry to rub it in! Gemsigns is a great book and sets the stage for a great series.

Melanie's Week in Review - April 13, 2014

Melanie's Week in Review - April 13, 2014

This was a rather unproductive reading week for me and I am not sure why as it seemed I always had my nose in a book. Due to my bad planning I did have to spend 2 tube journeys and 1 lunch finishing a baby blanket I was knitting for a friend of mine. This left with me with just under 8 hours of reading time when I normally enjoy closer to 12. So enough of my whining, what did I read?

Melanie's Week in Review - April 13, 2014
I started the week reading The Man from U.N.D.E.A.D -  The Curious Case of the Kidnapped Chemist by Darren Humphries. I can't remember where I got this book from but if it was a recommendation then I owe someone a big 'thank you'. If I found it myself then I need my arms stretched so that I can give myself a big pat on the back. I loved this book and thought it was hilarious. The book centred on Agent Ward from the United Nations Department for the Enforcement and Apprehension of Demons aka U.N.D.E.A.D. Agent Ward has been sent to investigate the disappearance of a young chemist with help from his incredibly lovely sister. A whole series of mishaps befall Agent Ward although with the company credit card with an unlimited limit the road to 'deadsville' might not be so bad. Humphries has excelled at mixing humour with a solid murder mystery. I think I was laughing from page 1 and that honour, so far, has only been bestowed on Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant / Rivers of London series. I thought I would give you a clue at how funny this book is by quoting a few lines. Feel free to clutch your stomach as the laughs abound.
"Discretion is my middle name" I assured him, "if it wasn't already Jason."
She was a portly woman, whose flowery dress reminded me of nothing so much as a summer's meadow not least because it possibly could have covered one.  The plunging neckline revealed a cleavage so deep that a whole team of potholders could have gotten themselves lost down there.  
Tee hee.  Writing these have me laughing again and going back to read more of my highlights. There are a few books in this series to enjoy so if you think this tickles your fancy then you can dig in to any number of the books of this series. I want to read more but need to get through some books on my TBR first.

Melanie's Week in Review - April 13, 2014
I almost had a panic attack when I saw the Gemsigns (by Stephanie Saulter) giveaway post and realised I had the book but hadn't read it. It went immediately on my NBR (Next Book to Read) list. I have to admit that I was a bit worried at page 2 that I wasn't going to like it. It felt a bit like Saulter got hold of a thesaurus and went to town but by page 3 it had turned a corner and I was engrossed from that point forward. You can read my full review closer to the US release date in May!

I need to get organised so that I make some progress on getting my TBR to something that looks manageable. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I have no excuses and plan to have more than just 2 books to share with you next week but until then Happy Reading.

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie SaulterGuest Blog by Stephanie Saulter - Finding Voices: Defining the Characters in BINARY - May 11, 2015Melanie's Best Books of 2014Interview with Stephanie Saulter and Giveaway of Gemsigns! - May 7, 2014Release Day Review - Gemsigns by Stephanie SaulterGiveaway: Gemsigns by Stephanie SaulterGiveaway: Gemsigns by Stephanie SaulterMelanie's Week in Review - April 13, 2014Giveaway: Gemsigns (®EVOLUTION  1) by Stephanie SaulterGiveaway: Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter

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