Phil Williams, successful Indie author of The Sunken City trilogy, talks through his design process as he revamps the covers for his urban fantasy trilogy. As you know, I’m fascinated by book covers and what makes them successful, so leapt at the chance to have a chat with Phil about his reasoning behind the design decisions he made.
Why did you decide to change the covers, Phil? I have always loved these…
The original cover for Under Ordshaw was my first major attempt at a book design, and it served me well. I aimed to mix elements of urban fantasy, horror and thriller, with a nod to the more technical designs of the Rivers of London or Alex Verus series.
The results never quite satisfied me, though I received lots of very positive feedback, and when I frequently suggested I might update them fans told me no, they liked the originals too much. Part of the problem was that I designed a new cityscape with each book and they never quite felt like Ordshaw. I felt the same about including characters or creatures: literal interpretations of the books are hard to pull off.
Combine that with years passing where I learnt more and more about cover design, leading to what I felt was a bit of a step change in my results for Kept From Cages, and it constantly niggled me that I could better.
How did you go about evolving the new design to include all the elements you wanted?
Over the past year or more, I’ve been toying with character covers, searching for a suitable Pax. No small feat when I work with composite stock, but I had a very particular image in mind.
Finally, I found a model that worked. I put together new designs at length until I had something almost approaching what I first envisioned. I also improved the background with higher-quality grunge texturing, and searched for a fantasy-esque graffiti motif to go behind the character and bring out the supernatural/horror element.
Then, when I had my Pax and a looming fairy, and found matching imagery for the other books, I realised the artwork far outshone my character image. When I removed the character, the simpler, more vivid design came to life.
From there, I experimented with extra colour, magic splashes, smashed glass, torn paper titles and more. Thanks to my wife being merciless with my bold choices, all those elements were finally worked into the design as subtle details, to form the covers we have now.
How did you then go about changing the look of an-already published series?
As I’ve already released the complete Sunken City Trilogy, one of the challenges was updating all the covers at once. Once the first design was complete, though, the designs for the others fell into place – thankfully all together, because seeing them side-by-side I ended up (with more feedback from my wife!) swapping the images from Under Ordshaw to Blue Angel, which now make more sense!
Now, I’ve got all three covers updated in eBook and paperback format, with audiobooks to follow, which comes at a good time to celebrate the upcoming release of The Violent Fae in audiobook form, along with the second Ikiri book. These new designs, I feel, blend better with the Kept From Cages design, and The City Screams’ cover, recently tweaked, though I’ll probably give that a redesign too.
To my mind they’re much more striking now, and above all embody the energy of the books. I only hope the public will agree!
Thank you, Phil, for taking the time to share the process with us all. What do you think – do you prefer the new editions? Have you read the series?
Phil Williams writes contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction and non-fiction grammar guides. His novels include the interconnected Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers, the post-apocalyptic Estalia saga and the action-packed Faergrowe series. He also runs the website English Lessons Brighton, and writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English.
Phil lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and now spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.