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Creating the Cover: Chatting with Designer Dominic Forbes

Like most writers, I’ve imagined what my book cover might look like for a very long time. I dreamed of holding my book in my hands long before it ever became a reality. Before I had even queried the book, I had made myself several mock covers, experimenting with fonts and images, picturing what it might look like on the shelf one day.

In my old flat in London, next to my desk, I had this beautiful poster that I got at a space photography exhibit. (I still have it; it has now been on my wall in three homes and two countries). The photo on the poster is of the Butterfly Nebula. I’ve always loved the visual composition of this image, the way it evokes two ethereal, awe-inspiring cosmic bubbles.

A poster for the National Maritime Museum's space photography exhibit, Visions of the Universe, featuring an image of the Butterfly Nebula

Whenever I thought about how to visually represent the Rift anomaly that the characters encounter in Under Fortunate Stars — with its colliding pockets of space-time — I kept coming back to something like this image. So, when my editor asked me to send an inspiration board over for cover design ideas, I included an image of the Butterfly Nebula along with a few of my favourite sci-fi covers.

The SF covers I loved all had several things in common: they featured a cool-looking ship against a space backdrop (clearly signalling their genre), and they had bold, striking title lettering. I also enjoyed covers that had an eye-catching pop of colour for visual interest.

I was always pretty confident that I would like my cover design, because my editor and I had been so clearly on the same page when we talked about cover vibes. On our first call, we even both picked one of the same favourite SF book covers: Alex White's A Big Ship At the Edge of the Universe. I had high hopes for my cover from the beginning, and when I saw the Under Fortunate Stars cover design for the first time, the artistic choices made by our designer Dominic Forbes completely blew me away.

The cover of Under Fortunate Stars: A multicoloured space background with the same ship reflected in the top left and bottom right corner in a negative image

I was especially struck by Dominic’s decision to use a negative/reversed image of the same ship in the top and bottom corners of the cover, alluding to the book's themes of duality and reflection. And those colours!! Not only did Dominic use a Butterfly Nebula-inspired shape for the space phenomenon in the background, he chose a vibrant, striking colour palette that I think really gets across the hopeful tone of the book.

I've already received so many amazing compliments on my cover, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it came out. I reached out to Dominic to chat about the process of creating it, and find out how he put together this incredible design. I was so delighted to learn that he read and loved my book, and to discover how he so thoughtfully translated the story’s underlying themes into a visual medium.

Cover designer Dominic Forbes says:

My usual process when designing a cover starts with the brief from the publisher. “Fun, character-driven space opera and text-heavy, typographic-led look” were music to my design ears.
I always try to read an outline of the book and the first chapter or two to get a feel for the writing, to see if any visual ideas jump out at me that may not have made it onto the brief. But I love sci-fi, and once I started reading Under Fortunate Stars I just had to finish it!
With this cover design, I was aiming for an appealing sense of intrigue and unusualness while still being firmly in the epic SF market. A book cover functions on several levels: it has to show a reader quite quickly what genre of book it is, but it also has to look interesting enough to grab their attention. A designer’s task is to balance those objectives.
The unusual colourway was a wildcard on my part that went down really well with the team at Rebellion. It also ties nicely into the story, as the crews have left normal space, so not using the traditional “deep black starfield” was a good way of showing that aspect.
I also wanted to show the Rift anomaly and represent the timelines intersecting. In the final visual, this is done with the subtle double shadow on the title, as well as the reflected negative and positive ship in their respective “space-time bubbles.” I’m quite playful when designing, and I was experimenting with photographic positive and negative layers, which ended up looking super interesting.
With the mirroring idea, I wanted to convey duality and reflection — and hopefully, the reader will get even more meaning from the cover image after reading the story!

Thank you so much, Dominic, for creating this stunning cover and for sharing some of your process! You can find Dominic Forbes on social media as @domforbes, or via his website.

Add Under Fortunate Stars on Goodreads or find preorder links here!


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