Beginning to End, The Making of Light from Other Stars, Part 3: Patti Ratchford

Beginning to End is a series from Spine following a book from acquisition to publication. For our first "season," we're following Light from Other Stars, about a young astronaut hopeful and an invention that alters time. The novel is author Erika Swyler's second, following her much-lauded 2015 debut, The Book of Speculation. Bloomsbury Art Director Patti Ratchford designed the cover, which features art by Marc Burckhardt. Bloomsbury will publish Light from Other Stars in May.


Short on time, long on ideas. 

Bloombsury Art Director Patti Ratchford faced this duality when designing the cover for Erika Swyler's sophomore novel, Light from Other Stars. The book, originally titled "Little Twitch," follows young Nedda Papas from her Florida childhood into outer space. 

"There's so much imagery to draw from in Erika's book: space, a time-altering machine, cake-baking experiments, and orange groves," Ratchford told Spine.

"Even though part of the story takes place in future space, we didn't think that should be the focus of this cover. Why Nedda ends up in space starts with who she was as a child, so that gave us a starting point: Earthbound with a hint of space," 

Ratchford walked Spine through the book's creative process.

 
Round 1Cover Concepts by Katya Mezhibovskaya and Patti Ratchford

Round 1Cover Concepts by Katya Mezhibovskaya and Patti Ratchford

 

Because she faced a tight schedule, Ratchford pulled in Senior Designer Katya Mezhibovskaya to help her brainstorm. Each created a cover, and the Bloomsbury editorial crew chose Ratchford's (above right) to pass around. The author, Swyler, loved it. Swyler's agent Michelle Brower loved it. Editor Lea Beresford loved it! 

But the Bloomsbury sales staff did not love it. They felt it was too big a departure from the cover of Erika's first novel, The Book of Speculation, and not magical enough. Ratchford created more concepts.

 
Round 2 Cover Concepts by Patti Ratchford

Round 2 Cover Concepts by Patti Ratchford

 

"You can see I was reluctant to give up my neon glow and 3D oranges swirling into space. The sales staff thought these revisions were still too sci-fi, but there was some love for the one on the left," Ratchford said. "We thought maybe illustrations would move this to a warmer, more humanistic place." 

Holding on to the concept of oranges and a starry sky, Ratchford pored over "zillions of illustrators and paintings," discovering an abstract piece by artist Ryan Mrozowski that became part of another round of submissions.

Sales staff liked the addition of Mrozowki's painting, but the artist wasn't able to take on a commission for a commercial piece. Ratchford needed another artist, and knew who she wanted. "I've been a fan of Marc Burckhardt's for a long time, and he was on the top of my list."

 
Sepulchre and Nightwatchers by Marc Burckhardt

Sepulchre and Nightwatchers by Marc Burckhardt

 

Burckhardt said yes and from there the process involved a little plus here, a little minus there. "We had sketches go back and forth about how much sky should show, adding and subtracting stars, size of stars, leaf shape, number of oranges, that sort of thing." Finally –the cover arrived at where Ratchford wanted it! (Below left.) Almost.

 
Penultimate Cover Concept and Final Cover by Patti Ratchford

Penultimate Cover Concept and Final Cover by Patti Ratchford

 

"Once I got the final art in place, the type design didn't coordinate, and the blue wasn't quite there. It needed to be a bit deeper and mysterious without getting much darker." Ratchford fiddled, and the cover finally arrived at approved. (Above right.) When the book comes out in May, it will feature embossed type and, said Ratchford, "I still get my neon orange."


Visit Spine to read the previous pieces in our Beginning to End series on Light from Other Stars: Agent Michelle Brower talks about prepping the book to sell and Editor Lea Beresford talks about shaping it, and the search for a title.

Susanna previously wrote for the online design community Dribbble, helping transform their occasional blog into the online publication Courtside. Her bylines also include AOL News, Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Publishers Weekly, among other publications. 

@SusannaBaird