Will Staehle Discusses his Cover Design for Sarah Gailey's Magic for Liars

Will Staehle Discusses his Cover Design for Sarah Gailey's Magic for Liars

Will Staehle is a designer and illustrator based in Seattle, WA, where he runs his design studio Unusual Co. Here he details how he created the cover of Magic for Liars.

I’ve worked with the talented creative team over at Tor on countless covers, and I’m always thrilled when they approach me with a new project. Magic for Liars came across my desk at a particularly busy time for me, but the book concept was really interesting, and I was excited to take the project on.

This fantastic debut novel from Sarah Gailey follows our lead, Ivy Gamble. When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages where Ivy’s estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic - Ivy ( a reluctant detective ) is pulled into a world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister ― without losing herself.

Some of the core elements in the novel, are sisterhood, magic, lying, and loss.

I don’t generally receive visual mood-boards for my projects, but I did for this one. It included references of snakes, death, and some more modern mysticism-like iconography.

So, I started in on the designs.

I always do a series of very rough, tiny pencil thumbnail sketches before I move onto digital comps. Most of my initial designs were tied fairly closely to the visual mood board references. I began focusing primarily on the ominous snake angle.


The entire time, I kept having this image of a hand with finger’s crossed stuck in my head. It played on that theme of lying, as well as the duality of the two sisters.


Final Cover


Even though Tor has approved some of my more atypical fantasy / sci-fi cover designs in the past, I didn’t think that they’d go for this cover design. I assumed that the title treatment was too non-fantasy-like to work, and that the overall look was too graphic ( especially considering the initial request / brief ) but I was pleasantly surprised when Irene at Tor emailed saying that everyone was loving the hand design, and even the unusual title treatment. It was an in-house winner.

Since the cover approval, the book has gone onto to become a LA Times bestseller, Tor produced a limited edition enamel pin of the hand imagery, and last but not least, the cover image has been immortalized as a tattoo (on author Sarah Gailey!)


Photo: Jason Rekulak


Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.