The Book Design Process

Behind the Scenes with Author Syahidah Ismail

This blog post was written by Syahidah Ismail. She is the author of Saltwater Spirits and she worked with fleck creative studio to bring this book to life. Here’s her perspective on the book design process and why getting the cover just right was so meaningful to her!

The inspiration

The inspiration behind the cover for Saltwater Spirits was to illustrate the story inside it. It is crossover fiction inspired by midcentury P. Ramlee Malay movies, mystery novels, and stories about the supernatural I heard growing up as a kid in Singapura.

My cover designer Jazmin Welch, founder and creative director of fleck creative studio, worked with me on this cover for 3 months. We paid every attention to detail together, from the colors to the imagery and typography.

A close up of the book design process for the Saltwater Spirits book cover, featuring the black cat with the long shadow.

The artwork

The imagery was meticulously hand-drawn by Jaz. The attention paid to the details is breathtaking. Look closely, and you will see traditional kampung architectural patterns. I did a lot of research for this book (3 years worth). That included delving into traditional Malay architecture. In the book, the protagonist takes you across several areas in the world she inhabits within the first chapter. Each area has its own unique architecture, derived from my imagination and research of old Singapore. It was thrilling for me to see the village in the story come to life on the cover!

The colours

For the colors, I was inspired by by the colors of batik, a type of textile art found globally from Africa to Asia. According to fellow creative entrepreneur and batik enthusiast, Aqilah Zailan, founder and owner of conscious label Gypsied, the art form of batik reached its peak in Nusantara (maritime Southeast Asia), specifically Indonesia. I was inspired by Aqilah’s creations, particularly the rich and deep colors in the Layar clutch. Aqilah’s original clutch design is made from a piece of batik with a traditional motif called Sido Asih. It depicts a timeless message of hope. How fitting!

As the only Singaporean author of Malay descent writing in the diaspora currently, it is only with hope (equal parts courageous and naive) that I was able to write this story and publish it. I am proud to have been able to incorporate an element of batik and thus, a piece of my heritage, into the cover design. This was an integral part of the book design process.

palm tree for the book design of Saltwater Spirits

The cat on the cover pays homage to Hitam, a character in the story which appears during pivotal moments. True to the author’s cliche, I have a cat. Delima (‘ruby’ or ‘pomegranate’ in English) or Deedee, as I call her, has been my constant companion while I wrote this book. She has been by my side throughout the entire process – resting by my side as I type away, impatient only when it’s time for lunch. It is fitting that I pay homage to her (and her facsimile in the book) on the cover.

A close up of the book design process for the Saltwater Spirits book cover, featuring the black cat with the long shadow.

The typography

As for the typography, Jaz and I chose something classic and literary. My writing style is quite formal, and for a piece of crossover fiction, I appeal to both young and older readers, fans of general and literary fiction alike. The font on the cover is indicative of the type of story I’m telling in this book. At once, light-hearted and humorous but also observant of gender dynamics, practice, and understanding of Islam, and the effects of displacement on a community.

The final result was everything I wanted for my debut novel. It shows the setting of the story and hints to the mystery and darkness in the plot line while maintaining a literary feel to the book. A thrilling combination!

What do you think about the cover? Let me know in the comments below!