We are so excited to share the new cover for Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, which is out in paperback on August 4th from Anchor! Check out a larger version of the cover below, along with an exclusive interview with the author on visual representation of her story, what an omnibus of The Starless Sea and The Night Circus would look like, and what she’s reading right now!
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood.
Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction.
Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.
It’s rare in this industry for an author to get a say in their covers, but this was a very serendipitous happening for you! Can you share the story of how this cover came together?
Erin Morgenstern: I’m incredibly fortunate in that my publisher understands that I’m a very visual person and the visual presentation of the book is important to me.
For the paperback cover I was sent a file of potential concepts along with artist/illustrator suggestions and samples. Truthfully, every single one of them would have been extraordinary and it was difficult to narrow it down but when I got to Alex Eckman-Lawn on the artist list I literally laughed. I have his “Monolith” hanging in my living room and several of his pieces in my inspiration folders for The Starless Sea. There’s a gorgeous layered darkness to so much of his work that’s so appropriate for this book and I am honored to have his visuals wrapped around my words. The whole design is perfection, from the boat to the bee to the subtle keyhole shape. I didn’t even have any back-and-forth or adjustments to make, it was immediately just right.
The covers for The Starless Sea are all absolutely beautiful, but the US version, the UK version, and now the paperback are all really different. Do you have a favorite? Is there one you feel is more indicative of the story contained inside?
EM: Having various (beautiful!) covers is so appropriate for this book, a single cover almost wouldn’t be enough. It’s the sort of book that should have multiple incarnations. I love how different they are because the story itself is so layered and about retellings and perspectives and the malleability of stories.
It would be too difficult to pick a favorite but there is something so striking about the UK hardcover, there’s so much motion and so many details. Also I’m a sucker for marbling.
They all reflect the story inside in different ways but the US paperback might capture the tone the most successfully. I’m not even sure why, I think maybe because it feels like a door to be stepped through with something deep and dark waiting beyond.
You’ve mentioned before that The Starless Sea is a story about stories. What is the process of translating that into a visual component like? How do you visualize stories while you’re writing them? Are there any references you kept, any films or pieces of art that were integral to your writing process?
EM: It ends up feeling rather cyclical because I always start with visuals in my head and have to translate them into words to get them down on paper and then once everything is right it gets back to visuals again. I learned from The Night Circus to anticipate that transition and I try to have a strong visual language within the story, both for the reader and for the brilliant artists and designers who get to dress it up.
I always like to keep visuals that reflect what I’m working on around my house. I went through a phase where I bought a lot of things with bees on them. There are little gold bee magnets stuck to every magnet-able surface in my office.
I keep a lot of art references, both in folders in my Scrivener documents (there’s a handy “Research” folder that I drop pretty things in constantly) and on my walls. There’s an artist named Yoann Lossel who does a lot of gorgeous work combining graphite and gold leaf that felt very Starless Sea in tone, especially the older mythic parts, I ended up buying a couple of prints because I loved them so much. I used Vanessa Foley’s owls for owl references, her owls have so much personality.
Right now I have a collection accumulating around the old typewriter in my office to help conjure my new project: playing cards and cherry blossoms and a small translucent fox.
What would the cover of an omnibus of The Night Circus and The Starless Sea look like?
EM: Oh my… It is likely black and embossed with an indistinguishable metallic that is somewhere between gold and silver. It probably has stars on one side and not on the other. Possibly tents that turn into pirate ships depending on how you look at them. There is a bee somewhere but you won’t notice it at first and once you see it you’ll wonder how you missed it.
What are you reading right now? What are you excited to read in the next couple of months?
EM: I’ve been having a difficult time reading due to *gestures at the general state of the world* but I’m trying, slowly. I recently finished Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s dark and delicious Mexican Gothic which comes out on June 23rd and Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi which is haunting and beautiful and out in September.
Currently I’m reading V.E. Schwab’s upcoming The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue (October 6th). I’m taking my time with it because I know I’m going to miss it once I reach the end.
And I’m very much looking forward to Alix E. Harrow’s The Once And Future Witches, also out in October which seems like good witchy timing.