Before digging into creating the cover for debut novelist Hermione Hoby’s Neon in Daylight (Catapult, Jan. 2018), Claire Williams Martinez, one-half of the design team StrickWilliams, said that she and partner Charlotte Strick read Hoby’s complete manuscript. With fiction in particular, Martinez explained, the pair finds it “visually crippling” not to know the whole story. “While we’ve found that most cover ideas come within the first half of the book, not knowing what happens to the characters in the end makes the project feel incomplete and a little dishonest.”

In the novel, an Englishwoman flees her PhD program, and her boyfriend, to seek a new life in contemporary New York City. The idea of escape, Martinez said, recurs throughout the book. “When we looked for symbols that would simultaneously represent escape and New York, we landed on the fire escape, which appears incidentally, and repeatedly, in the novel.”

In the above comp, “the large type provides a backdrop for the architectural image,” Martinez said, “and feels a bit like type you’d see painted on a wall in an art gallery—also a very New York kind of space that makes its way into the novel.” The fire escape, she said, “has a compelling angle, but it looks more like it belongs to a loading dock than an East Village walk-up.”

Another image that “wound its way through the novel,” Martinez said, is cigarette smoke. “Nearly every character takes a drag at one juncture or another, signaling their self-destructive tendencies.” The cigarette comp, she said, “allowed for a poster-like solution. We imagined the hand-drawn, purposely messy and exaggerated ember to burn in a neon orange ink.”

But in the end, the fire escape proved to be the winner.

At some point in the process, Catapult publisher Andy Hunter had suggested adding a brick wall, Martinez said. “This backdrop lent the warmth of human experience, which had been missing in the first round, to the design.”

The finished cover, below, incorporates elements of earlier versions, including a color palette that remained consistent throughout.

To get the fire escape details just right, StrickWiliams hired “photography wizard and building whisperer” Marc Yankus, Martinez said. “The three of us finessed the angles to get the composition to be believable, while also retaining a surreal urban landscape.”

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