Maps in Books: An interview with Karyn Lee, designer

Herewith, an interview about maps in books with KARYN LEE — designer at Simon and Schuster, who art-directed the maps for Amanda Foody’s Wilderlore books.

For related posts (and much more art)

Karyn Lee is a designer at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, freelance illustrator, and a native New Yorker.

She earned her BFA from Pratt Institute in Communications Design and has since worked for clients such as The Washington Post, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster as a freelance illustrator. Much of her time is spent daydreaming about fancy historical clothing and yet-to-be-drawn botanicals, and nothing gets her by like a carefully curated playlist.

Her design work has been featured in the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club, The New York Times, and Buzzfeed.

She is represented by Chad W. Beckerman at the CAT Agency (

Check out Karyn’s design work at

1. KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Karyn: I’m a visual person so maps really help me add that little bit of depth to the world that I build in my head. I love it when books have maps because it really shows how important the geography is to the story and sometimes, in the case of something like… let’s say The Lord of the Rings, it really emphasizes the length of the journey that lies ahead. And it’s always fun to flip back to the map to see where they’re going! The map that has always stuck with me the most is the one in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. It was my one of my favorite books growing up and I liked that the map really was a part of the hero’s journey—it turned up on his doorstep with the Phantom Tollbooth! I remember spending a long time staring at it and getting lost in the twisty doldrums and it was just so fun to envision a place with the name “Valley of Sound”.

2. KJ: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? Why did you want maps in these books?

Karyn: I feel we put maps in books that we always think could use an extra bit of world-building. Traditionally, maps are included in books with journeys—long journeys across lands that are unfamiliar and fantastical. For the Wilderlore series, we’re attempting to give young readers more of a vision of this ever-expanding world Amanda has created. This series is a great contender for a map because of the vastness of the world and because Amanda put so much thought into these locations, it’s wonderful for readers to see the time and effort she put into creating it. I hope they go back and reference the map as Barclay and his friends move from place to place.

3. KJ: Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve?

Karyn: Oooh, I don’t know! I’ve always felt maps have been in books with long journeys, but I’m recalling the map in Circe by Madeline Miller that was just an island. And I think in that book, for me, at least, the map really emphasizes how confined Circe’s life was during her exile. I also have seen maps used in crime novels and think that’s a fun idea as a reader could use it to help them envision and solve the crime in the book, trying to figure out where suspects were at the time of the crime. So, I think there’s a ton of possibilities and reasons why a map might be in a book.

4. KJ: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)?

Karyn: I have to say, that this is the first map I’ve worked on! So there’s nothing hilariously wrong that’s happened yet. I think finding the right artist is always the hard thing—there are so many ways to render maps and we wanted something that young readers could really get lost in. And you brought ours to life so perfectly with all the little details and beasts—there are so many things to consider in maps that I’ve never considered before (like… waterways!) I always think it’s interesting when an author has a comment (not just on maps but any art that goes in or on the cover of a book!) where they say like “oh this isn’t quite how I envisioned” because everyone envisions things differently.

5. KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map?

Karyn: Ooh, I don’t know… I like little easter eggs—places in the book that maybe get passed by and mentioned that aren’t fully explored in the text. I love when we still get to see it on the map!

6. KJ: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it?

Karyn: I think it would be so funny to have a map in Holes by Louis Sachar—also one of my favorite books from my childhood—the main character, Stanley, is sent to a correctional boot camp where, every day, he’s tasked to dig large holes in the ground “to build character”. It’s an amazing book that is more than it seems. But the setting is essentially a desert full of holes with a mountain range surrounding it, which I think would make for a hilarious map!


Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

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An Interview with Amanda Foody

Amanda Foody is the New York Times and indie bestselling author of All of Us Villains, the Wilderlore series, the Shadow Game series, and more. Her work has appeared in publications including Buzzfeed, Popsugar, Culturess, and Amazon selected All of Us Villains as the Best Young Adult Book of 2021. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives in Boston, MA with her partner and their orange tabby, Jelly Bean. When not writing, she unironically loves to cook. All of Our Demise, the sequel to All of Us Villains, will release on August 30, 2022. The third book in the Wilderlore series will follow in Spring 2023.

The first two volumes in Amanda’s delightful middle-grade series of Beasts, exploration and magic are out now. I illustrated the maps (the covers are by Petur Antonsson), and also got to ask Amanda questions about maps in her books!

(Illustration process post is up, and interviews with editor and art director to come!)

KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Amanda Foody: I love opening up a fresh fantastical book and being immediately greeted by a map. It’s such an exciting peek into the world even before you read the first words. And though I might be terribly biased, the Wilderlore maps truly are my favorite! I love how much they burst with detail—you could spend ten minutes admiring them and still catch new words or Beasts you hadn’t noticed before.

KJ: Why did you want maps in these books? (Or, if you didn’t — which is potentially funnier — how did you feel when maps were thrust upon you?)

Amanda: I didn’t request any maps up front because, in comparison to other fantasy books I’ve written in the past, The Accidental Apprentice didn’t require one so much. And since we had the Beast glossary in the back, I figured the book already had some wonderful extra content. But The Weeping Tide did lend itself better to a map, so when my team suggested adding one, not just for Book Two, but for TAA, TWT, and all the future books in the series, I was thrilled! Why would I ever say no to such delightful additions? 

KJ: These books take place in very different locations (the Woods and the Sea), and all the remarkable beasts in them change accordingly (except for the ones who travel with the main characters). Yet these aren’t exactly journey or quest fantasies — they’re much more about mystery and discovery. Did you want to explore the geography of the world as part of that? How/why did you choose the areas for those stories to take place in?

Amanda: As each book in the series is set in a different Wilderland, aka a magical biome, each time I’ve sat down to outline a new installment, one of the key items of my agenda is to list some geographical locations or phenomena I’d like to feature, which are typically inspired by the real world. For example, in The Weeping Tide, set at the Sea, I wanted to include a trench similar to the Marianna Trench, a coral reef, underwater rivers and lakes, islands, and even the Shifts—the very visible dividing line between the Sea and the ocean of the Elsewheres—is inspired by the real life border of where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet. But honestly, TWT was just the beginning! This process only grew more expansive and detailed once I learned there would be maps in the series, which came after TWT was finished. Since then, I’ve begun to outline with the maps in mind, encouraging myself to feature even more dazzling and scientifically fascinating locations. Book 3 spotlights places inspired by landmarks across five different Earth continents. The maps have genuinely become integral to how I view my Wilderlore writing process.

KJ: Do you have a favourite type of landscape?

Amanda: I’m partial to the Woods, as I feel that’s the biome I grew up in, being from Central Pennsylvania. Though my ecological and geographical research has been one of the joys of writing this series, so I’ve possibly had even more fun exploring places beyond it.

KJ: Often maps are treated like an Objective Truth. But one of the things discussed when these maps were in development was that they should feel unfinished. Why was that important?

Amanda: Because the Wilderlands are meant to be so wild and magical, they’re described as not being totally explored. In fact, there is a whole class of Lore Keeper called Surveyors who make their careers out of mapping the uncharted regions of each Wilderland. I love the mystery that this adds. What discoveries might be found in places humans have yet to touch?

KJ: How did you think up the shape of the world in these stories? Some authors work out a very detailed geography first. Others make it up on the fly to fit the story. Some just have a very strong aesthetic/vibe they work with. (Speaking as an illustrator, all of these are quite exciting to convert to a map.)

Amanda: I definitely fall into the latter category. I find that if I commit to figuring out too much of the world upfront, I feel a lot of pressure to include all of that detail in the book, and it can often be overwhelming. When I start with simply what’s necessary on page and go from there, it keeps it more minimal. (Though I don’t think anyone who’s read my books would claim the worlds are minimal haha!)

KJ: Did you draw any maps yourself, and can I show your rough sketch?

Amanda: You absolutely can, though I drew them specifically as guides for you, as opposed to guides for me, so I only put the bare bones into them because I knew you’d take them away so beautifully from there! I’m very visual and good with directions, so I tend to remember the overall layout of my settings without relying on a map as I write.

[KJ: You can see the reference sketch Amanda made for me over in the illustration process post]

KJ: What is it like working with an art director and illustrator to have a map made to fit a book?

Amanda: It’s very fun! I’ve had maps included in most of my books to date, and the process across publishers and series and age categories has always been much the same. Typically, once the book is mostly finished, I’m asked to provide some type of sketch of the map to send to the illustrator, and then some time later, I receive something a million times better than what I originally sent, often styllized in a way that suits. I also love how varied my maps have been. In Wilderlore, they’re maps of the Wilderlands, which are extremely large. In All of Us Villlains, the map is of the grounds of a death tournament, which include a single city and its surrounding regions. And in the Shadow Game series, the maps are all of the same single city, with alterations to suit the locations of each installment. [Maps by Jennifer Hanover]

KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find on a map?

Amanda: I love including details that might not feature in the actual book. I find they’re such a great way to make the world feel big and vibrant and not clue the reader into every single piece of information that will be important later.

You can read all about the illustration process for the maps here:

Art Process — Wilderlore maps

Here is a sheep from the maps:

tiny ink drawing of sheep

Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Art Process: Wilderlore Maps

Here is a look behind the scenes at how I drew the maps for Amanda Foody‘s first two Wilderlore books (for Simon & Schuster): The Accidental Apprentice and The Weeping Tide.

Stay tuned for interviews with author Amanda Foody (now up!), art director (Karyn Lee) and editor (Kate Prosswimmer)!

First, as usual, is to read the book and work out what should go into the world. The publisher and author provided me with sketches showing roughly where everything was located, and ideas for elements — this sped up the process, as sometimes I get to spend a while playing with alternative geographies (also fun). But reading the book lets me find ways to fit the elements together, and make the drawings suit the story, and find more Beasts with which to ornament the pages.

(Drawing two maps at once simplified some decisions, too, as they needed to match and belong to the same style.)

You can see that at one point I was thinking about a double-page map (top left, below), but in fact this was to be a single-page map. The edges of maps are very important to consider! Both so that the world can be pleasingly spaced inside them, and because while borders take real estate, they’re also a lot of fun to play in.

We thought about having no borders (since the world hasn’t been completely mapped). But in the end we all liked the idea of beasts in the corners so much that we put borders around them anyway. Design tensions!

Tiny thumbnail sketches of book elements

So many Beasts!

These sketches are on accordion-folded strips of drawing paper. You can see here I was starting to think about how to fill all the space between the islands in the Sea.

There was a lot of Sea to draw — and a lot of Woods! These maps are of places that are only partially explored in the world of the books. So I had to fill them with enough detail to keep them interesting (the Beasts helped with this!) while also giving the sense that there were many adventures yet to be had.

Tiny thumbnail sketches of book elements

My older sister asked if I could just draw a whole lot of trees/waves etc once, and use them to fill in backgrounds. I certainly could, and possibly one day I will on a project that suits it. But I love making everything a little bit different, a miniature world on the page, and being able to work elements around each other, or hint at topographies with the arrangements of trees.

Here are the sketches Amanda Foody made for me, for reference (she said I could show you, and noted that they were drawn just as guidelines for me!). I dropped them into a page template in Photoshop and stretched and nudged them into place until everything fit.

Author's map sketches in page templates

I had to think hard about placing things around Woods because there’s a LOT of information that would usually be centred on a map (towns, kingdoms, etc), but which here needs to be pushed right to the side, so the Woods can take pride of place. But I also wanted to draw the little towns!

I printed those rough layouts and used them as a guide for a large pencil sketch. That sketch would go for adjustments and approval, and then I would use it as a guide for inking.

Here is what the pencils look like close up. Something I wanted to play with here was using the trees’ shadows to hint at the rise and fall of the land.

Pencil sketch of trees and bats

I sent the sketches through for discussion. You can see some of the notes made on them here — adjusting locations and labels, identifying watercourses, etc.

I have two big geographic rules when I’m drawing maps: everything is connected, and (unless there’s extreme provocation to the contrary) water flows downhill. Sometimes I can add in connections and watercourses, but often they might turn out to be important in later books, or affect the broader shape of the world. And sometimes (as in other maps) I have to leave room for elements that will later appear or disappear.

Something else that’s fun with maps is that they do involve a little bit of writing. There’s the figurative sense, in which I am influencing and reflecting and talking with the story. But there are, quite literally, labels to write. And some of those labels I get to make up, or at least suggest — as here, with the “partial and incomplete” and “tentative and ongoing” labels.

And then I have to draw the banners around them (banners are fun — I filled the whole February calendar with them).

The next step, after having the pencils approved, and discussing the ideal corner animals, is to panic. I almost always freeze up — maps are big and complicated to draw (and therefore to get wrong), and I’ve almost always suggested something in pencil that will be very difficult to draw specifically in ink.

The trick, almost always, is to do a sampler page, trying out whirlpools, for example, or different ways of drawing streams, or how to hint at a snake skeleton.

Some elements I already am comfortable drawing (trees, for example), and other elements here have shown up in other projects and samplers (the January 2022 calendar was a tree-and-building sampler, and for February 2021 I was already trying out some of these waves and fish, which owe a great debt to the style of Pauline Baynes‘ illustrations of fish, and medieval drawings). But there’s almost always some twist on how it needs to be incorporated.

Page of test ink drawings of map elements, waves, streams, trenches, etc

I went with the fully-inked watercourses here, to make them stand out in a trackless forest. It also linked the two maps, with the under-sea ‘rivers’ in the Weeping Tide map.

Below, you can see the pencils showing through the drawing paper as I work on a lightbox.

Inking of stream on map in progress — visible pen nib

You can see that best here around the lake:

Close up of ink drawing of stinky lake

I didn’t want the waves to look mechanical, but I did need them to be roughly similar-sized. If they vary all over the map when they’re not meant to, it can be distracting. I ‘d already tried this process out on the February 2021 calendar, so again I drew up a pattern of stripes about the right distance apart. I put that under the paper, and used it as a guide, adjusting a little bit where necessary to work around fixed elements.

Map of Sea on drawing board with guidelines for waves behind it

I don’t always hand-letter directly onto the map. Often I put it on a separate page. This is because (a) I make mistakes and (b) I have to separate them onto their own layer in Photoshop, for proofreading (and replacement in translations, etc).

This time I did, though — the map looked bare in patches if I left those elements out, and the idea behind the maps was that they might be maps made in a sketchbook by a traveller, so some infelicitous lettering would be consistent with that.

Photo of inked maps side-by-side on drawing board

And there are the two maps, before I scanned them in, tidied them up, separated the letering and sent them away!

Stay tuned for those interviews…

Edit: The interview with Amanda Foody is now up!

The maps aren’t in the first editions, as I came on board as the series expanded — I understand they will be in newer editions of The Accidental Apprentice (from 1 February) and second edition/hardcover reprints of The Weeping Tide (when they come out — the first edition is out now, though!).

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.