Posted in Reading, Writing

New Novel, New Cover – and a Peek into the Design Process

This post introduces the cover of my next novel and shares the story of my long-term working relationship with its cover designer Rachel Lawston. 

I’m delighted to share Rachel Lawston‘s new cover design for my next novel, Artful Antics at St Bride’s. This fourth book in my Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery series will be published by Boldwood Books on 29th July, and the ebook is already available to preorder online. To whet your appetite, here’s the official blurb:

cover of Artful Antics at St Bride'sWhen English teacher Gemma Lamb’s school flat is wrecked by storms, maverick headmistress Hairnet insists the girls must fund its repair by setting up their own businesses – the start of a series of hilarious unintended consequences.

Meanwhile Gemma’s worries are compounded by the arrival of bossy new girl Frieda Ehrlich, sponsored by a mysterious local tycoon whose wealth is of dubious origins. Fearful for the school’s reputation, Gemma recruits an old friend to help investigate the tycoon’s credentials, jeopardising her romance with sports teacher Joe Spryke.

What is Frieda hiding? Why is her sponsor living in a derelict manor house? Why is his chauffeur such a crazed driver? And what has become of McPhee, Hairnet’s precious black cat? With a little help from her friends, Gemma is determined to solve these mysteries, restore her flat and save the school.

For anyone who loved St Trinian’s – old or new – or read Malory Towers as a kid. St Brides is the perfect read for you!

Each book in this series, set in an English boarding school for girls, takes place over half a school term, and this story runs from late February until the school breaks up for Easter.

For those unfamiliar with the English school system, the academic year begins in September, and we have three terms each year:

  • Autumn, from September to December
  • Spring, from January until Easter
  • Summer, from Easter until July

I like the optimism that refuses to designate any of the terms as Winter, even though we have decidedly wintry weather in the autumn and spring.

Here are all four covers for the series so far, which as you can see clearly convey the season for each story, thanks to Rachel Lawston‘s beautiful designs:

Array of four Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery covers

Working with Book Designers

Book design is a very specialised art. It’s not just about coming up with a relevant picture and adding the book’s title and the name of its author. There are all kinds of subtleties to be considered, for example:

  • With so many books these days book online, the cover design must work just as well at “thumbnail” size, ie the size it’s displayed on the book’s page on any online retail site, as well as making anyone who sees it displayed in a physical bookshop want to pick it up, flip it over and read the blurb on the back cover – on the critical path to buying a copy.
  • The design must create the right expectations in the reader by complying with the current trends for the genre, while making it stand out as being individual and memorable.
  • The spine and the back cover must integrate with the front cover design – these are all important persuaders to browsers, and with most books in physical shops displayed spine outwards rather than showing the whole cover, the spine artwork needs to encapsulate the messages on the cover.

Book designers understand and comply with these and other constraints in a way that more generalist designers, eg of brochures or advertising hoardings, would not be able to do. That’s why it’s crucial that publishers pick a book design specialist.

What many readers don’t realise is that book designers are not expected to read a book before designing its cover. They simply don’t have time. Therefore it’s down to the publisher to provide an appropriate brief, to which the book designer adds their own creativity and specialist knowledge.

My Partnership with Book Designer Rachel Lawston

headshot of Rachel Lawston
Rachel Lawston, author, artist and book designer

I first started collaborating with Rachel back in 2017, when I self-published my first novel, Best Murder in Show, the first Sophie Sayers Cozy Mystery.

As an indie author, I was responsible for commissioning all my cover designs – a task that in traditional publishing is taken care of by the publisher rather than the author. This meant creating a brief of my ideas for the cover, including my likes and dislikes, and then responding to Rachel’s interpretation of the brief, which would include ideas of her own.

It’s really important for the publisher (whether an indie author or a traditional publishing company) respects the designer’s ideas and remains open-minded, as they might come up with something quite different than expected. The best designers often come up with something much better and more exciting than the brief, but if the publisher/indie author disagrees, they work together to arrive at the best solution. For Artful Antics at St Bride’s, Rachel came up with a scene featuring the two central characters, Gemma and Joe, in a rowing boat on the school’s lake, which didn’t actually happen in the original story, but I liked the cover so much that I changed a scene where they are in conversation on a bench by the lake to putting them in a rowing boat, and I’m sure it’s a better scene now!

When you’re self-publishing, the buck for all aspects of the book, including the cover design stops with you, and it’s a big responsibility to make the right decisions. Great covers do sell more books, and a bad one can make the most brilliantly written books fail. It can therefore be an anxious moment when the email lands in your inbox bearing your designer’s draft visuals.

However, I was so delighted with what Rachel did for the first book, and so enjoyed the process of working with her, that I asked her to create the covers for both my series of mystery novels, and also for my series of novelettes in the Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series:

array of covers for Tales from Wendlebury Barrow

(If you’ve joined my Readers’ Club, you’ll recognise the one of the far right as the free ebook I send you when you sign up. If you haven’t got your copy yet, you can sign up here.)

Readers were constantly telling me how much they loved the covers, and I was very proud of how they looked. At least some of the many sales will have been made because readers were falling in love with Rachel’s designs!

Then two summers ago, on a whim, I wrote a novella that was unrelated to any of those series: a second-chance romantic comedy with a touch of magical realism, called Mrs Morris Changes Lanes. Although Rachel was by now incredibly busy (not least because I kept recommending her to all my indie author friends!), she found time not only to produce a cover, but to hand-draw it for me.

You may not know that most commercial covers use as their starting point stock images, for which the designer licenses the rights, before combining and manipulating them to create unique and appropriate covers for their particular project.

Having unique, original, custom-drawn covers is a privilege usually reserved only for top-selling authors.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when Rachel sent me this beautiful hand-drawn design, which perfectly captured the impression I wanted of a slightly magical purple Mini driving into the unknown down a Cotswold lane in May. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

cover of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes

Rachel Lawston & Boldwood Books

When I licensed the rights for all my novels to Boldwood Books in a 13-book contract a year ago, they naturally wanted to commission new designs to reflect their house style and commercial expertise, and I wasn’t looking forward to leaving Rachel’s covers for my novels behind. So it was a wonderful surprise when my editor told me that she’d worked with Rachel before, loved what she’d done for Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, and wanted to commission her to create a whole new set of hand-drawn covers for my St Bride’s series, which Boldwood planned to rename and rebrand as the Gemma Lamb Cozy Mysteries).

While my novels are doing really well in their new guise, I’m continuing to self-publish Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, and also my Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series, using Rachel’s original covers. You can buy all my books as ebooks and paperbacks online, or order them from bookshops if you prefer. The novels are also available in audio, hardback and large print.

Designer Turns Author

In the meantime, Rachel has established a new strand to her career as a highly-regarded author of children’s books about the environment, which is one of Rachel’s great passions. in her spare time she is an education volunteer at WWT London Wetland Centre in Barnes, helping children discover nature. Rachel’s love of the natural world has always shone through in her designs for my books too.

Here are all her own books so far, all published by Pikku Publishing and illustrated by Lisa Visirin and Beatriz Castro:

Rachel’s beautiful picture books make perfect gifts for young nature lovers, whether they live in the town or the country. The books have won prizes and accolades from the likes of Chris Packham and the RSPB, and are on sale at environmental tourist attractions as well as in bookshops and online. Rachel has also gained many young fans with visits to schools and children’s literature festivals.

Rachel’s latest venture as an author is a children’s book written jointly with her husband Paul Lawston, Learning Manager at the London Wetland Centre and Environmental Education Consultant to publishers. Paul also very kindly checked the details about birds in my novelette, The Clutch of Eggs.

cover of My Nature Trail book

My Nature Trail will also be published by Pikku Publishing in October, and I can’t wait to read it!

For More Information about Rachel Lawston

To find out more Rachel, visit her websites:



English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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