Interview with Lauren Willmore, Writer and Book Cover Designer

For the last three Fridays I have been posting instalments of an interview with author Crispina Kemp.  This week, we get to chat with Lauren Willmore, writer and book cover designer.  You will have already seen her beautiful work gracing the front covers of Crispina’s The Spinner’s Game series and I think we can all agree, they are stunning…

Let’s get to the interview and meet Lauren.

Interview with Lauren Willmore, Writer and Book Cover Designer

To begin with, for those who have yet to discover your book cover designs and writing, please introduce yourself.

I’ve been writing and designing as long as I can remember. While in writing I stick to fantasy novels, design I vary. I design book covers, but also greeting cards, brochures, wedding stationery, I paint, and bake elaborate cakes (as featured on my blog).

What made you decide to become a book cover designer and how long have you been doing it?

I’ve worked in design for the past nine years but decided to go freelance a year-and-a-half ago. While I have my fingers in a few pies, I wanted to branch out into book covers, as it seemed the perfect way to merge my two passions, writing and design.

When it comes to book covers, how do you go from concept to finished design?

After discussing the book and the writer’s wants, I will put together a concept, usually a rough where artwork will be either sketched out or cobbled with photos, and the text usually in a more finished state, unless it’s to be hand drawn, and then a similar font might be used. At this stage I ask clients to make all the substantial amends, even if they outright hate it and want to start fresh. It’s so much easier to change things now, compared to when the design is created. Once this concept is signed off, I’ll create the artwork either digitally, painted, or drawn (I do all sorts!). Here clients can again make amends, but these should be more like tweaks, say a warmer shade of a certain colour. Anything more dramatic at these stage can add time and cost to a job.

Lauren was kind enough to share the concept cover (above left, showing the book’s original title) and the final cover (above right) for the first book in The Spinner’s Game series by Crispina Kemp.  

How much input does an author usually want in the design process, and does this help or hinder the process?

I think one of the reasons authors favour self-publishing is control over the cover, so it’s understandable that some have such a strong vision of what they want. If you’ve always imagined your world and characters a certain way, it can be hard to see someone else’s interpretation of it. So some authors are very involved in the cover process, and we tweak chin sizes, eyebrow inclines, shades of blonde, till we get the cover spot on. Equally, it’s always fun to be given free reign and have the cover approved first time! I’ve had both!

Of the covers you’ve designed, which is your favourite and why?

My favourite has to be The Pole That Threads by Crispina Kemp. I love its place within the overall series, The Spinner’s Game, but regardless, my eyes are always drawn to it. There are so many hidden details to be found, even the mix of the photographic starry night and the digitally painted heron. Of course I shan’t list all the hidden clues, read the book and discover them!

And which books on your bookshelves (either physical or digital) have book covers that you just love?

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang. When I saw it on the bookshelf in Foyles, I was immediately drawn to it, and after a read of the blurb I was hooked. And that’s the point of a book cover, isn’t it? It’s a sequel, so I’ve added the first instalment, The Poppy War, to my reading list too. I love its simplicity, the merging of the bird, the girl, and the mist, the stark white and the black watercolour.

Cover Artist: JungShan Chang

Honourable mentions go to…

The new covers for Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. I own the old versions, but I’d love these framed on my wall.

Cover Artist: Melissa Castrillon

And… Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. It’s so eerie and beautiful it delayed my reading the book because I kept searching the cover for more hidden depths. It reminds me of Ophelia by John Everett Mills.

Cover Artist: Cliff Neilsen

Not only are you a book cover designer, but you’re also a writer too.  What project(s) are you currently, and / or have been recently, working on?

I’m currently querying my first novel Made of Earth—so fingers crossed there—and completing edits on its sequel Mountains May Crumble. All advice I see says not to work on a sequel whilst querying, but I love the characters so much I couldn’t help myself. I am however, one chapter into a new project, and gearing myself up for the next Camp NaNo when hope to get a good chunk of the first draft completed.

What writing plans do you have for the future?

That probably depends on how successful I am querying! But I love writing, so whatever the future holds I’ll still be tap-tapping away at the keyboard every chance I get.

Can you tell us about your writing process? What’s the first thing you do when you get a new idea?

I’m still defining what my writing process is, it’s been different every time. But I’ve recently been struck by a new idea for a novel. I let it simmer a bit, revisited it whilst daydreaming or showering (I’ve solved so many plot problems in the shower!). I’ve begun jotting down all the ideas in my head, roughing out a plot, doing research, and I recently wrote the first chapter to get a feel for the characters and world. I fall somewhere in the middle of the Plotter and the Pantser, I like to know where I’m going, but I have fun with the journey and take the unexpected turns in the road… even if they lead to dead ends and I have to turn back! I did NaNoWriMo last year, and while I’m not particularly word count orientated, it brought out my competitive streak (competing with the word count graph) and I shot through a first draft. Hopefully I’ll manage that again this April, then the editing begins!

Are you a writer first, then a designer, or is it the other way around?  Or perhaps neither and they hold an equal place in your heart?

In the past I’ve been a designer first. But recently I’ve noticed a change in myself, and where before I used to reach for the paper and pencils, I’m reaching for the iPad to write. In the past couple of years I’ve treated writing as less of a hobby and more as a career. Having Crispina Kemp as my critique partner has really helped with this change. I’m no longer writing alone, I’m sharing my work, finding where my weaknesses lie, and becoming critical in my reading too. And certainly now that I’m querying, I love design, but I’m in love with writing.

Does being a writer yourself help when it comes to working with other writers on their book cover designs?

I think it does, though I can’t offer the opposite perspective. I’d certainly say it helps the writer as I always end up becoming more than just the cover designer. I’ve helped with strap lines, blurbs, and even taken on some to beta read.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Pinterest is always a go to for design. But equally I love browsing book stores, seeing what’s on sale and what new trends are emerging.

If anyone reading this interview would like you to design a book cover for them, what do they need to do?  Is there anything they should think about beforehand prior to contacting a designer? Does it make things easier (for both of you) if the author has some idea of what they want, or do you prefer to work with less restrictions, in terms of cover theme, style, colour choices etc?

I always want to know a bit about the book, especially if there’s anything symbolic that would be great on the cover. The genre and age category are musts. And it’s helpful to know if there are any covers the author has loved elsewhere, so I can get a feel of the style they’re after. I don’t mind whether writers have no clue or a specific idea, I’m happy to adapt and make suggestions. But changes of mind and forgetting crucial information can delay things. Say a cover has a character on it, I’ll need to know all the physical information about that character. Let’s not get to the end of the design and remember they have a different hairstyle, race, or gender (I’ve had two of those!). Amends like that add time and money to a cover design, so do be sure to be clear on what details are critical.

Thank you so much for the interview, Lauren.  It was wonderful to be granted an insight into the design process and to hear about your writing.  We wish you all the best with all future projects!

Lauren can be found over on her website.