There’s a lot to love about pursuing a career as a self-published author: you get to write what you want, not what New York believes they can sell; you get to keep the lion’s share of the profits; you get to set your own deadlines, based on your life and not a corporate publishing calendar; and you get the final say in all stages of your project.

There’s also a lot to dislike about pursuing a career as a self-published author: you don’t get a professional editor to help clean and streamline your project into something designed to sell; you are responsible for one-hundred percent of the expenses; you don’t have any outside commitments forcing you stick to your deadlines; and you get the final say in all stages of your project.

I got caught in the “final say” net this month, and lost several days of writing productivity worrying about cover photos, something I had very little say in – and spent very little time on – when I published with Harlequin. But now that my covers can be whatever I want, I realize what a huge responsibility and huge time suck this can be.

There’s so much to consider:  Can I find a stock model who accurately reflects the image in my head and on my pages? Should I go with a couple or just the hero? Just the heroine? Shadowed figures? Hind-end images? A “location image” rather than people? Since I’m writing three connected novels, can I / should I choose three images which are visually similar? (And let me tell you, that’s a HUGE challenge!) Or, as Lorinda has done, should I hire models and a photographer and get – and pay for – exactly what I want?

These are all great questions, questions that need to be considered thoughtfully in order to produce the best product possible, but sheesh! You could easily spend days and days just looking for the ideal cover image (and once this decision is made, you still have to hire a cover designer, consult on exactly what you’re looking for, review and edit the drafts; sign-off on the final product, pay for the darn thing, and spend hours and hours just adoring your new “baby.”) Good-bye to tons of writing time, and honestly, if you don’t get the story written, what good is a fabulous cover?

Talk about a classic Catch 22. I need a dazzling cover so I can sell/publish my book, but creating a cover takes so much time, I don’t have time to write my book.

My advice: You need to be pretty familiar with your story before you begin picking out covers, so unless you’re a highly-detailed plotter, write at least half the story before you even begin to worry about cover image. Oftentimes, there will be a detail somewhere in the middle that helps you begin to form a mental image of your cover. Also, be careful about getting a specific image stuck in your head. This could lead to even more time spent combing stock image websites looking for an elusive photo to match your “ideal” mental image.

Another tidbit I learned from my foray into cover design: Beware the specific physical trait. The hero in my third book has a burn scar on his neck, and let me tell you, this is not something I going to find in a stock image! But even simpler traits can cause issues: The heroine in the second story is a blonde with a short, pixie hairstyle. Again, not a lot of blonde pixies in the stock photo industry. So be ready to tweak your cover expectations, and sometimes, your character’s description.

If you are highly detailed, or not committed to any particular physical traits in your characters (or not planning on using head shots), then you will probably find it advantageous to pre-plan your covers. It will calm your need to be prepared, and oftentimes, when your writing process stalls, being able to sneak a peek at the cover you’ve already designed – and perhaps paid for – is very likely to get those creative juices flowing once again.

Bottom line is, yes, you do need a cover and it’s gotta rock, but you also need a story, and it’s really gotta rock. Spend the time and put the effort into what goes on the pages. In the end, the cover needs to be dynamic and eye-catching, but a reader isn’t going to blacklist you if your cover models aren’t dead ringers for your characters.


Dawn Temple

Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.

4 thoughts on “COVERING YOUR BASES

  1. I learned a lot from my first foray into putting out cover art.

    First, you are absolutely correct. Having a specific layout in your mind can hinder you when you actually get down to the brass tacks of it all. It’s what led me to arrange a photo shoot in the dead of January – outside – with water. My poor models nearly froze to death. In the end, I got what I wanted – layout-wize, but I did have to change my character’s physical descriptions to match my models (who were friends of my kids and posed for free). Since my three books go together, I did all three coves at once.

    Second, going forward, I plan to look for my cover art very early on and write towards that. I will add this, I have all three of my covers clumped together as my screen saver. Seeing them everyday when I get on my computer is inspiriting and reminds me what I’m working towards. Another reason for completing cover art earlier rather than later.

    And last, would a royalty house done as well? I think not. For me, I liked the creative control, even if it took a fair amount of time, planning, and effort. The way I think about it, no job is only the job. Every job has administrative responsibilities that go along with it. For the self-publishing author, cover art planning is one of those. And frankly, one I enjoyed.

  2. I’m not a writer so I do not have much input to give about the majority of your post. What I can offer you is a bit of advice on specific physical traits. Everything from scars, hair color/cut, eye color to the color of the clothes worn can be digitally added/changed if you find a graphic artist willing to work with you. There are a ton of freelance artists straight out of college that would love to earn a bit of extra money. Bonus- their work gets published and they have something to add to their portfolio. Win-Win.

  3. I, too, was published by Harlequin in the past and am now working with a terrific cover artist who freelances with Harlequin, so I know she knows what she’s doing!

    For each cover Fiona does, I go through the same initial process I did for Harlequin: identifying the tone of the story, the heroine and hero characteristics, sharing a summary of a scene that gives a feel for the story’s theme.

    The great difference is that I now get to see concepts at an interim stage, where I can determine whether the cover really captures what I myself feel the book is. At Harlequin, I never had that opportunity and in some cases had to work myself into liking the cover once it arrived, fully-fledged and unchangeable. (And don’t get me started about how they put the wrong flower on a book that was named after a specific one… I don’t blame the artist, who otherwise did a terrific job, but I do blame the process.)

    The act of working through this process with a professional cover artist does fuel the fires, just as Lorinda mentions: pulling up the cover from time to time reminds me what I’m aiming toward and gives me that twinge of excitement to get me going for the day.

    Great post, Dawn!

  4. It’s true – whether we want to believe it or not, we DO judge a book by its cover. If the cover doesn’t catch our eye, it doesn’t matter what is inside, we aren’t going to lift it off the shelf (or click on in with our e-reader). So, covers DO matter. When it came to designing the cover of the book I hope to self-publish (was supposed to do that in Feb – still not ready to go, but I have a cover) I hired a pro. I had no clue how to go about the cover process – with Fiona’s help, I quickly narrowed down what I wanted, and ended up with a cover I love. For me, it was a fairly painless process – I just wrote a check and left the creative process to an artist. When I started the process, I knew only that I wanted it to easy to read on the thumb-sized picture given on an e-reader. And I wanted it to identify the book as a romantic suspense. I got exactly that and more. SO – my advise – hire a pro and let it go.

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