Indie Book Publishing -- Cover Art Tales

The digital revolution has made indie and self-publishing possible on a scale never before seen.  One of the blessings for indie authors and small publishing houses is the proliferation of stock photo sites selling millions of affordable images for covers, advertising banners, video trailers and such.

But as is so often the case blessings can sometimes be banes. The Smart Bitches have showcased some pretty awful romance cover art from the 1980s -- but the digital age has presented us with its own version of bad covers...  Anyone who can afford PhotoShop and some stock images can become a cover artist!

In the middle of the last decade, when I first began writing novels seriously for publication, and likely self-publication, I noted the mistakes some cover artists made, and I was determined not to repeat them.  I'm not an artist.  At least, I'm not an illustrator, but I have experience in graphics and layout going back to childhood when I made flyers, posters and such for school and for the churches where my daddy preached.  Give me the artwork, and I can do a fair-to-middling job on the final product.

My most recent effort is the cover for my just released indie/self-published novel, Sweet Southern Boys.  I began writing this novel in 2005 or so, as a prequel to Little Sister.  About two thirds of the way through, I put it on the back burner to write and publish Southern Man, which was released in 2009.  I followed with writing Storm Surge and shopping it to e-book publishers.  It was released in 2011 by Desert Breeze Publishing.

I started an author services site, Word Slinger Boutique, in 2011, as well, and that kept me away from resuming Sweet Southern Boys full time.  I wanted to release the book in March, but as you can see... this is August.  But the book is finally available, and with a cover I'm reasonably proud of.

I always make "working covers" for my stories while writing them. I read about this idea online -- said it makes the story you're writing "feel" more like a book.  I agree.  So early in my writing of SSB, I made this cover. The bayou is supposed to represent the Okefenokee Swamp, which is near the fictional town of Verona, Georgia where the story is set.  My three protagonists hunt and fish in the woods of south Georgia beginning as grade schoolers and at that early stage,  I thought it would make an appropriate cover -- at least, a working cover.

The original cover image I made was lost in one of the several hard drive crashes I've experienced since I made it.  All that survived was a thumbnail, but here's a reproduction that's very close to the original. (Thumbnail on left is original.) 
 This bayou is not in Georgia, though.  It's in Monroe, Louisiana. I would not be able to use either of these photos for the printed cover because of the image quality -- they are scans of photos made 40 years ago or so.

This cover image worked to inspire me to write until the characters solidifed in my imagination enough for me to picture them on the cover.  I wanted it to depict the three boys with a Confederate flag behind them.  Here's my first cover flat design, complete with fantasy reviews (ha!).

I knew nothing about trim sizes back then so this is all out of proportion and that enormous spine width indicates a behemoth book, maybe 400 pages long!  It is about twice the width of the actual spine image I uploaded to the printer yesterday (finished novel is 200 pages) -- but still, it was a fair representation of what I had in mind...  In fact, the final cover follows the same basic design, but with different models ... except for John Mark's model. That handsome young blond man -- perhaps from the Pacific Northwest, where his photographer works -- has been the image of my brown-haired, brown-eyed, loquacious preacher's son since I first found him online.

The model on the left looks more like Shelby Kincaid than any I've found -- his smile and jauntiness capture Shelby's personality, too.  He is available from Comstock Photos and Getty Images and, alas, he is another one too expensive for me to use.

In my off-again, on-again writing of this story, various cover ideas occurred to me.  The bayou photo had made an impression on me so I rendered it again using a beautiful stock photo from

It even inspired me to design an entire cover flat:

When I search stock images for projects -- covers, banner ads, video trailers -- for my own work or my Word Slinger customers, I sometimes come across  images that seemed to "fit" my story, and I sometimes make mockups out of low-resolution comp images to "try them on for size."  Two particular "boys-fishing" images caught my fancy -- particularly the one with small fishermen whose hair is blond, black and brown, like my boys. The one in the middle doesn't have John Mark's long hair, but graphics editing software can fix that, if the image license allows.

But, unfortunately, while my characters did a lot of hunting and fishing together growing up, those activities do not figure prominently in the story, so I had to reluctantly pass on these photos.

Here are some mockups I like but decided not to use.

In the end, I went back to my original idea -- headshots of the three protagonists in front of a Confederate battle flag -- a powerful symbol that's also appropriate to the story. But I rendered it quite differently, with a dark background rather than white. And in the proper proportions to reflect the book's actual trim size! As an indie/self publisher, I know about stuff like that now!

(Note: High-resolution, non-watermarked images whose license was purchased were used according to the permissions in the license.  Low-resolution comp images for preliminary working projects are copyrighted by their photographer and the stock photo sites where they are available for purchase:,,, Virtual Images, Comstock Photos, etc.)