A Back Yard Photo Shoot or How to Produce Your Own Indie Book Cover

In order for this to come out right and to show the process in its intirety, I need to go back forteen years, to the year 2000. I have recently been working on a novella called Dark World. I had first written it as a screenplay in 2002, as part of an online writing workshop with Writer’s Boot Camp. The screenplay was based on a poem written during a Creative Writing class in College two years earlier. Once the script was done, I sent it out to several producers. They basically told me that it was good but without “known source material,” a.k.a. an already published and well known novel or comic book, it was a hard sell. I shelfed it. Last year, during the 2013 NaNoWriMo, I dug it up and converted the screenplay into a 24,000 word novella of the same name. Here is the poem that became the seed for the story.


The Writer’s Boot Camp screen writing workshop is six weeks long and leads the student through all stages of screen writing up to a completed first draft. They teach a lot about structure, down to a thirty-second elevator pitch that tells the story in one sentence. I highly recommend their workshops to anyone who wants to get into writing for the screen.


After NaNoWriMo 2013, the first draft of the novella was completed and the document landed, again, in a file on my computer. In June of 2014, I took it back out to work on the second draft. During that process,  I began looking for images I could use for the cover. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money but still hoped to get a decent quality cover. I looked for an illustrator in some of the Facebook groups I knew. One of them was https://www.facebook.com/groups/BookCoversandCoverArtists/. I posted in it that I was looking for an inexpensive cover designer and received an email from Stina Rubio, an up-and-coming illustrator from California. She wanted to get her name out and agreed to do the cover for free, given that I’d provide the images from a stock photo site.

At that point, I had searched many sites for images of models I could use. I had a vision of how the cover should look but none of what I saw was right for it. Then I had a crazy idea: Mary Felice works in my favorite indie book store in the town I live in. I had just seen her during a reading I did there for The Fourth Sage. I knew she would make a perfect Amber for the cover of Dark World. I also somehow knew she would say yes even though I hadn’t asked her yet. Before I asked her, I asked my friend Maxine Rosola if she would do the make-up. She is a theater make-up artist and has worked on many local shakespeare plays and other theater productions in Woodstock and surrounding areas. She said yes. Then I asked Iszy Szemcsak (https://www.facebook.com/IszySzem), a high school student who is a truly gifted photographer, if she would take pictures. She said yes.

Finally, I went to the bookstore and asked Mary if she would be the model for my new book cover. She said yes. Actually, after a few “really?” and “are you serious?” she said “O my God, Yes!”. We booked a date a week later and everyone met in the afternoon in my backyard. I had bought a piece of muslin from a fabric store as a back drop. Iszy brought her camera, Maxine her (huge) make-up duffle bag and we started shooting.


I mean, how cool is that! There is a photo shoot going on in my back yard, I’m having the time of my life, and all kinds of creative people do what they love to do. Doesn’t get much better than that. The amazing thing about self publishing is this – right here.

Here is a short video with clips of the shoot: Dark World Photo Shoot

Afterwards, the pictures who made it through the elimination process, ended up on Stina’s computer, together with my rough vision of what I had in mind. Stina is starting out as cover creator and hasn’t made a name for herself yet. Well, wait until you see the finished product. I don’t think she’ll have a problem getting work. Here is the picture that made it onto the cover:


Mary looks so evil in it 🙂 And to think that she has no evil bone in her body whatsoever…


Above, Maxine and Mary at the outset of the make-up application. Below, the sword was getting heavier… and heavier… as the day went on.


Below, Izsy and Mary during the shoot.


It was getting late 🙂 I love Mary’s expression in this one: “Leave me ALONE!”


It was hard for Mary not to smile. That’s just not in her nature. So we tried to come up with things to upset her which basically ended up in all of us laughing.


Being an indie author has its challenges. We are responsible for everytyhing related to what we put out. However, the creative freedom this brings with it, makes up for it many times over. If someone would have told me a few years ago that I’m going to have a photo shoot for the cover of my own book in my backyard, I would have said, “that’s crazy talk!” My suggestion is this: You can’t reach the stars if you don’t reach for them. They might be closer than you think.

Here now, the final cover for Dark World by Stina Rubio of Cover Lust Designs:

Below is the e-book cover. Nick Cole was kind enough to read an advanced copy and provide a quote. If you’re in New Paltz, NY, stop by at Inquiring Minds, an indie bookstore you’ll love. You might find Mary there. No sword, though. Just a smile.

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