Saturday, April 6, 2024

Using AI to Help Create a Book Cover

My journey of using personal photographs in my book covers started with a traditionally published book, Cabin Fever. The publisher’s cover artist used a stock photo of a cabin that was much too ornate for Seamus McCree’s guest cabin and worse, since the story takes place in the dead of winter in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, he included snow . . .on deciduous trees that still had all their leaves. The coup de grĂ¢ce was strings of lights hanging from the cabin (which has no electricity), you know, the ones that are supposed to make you think of icicles. After a good laugh, I sent him a picture of the actual cabin I had used as a model—which he incorporated into the final cover.

Once I became an Indie Publisher, I decided I would continue to use my photos in the cover creations. Empty Promises was my first try. In the story, Seamus’s granddog finds bones in a derelict cabin. I chose to depict that cabin on the cover. The actual cabin I photographed was in too good shape, so I Photoshopped the image to distress the cabin, sloping the roof and shifting the extension to look as though it were about to fall down. I added a couple of holes in the roof for good measure.

Next came my first novella, “Low Tide at Tybee.” I chose a picture of the Tybee Island beach populated by sanderlings, energetic small sandpipers described in the story.

The action in False Bottom returned to Boston, Seamus’s hometown and included references to cemeteries and a Celtic Cross. I incorporated a picture I had taken at the Gettysburg Battlefield of the monument commemorating New York’s “Irish Brigade.” The actual statue has a life-sized Irish Wolfhound lying on its base that I had to carefully remove. I merged fog from another photo to create the cover.

The novella “Furthermore” story follows immediately after False Bottom. It made sense to me to link the two covers. I used the same elements, but pushed the monument further to the back and more in the fog, which fits the story.

For both Granite Oath and the compendium Seamus McCree U.P. North, I picked photographs of Shank Lake, Michigan, where Seamus has his “camp.” Interesting fact on the Granite Oath cover: given Seamus’s camp faces west over Shank Lake, most people think the cover depicts a sunset; the actual picture was facing west, but of a sunrise reflected in the clouds and lake.

For the last several publications, I have enlisted the help of my Readers Group (newsletter subscribers) and Facebook followers to help select the cover. I present four or five alternative covers, give them a brief teaser about the story, and ask them to choose their favorite and tell me what they liked or didn’t like about each one. Hijacked Legacy takes place at Seamus’s camp in late fall. Light snow falls during a critical scene. Each of the five offered choices had strong proponents and equally strong detractors. All were terrific photos. The problem, I decided with them all, was they did not depict the suspense Hijacked Legacy incorporates.

I considered including the view of a sniper’s scope projected into each of the scenes. That didn’t work, and besides, we had used that visual for Cabin Fever. Instead, I began playing with incorporating a camouflaged individual with a rifle. I figured the next weekend my neighbors were up at camp, and I’d get one of them to pose in camo with a rifle in various locations: on the road and in the woods. Except they weren’t able to come north that weekend, and we were soon heading south,

I’d read about people using AI tools to create images and gave it a whirl. Using Google’s Bard (now Gemini) to create some alternatives, I tried describing the scene as well as I could: a camo-covered sniper with a rifle hiding behind a deciduous tree with its leaves off, and so on and so forth. Somehow, I never got Bard to understand the concept of “hiding behind a tree.” This is as close as I got:

Good enough to play with. First, I eliminated everything but the sniper and then merged him with my photo of the snowy woods. Should he face right or left? How much of him should I show? I came up with a few concepts, passed them by my Readers Group and learned that when they viewed a thumbnail, they knew something was there, just not what. I was also playing with fonts and colors given the neutral background and had mixed comments about those alternatives as well. Shucks.

So, I noodled, and noodled some more, and after many tries, I settled on the final version. In it, I leaned the sniper forward to make him clearer and display the barrel of the rifle. I modified the font and tucked the Legacy tight to the Hijacked, giving the visual impression that Hijacked (with its H and J) is grabbing the Legacy—visually, stealing it.

I hope readers find it intriguing enough to check out. The paperbacks are at the printer and pre-orders are available for both ebooks and paperbacks from my website at 

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. To learn more information about Jim and his books, check out his website, You can sign up for his newsletter (and get to read a free Seamus McCree short story).

This blog first appeared on the Writes Who Kill Blog 4/2/24.

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