Friday, May 22, 2015

Finding The Right Photo

I love making the videos for our anthologies. I do well enough at it, I suppose, considering all I have to work with is Windows Movie Maker that came with my Windows 8 machine. So far no one has screamed at me that the vids are horrible. 

There are two places I go to in order to make the videos: and a royalty-free music site where I try to pick the best music I can find to fit the anthology. I spend a LOT of time on Fotolia since I have had an account there for ten years. Going through the shots can be tedious at best and hair-pulling at worst.  Why?  Go over there and do a search for...oh, say handsome black haired men...and see some of the choices they give you. Apparently their idea of handsome black haired men sometimes extend to women, cartoon characters, dogs-cats-horses and the occasional gerbil.  It's enough to make you...well...pull out your hair.

And don't get me started about the poses some of these 'models' use. Some will make you laugh. Some will make you positively cringe. Some are so ridiculous you wonder from what insane asylum the 'model' has escaped. A few have actually made me a bit nauseous.

Finding the right photo to go with what the author intended for her story can be futile and you just have to pick the closest one to her creation. If you're looking for a really sexy, appropriate shot of a handsome vampire holding a woman draped over one arm with his fangs extended as he prepares to suck a little blood, good luck with that. Either he isn't handsome and he's wearing a silly high-collared opera cape lined with red silk (don't ALL vamps have such a garment in their armoire?) or the woman looks like she has indigestion and stomach bloat. She doesn't so much drape across his brawny arm as wallow there.

Looking for period characters?  Try finding a 18th century highwayman wearing the fashions of his a French-cocked hat? Ah, no. Finding a man of that era riding a horse is impossible. One holding a pistol? Yeah, right. There are hundreds of shots of men holding Barettas and Mac 10s and looking menacing. Silly but menacing. 

I just turned in a novel based on the Alfred Noyes poem, The Highwayman. Unless you've been living under the proverbial rock you should know that poem from high school. It begins: 'The road was a ribbon of moonlight upon the purple moor...'  Remember it now?  No? Shame on you! It is a lovely, sad piece of writing so beautifully done it has inspired many a young girl's feverish dream. It is a ballad of love sacrificed, love lost, and a hero and heroine who come back from the grave to be together on nights when 'the moon was a ghostly galleon sailing upon cloudy seas'.

At any rate, I sent my editor twelve pictures I thought would be good to use for the cover art for the book because she asked me to do so. I wasted two hours finding those perfect twelve shots of moonlight, purple moors, rearing black steeds, old inns with a window appropriate for 'he tapped with his whip on the shutter but all was locked and barred'. No mean feat finding those shots, lemme tell you.

So what do I get when the cover artist sends me the proof?  A man in a buttoned down shirt wwearing a 20th century Armani suit coat, holding a pistol from which a plume of black...not white but black...smoke is spiraling up like a mini-tornado. Facing the man is a woman in a backless dress with a VERY large poofy front that looked like something Jennifer Lopez would wear on the red carpet. Totally inappropriate. Why?  Need you ask? There were no buttoned down shirts in the 18th century. No suit coats. Men wore waistcoats and pristine white stocks around their neck. In The Highwayman poem, the hero wore 'a coat of claret velvet and breeches of brown doeskin'. Women did not go about in backless gowns that dipped to the waist. Guns didn't emit black smoke nor that smoke waft in a perfect spiral to the heavens. Obviously the cover artist had never read the poem.

No, no, no, no, no I cried and thank the Muse Gods, my editor agreed with me. The cover the book has now is perfect, atmospheric, mysterious and very appropriate for the story: dark of night with a large moon under which stands an old inn and a rearing black stallion standing among purple heather.

Such is what authors go through to get a cover readers will take to heart. Yes, readers DO judge a book by its cover. An atrocious cover will ensure the book doesn't sell. The Naughty Literati covers are done by Nicole Austin and she does a superb job finding just the right scene to go with the stories inside the book.

I would love to be able to do professional photography and stage models as I see romance scenes in my mind's eye. Oh, the scenes I could stage! Beautiful, poignant, dramatic scenes that would make you swoon as you view them. There would be no scrawny teenage boys dressed as a vampire with plastic fangs.  There would be no poses of said teenager caught in mid jump. (How many vampires do you know who do splits in the air?)  'Tis simply not done, Igor. Not done at all. Nor would he have a goofy expression on his boyish face that is meant to look evil but comes off looking as though he just got Clearasil on his eyes or his tighty-whities are...well...too tight.  (FYI: vampires go commando. Just saying.)

When a certain romance cover model was starting his business of stock romance photos, he and I exchanged several e-mails in which I gave him dozens of ideas for 'scenes' I thought romance authors would grab for their covers. He used almost all of those ideas and I've seen them on dozens of books. In exchange, he was to give me a free shot of himself dressed as one of my iconic Reapers in black silk shirt, black leather pants, black gun belt slung low on his hips and a black Stetson. I'm still waiting...several years later...for the photo. <SIGH>  

So next time you watch a video or go on an author's website where she has stock photos of her characters or representations of locations she's used in her book, remember this: that author or videographer had to view a lot of frogs before she found her prince.  


  1. Ah, someone who understands what I go through when creating book covers. I've spent entire 12 hour shifts at work when we had no patients scouring the stock photo sites for the perfect model in the perfect pose! It can be highly frustrating.

  2. It's a dirty job but somebody's gotta do it. :) Page after page after page of beautiful male torsos....interspersed with a few gerbils and that kid with the flat chest and pipe cleaner arms.

  3. One of my covers is adult-filtered on Amazon. I'm changing it this summer -- I have to for readers to discover it! People LOVE the old cover, but Amazon doesn't.

  4. I love making book covers and hope one day to tackle vids!