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Welcome to the cover re-reveal for Unpainted, my arranged marriage fantasy romance! The new cover is below, so if you just want to see it and are not interested in why or how I designed the new cover, just scroll down!

I usually hire professionals to design my covers. My first trilogy, the Maer Cycle, was published by a small indie press called Shadow Spark, so they did the covers, with some input from me. I didn’t know much about the cover game, but I liked them well enough. When I wanted something a little special for my Weirdwater Confluence duology, I hired an artist named Karkki to do cover art, and the designers at Shadow Spark did the rest. When I went the self-published route, I hired Luke Tarzian to do the covers for my Time Before trio; The Delve is out now, and I can’t wait until you see what he’s doing for Wings so Soft, and I’m excited to see what he does with Cloti’s Song as well. I love artists, and I respect and value the work they do.

But like a lot of writers, I’m not physically constructed of money. Between editing, sensitivity reads, and covers for three books, not to mention having the Maer Cycle re-covered in a D&D module style, I’m at the very end of my financial rope. I wrote Unpainted, a short romance, as what you might call a passion project. It’s got an unusual structure—it’s an intimate close-up on an arranged marriage relationship with a slow-building fantasy plot in the background and a lot of soft smut. I’m not sure how it will be received, whether it will sell, etc. So I decided to have a go at making the cover myself.

Let’s be real: a lot of indie authors design their own covers. Not everyone can afford $500-$2000 for a bling cover. Some people have graphic design skills. Some people are broke. Some people just enjoy the process. There are lots of reasons why people do it, and it’s all good. Just like there are reasons some business make hand-painted signs and others pay for fancy professional neon signs. I enjoy the process, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours with Canva, including making a lot of mockup covers for various projects. It doesn’t make me an expert, but I have a team of friends who were willing to help give me suggestions, as I do for their covers. So off I went.

I started with a couple of concepts: painted face and magic woman. The main character is a painted face noble who must paint her face, in part to protect it from the sun and in part due to cultural traditions in her society. She develops a kind of mind magic through the course of the story, and I wanted to represent that on the cover somehow as well. I spent an inordinate amount of time browsing through stock art photos on Canva, the easiest design app for amateurs like me, looking for images that would somehow reflect this.

Professionals may laugh because they all use Photoshop or other pro apps, which are much more powerful and can do amazing things Canva could never dream of, which is 100% true. But for someone with limited skills, Canva lets us bring a basic design to life and give it a reasonable level of polish. It’s a good bang for our buck, so to speak. And for a side project that may or may not make back the $500+ I would spend on a professional designer, it feels like a reasonable choice, and one many authors make.

I finally settled on an image that captured my rather fatigued eye because it showed just what I wanted—a woman with magical swirls around her face. The center of her face was natural color, while the outside of her face was bluish gray. Almost as if her face was being magically unpainted. Eureka! I’d found the perfect photo in my Canva Pro photo stock library! (Pro is the paid version of Canva, which has a very extensive photo library). I spiffed it up with some filters and effects, did some font magic, and voila! New cover! I should mention that the “spiffed it up” and “font magic” involved countless hours of tweaks and fine work, but that’s part of the game.

The cover looked cool, and it seemed to be well received. I got a lot of compliments. One person even said it was in the running for their cover of the year. I was properly chuffed!

And then.

I got a very polite DM from a mutual saying they’d been approached by several people with concerns that the cover might have been AI generated. They said that since I was outspoken for artists and against the use of AI in covers, they were sure it must have been a misunderstanding, but they wanted to check in with me. I briefly explained the process of how I’d made it, then I dug into my Canva file. I looked up the info in the image on Canva, which identified the artist by name. I googled them, found their website, and BLAM. It was all AI art. I didn’t need to run it through an AI art checker to see. It was plain as day. I immediately thanked the mutual who’d DMed me and posted my statement on Twitter.

Here is the original cover, which, to be clear, used AI stock art, and which I have pulled for that reason:

The thing is, when I made the cover a few months before, AI generated art wasn’t even on my radar. When I look at the stock art photo I used as a base today, it immediately jumps out as AI art, but at the time, I didn’t know to look for it. Things have changed so fast, especially in the wake of Bob the Wizard and so many other book covers that were revealed to have used AI art, without the authors’ knowledge. And here I was, an author who had designed their own book cover, not having realized they’d used AI art in their own damned cover. A number of authors responded to my thread saying the same or similar had happened to them. It’s clearly a widespread problem right now. AI art can be found in stock images, and we have to be careful when selecting them.


Short version: AI art generators illegally scrape data from artists who did not consent for their art to be used to feed the models, effectively stealing their art. Long version—Here’s one article for you. There are many more—just google it. I’m so tired. It’s theft. If you’re not convinced by now, you probably won’t be. Moving on!

For the new cover, I started looking again at a variety of concepts, thinking maybe I’d mix it up. I tried painted face, facial treatments, woman looking in a mirror, removing makeup, and a bunch of other things, but also kissing. And the one photo I liked the most was the kissing image I ended up with, where the man has his eyes closed and the woman is clearly in control. This suits the feel of the book, which has what I call a soft femdom dynamic. Tera is always in gentle control, and Aven submits to her willingly, joyously, with all his body, heart, and soul, for reasons that will be evident if you read the book. I tried a bunch of other images, but I kept coming back to this one, and hey, it really is a kissing book, so why the hell not?

Once I picked the image, I had to make sure it wasn’t AI. This was a little more complicated. While it was clear to my eyes that the original was a photograph, the info in the Canva file had an artist nickname and “Getty images.” When I googled that nickname and Getty images, I mostly got landscapes and other photographs. They were all photographs of real places, and there was nothing to indicate that they weren’t real. That’s the best I could do in this case, since there was no real name attached to the photograph. I am quite confident that the models in the photograph are real people and that the photograph was taken by a real person, but I literally cannot tell you who the photographer is. Stock art is like that sometimes. I hope that is good enough. 🤷‍♂️

Given how soft this book is, I wanted some pastel coloring, and I don’t generally like straight-up photos on covers, so I tried a number of effects. Canva has a bunch—you can make it look a bit like a painting, or somewhat abstract, or choose from a variety of different effects. If I were more highly skilled, or had Photoshop, I would have been able to massage the effect further, but I’m happy enough with the effect (it’s a “Paint” effect called Peylo if you’re curious, and I set it at low intensity and dropped it down to about 30%). I also had to hand-color in a few spots where the effect had left some digital fingerprints I didn’t like.

In truth, I would have liked to smooth it out further, but I’m working within the limits of my own skills, experience, the tools I have at my disposal, and frankly the time—the book comes out in a few weeks, and I have a lot of other things on my plate. I wasn’t planning on re-doing the cover when I have 3 other books that need editing, but here we are.

Once I had the image down, I had to figure out how to add in a light fantasy element. This book has very limited magic—nothing visible, only mind magic. I wanted the cover to say, “He’s under her spell,” and “Magic kiss.” I worked on a number of options to show that—golden swirls, various iterations of a glowing point where they kiss. I ended up with the current version because it highlights the magic in the kiss but also adds a magical element to the cover as a whole, while also masking the paint effect a little. Opinions among my brain trust varied, and ultimately I had to make a decision that I feel best represents the book.

Did I succeed? I don’t know. I’m an amateur. But it doesn’t offend my eyes, and I hope it suggests that there’s something more to the kiss than just passion, that the connection between these two has some magic in it.

Finally, the fonts. You’d think that would be easy too, right? WRONG. I spent as much time on that as on anything else. Font colors—OMG how hard can it be? Very, very hard. I tried to fill the fonts with gold texture only to be thwarted time and again because the background remover doesn’t like the super swirly fonts and kept leaving out parts of the text until I finally gave up. If I were a professional or if I hired a professional, it would look better. No doubt. I ended up messing with the colors of the fonts for quite a while anyway, and I am happy enough. I may always look at the cover and wish I had done this or that differently. And to be honest, I made changes in the last 24 hours before this post.

But does it give you an idea of the feel of the book? A kissing book where the woman is in charge and there’s something magical in the air? I sure hope so.

Here is the new cover, in all its glory, or lack thereof:

Cover of Unpainted by Dan FitzgeraldDid I spend any money on it? Beyond my Canva Pro subscription, no. Unless you count the many, many hours I wasted chasing down dead ends as money.

It’s not perfect. I’m an amateur. I own that. But as amateurish as it may be, in some ways, it represents the book better than the original cover I made, which was more fantasy and less romance. This is, after all, more of a kissing book than a fantasy book. So maybe the AI cover debacle did me a favor.

I hope you learned something from this post about how amateur authors and designers make book covers. I also hope the cover tells you enough about the book to know whether it might be something you’d like to read.

Oh, and hey—you can order it now!

Add it on Goodreads if it sounds interesting to you!

Thank you for reading and have a delightful rest of your day!

Check out my review of Lord of the Last Heartbeat by May Peterson

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