“The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write.”
—Unknown

How Pre-Made Book Covers Inspire My Writing

Do you ever get stuck? No, of course you don’t. You’re a writer, and that never happens to us. Yeah right. 🙂

What do you do to break out and keep writing?

I found a new solution last year that has catapulted my production and creativity. Simple yet effective: pre-made book covers.

Out Of The Blue

It all started with a random email. One of the lists I subscribe to was offering a number of pre-made book covers for sale. Always curious about design, I clicked through.

Right away I saw one that I wanted. Round and round I went thinking, “I wish I had a story I could use for this.”

Throwing caution to the wind, I bought said cover and slept on it. That night I tossed and turned, not second-guessing the tiny sum I’d just paid, but flying through the images born of the dragon on the orange cover. A new world emerged.

That book cover turned into the first book of the series The Chronicles of Benjamin Dragon. Awesome.

Round Two And Then Some

Late last year I had a hard time coming up with ideas for two of my series. Remembering the inspiration from the pre-made cover, I did an online search, finally coming across a talented designer named James.

Scrolling through his work, my mouth hanging open (I only drooled a bit), the ideas flowed like crazy. Stories and scenes revealed themselves in stark clarity. It was like a painter finding his perfect model. I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve purchased numerous covers from my new friend. I haven’t used even a portion of them yet, but I will. I keep them on my desktop and refer to them when I’m planning the next book in a series. So far, the pre-made book covers have turned into five new novels.

Time after time it’s worked.

Could it work for you?

PRACTICE

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For the next fifteen minutes, write a summary of the book Island Days, based on its cover.

Post your practice in the comments section below and please provide feedback for your peers.

About Carlos Cooper

Carlos is author of the Corps Justice novels. Get the box set of Books 1-3 for FREE HERE.

  • Awesome idea. Anything that gets the juices flowing. Don’t judge a book by its cover takes on a different meaning though.

  • I like this idea! I did something similar last year, (when I was hit with a bout of writers block). I began to use picture story prompts.

    I would simply pick out an interesting photo from flickr and then write a 100 word fictional story about the image. Its a great way to keep the mind creative.

  • Maure

    Great prompt! I love premade covers as well. 😀

    Well, here’s my take on it. My mind’s been turning over the possibility of a modern Tempest kind of story for a while, so…

    The official story is that they came to this island for her father’s health, but Miranda suspects otherwise; her dad’s gotten in trouble with the law once or twice before, and they left home in quite a hurry.

    Besides, the island seems to be hurting his health more than helping it – every day that passes sees him more distracted and paranoid, and he’s always closeting himself with A, the mysterious person who offered them the island house to begin with. When Miranda manages to talk to him, he seems to be gaining delusions of grandeur, insisting he knows things that nobody else does and is on the verge of a great discovery.

    Although Miranda wants nothing better than to get off the island, she has no access to the boat and her cell phone broke the day they arrived. But in wandering the island alone, she meets Cal – an awkward boy who won’t really talk about where he came from, seems afraid of her father and A, but most importantly offers to help her get away.

    Trapped between her father’s madness and Cal, her only avenue out who she’s not sure she trusts, Miranda struggles to find some sort of balance. But before long, she’s begun experiencing some of the things Cal and her father claim to – musical hallucinations, strange visions, whispers from the island itself. Is she losing her mind, or just opening it – and can she ever get free of the island?

    • Thanks for sharing, Maure! “musical hallucinations…” Sounds tempting 🙂

    • joncarllewis

      Is that Cal, like Caliban? And is it a Brave New World?

      • Maure

        I’m not sure what you mean by ‘is it a Brave New World’, although the whole ‘brave new world’ thing comes from ‘The Tempest, which the idea is definitely based off. And yes, Cal as in Caliban. 🙂 The musical hallucinations idea I got from his whole ‘This isle is full of noises’ passage in the play.

        • joncarllewis

          I don’t know Tempest very well, but i’d like to know it better. I love adaptations of pieces of literature. Maybe by the time i read your novel, i’ll have the play under my belt so i can get all the nuances and inside jokes that doubtless will ensue!

  • James, GoOnWrite.com

    I’m pretty touched by this article. Because I am that designer! And you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a number of my covers I sell people do the same … sometimes even keeping the title as well.

    I am actually a writer myself (due to publish a whole host of my works over the coming months), so when I sit down and put the dummy titles on the covers I actually have little mini narratives popping off in my head as well.

    Maybe this is why I do quite well with my sales. It takes a designer that’s a writer to know a writer’s mind.

    Any questions anyone has on here, I’m happy to help / respond / give answers.

    • ruth

      Intriguing topic! Question: when you design for an author, do you read the book first? What ideas guide your design for that cover? Can you give a rough estimate of cost for cover design? Thanks so much for your input!

    • You are awesome, dude! I can’t wait for two things: 1) your published works to come out, and 2) the next batch of pre-mades!

  • I loved this prompt! I usually search Pinterest for interesting story-starters, and I’ve found that this works just as well! Here’s my practice:

    Tessa has always wanted to do something out-of-the-ordinary– something daring and adventurous. She’ll settle for something less, of course, as long as it gets her out of Johnsonville High.

    Those big dreams become reality when she wins a radio contest. The prize? A six-month-long cruise to the islands of Indonesia. Half a year of just her, the ocean, and her journal, exploring the colorful exotic islands and their small, wide-eyed natives. The best part? She’s eighteen now, and her parents don’t have to come. Freedom!

    But her fancies are crushed when she realizes who the other winner of the trip is: Zachary Watkins, her lifelong nemesis. They’ve hated each other since preschool, when Tessa attempted to run over Zachary with her tricycle. The reason? “He said he liked my red shoes. They’re not red. They’re MAROON.”

    Hell on earth becomes the definition of her life the first month of the cruise– or so she thinks. That obnoxious boy is doing everything in his power to ruin her dream-come-true!

    And then– as usually happens when characters board a ship– there is a bad storm. The cruise ship goes down like the Titanic. Zachary, Tessa, and five little kids seem to be the only survivors when they wash up with the wreckage on the shore of a “deserted island.”

    Will they ever see home again? And, more importantly, can they overcome their differences and survive?

    • I really like where you took this. It lends to a lot of potential for back-stories as well as fun anecdotes within. I think being stranded on an island with a nemesis is definitely great fodder for a lot of good conversation, too.

    • Oh man. Will there be a conch? Thank for sharing Rebecca. I loved the source of the angst: “He said he liked my red shoes. They’re not red. They’re MAROON.”

      Would love to see how that conversation goes lost on an island 🙂

      • Thanks, Carlos. I’m considering using this for my NaNoWriMo novel in November– do you think it would work?

  • Michael Cairns

    Hi Carlos
    What a great idea! I’d never thought of doing that before, but why not? And in terms of paying for cover design it seems a great way to keep costs down 🙂
    Cheers
    Mike

    • Definitely affordable and super high quality if you find a designer like James. He just gets it.

  • I had no idea pre made covers existed, but what a great idea to get some words flowing. I have had an urge to write a novel for a long time, but everything I do ends up being more conducive to short stories. Here’s my stab at The Island in 15 minutes:
    Jennifer Sand arranges her own “kidnapping.”
    Stuck in a corporate life with 2 troubled children and a husband she really doesn’t care for, she meticulously stock piles money doing freelance writing that no one is aware of over the course of 5 years with the intention of arranging her own disappearance.
    She finds someone on the deep recesses of the internet to do the “dirty work.” The plan is to escape to the Bahamas and live a secluded life, ghost writing novels.
    Unfortunately, the plan goes awry. She is “sold” into slavery at a seedy tropical resort, and must find a way to reconnect with the family that she has lost. Most of her “island days” are spent staring out the barred window of her slave quarters into the sea.
    Jennifer can take two possible routes upon her rescue – tell the truth about her arranged disappearance, or try and cover up the fact that she was in any way involved.

    • Thanks for sharing, Martha! “The plan is to escape to the Bahamas and live a secluded life, ghost writing novels.” Now that would be the life, minus the prison bars, of course. Would love to see what happens next…

    • oddznns

      Interesting

    • This is an interesting concept; I like the idea of the character arranging her own kidnapping.
      I would love to read more!

  • ruth

    This is really a fascinating idea. As a child I tore pretty pictures from magazines and sat down to write a story about each one. The visual image seemed to ignite the story. Never thought about continuing that concept. Thanks for re- introducing the idea.

    • Glad you like it! Can’t wait to see where it leads you, Ruth 🙂

  • George McNeese

    Allegra Samms is undergoing a midlife crisis brought on by a nasty divorce. A widow and empty nester, Allegra has lost her sense of purpose. Determined to end her life, her best friend, Raelyn, whisks her away to Antigua.

    At first, Allegra is upset with Raelyn for kidnapping her. She grows resentful of her and the life she spent thirty years building, only to have it come crashing down. One day, while strolling along the shore, she meets a local, a five-year-old girl. Assuming she’s lost, she searches for her parents. As the sun sets, Allegra decides to bring the child to her hotel. And the more time passes, spent trying to find the child’s parents, Allegra finds a new purpose in life.

    • Would love to find out which way you go with this. Adoption? A futile search? Uncovering a dangerous plot to steal children? Thanks for sharing, George!

  • oddznns

    Carlos, what a fantastic way to get the creative juices going. I clicked on James and yes, some of the images are riveting. I was using pinterest… but these book-covers have much more focus. Thanks;)

    • So glad it helped. There’s a story in every cover 🙂

  • oddznns

    Min Min and her family have never lacked for anything on their island. The orchards yield more than enough for sharing. The surrounding sea teems with fish. And once in a while, after the storms, it washes up other treasures – shiny boxes filled with colourful strings that encase hard sun-coloured bristles, pieces of shells clear right through with sharp cutting edges, once a white board filled with soft bubbles as large as a dugout … Min Min will learn later the names and uses of these objects – computers and wires, plastic and glass, a surf-board … But that will only be afterwards, after the storm has washed the man ashore, the man who brings an end to her family’s island days.

    • A pirate? A scoundrel? A politician?
      Thanks for sharing!

    • I love this concept… The idea of innocence shattered by someone who is an outsider. Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

  • Candace

    The endless blue sky and the crisp golden grains of sand encased the brilliance of the ocean in all its panoramic glory. A blanket of silence enveloped the island, no birds were calling, no waves were breaking, and there were no people to be seen. Jessica Lewis was supposed to be relaxing on vacation at the lavish Hawaiian hotel, Island Days; instead she felt a sense of unease. Something ominous lurked in the shadows, something dark challenged the light, and something malicious cast a spell over the isolated oasis. Before Jessica could shake the terror it hunted her. There was something sinister about Island Days, and Jessica Lewis was about to find out.

  • Island Days

    Three luxurious weeks on a remote island. No cell phone, no internet and no prying paparazzi. For Sadie James this was a dream vacation. That is until a cyclone sweeps through the remote archipelago cutting off all contact with the outside world.

    Food and water supplies dwindle, and the laid-back Island hosts revert to the rituals of their dark past.

    The powerlessness of ten rich, white, anonymous guests seeps into a fast descending web of betrayal. Survival becomes an individual pursuit. Paradise poisoned becomes Sadie’s greatest role ever.

    • I like the writing here. Phrases like “rich, white, anonymous” and “paradise poisoned” are punchy and effective, and leave me wondering what lies behind them. I would be interested in seeing how this scenario plays out.

      • Thanks Abigail. It’s always interesting to hear what works or stands out to the reader.
        …grateful for your time and feedback. 🙂

    • Dawn, please come write all my book descriptions:)
      Fantastic summary. I want more.
      Thanks for sharing!

      • Thanks. 🙂
        Also thanks for the introduction to ‘James” pre made book covers.
        A great resource and a great kick-start for writing ides. Making this a ‘double’ useful practice. 🙂

    • Joanna Aislinn

      Gripping from start to finish. Great job!

  • What a great idea! I’ve never done this before.

    Most people don’t expect to find a tropical island off the coast of Scotland, but the Isle of Gigha is just that. Palm trees and white sand beaches are Ailsa’s getaway from workaday life in Glasgow. She’s been making her getaway for five years when the sudden death of her dear friend leaves her with a bed and breakfast all her own, and she makes the ridiculous decision to chuck her career and move to Gigha.

    Castle Sands B&B isn’t very hard to run, seeing as there aren’t any guests. Tourism is down on the island and Ailsa waits weeks for something to happen, but even then she is tempted to turn away the first stranger who comes to stay: Ayomide, a bedraggled Nigerian woman. Ailsa makes the most important decision of her life and lets Ayomide settle in to stay.

    As the two women learn to trust one another they discover unknown depths of their souls. Ayomide’s dark past unravels and she shares her experiences as a sex slave in Aberdeen, sending Ailsa’s life into a tailspin and setting her off on a campaign that could change the face of human trafficking in Scotland. But Ailsa is in danger of angering the people who kept her friend in bondage for years, and may have to pay the price.

    • Nice! Didn’t see that twist coming. I totally see the bad guys descending on the B&B, looking for revenge.

      Thanks for sharing, Abigail!

    • Interesting. I like how the summary started as a change of lifestyle into a more easy going Island pace and then…..

      Based on the chance meeting of these two souls becomes a campaign (life purpose perhaps?), that aims to stamp out the ‘dark’ underbelly of city life (sex trafficking). And liberate the victims (bring light).

      This could be a very powerful story. I think the light vs dark must have got stuck in my train of thoughts because you described the depth of the relationship these women formed. As if somehow this was meant to be and give Ailsa the jolt she needed to step up and step into her power.

      Anyway I’m rambling on ( because I’m excited ;-)).Well done. Thanks for sharing.

      • Wow, thank you so much, Dawn! This kind of encouragement means a lot to me. I guess the ideas came from some article I was reading the other day about human trafficking in Scotland, and I wondered what it would be like for someone to try standing up against it. Who knows, this might go somewhere someday 🙂

    • Stella

      Hi Abigail,

      A few thoughts I had while reading your summary:

      1. It didn’t initially grip me as a reader because the tension takes too long to build up.

      Your real conflict is embedded in the last paragraph, and your first paragraph doesn’t seem relevant to the plot at all except to establish the setting. Establishing the setting may not even be necessary, since I would’ve understood your central conflict just fine without knowing that Ailsa had a good friend who died and that she chucked her career to run the B&B. These seem like the sorts of details that you would add as backstory within the book, not details you’d include on the back cover where every word has to count.

      2. A related problem – why is this story set on this island?

      Your title is ‘Island Days’ but as I mentioned earlier, from your summary I’m not getting how the setting affects your plot. I suppose the island’s forgotten B&B helps set up the unlikely meeting of Ailsa and Ayomide, but the story could equally take place in an out-of-the-way B&B in the heart of Scotland.

      I think the connection between the title, the cover and your story could be stronger. Off the top of my head, a line like ‘And then Ailsa discovers the real reason behind her best friend’s death, and why tourists haven’t been coming to her island…’ might help. (Ie the connection is that the island is used by sex traffickers who scare away tourists and killed her best friend, hence setting the story into motion.) That would tie your plot to the island and make it impossible for your story to take place elsewhere.

      3. Minor nitpick with the character naming. Both your characters have unusual names which start with A, which confused me at first. (Like I said, a really minor nitpick.)

      Everything being said though, yours was a very original summary based on the given cover. And sorry if I’m nitpicking too much (since it’s 15-minute summary and not a real book cover), but I hope the feedback helps anyway!

      • Thanks for the detailed critique, Stella! I totally agree, it’s just that I only took fifteen minutes and didn’t really think of the plot before I started writingwriting. It just kind of flowed out that way 🙂

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  • This is a really cool idea! Not to sound too girly, but this reminds of when an entire outfit is inspired by a pair of earrings lol. Can you relate?! Ok, off to find a book cover…

  • Joanna Aislinn

    A great suggestion! I went “shopping” this AM and found a wonderfully inspiring cover! Thnx, Carlos 🙂

    • No problem! Can’t wait to see the finished product 🙂

      • Joanna Aislinn

        Me too! Thnx 🙂

  • What a cool idea! Thanks for writing this post.

  • Hunter Llenos

    An island, so lonely, wading in the infinite blue ocean. This desolate place; who none have ever dared to set foot on; holds many dangers, but even more treasures although, there is a reason why no one has ever set foot on this particular island. when you hear the screams, the bloodcurdling wales, with each step your digging further into your grave.

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