For Writers - Choosing Character Images (Pinterest may not be your friend here…)


Read Time: 4 minutes


There she is. Your perfect heroine, right there on Pinterest. A model gowned in flowing silk with the exact features you’ve seen in your head. Even her eye color is correct! You couldn’t be more excited. You save the image to your board, along with any others of her that come up. She becomes your heroine. You look at her whenever you need to be inspired. You study her facial features. Soon, your heroine’s name becomes her name.

We’ve all been there. We save the images of our characters as our background. We print them and tack them up on the real board. We save them to our picture album on our phone so our character is just a swipe away when we need to be inspired. And I highly encourage this.

Just not on Pinterest.

Why? Because the person who will eventually design your cover can’t use her. No matter how many covers land in your box with a similar model, which makes you send your artist back to your Pinterest board to look one more time at ‘your heroine’, they still can’t use that image. It’s copyrighted. No permission for use can be granted. And if you can’t get past how the new model just doesn’t have the right hair, the right eyes, the right over-all feel, you’ll never like your cover. Ever. Because the new model is all wrong. You want your model, and it’s just not going to happen.

Now I know you’re arguing about now. But it’s so easy to search Pinterest for what I need. I lay in bed at night, mindlessly scrolling until the perfect image catches my attention. With one easy tap, the picture is saved to my board and I carry on. I get it. I do. I love Pinterest, especially for recipes and art inspiration. I even use it to stay up-to-date on the latest posing trends for my photography. For my writing, I tend to use it as a jumping place for styles and that’s it. I don’t let my writing inspiration boards go beyond the inspiration place.

And as a cover artist, let me just say, when someone says ‘Look at my Pinterest board’ I get a little twitchy. Okay, I get a LOT twitchy. I can’t stand them, for multiple reasons. One is the situation I’m talking about above. I can’t use Nicole Kidman or Chris Pratt’s picture no matter how badly you may want me to. I won’t find anyone who looks exactly like them either. I can probably get you close to body type, or hair color, and I can find handsome or beautiful, but not the actor.

On top of that, most boards are a jumbled mess of the authors thought process. I have no idea who the heroine actually is, or the hero. Who her best friend is supposed to be (because yeah, chances are she’ll land in there too), and who is actually the other half of her love triangle. And let’s not even get started on all the randomness that somehow makes its way onto a board. (You know what I’m talking about.) I know everyone says make one to help your readers get excited and into your world, and that’s great, but really, it’s like your tack board at home, minus the threads and color-coded post-it notes. It does me, your artist, little good. Use it for the promotional value and reader engagement, and definitely for the inspiration, but try to leave it out of the cover art process altogether.

So what do you do instead?

You go to legitimate, royalty free stock sites, and you look for your characters. I suggest you do this before the Pinterest board even goes into creation. So when cover art time comes, your artist actually has access to useable images. It’s really easy to create a free account and make a library where you can save any and all images you find that have to do with your book. From buildings, to the characters, even to the very environment. Fog shrouded castle? No problem, has you covered. Steamy jungle? Not an issue, has that. Regency hero clutching a heroine in a romantic embrace? Yeah, is just where you need to be.

Most stock sites even have apps now, so scrolling in bed to unwind and find inspiration can still totally happen. High fives.

When your characters are still mysterious, slightly cloudy figments in your mind, check out stock sites and find them there. Some sites are more expensive than others, which if you decide you HAVE to have that image, will affect the cost of your cover, so keep that in mind if you’re self-publishing. When you save the image, try to make sure you keep the image number intact, as that’s how your artist or designer will find your image again. Or, create a document with all the links to your images to make it even easier. And when the time comes, be willing to work with your designer on different poses that will look best on your cover. Most of us have been doing this a long time, you trusted us enough to take on your project, trust us enough to know which images of your favorite models will work best on your final product. Which you want to pull readers in to click, to read that blurb, to sell that book. We want that, too!

So, avoid Pinterest, search stock sites, make your life (and your designers!) easier. Artists everywhere will thank you. 😊