Learning the Hard Way – What NOT to do When Designing Your Own Book Cover Model Shoot – by Raina Schell

Raina Schell (Kimberly Hoffman)Let’s welcome back monthly columnist Raina Schell as she shares with us “Learning the Hard Way – What NOT to do When Designing Your Own Book Cover Model Shoot.” Enjoy!


I’ve always been one of those people that learns the hard way, by doing. I’m also one of those people that says “I can do it myself”. This is what led me to my most recent pitfall.

I was looking for book covers and book cover designers. Good ones are not cheap and I understand and respect why. It’s difficult and time consuming. Since my background is in film and I have a good camera I figured I’d just grab some models myself, get the shots and ask my friend who is already a book cover designer to help make the cover. Running with my “good” idea I also told the women in my Romance Writer’s of America group that I wanted to start a business designing custom book covers. The idea was to get some shots and make a few mock covers to help these women and garner business.

When I found the models I gathered a shot list. The shots included what I needed for one of my books and what the other women in the group asked for.

I met the models on the day of the shoot which was my first mistake. From the get-go the female model was trouble. She was demanding and tried to bully me into taking photos on her agenda. RED FLAG! Since this was my first still photography shoot behind the camera I didn’t have my sea legs on. I was able to steer her away from what she wanted and into what I needed but it was not easy. I also had to provide all the wardrobe changes, which I was prepared to do.

We shot four different genres in seven hours. Second mistake. It was exhausting, much more so than I had imagined. We shot for contemporary romance, erotica fem-domme, romantic suspense and historical. I had a two page shot list and got almost everything I needed. I had a contract that both models signed which was my third mistake. While the contract was extremely comprehensive it could/should have been even more so.

My biggest mistake was agreeing to do the shoot for TPF (trade for print). While this is a fairly normal transaction and one I have agreed to multiple times as a model myself, the female model on my shoot completely lacked integrity. Instead of providing her with a few shots, which I should have done, I gave her access to all of the shots. Again, other photographers have done this for me time and time again and I never took advantage of any of them so it was not even on my radar that someone would rob me. And rob me she did.

She became quite the nightmare, emailing and texting me all hours of the day and night asking for more. I should have pulled the plug when I had the chance, before she had access to everything. But I didn’t. I still didn’t understand the lengths this person would go to in order to steal my work.

She took my photos, put her own watermark on them and her own © and posted them all over Facebook and Instagram without crediting me. She also spun a false and delusional love affair with the male model who lives in another state and used the photos to chronicle their “love”. Except that they had never met before the day of the shoot and haven’t seen each other since. She hash-tagged the photos with #MyTrueLove #Romance #MyMrGrey and other bizarre fallacies.

I asked her more than a few times to stop copyrighting them as her own and to stop putting her watermark on them, she refused. After several months a lawyer came to talk to our RWA chapter about copyrights and I asked him about the photos. He suggested I send her a cease and desist letter. I did so, not asking her to remove the photos she’d already put online but to stop putting more online and to stop using her own copyright as the photos legally belong to me. She refused and verbally attacked me, calling me names and acting juvenile. I emailed Facebook, they removed the photos yet she’s putting them back up anyway and I’m told unless I hire a lawyer and take her to court there’s nothing anyone can or will do to stop her.

Not only did this person completely use me for her own agenda, she robbed my photos and days of my time. But the most heart-wrenching part is that all of these photos are now rendered useless. No author wants to use a photo that’s been hash-tagged all over Facebook as their book cover. We need our book covers to be proprietary.

I’m blogging about this so no one else ever makes this mistake. Many of us are entrepreneurs who work long and hard at our craft, hoping to make it in the writing world, though few ever do. If you’re like me, you like to stretch your creative wings and go beyond the writing and create your own book covers. This was a very ugly lesson for me and a very important one.

If I were to ever do this again I would: Pay the models for their time, even if it’s $25 an hour. Never do TFP. Add to the contract that the models are not to use the photos on any social media platform and can only use them to promote their modeling on their modeling website. I would put my watermark in a very large font, diagonally across each photo that I gave to them and I would only give them a few photos or none at all. Shoot one genre per shoot. Shoot for no more than 2 hours.

Hopefully someone can learn from this mistake that cost me my reputation, my time, and my money.



Raina SchellRaina Schell is a vagabond. She lives where the tide takes her. The only constant in her life is her trusty laptop. She doesn’t live in a tidy little house. Her dreams aren’t surrounded by a white picket fence. She has no family but spends her free time with a black and white bunny rabbit named Fred.

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  • FormerFred says:

    Good of you to share your experience for the benefit of others, but your title is highly misleading. This article is about potential pitfalls of working with models, having nothing to do with actually “designing” of a book cover.

  • Beth Barany says:

    FormerFred, Good point! I’ve changed the title.

  • Hugh Tipping says:

    Raina, thanks for the tips. I had thought at one time about getting people for book photos and it’s still in the back of my mind. I appreciate learning from your nightmare and really sorry that happened to you.

  • Raina Schell says:

    Thank you Hugh! I love receiving comments and am very happy to help others through my experience!!!

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