So what do you do when you finish writing a novel?

Well, the most constructive thing to do is probably to find an editor. While your editor is reviewing your work, you probably want to explore your publishing options.

In the mean time, you probably want to set up a social media network, to reach out to potential readers, to let them know who you are … to provide them with some examples of your work. While in the process of creating this network, it’s a good idea to start a blog. Post some short stories you’ve written … post some personal stories.

There’s also promotion. Very important. You’ll want to be thinking about that from the beginning. Finding ways to promote your book is paramount.

Or … if you’re me … you start looking for a great picture to use for your cover!

OK … sometimes I like to go a bit out of order. To be honest, it’s not like I spent weeks trying to find cover art. I was completely prepared to roll up my sleeves and get to work after finishing the writing portion of my book project. I just thought it would be fun to start getting ideas. It was late at night. I had finished doing anything serious for the day. I wanted to do something fun.

I Googled “Little Red Boat” to see what I would find … just for fun.

I found a few things, mostly photos that didn’t quite fit the image that I had in mind. There were a few paintings. There was an especially nice watercolor that I liked. But it wasn’t quite right. If I were to see that painting on the cover of a book, especially with the title “The Little Red Boat,” I would expect to be looking at a children’s book. Well, my book is most certainly not a children’s book.

I thought a little more about what I was looking for. How could I expand my search without getting completely off track? How about Red Boat at Dawn? After all … the little red boat in my story does make a couple of appearances at dawn. I searched “Red Boat at Dawn.”

Voila! (pun somewhat intended … you’ll see what I mean in a minute)

I found the photo. It was perfect. There was an outboard motor on the boat, which the boat in my story doesn’t have. But that was nothing a little Photoshop couldn’t solve. I clicked on the image. It led me to the photographer’s website. The photographer’s name is Jérôme Aoustin.

Hmmm. That spelling … it looked French. I did a little digging, and sure enough … the photographer currently lives in France.

So … I decided to contact him. You know … for fun. I brushed up on my French … ah … who am I kidding, I don’t know any French. I wrote to him in English. I wrote something like: Hi … I don’t know if you speak English, but I’ll give it a try. I just completed a novel titled “The Little Red Boat.” I think your photo “Red Boat at Dawn” would be perfect for the cover … yada, yada, yada … thank you very much … hope to talk with you soon. Yours truly, John Ethier.

He responded! In English! Turns out he speaks perfect English, he was very flattered that I wanted to use his photo, and he said he would be happy to work something out.

It took a couple of weeks of back and forth to work out all the details. We chatted about this and that … nothing too deep, mostly his photography and my writing. In the mean time, I was doing all the other things that I was supposed to be doing. You know … the constructive stuff: having my book professionally edited, creating a blog (obviously), and trying to learn everything I could about my publishing options.

I just finished signing a contract (in French) for rights to use his photo for my book cover. Yes, he did translate it for me. But still. How crazy is that? I’ve been telling people that this whole experience has been surreal. Well, I don’t know how much more surreal you can get than that.

You can see other examples of his work on his website:

When friends and family ask me what this experience has been like, I think about the photo. I think about how strange it felt to be telling a professional photographer that I would like to use one of his images for my book. My book!

I’ve always been one to put the cart before the horse when it comes to the creative process. It’s just how I’m wired, I suppose. It’s not like I don’t appreciate building a solid foundation, taking care of the fundamentals first. It’s just that I like to jump out ahead … you know … for fun. I used to always do that as a musician. I always tried to figure out how to play the craziest, most challenging thing I could think of before mastering the fundamentals. Sure, I would always go back and learn the fundamentals later. I’m not a complete Bohemian.

So now that I have the perfect photo for my book, I guess I should get back to work to make sure that I have a book worthy of its cover.