When I first started out, back in the dark ages (1980s) before the Internet—heck—before home computers, I was as naïve as a newborn baby. I joined Mystery Writers of America, the chapter that met in Houston, and met some lovely, well-published authors.

I didn’t know squat (except what I’d read in magazines and books I’d purchased). I needed all the encouragement I could get, and I did get it. After a while, I was writing and submitting and, of course, receiving rejections, learning craft (we’re always learning craft, right?) and discovering what’s-what in the traditional book publishing business. There was no real self-publishing then (though there were, as now, vanity publishers), or as we call it now, Independent Publishing.

One of the things I found out from some of these published authors was that the author had no say so over her cover no matter how many books she’d written and published. You took what you got. Oh, the stories I heard. One particularly lovely author of over 140 books, Joan Lowery Nixon (1927-2003),, who became a pretty good friend, regaled me with stories of her experiences regarding the covers of her books. The story I remember most is when she set a book in pancake-flat Houston, but the cover had mountains in the background. She said she’d had many “discussions” with the publisher before the book came out, to no avail.

My first published book, My First Murder, which St. Martin’s Press, Inc. published, had a colorful cover, which other than there being what one could assume was a dead woman on the cover, had no relation to the story. By that I mean the cover was in the style of Mexican art. (I like Mexican art, don’t get me wrong.) The book was set in Houston and Ft. Worth.

My First Murder, St. Martin’s Press, Inc.

The third cover of My First Murder. I didn’t keep copies of the second.

Some years later, my small press publisher contacted me one day and asked me what I wanted on the cover of the book they were putting out. You know, I had never given it any thought, my experience having been that I had no choice. One of my friends said if I was going to come up with a design for a cover, I should be paid. What did I know? I gave the publisher ideas, but by the time I sent in photographs and more information about what I thought, they had taken my original idea and run with it. The cover wasn’t that good. Years later, I’ve been re-publishing some books myself (of course I have my rights back) and am on my fourth cover for my first one.

The fourth cover of My First Murder and I hope the final.

Anyway, now, years and a number of covers later, as an “Independent” author I have sole control. There are days I wish someone else had the responsibility, so I’d be off the hook. It’s not easy coming up with ideas. I’m a writer, not an artist. I’m about to put out the 6th in my Mavis Davis series and have been racking my brain. The title is The Underground Murders. If any of you have an idea for a cover, without knowing the plot, PLEASE contact me asap.

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Susan is the author of fourteen (14) books, mostly mystery/suspense, but not all.


For over 35 years, I’ve been writing, attending conferences and workshops, and making appearances. Like other authors, I’ve often been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” (Even this morning at a coffee!)

With my background as a probation officer, attorney, politician, and judge (plus having worked s**t jobs over the 9 ½ years it took me to get my B.S.), in addition to being a wife, mother, daughter, aunt, grandmother, and having traveled around the world and lived in several states and countries and being a voracious reader—reading even the backs of cereal boxes and graffiti in public restrooms, I have no shortage of ideas. However, I have an additional resource I’d like to share: Found Objects.

I own a former fruitcake tin in which I keep found objects (except money, which I spend) unless the item is too big to fit inside. When I stumble upon something, my imagination takes off as I scurry to my Found Objects’ Tin to enhance my collection.

Once in the stall of a casino ladies’ room, I spotted a money wrapper on top of the toilet paper container. As a ex-bank teller, I knew money wrappers should not be in the same location as toilet paper since they aren’t used for the same purpose. Why was the wrapper there? Who left it? Should I tell the casino manager? Was someone embezzling money and going to head off down the road like Janet Leigh in Psycho?

One time at a conference, I found a slip of paper on which someone had written “Joe Loves me” “Joe Loves me Not” “Joe Lo” For years I’ve been wondering whether or not Joe loved her (or him). Was she/he at the same conference? Was Joe there? Is she/he married? Is Joe? Are they going to run away together? Maybe she’d been in Las Vegas and embezzled money and was questioning whether or not to flee with Joe? (Maybe she’d seen Psycho).

When my backyard was being prepared for landscaping, I found an earring. My house once belonged to a “mafia” family. Could there be a body below ground? Should I dig?

What about the love letter where a man named Richard apologizes to Phyl for leaving her for a few days while he sorts out his problems. What are his problems? Who is Phyl? For that matter, who is Richard? Does she really occupy all his thoughts as he states in the letter? Or is he thinking about going surfing with his friends while she takes care of the puppy he brought her as a peace offering?

Who in my neighborhood played tennis and lost a tennis ball in my yard? Or was the ball evidence of something? What about the teaspoon I found half buried in the dirt? And a key that could be from a stolen jewelry box? Did the person who dropped the grocery list remember everything she needed to purchase in order to create the perfect meal for her new mother-in-law? Was the skeleton earring part of a costume someone was wearing to a Halloween Ball? Was the inmate letter dropped by the intended recipient, or was it supposed to be trash?

My sister-in-law recently found a drone in her front yard. If I’d found it, I would have wondered, “Why is a drone in my yard?” “Was the drone hovering over my house?” “Is someone stalking me?” She posted about it on Next Door and returned it to the claimant. I’m not sure I would have…though it wouldn’t have fit in my Found Objects Tin.

What creative ways do you use to find ideas?

Susan P. Baker is the author of fourteen books and three in the works. She fends off ideas every day.