Self-Publishing A Cookery Photo Book With Jane Dixon-Smith

Do you want to publish an image-heavy book like a cookbook? How can you navigate the challenges of photography, book design, and publishing choices to make the best product possible? Jane Dixon-Smith shares her lessons learned from her first cookbook.

In the intro, Brandon Sanderson’s predictions about publishing [Daniel Greene]; Craig Mod talks about walking and beautiful books [Long Form, Things Become Other Things]; Writing the Shadow [CreativePennBooks; Other stores].


Today’s show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at

Jane Dixon-Smith is a historical fiction author, an award-winning book cover designer, graphic designer, and adventurer. Her latest book is The Great Adventure Baker.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • How adventure can keep your creative side alive
  • Making a cookbook personal and unique
  • Editing and testing the recipes
  • Tips for producing the best photos without professional equipment
  • Choosing the images for a photo-dominant book
  • Choices in design and publishing
  • Working with designers to incorporate AI into your designs

You can find Jane at

Transcript of Interview with Jane Dixon-Smith

Joanna: Jane Dixon-Smith is a historical fiction author, an award-winning book cover designer, graphic designer, and adventurer. Her latest book is The Great Adventure Baker. Jane also designs my book covers and print interiors, so I am a huge fan of her work. So welcome back to the show, Jane.

Jane: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Joanna: It’s gonna be exciting to talk about this because so many people want to do cookbooks, but there are many challenges. Before we get into that—

Tell us a bit more about your adventuring side of your life and why you decided to do a baking book at this point in your creative career.

Jane: Well, I got into adventuring properly, probably about five years ago. I needed a bit of time away from my desk because I just sit here all the time designing and all of that kind of thing. And living in the lakes, we have just tons of stuff right on the doorstep.

I joined some groups on Facebook and started walking with different people and taking tray bakes along with me, which everyone seemed to really love. I’d get asked for the recipes, and I’d quite happily give my recipes out. I wasn’t particularly protective of them, like some people I’ve come across in the past have been. So I’d just quite happily send the recipes to people and they can make them themselves. Taking the bakes on adventure days meant that I didn’t get fat! You burn the calories off so you get to eat the cake. So it was kind of guilt-free baking for me.

Then last year, my mum passed away at the beginning of the year. I think that was the spur really for me to actually do a book on baking.

I had thought about it in the past, but I didn’t have a real reason to do it. I thought there’s so many baking books out there, and why would I do one?

But when I combined it with the fact that it was aimed at people going into the outdoors, and I could include some of my mum’s recipes as well and dedicate it to her, that’s what really sort of got me going with it. And obviously, it’s quite an easy thing for me to do, in terms of already being a book designer, to actually put it all together.

Joanna: I think you’re right. There are family reasons, a lot of people hand down recipes. I know some of your mum’s recipes are in there as well as your own.

I just wanted to come back on the adventuring. So you mentioned the lakes, so for people listening, that’s the Lake District in the UK. Can you also maybe comment on how—

How has getting away from your desk and doing the adventuring helped your creative side?

And how does being active play this really important part in your life now? Because it does seem like this is so important to you.

Jane: Yes, I think it’s just getting that balance right of spending time sedentary at your desk, and also spending time doing something really active, and especially getting outdoors when I sit inside all the time. My kids got a little bit bigger and went to secondary school, and I had a lot more time on my hands.

Because I work for myself, I can manage my time and go out in the week when all of the busy places and the popular mountains are really quiet. So that was a really nice aspect of it. I’ve got up to Scotland, I do a lot in Wales, even went out to the Alps last year as well. So it’s sort of really taken on a life of its own. I’ve got to meet loads and loads of lovely people as well. So it’s been really nice.

Joanna: I think that’s really encouraging. Just so people know, you’ve got what, three kids?

Jane: Yes.

Joanna: So you’re a busy working mom, and you’ve managed to bring this into your life. I love your pictures on Facebook. It’s like, oh, wow, Jane’s up another mountain. [You can find Jane’s adventure pics on Instagram @jds_epicadventure ]

Jane: I take so many photos. I was taking loads and loads of pictures of my baking on the mountains anyway, and I’m generally taking pictures when I’m out and about.

I’ve got millions of photographs of being on a mountain, me being on a mountain, tons of selfies, tons of pictures of other people, lots of pictures of baking. They’re the pictures that people liked were the pictures of baking on mountains, apparently. It’s a bit strange.

Joanna: That’s great.

So a lot of people do want to publish a cookery book, but let’s go into each of the challenges one at a time.

First of all, recipes. It’s really interesting, you can’t actually copyright a list of ingredients. So most recipes, you can’t copyright them and anyone could take a recipe and put it in a book. So how did you think about that?

How did you make the book more personal, in terms of writing the recipes and comments and stories, to make an original product?

Jane: I mean, the recipes themselves, the ones that I’ve either adapted or have been passed down to me, and I don’t always know exactly where they’ve come from, but you’re right, you can’t copyright the actual list of the ingredients.

And you obviously can’t directly copy the written aspect of the method, but you can obviously write the method as you would do it.

Also, I tweaked recipes from those that I’d been given or handed, changed different things. Obviously, I tried all of the timings myself, tweaked timings. So they are sort of like probably not original-original set of recipes, but they’re certainly tried and tested ones that I’ve been doing for a very long period of time. 

I also wrote short intros to each of the recipes about what they mean to me, little tips and places that I’d taken them, where they came from, why they mean a lot to me, and that kind of thing.

So I’d included that as well. And obviously, I did an intro about why I’ve done the book and what it meant to me. So there’s a lot of sort of little personal bits and pieces in there, not just a list of ingredients and a method.

Joanna: I think that is so important with any nonfiction book these days, but certainly the reason why people have so many cookery books. You’ve probably got tons of baking books, right?

Jane: Yes, millions.

Joanna: Exactly. So this is what’s so great about a cookery book and a baking book, and many of these books, people will buy lots of them, but they want those stories. It’s like it’s not just another flapjack, you know, it’s personalized.

Jane: Plus, it’s a flapjack I’ve made a lot of times. It’s definitely a good flapjack!

Joanna: We should say, in case people do want to get the book, The Great Adventure Baker, that these aren’t things that you were baking out on the mountains, you were baking them at home. So this is based on home cookery.

Jane: It is, yes. It’s not just something that you need to take on an adventure, you could take it anywhere. You could take it to a picnic, you could just have it at home.

I adapted all of the recipes. Some of them originally, like my recipes I had at home, would be this sort of like round cakes in a round cake tin and things like that, and it’s not really packable for taking out. So I converted them all, so they’re like tray bakes. So they’re easy to stick in a Tupperware container, basically, and take with you wherever you’re going. So that was another aspect of it, I had to convert them all.

There was other recipes that I had to convert. There’s one of my mom’s in there, and you can apparently buy tins of condensed milk in kilos, which is probably not very good for you. But she’d made them at farmer’s markets, so she was making lots and lots.

So I had to work out the quantities for bringing it down into just a normal-size domestic tray bake as well. So there’s bits and pieces like that in there that I’ve explained as well.

Joanna: So I did wonder about how the editing process would work with a book like this. I mean, you could send it to an editor for just the words, but—

Explain how the editing works in terms of testing the recipes.

Jane: I pulled all the recipes together and typed them all out, ready to be in the book.

Then I photographed them, and I made them from the recipes that I typed to make sure that the quantities were right and that my method was right. I’m not very good at remembering my own recipes, so I always do it from a printed out recipe, a written down recipe.

So I typed them out, I had them ready and set out in InDesign, and then I made them all to photograph them. 

Then also I got my kids to make them from the book as well, before it went on sale to double check. So William and Alexander, especially, have been stood in my kitchen with the book making things out of it. So I knew whether things worked or not. 

Yeah, it’s a little bit different because there are different things that you’ve got to check for. My editor, Barbara, who I employed after that, was really good as well for spotting things. So they’re all sort of tried, tested, and then tried again, before it went to print.

Joanna: I think that’s a really good idea. I mean, although your sons are good at baking. I mean, probably someone like me who never ever bakes might have more challenge, but even I was looking at these recipes going, “These don’t look too hard.”

Jane: No, well, none of them are particularly difficult. I did have to be mindful of making clear the method. It’s funny, because I bake all the time, I think I take for granted that people will just know what you’re talking about when you write these things down.

So it was actually just being like super-duper clear and use step-by-step instructions, so everybody can make it and you don’t need any baking knowledge before you start. So that was something I was really careful about. So hopefully I did a good job.

Joanna: I think it’s a really good book.

So let’s come back to the photos. So for a start, you do have these gorgeous sort of panoramic mountain photos and adventure photos, and they’re all wonderful, and that’s one challenge. But—

The photos of the bakes, I mean, this is product photography. Talk about how you did that and any tips for people.

Since this is so important for a cookbook, and also, for marketing.

Jane: Well, I didn’t use any synthetic things that I’ve heard of in product photography before where they, you know, they make burgers out of bits of sponge and all sorts of things like that. I didn’t do any of that.

They are all the actual bakes with the actual ingredients. I just used my camera phone. I think they’re so good now, I have a Pixel, and I love it for the camera, I bought it because of the camera on it.

Afterwards, I edited them a little bit in Photoshop. So I like would blur the bits of the background or adjust the colors just to make them a bit more vibrant, but I didn’t do any heavy editing on them.

The main challenge was thinking of different ways to actually photograph the bakes so that all the photographs didn’t just look the same, from the same angle each time.

So it was like different angles, different backgrounds, different places, different bits of foliage that I set them on, and all sorts of stuff like that.

The other challenge is remembering to photograph them when you’re out, instead of just eating them, which I did once. I took, there’s a honey cake recipe in there, and I took it out with me, and I was sat there with the person I was climbing with, and we ate it. Then I went, “Ah! I needed to photograph that.” So I had to do it again.

Joanna: I can see how you would have to change the backgrounds. But I was noticing like your dishes and things all look really lovely. So—

Do people need an extensive array of baking dishes and plates and things to put stuff on in order to make the photos look different?

Jane: I took inspiration from like Good Food Magazine, the other recipe books that I had on the shelf that I’d sort of flick through, and I saw what other people were doing that I liked.

I didn’t buy anything new. I just think if you rummage around enough and find a few different surfaces, like some of the surfaces that look like worktops aren’t the worktop in my kitchen, it’s the top of a random unit in the house, just to get a different background to the photograph. So I think you can just be a little bit inventive and just have a look at what’s around the house.

Some of them are taken on the floor, it looks like a really nice tile, and it’s just a floor in the house. You know what I mean? It’s that kind of thing. So they’re not all worktop because otherwise it’d just all be on black slate, which would be a bit boring. So yeah, you’ve got to get a bit creative with what you use.

Joanna: I think this is really good that you just used your Pixel phone, as you said, and then you did do some editing in Photoshop. I guess people could even use whatever editing stuff is on the phone, like different filters, as in, you don’t need any special photographical equipment or anything really, as long as you can be imaginative about how to do the angles, as you say.

Jane: To be honest, I just pulled the photographs from my phone onto my computer, just because I found it easier to work like that. In all honesty, you could just use the filters. So just a standard filter just to make it look a little bit more vibrant. There’s nothing particularly different about using Photoshop than there is using the filters on your phone.

Joanna: I love that. I think it’s so interesting how you can, as you say, take ideas from magazines, and then think, well, how could I do that with my floor or this cabinet or whatever, instead of trying to set it up in some studio. I feel like sometimes the tutorials online around doing this kind of thing make it look really complicated, but actually—

You don’t need anything special, just some creativity.

Jane: Yes, I think when you take them inside, there was a little bit of issues with light. So it’s just like obviously not getting your own shadow over the cake and that kind of thing. That was kind of the only challenge.

Then outside when it was raining, and it was like 40-mile an hour winds on the top of a mountain and the cake is blowing away. But no, there’s nothing too technical about it.

Joanna: And in terms of the other photos you have in there, I mean, obviously, there’s photos of you. I think there’s some of your kids.

Jane: Yes, there’s some of my kids. I try not to use too many. I try not to make it into a little my-kid-fest in there. So I did sort of limit it to the odd one or two. There’s a couple of William and Alexander because they’re like my little baking buddies, and there’s a couple of other people.

I tried to keep people’s faces out of it, so it’s just more in-action shots of the kind of stuff that I do. And then mostly landscapes.

Joanna: Yes, mostly landscape. So as you said, you’ve got loads of photos of other things.

How did you choose those photos?

Because I imagine you had tons to pick from.

Jane: With great difficulty. There was a lot.

I just, I scrolled back, and I pulled out my favorite. Then I just sort of tried to use a mixture. So different seasons, because they’re all outside, and there was some climbing, some walking. I don’t do a lot of canoeing and that kind of thing, but I’ve done some, so I had stuck one of those in. I just tried to keep it so it was quite broad.

I love playing out in snowy wintry conditions on mountains, so it nearly ended up being a lot of pictures of snow. So I had to be quite careful of putting some more summery ones in, and also autumn and spring and everything. So it’s keeping a balance really, making sure you don’t use too much of one thing.

Joanna: So much of the editing process with photo books is thinking about what the story is. Like the pictures with your kids and some other people, that’s part of the story of the adventure and the family side and all of that kind of thing, so that all brings life to the book in a different way. So it feels like the editing of the words, compared to the pictures. I mean—

There are far more images in this kind of book than there are words, right?

Jane: Yes, the images were the bit that I found the most difficult to choose. When you start taking pictures of your bakes for a book, you take a lot more than you do just when you’re out and about. So I had sort of 20-30 pictures of the same bake and had to make a decision about which ones to use. So that was quite hard.

Picking the other ones was fairly easy. I just picked landscapes that I really liked. Some of them were memories that I had, so it was particular places on particular days that meant something to me. I would remember a little story about it, or a little scrape that I got into, or something like that. 

Then there are fun ones. There’s one about a walking boot disappearing into a gap in a cave in Wales, which was a hugely fun day, kind of scrambling into this cave and then up and out of it. I thought it was fun, and hopefully people will appreciate it as well. But yeah, it was quite a challenge with the pictures.

Joanna: And just as we as writers have editors for words, I mean—

Did you have anyone proof the pictures or comment on the picture design?

It feels like that’s something that a traditional publisher would have someone who does that. But I mean, you are already a designer, so you have those skills. But is there such a thing? Or is that just something you felt was right?

Jane: I didn’t. It was something I worried about, getting the right balance. I did put more pictures of myself in the book, and I thought, oh my god, there’s so many pictures of me. Take them out, take them out, we don’t need those. We don’t need to see that many pictures of me.

So I’ve kept it to just like two or three, something like that, and they’re at the front. There’s a picture of me as a little kid baking with my brother when I was probably about six or seven, just because it meant something to me. So I put that with the forward.

I did ask a couple of friends to have a look and to see if they thought that the balance was okay. One of them was a writer and one of them was mountaineer, and I hoped that they would pick up on anything where I’d completely overdone a certain type of photo or whatever.

I also had to check with people because there is one in there of somebody else’s children. It’s not obvious, and it’s only small, but I had to say, “Do you mind? Would you be okay with me including this?” And they’ve got a copy of the book now, so that’s really nice. 

Obviously, there are pictures there that people have taken that aren’t mine because they’re taken of me. So they’re friends that have taken them on our adventures, and obviously, you’ve got to get permission to use those because they’re not your own photos. So I did seek permission for them as well.

Joanna: So do you have everything in writing?

Because, I mean, it’s all very well if people are friends, but then let’s say, your book just takes off and sells a gazillion copies. I mean, so you have everything in writing, the permissions?

Jane: Yes, you should always get it in writing. Definitely. Yes.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. Okay, so let’s come to the design itself.

So you are an award-winning book cover designer, you do graphic design, you have been using InDesign for many years. So you have the skills to design a book. But for people who might want to make their own photo-dominant books, let’s call them, what are your tips on that? Sort of any big things to think about? Or—

In terms of book design, is it a case of work with a designer or learn to use something like InDesign?

Jane: I’m always like a massive advocate of learning to use stuff yourself. If you want to put out a really super professional book, then obviously working with a designer is key.

But if you want to do something like it’s a project of your own, it’s a bit of a pet project, definitely I’d learned to use software that can handle that kind of thing.

There’s loads of templates out there now. There’s loads of software where you can pick a template and then populate it, so you can do it as your own project.

For me, this wasn’t a big, massive thing about selling lots of books, it was something that I wanted to do for myself. And obviously, I wanted to do it really, really nicely. But loads of templates are out there if you want to do your own.

What I would say is obviously just be really careful about what kind of photos you’re using and being aware of whether they do look like super amateur. It depends what your market is at the end of the day as to how you want to choose them.

Joanna: Yeah, I mean, we’ve been working together for like a decade now. You helped with my Pilgrimage interior, and we did have some pictures for that.

Color interior pages from Pilgrimage

Although it wasn’t massively design-heavy, I still found it very, very hard to choose the pictures. Then basically, I just gave you all the pictures, and you put them into the book in a way that looks nice.

I mean, that’s an example of working with a designer where it’s like, “Here’s my images. Could you make them look good?” Is that okay as a project?

Jane: Yeah, yeah, I mean, obviously you can make like different types of pages. There’s collages, and mix about, and like full spreads even.

So you’ve got a big landscape picture running across two pages always looks really nice, bled right off the edge of the page, and then other page is where you’ve got a collage. So it keeps it interesting. So you mix it up.

So obviously, I’ve got pages of recipes, and then I’ve got pages of photos. I’ve got the photographs that correspond to the recipe, and then I’ve got other pages where I’ve put in landscape pictures to break it up.

Then I’ve also got like little photos of my mom’s handwritten recipes, just two or three, which I thought would be nice to include because they were her recipes originally. Then it’s typed out as well, but the little photo is there of her handwriting. Then I’ve put like little colored boxes where I’ve put tips or tricks or ways you might want to change the recipe, add something and that kind of thing. It just breaks it up, and it gives you a really nice layout.

Joanna: That’s great. Okay, so let’s talk about the publishing side. Because this is, again, one of the challenges of a photo-heavy book is the choice around paper, and around printing, and distribution and cost.

Tell us about your publishing choices.

Jane: Well, I wanted the book to be a really nice book, so I opted for a heavier weight color paper.

You’ve got different options when you print in color than you have when you print a novel, for example, where you’ve only got white or cream or I know a lot of printers are doing groundwood now.

So with the color books, you’ve got like a standard color, and then a premium color, and I think there can be up to like, depending on which printer you use, sort of four different grades of paper.

So I opted for the nicest one because I wanted it to be really nice, and I ordered it with a dust jacket as well. So it’s got the nice dust jacket over the top of the case laminate. So you’ve got your little flaps, front and back, as well, which I thought was lovely. So it’s more expensive, but it does make a really nice product, I think. 

I know there’s printers out there now looking to offer more. So you can get ribbons and things like that which I would really like to look at in the future, to ribbon down the pages as like a bookmark, which would be really nice touch.

Price-wise, color printing is quite expensive compared to black and white novel printing. But it’s affordable, it’s totally doable.

Amazon, I think, is still the most expensive. So I opted to print with IngramSpark and Bookvault as well, both of them. They’re quite comparable in color printing, and the quality is really nice from both of them.

Joanna: So you didn’t use KDP Print at all? You just use IngramSpark to distribute to Amazon?

Jane: Yes, I did.

Joanna: So that’s interesting. You’ve done a paperback and hardback.

Jane: I did. The paperback is a bit cheaper to produce, so I just thought for anyone wanting one. It didn’t really cost me any more to do it. It’s quite simple for me to set the files up. It’s only the cover, the interior stays the same.

So you just need to change the cover files. So I changed the cover files and did it as a paperback too, and I added it as a Kindle, just in case anyone fancied a Kindle copy. I have sold a few, so they obviously did.

Joanna: Yes, well people do look at them on their iPads or on their tablets, prop them up in the kitchen. When I occasionally do a recipe, that is how I do it.

I guess it is actually quite hard to do an eBook because it has to be reflowable.

Jane: Yes, I kept it reflowable.

I know you can do fixed layout eBooks and that kind of thing, but it’s just so much easier. And when I looked, most of the big popular baking books, like The Great British Bake Off and the like, they’re reflowable. That’s how they’ve done them. So I just followed the same formula and did it reflowable, like I’ve done all of my other eBooks over the years. It just works, it works across all devices.

It’s not as pretty as getting fixed layout as a paperback can be because you haven’t got the flexibility as you have with a paperback of doing exactly what you like.

You’ve got to keep it quite simple so that it works on all different devices, whether it’s a phone or a tablet, or it’s a proper Kindle or not proper Kindle, or whatever. So I just designed it so that it was completely straightforward and reflowable. So I have uploaded that directly to KDP.

Joanna: Right. And did you do that in Vellum, or what do you use for eBooks?

Jane: I use Jutoh.

Joanna: Oh, okay. Wow, old school.

Jane: Yeah, I’ve used it for years. I do find it really good. Yeah.

Joanna: It’s definitely one of the older programs. I think that’s really interesting. I guess another tip for people with this is you could have done an eBook file with fewer images and then linked to a web page with a downloadable PDF.

There’s ways of doing images in other ways to save on the delivery cost, which can actually be quite high. [Check the Amazon ebook delivery cost here.]

Jane: I’ve left mine in, but there are fewer images in there, and I reduced the size of them a little bit, for that specifically. So they’re still really good quality, and it’s still color, but it’s all the images really that are more relative to the recipes that are in the eBook.

Joanna: That’s important for people to remember. Check your delivery charges with massive eBook files full of images, because even if you charge like $9.99, you might still have a big whack of that taken out in delivery charge. We just don’t think about that with mostly text books, right?

Jane: No, no, they don’t because it was only over a certain megabyte they start charging you for a delivery charge. Is that right?

Joanna: It’s really small, and most of us never hit anything significant, like maybe it’s a couple of cents. But with this type of book, it can be significant. So that’s a tip. So I did want to ask—

What are the dimensions of the print book?

Jane: I’m pretty sure I did it 6.14 inches by 9.21 inches. It’s slightly bigger than the usual sort of 6 by 9 book. Just with it being a photo book, I wanted it that little bit bigger, but I didn’t want it massive.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. And obviously for people listening, the size that you decide on, the dimensions, will impact your print cost and all of that kind of things. So there are a lot of things to think about, aren’t there?

Jane: And you can’t change it either, your size. It’s linked to your ISBN, so once you’ve published it, it’s there, and they always appear on Amazon as well. So even if you unpublish and publish again in a different size, you end up with two listings. You need to like be clear about what size you want right at the beginning.

Joanna: Yes, and you can do that by getting some of the books on your shelves and just measuring them. I think I remember doing that years ago and was like, right, okay, this is how we do it. But the other thing I wondered is if you now love doing these types of books, and if—

Maybe you’ll do a women’s adventuring book or something like that?

Jane: Well, I was thinking of doing another one, but it wasn’t quite that exciting. I was thinking of keeping the theme and doing another book, but this time food flask recipes.

So because we all take like a food flask or just a normal flask full of like soups and stews and things like that. So I was thinking I would stick with the outdoor theme, and instead of it being cakes, it would be more savory things to take out in the cold. So I have loads of recipes, and so I thought I might start work on that over winter.

Joanna: That sounds great. I love that. I think, just as a marketing tip for people in general, having a series of any kind of books is a good idea. So you’ll have a cookbook series, I guess. It won’t be a baking, it will be a cookbook series.

Jane: Essentially, yes, that’s it. So I’ve been having a little think of recipes that my kids would like because they’ll just be like, “Soup, that’s boring.”

So I thought I might have to do like a recipe so it’s homemade custard in your food flask, which I’ve never seen done. I thought that would be quite cool, and then a little recipe for a food to go with it that you can dip in it, or something that would like appeal to children, or like the child of adults.

Joanna: I think that sounds really fun. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of people who do this kind of stuff all over the world. So I think this is a great idea.

So we’re almost out of time, but I did want us to talk about something.

We are recording this in November 2023, and the AI tools have really taken over in the last year. One of the interesting things, I think, is that people a year ago were really worried about even talking to designers and some designers were really anti-AI.

But in the last year, I have sent you quite a number of my images. People will know my Writing the Shadow, the front cover of that, both of those images, the smoke and the typewriter are AI images that I’ve sent to you.

Writing the Shadow

So I wonder if you could maybe talk about your thoughts on the use of AI images and—

How can authors work with designers to incorporate elements of AI into design?

Jane: I was originally, probably 12 months ago, one of those people who was a bit nervous about it. Not in a design point of view, from my perspective, worrying that I wouldn’t have a job or anything like that.

But we are very cautious—well, I am very cautious—about using images that I know I’m not going to have a problem with copyright. A lot of people send me images and I’m like, well, I don’t know where you’ve got it from. So we can’t use it unless I know that it’s come from a stock library and we can officially license it, or it’s from Wiki Commons and we know it’s a public domain image, and I’m pretty sure of that.

So for me, it was confidence in using AI images and whether there would be any repercussions legally, in terms of copyright. That was my concern at the beginning.

Now, it seems that a lot of people are finding it more acceptable. It seems to be okay. I’ve been really looking again at Midjourney and the terms and conditions, and they all seem to have terms and conditions now that allow images generated by them to be used for commercial purposes. So from a legal point of view, I’m kind of happy doing it.

I’m more than happy for authors to send me images that they’ve created using AI.

Because it means that they’ve spent the time putting the keywords in and generating images and images until they get the perfect image that they want, and then they send it to me. Sometimes they’re kind of happy with the image as it is, it’s just a case of converting that into something that is a good book cover.

Then other times, it’s just they just wanted a character. So they leave it up to me to do the background and all of the other imagery surrounding the character, it’s just that they had something in mind for that character. They wanted it to hold something specific or look a certain way, and they couldn’t find what they wanted. 

Then there’s other authors that just love playing with AI imagery. So they just do that a lot. Then they just send me loads of stuff and they’re just like, choose what you want. They just had a really good time doing it.

Joanna: I mean, that’s me. I think Catacomb is probably a better example in terms of I did send you like a whole load of things, like textures and skulls and people running.

Then you took, I think it was maybe three of them, to make the composite image, and then you obviously did the font as well. That was eBook, audiobook, print, and large print, and all of that.

Catacomb by J.F. Penn

So that was a case of me going nuts and spending time creating stuff, and then you doing the design work of putting it all together. I feel like that’s a really good way forward for people who enjoy the AI process and also with designers like yourself who are happy to do that.

Jane: For me, I’m a designer, not an illustrator, so for me, it’s just the same as an author client going ahead and commissioning a painting or a digital illustration from an illustrator, and then supplying it to me and saying, I need that to be made into a cover. It’s just the same thing, really, from my point of view. Obviously, they’ve not used an illustrator, but from my perspective and the work that I then do on the cover, it’s the same thing. So I don’t mind at all.

I think it’s really good that you can generate this whole wealth of new images. It can be like a really creative process because you’re never quite sure what it’s going to pop up with either.

I had dabbled with it myself, and I’ve generated a few bits and pieces that I’ve used in covers. There’s quite a lot of images available on stock libraries which I believe have been generated by AI now, and they’re actually allowing people to download it on license. So yes, I think we’re using it even when we don’t know.

Joanna: That’s what I think too. I think given that Adobe Firefly and book cover designers are using Photoshop or InDesign or other Adobe products, it seems almost impossible at this point for people to be not using some form of AI.

Jane: That’s right. I think even when you don’t realize it, you’re probably using it anyway now. It’s in everything, isn’t it?

Joanna: Exactly. That’s kind of how I feel. Like a year ago, it was all like, oh, we can’t do that. And now it’s like, oh, this is great fun, let’s just add it to our process. It’s good to hear that you’re not worried because, obviously, we’re still working together.

Even if I design amazing stuff, or generate amazing stuff myself, my skill is not turning this into a book design or a book cover design. So I think us all working together in just more creative ways is very exciting.

Jane: Yes, it’s just another way of working. And as I say, it’s very similar, for me, to working with somebody who’s employing an illustrator.

Some of the time I will brief in Illustrator for a client and other times they just engage with one and then supply me with the images afterward. So it’s just a very similar way of working to that for me.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, exciting times ahead. So—

Tell people where they can find the cookbook, as well as everything you do, online.

Jane: You can find me at That’s my design website. You can find the book at, and that will take you to various places it’s available online.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Jane. That was great.

Jane: Thank you

The post Self-Publishing A Cookery Photo Book With Jane Dixon-Smith first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • December 3, 2023