NIGHT FIRE is my latest cover effort. You can read more about my actual trip on the Oregon Trail to research at my blog. You can also see the original Berkley cover.
Basic pieces of freeware (software that is free) are necessary. For covers, graphic software is available for download called Paint.net, which is pretty good. I've started using some of my own photographs on my covers, which saves on stock photos, such as you can buy at istockphoto and others.
We're not all going to hit J.A. Konrath's heights, but if you're headed for e-publishing, here's basic facts: