The photograph leaves little to interpretation. Candace Bushnell lies across a big bed wearing a black negligee, a wine glass dangling from her hand. The picture, which dominated the cover of her short storycollection Sex and the City nine years ago, helped establish Bushnell as the quintessential New York party girl—glamorous, sexy, single.

But what's an author to do when she outgrows her own persona? Call Marion Ettlinger, the eye behind iconic photographs of authors such as Raymond Carver, Richard Ford and Joyce Carol Oates. Ettlinger's challenge: Come up with a book jacket shot for Bushnell's latest novel, Lipstick Jungle, that evokes a more sophisticated image in keeping with her growing maturity, both personal (she's 46 and married) and artistic (she now writes about married women in their 40s). "I wanted someone who could capture that next stage that I think Candace's career is now in," says Ellen Archer of publisher Hyperion, which is releasing Lipstick Jungle next month.

The slender blond author seems to feel none of the typical writer's anxiety in front of the lens. "I had so much fun on the day we did the photographs," she says. "Because we just talked about books. It was a great, interesting day with a couple of photographs thrown in."

Actually, it took some 360 shots to get the right image. At one point, Bushnell put on a strappy Pamela Denis gown, an old favorite that's seen her through several weddings and a gig judging the Miss World pageant in China. It was ultimately deemed too glam. The winning picture shows Bushnell fully covered up, in a white Chlöe shirt. Bucking the old marketing notion that insists authors should gaze directly at potential buyers, Bushnell is shown looking off into the distance with a contemplative air.

But for all the differences between this photo and Bushnell's previous images, not everything has changed. The author—who complains that her forehead is starting to defy the Botox treatments she's been getting for six years—appears in Ettlinger's work as smooth and unlined she did on the cover of Sex and the City. With the right photo, it seems, an author can grow up without growing any older.