Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Great Book Cover Debate

Ask any book marketing expert what the key to good book sales is and they will tell you it’s having an eye catching cover. Of course, it goes without saying that the first thing you need is to have a well written book. The cover and the title are what draw potential readers to your book so both had better be top notch.

Last week, I happened on a discussion amongst authors on Twitter. Many of them were in an uproar over the fact that the cover of a fellow author’s upcoming book was virtually identical to that of an author whose book was already published. These people were blaming the second author for “ripping off” the first author, and it got me to thinking.

Cover art has changed a lot since I picked up my first book back in the 80’s. For a long time, book covers were hand drawn, which meant the chances of those covers being copied were pretty slim. From there, covers progressed to photographs of live models. Again, it was unlikely these photos would be duplicated as the photographers owned the copyrights to the photos and the publishers or authors usually handpicked the models.

In the last several years, there’s been a new trend in cover art, and it’s my opinion this is what’s causing the problem with multiple titles having the same cover. There are a number of websites that anyone can join that contain stock photos. As a member of these sites, you are entitled to download and license a specific number of photos each month to use any way you choose.

I’ve belonged to one of these sites for nearly two years. My cover artist uses photos I choose from the site to create my book covers. In an effort to minimize duplication, I try to take different photos and have him layer them together which also allows for more originality in the cover. 

I can always tell when my peers belong to the same website when I see photos I think of as mine being used by other authors. The problem is the photos aren’t mine. These websites don’t remove a photo once an author has licensed it. The same photo can be licensed as many times as the website wants by as many people as they want to license it to. With that policy in play, you can see where it’s difficult to have a unique cover for your book.

Why don’t authors and publishers hire photographers or artists to create their cover images? Simple, it all comes down to money. It costs me $120 a year to be a member of the stock photo website and I can license and download up to 10 photos per month. What I don’t use rolls over to the next month, but I can always pay an additional $1 per photo if I happen to need more pictures than my download amount allows.

While I would love, and I mean love, to hire models to pose for pictures I can use on my book covers, I am an independent author. Right now, I don’t make enough to afford that kind of luxury and neither do many of my peers. We make do with what we have. So, please, keep that in mind the next time you want to bash an author because you think she “stole” someone else’s cover.