Daddy's Christmas Angel

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Cover Art - Original Vs. Stock

The growth of e-books has sparked the need for a flood of book covers featuring original art.

Or not!

Where do we get art for the explosion in the number of covers? Many book cover designers use stock art, all from the same stock art sources. That means the very same or similar images can appear on the book covers of many different authors. How disconcerting for an author who suddenly recognizes images from his/her cover on the work of another author!

Stock photos are just that. Stock that can be sold multiple times. If you use one of those pictures, you may see it over and over again. It's like the Van Gogh image, "Starry Night," that is found everywhere from prints hanging in homes and doctor's offices to puzzles on sale in bookstores.
"Sedona" original acrylic painting MMSikes

"Jungle Beat" - original acrylic painting MMSikes
"Tropical Waterfall" - original pastel MMSikes

If you want your book cover to be unique, you must be willing to pay an artist well for all rights to his/her work or you must be able to create original art yourself. Most of my books feature parts of my own original paintings or photographs on the covers. Hearts Across Forever, my first novel, has a cover with a favorite pastel painting I created of a waterfall that fits well into the plot of the story. For Eagle Rising, the cover artist superimposed the image of an eagle over an acrylic painting I did in Sedona, AZ, the setting for my book. Jungle Jeopardy, my latest "Passenger to Paradise" book, has a large tropical jungle painting, "Jungle Beat," I created on canvas a few years ago. This is perfect for the plot of my adventure story set in Central America. Thankfully, I'll never find any of those images on the cover of another book because I retain the copyrights to all my work.

"Beach at Sunset"- original photo MMSikes

My photo of a beach painted orange by the setting sun works perfectly for Secrets by the Sea, set on the Caribbean island of Antigua. My original photos and paintings are also on the covers of books by other authors including: Callie and the Dealer and a Dog Named Jake by Wendy Howell Mills, An Affinity for Murder by Anne White, and Lake Meade by Heather Musko.


I have read comments debating the use of photos taken of art on display in museums on book covers. Is it okay to place photos of the original art of others on your book cover without their permission? At first glance, I would say no. However, if the artist is deceased and the work is in the public domain, is it okay then? I don't know, and I would welcome thoughts on this subject.

As with everything in life, the issue is complicated. I like having my own art grace my covers. Then, I have control over the image. I don't expect to see it on the book cover of another author. And that's a good thing.

Please let me know what you think about book covers. Does stock art concern you? Do you use it?


Marian Allen said...

My publisher paid for original art for one cover and used a stock photo for the other. The original art got some strong comments, but the stock photo got more!

I used my own photos for my short story collections for the very reason you mention--I want my covers to be unique and litigation-free!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Cara Lopez Lee said...

Thanks for pointing out this potential issue, Monti. For my memoir's cover, my publisher chose a photo of me kayaking, with stock art used as a subtle backdrop: a compass layered over a world map. Because the compass & map simply frame and emphasize the photo, and because the color was altered to make it fall into the background like a watermark, I believe that this is sensible use of a stock image. If someone wanted to use stock images as primary images on one of my books, I'd argue against it for the reasons you've suggested.

Monti said...

Thanks, Marian. The stock photos look great, but they can look great on someone else's cover as well. Not happy!

Monti said...

Cara, It sounds like your publisher has a good cover designer who knows how to make good use of a combination. My publisher creates great cover. Still, I like it best when everything belongs to me.

Thanks for commenting!

Morgan Mandel said...

I've been using stock covers. If I ever found one of my own photos that would work, I'd use it. I can't afford a cover artist who can do one from scratch, so I use a designer.I have noticed that even traditional publishers have been using Istock for at least part of a cover, so it's not a problem. Also, it's the way you assemble the pieces that can make a difference on how a cover looks.

Morgan Mandel

Beth McClarren said...

I wouldn't want a book cover that is on other authors work. Nor would I want a cover that is cheap looking as sadly a lot of great authors get stuck with.

Browsing books here and there, the cover is half of what makes me pick the book up to investigate closer. The same goes for e-books unless I know the author or was referred to them I may pass up a wonderful book.

I hope to be lucky enough to get unique covers!

Beth McClarren

Bob Sanchez said...

I've tried a variety of approaches. When Pigs Fly uses a couple of stock photos (for two different printings) of the Grand Canyon. Getting Lucky uses a photo I purchased from the photographer, and Little Mountain uses a collage of images put together by a graphic artist. Generally I've had poor luck trying to design a complete cover. The one exception is a cover I designed for a friend's book that used a photo I'd taken.

Maryann Miller said...

I've had original artwork for some of my covers, and others have used some stock photos for the images. The graphic artist I work with has done both for my e-books and the result has been very good. The publishers I work with have done original art. I think a lot can be done, starting with a stock photo then being creative.

L.J. Sellers said...

Covers are the hardest part of publishing. I've gotten lucky with stock photos and a good designer, but I also have one cover that I'm still not happy with. I'm also changing the cover of my futuristic thriller and trying a whole new artist and concept. We'll see how it goes.

Monti said...

Having a good designer can make a big difference, Morgan. You are right about the way the elements are put together can change the look of stock art. Thanks for commenting!

Monti said...

Beth, you'll have no control if any stock art is used. However, the cover designer can make a big difference. The cover means a great deal to me in selecting a book to read! Thanks for your thoughts.

Monti said...

Bob, designing book covers is harder than most people realize. My publisher works with me to be sure I'm pleased with the cover design. Having nice covers is important to her.

Purchasing a photo might be another sticky issue because that photographer may not be selling all rights. The photographers I know do not, and they sell the same image multiple times.

Thanks so much for you thoughts on this subject, Bob.

Monti said...

You're right, Maryann, a lot can be done using stock photos and the right designer! Thanks for telling about your experiences.

Monti said...

L.L, although I don't write futuristic, I suspect images for those covers are a completely different issue. There must be a great deal of imagination put into a magic creation. Good luck with your new cover artist! Thanks for commenting.