Okay, so you have your book in your hands for the first time, the pages have that new book smell, and the cover is glossy and stunning, perfectly summing up the your book in a single image (except when it doesn’t, but that’s another post). There’s only one problem, and I apologise in advance for the image heavy post today, but there are some things that really need to be seen to be understood.
Now, before I get started, I have to say that I have a massive amount of respect for the artists who create covers, you only have to look around a bookshop to see the level of talent and hard work that goes into some of those covers. And I am all to aware that, when you work for The Man, that financial restrictions mean you have to work with what you’ve got. And what you’ve got is a great resource of stock images.
Stock images are BRILLIANT! I can, and have, spent hours clicking through some of the image sites out there, where, for a small fee, you can purchase the right to use the image. Which is pretty awesome when you see some of the images there. You can chop them up, merge them together, play with colours and framing and all for a fraction of what it would cost otherwise.
However, it also means that you get this:
Now, stock art used well is very effective, and a good artist can make a great cover that looks nothing like any other covers using the same images. But the covers above are just lazy. Virtually nothing has been done with the original images, and honestly, seeing them side by side like that reminds me a lot of the identikit cover designers that online self-publishers use (Such as CreateSpace, which, admittedly, has some pretty nice templates) which means that although your book might look nice, it also looks like other books. And, as you can see, it’s not just the small time, unknown authors that share covers.
The above examples are extreme, more common is the image being used as an element of the cover. But to be honest, I don’t have the time or the energy to show you every possible combination. Although I have to say that the guys over at Palimpsest have a great thread on Bookalikes which provided me with lots of examples to show you folks. You can check it out here http://palimpsest.org.uk/forum/showthread.php?t=1765 but I warn you that it is addictive, and you will spend the rest of your afternoon Googling for examples. I have them to thank for pointing me in the direction of the following:
So what does this mean for the author? Well, on the plus side, your book will look familiar, and that can draw readers to it (I feel a post on YA urban fantasy cover art coming on, but I’ll save it for another time) however, on the negative side, it looks just like a lot of other books out there. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t help your book stand out.
That said, authors don’t always get a say in their covers, as it’s usually the publisher who has the final say.
I’d like to compare the publishing houses and the genres to really get a sense of how stock images are used, but honestly, that would be a huge project in itself. But if anyone out there has been working on something like this, let me know.
My thoughts on stock images? Use with discretion and use well. Change and alter and include, but please, don’t just slap the image on and hope no one will notice.