The Trouble with Stock

Unless a book cover has customized artwork, there’s a good chance that the author (or their cover artist) got that fantastic image from a stock photo site such as dreamstime.com or istock photo. Sure, those places have great images, sometimes at very low prices, but there can be a drawback to using stock images:

You can find yourself with the same cover as someone else.

Take for example Sunny Days,  Moonlit Nights vs Safe With Me. They’re by different authors, are filed in different genres, and are about different things, yet they have the same couple on the front. Is that really a huge problem? No, not technically. They’ve both “mixed it up” differently, so the covers don’t look exactly alike, but what if they hadn’t? Some authors simply put a title on a preexisting photo and go. If that were the case, they would be exactly alike.

Funnily enough, it’s not just book covers. The other day I was cruising through my Popular Mechanics magazine and noticed a familiar looking girl in an advertisement in the back. I double checked and, sure enough, there she was pouting back at me from a cover I’d done for the Wasp’s Nest Pinata. Though we’d gone with a different pose there was no mistaking her.

Why could this matter? People are visual creatures. If they read – or see – a book or product that offends them, annoys them, aggravates them, or that they just plain don’t like, and then they see a second book with a similar cover, those feelings are going to transfer unfairly.  There could also be a question of genre confusions or of readers mixing up similar looking covers – and consequently books and authors.

How can you avoid this? One way is to try to use “one of a kind” photos, such as photos you’ve taken yourself, or photos by friends, relatives, etc. In some cases, a cover artist might even be willing to take the photo for you, depending on what it is. (I’ve done this, myself).

If that’s impossible, either because  of resources or subject matter, you can turn to lesser “looked to” places like Flickr, or Creative Commons. org, or even WikiMedia. The advantage to these is that the photos are also free. (It’s nice to contact the photographer and offer to pay them something, of course).

If that’s impossible then, before you buy and download that perfect stock image, take a look at how many other downloads it’s had. This information is usually on the photo page. The higher the number of downloads, the more likely someone has used it. A bonus to this is that the fewer downloads an image has had, the cheaper it is on many sites. (dreamstime, for instance, prices by “levels” of popularity).

But, what if you go to all that trouble and someone still pops up with a similar cover? Relax, it’s not the end of the world. Unless their book is one that really clashes with yours and gets a lot of attention, it’s doubtful anyone will notice. Though, if it’s making big, negative headlines, or people start to comment to you that they’re getting the books confused, you might want to rethink your cover. Otherwise, just let it go. You were there first, and chances are people will look at their book and think of yours.

(Special thanks to Barbara G. Tarn for her eagle eye in spotting two similar covers for this article!)