Friday, December 11, 2009

Stock images and cover art

Many book covers these days incorporate stock images. Some cover art departments use such photos but add different elements to make the cover as creative (and easy to read) as possible.

Some of them... don't.

Good use of stock image

Here's the original photo.

And here's what the publisher, Hyperion, did with it.

This took second place in the Contemporary category of an annual contest of romance novel covers (I remember because I voted for it).

Now, what's the worst that could happen with stock images?

Poor use of stock image

Yes, that's right. The same photograph was used for three different books (by three different authors, none of whom I'll bet are aware of this). Minimal changes, and a couple of the titles are partly obscured by the clouds. It's courtesy of the infamous PublishAmerica... and by no means the only cover PA reused again and again and again.

Some stock images are non-exclusive, so elements from one book cover may be present in another's. But each cover should have something to set it apart as well - and not just the minimal effort of adding the title and author's name to a photograph.

Even if the writer is happy with that, imagine such a book next to all the others in a bookstore. Is it eye-catching, in a good way? Does it pass the ten foot test? If it's going to be the first in a trilogy, will it share certain aspects with the sequels - for instance, having the same border to show that they're in the same series? (And that's just the little I've picked up about cover art from people who know far more.)

Books are still judged by their covers, just as prospective employees are judged by their appearances. And such first impressions matter.


colbymarshall said...

The first cover is beautiful, I have to say!

Marian said...

I agree. :) And there are so many lovely covers featured each year. It's not easy choosing between them.

There are also some very... um, questionable covers, though. That's why there's also a category for Worst Cover.

Maria Zannini said...

Stock art covers demonstrates the difference between a good artist/art director and one who mass produces covers for a living.

I've often wanted to design covers, but I don't know that I'd get much done. I'd be too busy flipping through photo pages.

Mary Witzl said...

Whoa, I had no idea publishers recycled photos that way! And you can't even read the titles of those last three covers.

I really don't think I judge books by their covers. But maybe it's totally subliminal and I'm just unaware. Or I'm deeply in denial...

Love that first cover, by the way. And I definitely want that recipe.

Mary Witzl said...

Ummm...I meant THOSE recipes.

(Sigh...Wish it could be just ONE recipe -- so easy to get it over with simply then!)

Marian said...

Mary – real publishers would be very unlikely to do that with covers. Even if they recycled one or two parts, there would be an effort to make the covers at least look different.

PublishAmerica, though, is an author mill which tries to pass itself off as an actual publisher (and often succeeds, partly because it doesn’t charge upfront fees). Many people try to warn inexperienced writers about PA, and in this case, I felt four pictures were worth a thousand words.

I don’t really look at covers if I’ve read other books by the author and have an idea of what to expect. From an unknown author, though, the cover is going to factor into my choice, especially if it’s a romance novel – the cover usually gives an idea of the book’s time period, heat factor, etc.

Marian said...

”Stock art covers demonstrates the difference between a good artist/art director and one who mass produces covers for a living.”

Absolutely, Maria. A good artist can take the basic image and build up a beautiful, original cover around it. An overworked employee in a press which accepts far too many submissions? Copy, paste, use PhotoShop to add the title and author’s name. Next?

I wouldn’t mind designing covers, but making them competitive with all the others in the marketplace is another matter.

Barbara Martin said...

There are many books on book shelves that I do not go to based on their poor covers. It makes me wonder what the publishing houses were thinking of when they come up with some of these horrid covers. A good cover will draw in a potential customer while a poor cover will send them looking elsewhere.

Bethany Wiggins said...

That is crazy.. four books with the same cover. Woops. And thanks for sharing.

Marian said...

Barbara - Absolutely. Attractive cover art is very important, though some of the poorly designed covers can approach so-bad-it's-good status.

For instance, there's a romance novel cover where the heroine has three hands. The author said that everyone remembers that cover, even if they don't recall the title.

Bethany - Thanks. :) And there's lots more where that came from, believe me.