Welcome to this post series! If you’re unsure what this is or where I’m going with it, I’ll refer you back to this post for all the intro stuff. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in!
Now that you’ve figured out what you’re aiming for with your book cover, it’s time to put the plan in motion. Where do you start?
Unless you’re a highly skilled artist or photographer, it’s likely your next step will be locating stock imagery to match the vision in your mind’s eye.
So here’s the thing about stock images. Generally speaking, they aren’t exclusive to a single person once they’re made available online. Exclusive-use images are a LOT more expensive, so if you want an picture no one else will ever have, you’ll be paying a major premium for that. And when I say premium, think a few hundred dollars or upwards. This is why you see lots of unrelated books all have the same model on them. To the majority of indie authors, exclusive images don’t make financial sense for where they’re at in their careers.
Before anyone mentions it, NO, you can’t just use whatever you find in a Google image search. Don’t do this. Ever. I MEAN EVER. Don’t use it to get images for cover creation or even advertising images. DO. NOT. No exceptions.
But there are websites out there that offer free images, right? Those are fine, aren’t they?
Well… I mean, sometimes, yes, but I’d keep away from them outside of a handful of specific sites. There are certain places that have nice selections of free images, and they say the photos there can be used for anything, BUT, there have been reports of photographers finding their work on these sites, uploaded by other people without their permission. And, from what I understand, these sites don’t do much, if anything, in the way of preventing this from happening. So what’s the big deal? Say you find a photo there and use it for your book cover. Turns out, that photo was stolen. You’ve now opened yourself up to a copyright lawsuit, even unintentionally. So unless you want to research every photo you like from there, you’re best off avoiding it. There are, however, legitimate free images out there. For example, if you need space photos, you can download all the images you can handle from NASA and use them as you like. Various stock sites may also offer a handful of free images as well. Sometimes they change them once a month, sometimes it’s weekly.
Free is a tricky thing on the internet. Generally speaking, it’s often too good to be true. Use at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The next thing to be aware of is licensing terms. Most stock sites offer a basic Royalty-Free license that’s good for commercial purposes, up to 500,000 printed products (may vary by site, so always check), which will generally suit the purposes of most indie authors. If you want a good run-down and explanation of licensing, plus some links to stock sites and examples of their licensing, I’d give this post at Kindlepreneur a read. If it says Editorial Use Only, that’s a no-go zone. Keep on scrolling.
The same licensing stuff can apply to fonts. Make sure you’re using ones that are okay for commercial use, and not for personal use only. Places like DaFont have little checkbox filters that will screen out fonts that aren’t 100% free, so make use of that and CYA. If you’re using Adobe products, there’s a TON of fonts available to use there as well, and you’re already paying for those with your subscription. In recent years, I’ve purchased more fonts than I’ve snagged as freebies, as the more intricate faces with optional letter styles are what I’m after, and they cost real money. They’ve been worth every penny I’ve spent on them, too, so don’t discount making the investment.
My go-to place for stock photos is usually DepositPhotos. At least once a year, places like AppSumo will offer up major deals from them, like $49 or less for 100 download credits (I’ve paid as little as $29 for that, also). That’s $30 or more off of the cheapest price I’ve seen the site ever offer directly, so if you see that deal, snag it immediately.
Other sources for stock photos:
There’s lots to consider when it comes to finding the right stock images for your cover. First of all, if you’re creating covers for a series, you need to make sure you can match the look on future books. That might mean finding a model with multiple poses and/or outfits, or that has a head that can be swapped to other bodies (which is probably not something to attempt as a beginner, but there are tutorials out there for those who want to learn).
Here are some stock sites that specialize in series shots of models in multiple poses, geared towards book covers specifically:
- Neostock (genre costume and contemporary models, 3D renders of people/objects, special effects, design tutorials)
- Bewitching Book Stock (genre costume and contemporary models, 3D renders of people/objects)
- Stocklarium (Similar to Bewitching Book Stock, minus the 3D renders)
- Period Images (Romance genre focus, but also some solo models in various costumes/clothing)
- The Illustrated Romance (Romance genre focus, but also some solo models in various costumes/clothing)
- The Killion Group (formerly HotDamnStock, Romance genre focus, but also some solo models in various costumes/clothing)
Searching through stock photos is always a time-intensive process. To begin, use broad keywords, then narrow it down using terms from the image titles and tags. Explore related images using the Similar Images and Same Author listings on photos you like. Find a model you want but the shot is a little too closely cropped, or the pose isn’t quite right? Click on the owner’s name to see their entire portfolio to check for other shots to use. Keep in mind contributors are worldwide, so they may use incorrect spellings or similar words to tag uploaded images. The thesaurus is your friend!
Another hot tip for you: to avoid losing track of images you like, use the boards, favorites folders, and lightbox features on the different sites to store potential choices before making final selections. It avoids FOMO when you find a maybe, but want to keep looking for more options.
For the panel at Balticon, I showed an example of a folder I created on DepositPhotos that held a selection of images I was considering for the cover of a cozy mystery book, the first in a series. Keeping in mind my visual markers for the genre (as mentioned in the last post), I rounded up the following:
By choosing building artwork all in the same series, by the same author, as well as a character image set with options for different poses, facial expressions, and hair styles, I have the ability to create covers for a ton of books in the same series that all look similar in style. It’s all about giving yourself options down the road, so it’s important to keep the “series, or standalone?” question in mind.
During this process, you may find yourself frustrated that you can’t find exactly the right thing to depict some very specific person/item in your story that you want to feature on the cover. I always like to tell my clients up front that, because I work with stock images, finding that perfect match to the fictional person/thing in their head might not be possible. I do my best to get as close as I can, but sometimes, it’s just not something I can do. You have a few options if you bump up against this problem.
First, you can rethink your concept and try a different route. Maybe if you can’t find a model who looks like your princess, perhaps a cover that features an item, such as a tiara, would work just as well, or even better. Symbolic is a valid option here.
Second, you can outsource an element at a higher expense. Perhaps there’s an artist that specializes in creating renders of space ships, who can craft something that exactly matches the description in your prose, or a photographer that has their own private stock shots up for sale that match your hero, but they are only exclusive sales. The cost is higher, but that might be worth it to you.
Third… well, you might have to settle for less than perfect. I won’t say no one is going to be flipping back and forth between a character’s description and the cover, but, honestly, most folks will be too busy soaking in the words to really scrutinize the differences. At least, they will if the words are doing their job. Perfect is the enemy of good, so don’t get too hung up on the tiny details most people won’t notice. Focus on making the cover great overall, rather than an exact literal translation of the book.
There’s one last thing I want to mention on this topic. When you go to purchase your images, be sure to get the largest size and highest resolution available at your price point. You can ALWAYS scale them down, but the reverse is not true. Aim for a minimum of 300 dpi and at least 3000 pixels on the longest side. It’s possible to work with less, but don’t unless you have to. You’ll thank me for that later, so you’re welcome.
So, once you’ve gathered all the pieces, what do you do with them?
In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about building an ebook cover, so stay tuned!