Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Author Stole My Cover!

No, they really didn't.

When I first saw Jasinda Wilder's cover, I was like No... flippin'... way! Not only did her cover include the same picture, but her title was also very similar. I immediately notified my publisher. How can they do this? Isn't this some kind of copyright infringement or something? Oh, my word... it's just like mine! My publisher quickly calmed me, of course, saying that she doubted a NY Times Bestselling Author would copy us. I could have been offended, but I wasn't; she was right. But I was oh-so glad that my book came out first so people wouldn't think I copied her. Of course, I've learned a lot since then and realize that this happens... quite often, actually.
I can't tell you how many covers I've seen and have been like Oh, that's so-and-so's book, only to realize it's not—just their cover. For those who don't know, this happens because cover designers and authors use stock photos which can be used over and over again. Just because an author or cover designer found the perfect photo in the mounds of stock photos out there and uses it on a certain book doesn't mean I can't use it, too. Of course, just like my "For Always" cover above, these photos can incorporate different design techniques, making them look slightly different in some cases, but for the most part, they're the same photo, which will most likely be detected by readers, especially if it's from a popular series.
The Lux series covers, in my opinion, are one element that played a huge roll in its popularity, catching your eye and making you want to find out who this guy is, thus making them very well known covers. These same photos are stock photos that can, and have been, used again. However, guess what happens when someone sees them on another book? They think of these books. It could be the cover of some kind of country-western novel about a roping gang; and yes, maybe they changed his clothes a bit, added a rope, but no matter what they do, it's still Daemon Black. (Hmm... the thought of Daemon in chaps slinging a rope just came to mind. You're welcome.)
As we all know, covers sell and can make or break a book sometimes. Do you have a possible best-selling book with a butt-ugly cover? Guess what? That book will most likely never live up to the potential that's inside it because readers won't give it the chance to. When people say not to judge a book by its cover, it's like saying not to judge a day by its weather. If I look out the window and it's ugly and rainy, I'm not going outside. Same with books. A bad cover can ruin the whole thing and cause readers to move on to something else.

So, what to do? 

Make Yours Stand Out 

If you have no other option but to use stock photos, make whatever photo you use your own. Photo shop the crap out of it so it's unique to your story, this way, even if someone else uses the same photo, yours will stand out. If you use a cover designer, make sure you let them know what kind of feeling you want the cover to express. The worst kind of covers are the ones that are just photos and a title, with no design elements or anything that make you feel the cover and not just see it. 
While at a recent book signing (with over 100 other authors), I promised myself not to go crazy—I'd only buy a few books... that's it. After walking through the entire venue (which included some very well-known authors) before the doors opened, I passed by them all. It wasn't until I came to Bailey Ardisone's table that I stopped. What stopped me? Her beautiful covers. They weren't elaborate or highly designed, but they made you want to read whatever story was inside. That, my friends, is what covers should do. Needless to say, the few books that I'd allowed myself to buy at this event ended up being hers.

How To Stand Out

Take your own cover photos. That's what I recently did for an upcoming project. This will ensure that no one else will have the same cover as you. The hardest part will most likely be finding models to match your main character(s), if they are needed, but it's not impossible. I used a family member and a friend's daughter for my last photo shoot, who were both eager and excited about being on the cover of a book. Some friends of mine, who are photographers, took the photos, but with a decent camera, you can take them yourself; you just may have more photo-shop work to do.
Believe it or not, it is possible to do a complete photo shoot and design your own cover for free, using your own photos in conjunction with sites like Pic Monkey and Fotor, as well as Amazon's cover creator.

Catch Readers' Eyes

But how does one catch readers' eyes you ask? Well, look through your own books. Which ones catch your eye? Which book covers are your favorites? What makes them your favorites? Is it the feeling they emit or a certain theme that they carry throughout the series? Whatever it is, go with it for your own covers. Own books that have less than desirable covers? Figure out what elements of the design you don't like and make sure you avoid that in your cover.

Don't overpay!

I've seen some cover designers charge upward of $500, sometimes more, to design a cover. I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. I'm not saying that their work isn't worth that... well, maybe I am. Unless they are doing a unique illustration for you, like the Harry Potter series beautiful array of covers, or incorporating a photo shoot with design, no one should charge that much, in my opinion, especially if they are using reusable stock photos. The cover designer of the books that attracted my attention at the book event charges $50 per cover... $50! That's pretty cheap for a cover design, but her covers work. They got my attention that day, which is what covers should do. (You can contact her at Cover Design by Bailey.) 

Traditionally published authors have less control

My first series, For Always, was traditionally published, so I didn't have the final say on covers. However, my publisher is great when it comes to working with their authors on what type of covers they want and try to help them get it. I'm sure most publishers do this, knowing that if they dress an author's baby badly that it might make for a bumpy ride to publication. One of my favorite designers that they use is Wicked By Design. Robin is great to work with and I would highly recommend her.
I know Jennifer Armentrout had some of her readers get upset when her publisher changed her covers (the ones above) before the release of "Opposition", the last book in the Lux series. Some said it was just to get more money, knowing readers (book nerds, like myself) like to have all of their covers match nicely on their shelf and would go back and buy the first books again. I mean, why change covers mid-series? I don't know, but there was a reason her publisher did it, and as most publishers do, they have the final say, not Jennifer. Instead of readers getting upset, they should've thought about how they had copies of the discontinued covers, which won't be made anymore, since they were replaced by the new ones. The back cover of my second book was messed up, which quickly got fixed, but readers who accidentally got it before the correction actually liked the fact that their book was one out of just a few sold like that.

Indie authors

If you're an indie author, make sure your cover doesn't reflect that. What I mean by that is don't let your cover look unpolished; make readers wonder who published it. Some indie authors do it all—editing, cover, formatting, everything—themselves and unless they do it to perfection, it looks sloppy and it makes it obvious that it was self-published, appearing unprofessional.
I did my own cover for "Haunted", which I'm rather proud of, especially since it was my first time doing something like that. Luckily, it was too thin to be able to add writing to the spine or I might have choked and left it to the professionals. The last thing I'd want would be for my spine to be all crooked. I'm going to try to do my next project's cover, as well, but it's going to be a full novel, so if I can't get it perfect, I'll hire a designer. Never settle on a cover if you're not 100% happy with it; money can buy happiness... at least when it comes to book covers.
The main thing NOT to do is to take a stock photo and just slap your name and title on it. When I see books like these, I don't even bother to read the synopsis. I assume if the author didn't care enough to take the time to package their work nicely that what's inside probably isn't that good, either. Just like
items in the grocery store. Would you buy a generic looking box of cereal with some unappealing bowl of flakes on the front of it? I wouldn't. I want the ones that make me want to lick the box and books are no different. I've never actually licked either, but have been tempted.

Okay... where was I?

No matter what people say, books are judged by their covers and often times can help sell books, so make sure yours stands out from the rest. Make people feel it, not just see it. If you're at a book event, what about your cover will set you apart from the other authors? There better be something or people will pass your table right on by. No matter what kind of swag you have, it's about the books—the cover is what makes the swag. 
If you're not proud of your cover, wanting to show it to everyone—have it as your screen saver... your facebook banner... on a magnet on your vehicle... on huge sign in your front yard—then it's not the best it can be. (Okay, I exaggerated a little there, but you get the picture.) 
I hope my rambling was tolerable and that some of the helpful links I included made up for it.

May you enjoy, but refrain from licking, many beautiful covers in your future!