Previously Published in InD’Tale Magazine, Oct 2013
“OMG, that *&$%#ing BLEEP has my book cover!”

Welcome to the world of electronic and print on demand publishing. The above cry can be heard from authors around the globe – often times legitimately, and most of the time due to misconceptions regarding royalty free stock photography and reusable cover art.

How it is possible that two different authors have an identical book cover with only their names and book titles changed to protect the innocent? This can be a way for a publisher to release similar themed stories without investing into unique covers for each one. Alternatively, it can be artists selling something called a Pre-Made cover . While uniqueness is a virtue, so are savings when you’re on a budget. A pre made cover is a beautiful, professionally made alternative to custom covers, and in cases of “non-exclusivity” can be sold again and again.

Con? Someone else will have this cover.
Pro? Very affordable while adhering to professional standards.

You can find reusable PreMade covers at – run by the prolific book cover model Jimmy Thomas. For $45 bucks a pop you can’t go wrong. Just make sure you understand that your beautiful cover may appear with someone else’s name and title.

(There are other premade covers – such as those on my website, which are unique and are sold only once. So if purchasing a premade cover, know what you are getting!)

Another possible way for someone to “have” your book cover is because they’ve reused the same stock photography. Just to make sure we understand the term – stock photography means an existing photograph an artist can purchase license to use. Royalty Free Stock Photography means that one can purchase a license to use that image without paying royalties to the model/photographer every time their picture is reprinted on book covers, magazine pages, etc . This keeps the prices low but can also mean other people can buy the same picture for the same low price.

Quick side note for those of you who are thinking: I’ll just take pictures myself and avoid this whole hoopla. To those of you, (with the exception of professional photographers), I say: please don’t. Pictures you take with your cell phone belong in your family albums, not your book covers. Your handsome boyfriend may be the sexiest thing since Edward, but you need to photograph him in the right way to make sure he doesn’t end up with man boobs on the cover. (And trust someone who has done plenty of digital male breast lifts in her day, saggy man boobs aren’t sexy.)

And by the way, if your handsome boyfriend turns out to be a cad and you the next E.L. James, your boy toy may sue you for a fortune if you’re using his bod on your best selling cover.

Speaking of law suits, don’t even think about taking a picture of a celebrity and using it on your book cover. Not unless you’ve got mega time and even more mega money. Celebrities spend fortunes cultivating their image – and they get paid millions to endorse products. Just because their photos are easily available does not mean they are free for you to use to sell your book cover.

That leaves us with stock photography websites selling images – and while I encourage most of you to read the terms of service, most of these images come with a license to use and digitally manipulate, and a “release” by the model and photographer (basically releasing the image for your use).

There are tons of stock photography images out there, but finding models who fit a book’s genre, style and character description shrinks the pool of available imagery. I once had a client ask me to change a stock model on her cover because she saw him on the cover of another author – a completely different genre – and couldn’t think of this guy as anything but this (new) character. A blessing and a curse, to be sure.

There are a number of reasons why artists turn to the same photographs and most of them have to do with quality of images: while anyone can snap a picture, photography worthy of a book cover must be cultivated. Commercial stock photography website such as sell good quality images for $5-$10 bucks – and they wouldn’t be in business if such images could only be purchased once.

In addition to Shutterstock, a number of excellent photographers have heard the call for quality book cover worthy images. Taria Reed from, the awesome folks of, Jenn LeBlank (who is also a writer!!) at and many others now provide affordable quality images.

These photographers provide harder to find images for popular (and sometimes risque!) genres such as interracial romance, gay romance, ménages, BDSM and more, as well as stocking up on “classic” clinch poses, and of course, suspense, physique, my personal favorite – swords, weapons and many others.

These images are a bit pricier then the big stock sites like Shutterstock, but they are well worth the money for authors looking for fresh faces and models. For a pretty penny, you can even buy exclusive rights to an image – guaranteeing a particular pose and its variations will not be seen on another cover.

In addition to scouting new models and putting up with unsolicited two cents from artists like me always asking for more, these folks also offer Custom Photo shoots. This is a service where an artist and author get to direct a shoot, guaranteeing the clothes, hair and outfits of their subjects will match their characters. And while for some this is a matter of making sure no one will have a similar look, others find this service invaluable when writing outside of trendy genres.

TheBrotherhoodHere is an image created for a custom photography shoot for author R.V. Myers. (The only character Taria didn’t photograph was the Dragon!)

So what can you take away from all this?

When are deciding on your cover art (whether creating it yourself or hiring a designer), decide if you will use a popular stock photography website (links below!), a specialized cover art stock photography site, of your budget allows an exclusive or custom “never to be used again” image.

Communicate your needs to your cover artist if hiring one, as that may impact their estimate: if an artist charges you $75 for a cover, I guarantee a $300 custom shoot isn’t part in their estimate. Similarly, if a cover artist charges $750 per cover, you can expect a cover to be completely unique in terms of characters, models and stock.

I leave you with a promised list of resources:

Big Stock Photography Companies:

Privately Owned Stock Photography sites specializing in Romance photography as well as other photography geared toward book covers: