There have been a few times over the past year where I have thought about doing this post and I put it off thinking that you all would read it and think I was just picking on authors. That is not the case and I want to get that out right away. I think that this could be an important lesson to authors (and marketing teams) out there and someone will find it helpful. So here I go.
PART I: The Perils of Using Stock Images
Have you ever been on Goodreads or Amazon and thought “man, that cover looks familiar” but you keep going and think nothing of it? I have. Many times. The first time it really caught my eye was earlier this year. I was reading an advanced copy of Beth Dolgner’s Ghost of a Memory. It wasn’t out yet but was due to be release VERY soon. At around the same time, I was also going out to update our Book Release Calendar and came across a book and almost choked.
Kay Hooper’s Haven was due to be released near that same time and the covers were so much alike!
The main image on both covers is what is called a stock image. Most of us know what stock images are but for those who don’t, there are websites out there where you can purchase the use of images. They are not exclusively yours unless you drop a fat amount of cash and also buy the commercial rights. The upside to purchasing a stock image is you get nice, clean image to work with for your cover and you can’t be accused of stealing someone’s artwork. The downside is that it isn’t exclusive so that means anyone else who is willing to pay can also use the same image as you.
Now, I am not knocking stock images. I used them! There are lots of sites out there now for purchasing these stock images. I personally use 123RF. Some people use Shutterstock. For the most part, you can find ANYTHING you need on these sites and the prices of the images is reasonable in most cases. I purchased the picture of the creepy guy and the wall of fire for the front cover and the ring of fire for the back cover. All at a very reasonable price and they are royalty free images. I then took the image of the creepy guy, gave him blacked out eyes, did some touch up work, put the wall of fire behind him and added the title treatments. As artistic as I am, I could not have drawn that cover myself. I’m good but not THAT good. : )
(back and front cover for paperback)
I did the same thing with my upcoming release The Devil You Know. The girl is one image, the cityscape background is another. I did my touch ups to the girl, put her in front of the background and added the title treatments.
I went into this knowing that there is a chance that someone, somewhere will use that same photo for something someday. I just have to sit back and hope that I changed mine enough so it won’t seem obvious. I am sure that this was the same thing going through Beth Dolgner’s head. Oh! As soon as I saw the cover, I immediately emailed her and was all like “Dude!!! She’s using your cover!!!”. She responded with far less panic than I would have by saying something along the lines of Blargh! That’s what I get for using a stock image. Oh well! My release date is first. The very picture of grace under pressure. I would probably have freaked out and burst into tears. Not Beth. Cool as a cucumber. Although I used stock images, my hope is that I changed it enough to feel somewhat original. In the event that someone uses the same images as me one day, I hope that I can handle it with the same grace that Beth did. It’s the risk you take when using stock images.
I guess the thing that surprised me most was this: I assume that a lot of indie author artwork comes from stock images (which Beth Dolgner is) but I was really surprised to see that an author signed to The Big Six….err….The Big Five (that doesn’t sound right yet) ended up with a cover made from a stock image. I honestly didn’t realize that was EVER done by traditional publishers. I have always thought that artwork on traditionally published books is all original. Who knew?
Here are some other examples of covers that use the same stock image. In some cases, enough touch up and treatment has been done to their cover so it’s not the EXACT same cover but if you look longer than 30 seconds, you see it.
PART II: Cover Clones
Another problem I am seeing more and more is cover clones. They may not use the same image but they certainly have the same design concept and in my eyes, I think that’s far worse because to me, that feels a little like stealing. Whether or not it is…..meh. That’s up for debate.
The biggest example I have seen as of late is the craze that is Fifty Shades. Let me explain.
Ginny and I met for coffee one night at Books-A-Million in Concord NH. It was a good halfway point and what better place for both of us bibliophiles to spend hanging out than in a book store. So we are walking around and eventually made our way to the erotic romance section. AND PROMPTLY HIT A WALL OF FIFTY SHADES RIPOFFS. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a Fifty Shades fan. I think it’s poorly written drivel (Please do not attack me over this. I am not afraid to use profane language to defend myself. You Fifty Shades fans are rabid. Lol). However, it has a brand that EVERYONE knows. The trademark covers. They’re simple and elegant, masking their slutty sex-laden innards with class and sophistication.* It’s the brand of the books. They hit the market, establishing a certain look and when the trio became successful, it became their brand. It’s what they are known for. Everyone knows the cover – gray background with a lone picture of handcuffs, lending a tongue-in-cheek glimpse at what awaits on the pages. Like I said – simple, elegant and KNOWN.
Well, there is an ARMY or books out there now trying to hitch a ride on the coat tails of the Fifty Shades success. I was amazed at HOW MANY of them there are. Do they all use the handcuffs? No. Do they all use the gray background? No. But they use the brand. The simple cover with a single item as the focal point, title treatment and some non-descript background. It’s the Fifty shades cover design. It’s their brand. And it’s being robbed left and right. I think the most obvious example is the Sylvia Day books.
I would also like to point out the initials engraved on the dogtags: GC. As opposed to CG, as in Christian Gray…. Just sayin’….
All you rabid Fifty Shades fans out there, put your damn pitchforks away. Simmer down. Don’t start raging at the authors of these covers. The thing you need to understand is it’s not their fault. No, really. It isn’t. I hate to break it to you but E.L. James isn’t the genius behind the brand of the Fifty Shades books. The marketing team put in charge of her cover design when the publisher bought the rights to the book is who designed it. Same goes for the ripoff covers. Some marketing team in a conference room, seeing the success of Fifty Shades, decided to try to cash in on that success. The idea behind a strategy like this is to trick dumb consumers. Make the packaging of the product look like the successful product they already know and love and their subconscious will tell them to buy, buy, BUY! So they buy it. And it works. It’s Marketing 101.
Unfortunately, there were SO MANY of the Fifty Shades design clones that I wouldn’t even know where to start. Just walk into the Erotic Romance section of your local big box book store. I guarantee you won’t be able to miss them. However, here are some examples of other Cover Clones with designs being ripped off……or “borrowed” if you like that word better.
(This last one not only nabbed the eyeball motif that the Caged Series has but also named her book Caged View…. Hmm……)
The lesson in all of this? If you’re an indie author, think long and hard on your cover to make sure that you feel the idea is original. If you’re part of that faceless marketing team that is riding the success of other designs, cut it out. You are only making people scrunch up their nose and say “whadda ripoff!” Well, except with the Fifty Shades lookalikes. Those are flying off the shelves. Good job. Lol
In my research, I came across some posts on Keeping Up With The Joneses about cover lookalikes. Some of the covers I have grabbed are from her posts. You can read her original post by clicking HERE.
I found her posts while searching for a particular cover that is a TOTAL clone of Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules. I have seen the cover a million times but can’t remember the name of the book or who the author is. Now that I want to use it in a post, I can’t find it. Go figure…
I also want to add in for people to check out Joseph Lallo’s guest post about good cover art, Icing on the Cake. <– CLICK TITLE TO READ
*I don’t have a problem with erotica or people who read erotica. ; ) Just painting a picture.
A very insightful article, particularly in the analysis of Fifty Shades. My girlfriend is an art director for a major publisher. She is under constant pressure from the editors to make covers that mimic the Fifty Shades look. It’s become an editorial obsession….
Exactly! From a marketing stand point, it certainly makes sense. Like I said in the post, it’s Marketing 101. It just amazes me that so many people dont seem to notice it. lol
You know I actually much preferred Bared To You’s original cover, but some genius thought ripping off other books would be better. I really think that marketing people think romance and erotica readers are stupid and can’t tell the difference. I saw Lora Leigh’s Wild Card remarketed with a 50 Shades cover as well and that book released years ago! Oh well.
I also saw the same exact cover of two books that released fairly close to each other in the similar rock star romance genre. Emily Snow Devoured and Olivia Cunning Tempt Me. The only difference besides the title and author was Olivia Cunning was in black and white. I am seeing the same covers more and more… insulting our intelligence. As if romance covers as a general rule aren’t bad enough, we have look a likes and cloning to deal with.
Lets Get Romantical
I think you’re seeing it more and more in the romance genre right now because romance has hit a boom. If the boom was sci-fi, we would see it happening with sci-fi covers. If the boom was urban fantasy, we would see it happening with urban fantasy covers. And so on. I agree that it feels a little insulting because consumers are viewed as sheep that can be directed to buy based on familiarity but that is, in fact, the truth of it. The consumer sees a familiar image and it triggers feelings of trust deep in the wrinkly parts of your brain. You’re more apt to buy if you have a feeling of trust in the product – conscious of it or not. 🙂