Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Cover clones, movie posters, and a cover artist's opinion by Michelle Lee

WARNING:  The post ahead contains my opinions.  Read at your own risk. : )  
And hateful emails will not be read - so don't waste your time sending them.

As a cover artist, one of the things I have to try and balance is the overall look of the covers I create, the designs of the author, the needs of the publisher, and the limitations of stock art.

Let's face it - despite what a lot of people thinks - most publishers are switching from doing photo shoots for each cover to using stock art.  This includes a lot of the big boys in NY.  I have only seen a few authors, generally the big names, still getting individualized photo shoots.  The rest are using stock art.

Now this can be a good thing - since it makes costs a lot more manageable.  Instead of $200+ for an image for a cover, you are looking at $20ish for two to four images.

But it can also be a bad thing, since each image is available to anyone who wants to use it, which can results in some images being used on multiple covers.

Yes - this can be frustrating for authors, and for readers, but realistically, it is simply the way it is.  As a cover artist, I do my very best to make each cover unique in and of itself, including using more than one image per cover.  (There have been a few times, generally where I was requested to use just the one image, and add text, or where adding more images made the cover cluttered - but those are few and far between.)

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of articles out there now shaming cover artists for using images found on too many other covers, as well as warning authors of the dangers of stock art, etc.  It is the shaming of cover artists that I am going to address today.  I get having a pet peeve ... but many of the things cover artists are blamed for are often outside of our control.

I saw one post where it plainly said that if a cover artist uses an image that is already used on an existing cover - they should be ashamed of themselves.  To this I would say, how many books are published each and every month - in let's say - the romance genre alone?  How in the world am I supposed to go through each of the covers and make sure that an images hasn't already been used.  Yes, it is easy (sometimes) to find repeating images - but in most cases, it's not. So how am I supposed to find each and every image that has been used to make sure I don't use one of them?

I saw several posts that said basically that if a cover artist uses a repeated image they are robbing/lying to the author.  Most authors I know are aware that their covers are created using stock art.  In the BWL forms, in fact, we expressly state that we will be using stock art, and ask the author to select images that appeal to them.  For the commissioned covers I create via Stardust Creations (shameless self-promo plug there - visit me for your cover art needs LOL), I also warn authors I will be using stock images, and encourage them to find images they like and I will purchase rights to use them and craft a cover from them.

This website tagged one of my BWL covers in their image ... and it wasn't the poster that basically slammed cover artists, it was a few of those that commented.

Here's another image example - this time without one of my covers.

Suffice to say, stock images are not exclusive images.  Exclusive rights to images are expensive, and most publishing houses, even the big boys in NY, do not go that route much any more.  So yes, as a reader, there will be a little bit of frustrating every now and then as you look at a cover, see a familiar image, and have to double check to make sure you don't already own the book.  I have had to do this myself from time to time.  BUT, the trade off for this is that small presses are able to open, and survive, and authors who the big boys in NY rejected are able to make a go of it, which means more options for me - as a reader.  I like getting to pick what I want to read, rather than just what the big boys say is sale-able.  The whole paranormal romance genre, at one time, wasn't something the big boys would touch - yet look at how popular it is?

How many of your favorite authors have mentioned on their websites they were rejected by the big boys, so they went small press or even (gasp) the indie route?  90-95% of the books I read, and I read about 35-50 a month, are small press or indie.  They are available because small presses can operate because of stock images sites, and other lower cost options for product production, then were previously available to them.

All that said, I am curious that cover artists have been slammed - a lot lately - but Hollywood hasn't.  We may reuse a stock image seen on another, but Hollywood creates poster clones all the time and no one says anything.  By this, I mean with all the individual options available to them, the ability to shoot whatever pose they want with the actors and actresses, all of the movie stills to use, they still often create posters that look like other posters.

Case in point ...

For this one, not only did they use the same colors and basic image layout they used the same FONT style and color.

Want more?  Check out this YouTube video devoted to them.  I like the comparison at 57 seconds - the cult classic Army of Darkness and whatever that other one is.  (No nasty emails please!)

So why are we held to an insanely high standard that no one can really meet?  I mean, come on.  I know the frustration of seeming the same images used, I get frustrated sometimes because I can't find images to use but ones that I know have been used, but this 'clone' phenomenon isn't new and it isn't limited to cover artists.

So come on, give us a break already.  Most of us don't try to mirror each other, it just happens.  And limited stock art options aren't really our faults.  We do the best we can, with what is available.

~ Michelle