I Noticed When it Comes to Public Domain….

Well the first thing I noticed, to my disgust, were the companies that are copyrighting public domain material so they can claim rights to it. Sometimes these are the same companies that will sue your pants off for so much as using the name of their song/movie/insert crap here in a blog post. I liked what one blogger I stumbled across had to say about it: these are the REAL pirates. They’re stealing from us in such a way we can’t use our material anymore and then punishing us for wanting to use what was ours in the first place.

And the second thing I noticed is the amount of websites out there dedicated to distributing public domain content. Which is wonderful. I support these sites.

But lately they’ve been starting to lean the way of the pirates. They still give you free content, if it’s small… but in the case of at least one website, by example, if you want an image large enough for you to use for commercial purposes, you have to contact them privately and pay real money. I mean real money.  You know, as if they own the copyright.

Now, I know that part of the reason for this is everyone is trying to make a living. And unfortunately there are a lot of douche bags out there who think donating $5 here and there to support what is being supplied free to the public is an insulting thing to do, and people who ask for such support are blights on society. I ran into a few people like that when I was working on my comic, Akashik – which was put up free to read on the internet and ran on book sales and donations.

It got no support. It went down. I couldn’t keep up with it anymore, not and survive.

So, anti-donation people, thanks in part to your attitude places that offered these things for free are now charging an excess of $40 or a LOT more so you can get that piece of artwork that belonged to you in the first place. Makes a lot of sense. $5 donation vs. huge commercial payout. Oh yeah. You guys are soooo smart.

So the thing I’ve noticed is that public domain – our domain, the content that belongs to the people – is in danger… because of commercialism. Because of apathy. Because of misplaced financial stupidity and selfishness. It almost makes me want to cry. You should want to cry too, and not give in to the crap anymore.

I do my best to search in the public domain first *always*.

Reason one: I believe in free, I don’t believe in SOPA or CISPA, and I get tired of the commercialism you see everywhere. I’m against the real pirates, and the only way to effectively fight against that is to try to do free and public first. I even donate some of my own stuff to the public domain.

Reason two: Public domain images are often Victorian and Georgian era artwork that are just plain gorgeous. Those artists weren’t interesting in renting use of their works. They got paid once, and then they went back to their studios *to make more* rather than expecting to cash in by using the same piece. I believe in keeping our history alive, and even though the artists back then didn’t think their work would reach more than one publication we now have the ability to reuse these masterpieces and keep their style going. That’s every reason in the world to use them.

Reason three: Public domain images, unlike the stock images you’re actually renting and not buying, don’t have a usage limit. That’s right. When you “buy” a stock image, you’re not buying it.  You’re renting usage of it, and that usage has a limit. Some places have a 100,000 usage limit. Some limit you at 250,000 copies. Either way, that’s renting for a period of time. Period. With public domain, you don’t have to worry about selling 10,000 copies of your book and suddenly having to purchase a whole new license. Which means you don’t have to waste time keeping track when you could be wasting time writing.

Reason four: There are no hidden “commercial use” costs – at least a website dedicated to the public domain that *truly believes in it* wouldn’t charge you for a commercial size image.

Public domain means free, because it belongs to everybody. And just because its free doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted – or it’s not going to be free anymore. It’s going to be costly instead.

Support public domain. *steps off soap box*


How to get reasonably-priced images for your book cover revisited

The situation I’m about to discuss has been happening for a while now, and I only eluded to it when I talked about where to get cover images in a former post. I saw it happening, I’m just not one to make predictions to anyone but myself and my closest friends so I’ve been waiting for things to finally cement.

Y’all out there might want to double check the licensing on the images you’re purchasing for download to use in your eBook cover.

A few months ago, only a couple of the stock image places were jumping to the catch on: the stock image business, especially for eBookcovers is booming, and people might be getting away with only paying $10 to cover their 20,000 word “book”. So I’ve watched the places, one by one, rephrase their licensing notices to explicitly state something along the lines of, “Creation of electronic goods for sale such as templates of web sites, business cards, brushes for graphic editors, etc.” is “forbidden” when purchasing a standard license (the cheap one) but will be okay with a more comprehensive license purchase: “Unlimited number of units when purchase EL4 and bigger” can run $40 or more.

One by one, stock image sites have caught up with the rest of us and essentially they have raised their prices. There are many stock places that haven’t caught on to the fever yet, but I check their bylines often to make sure all is well.

Now, don’t get me wrong: $40 is a lot better than paying, say, a couple of thousand like some commercial businesses do. But in my house, $40 buys groceries and a couple of blocks of gas. (But not Twinkies anymore. Have you seen how much those things run on eBay?)

Another interesting problem is that some of the sites, which I removed from our resource list, have “non-transferable” terms in their contract with you. What this means is if I buy the image for use on your book cover, you are not able to use it in any fashion. Only I can. Which is damn silly if you ask me. I understand why – to keep the image from being used more than the purchased amount – but it’s still silly. That is how folks like me conduct business.

So what does all this mean for you? It means that if you purchase that small cheap image license anyway you’re running the risk of someone calling you on it in the future. I don’t know how much of a risk but it’s a risk you shouldn’t take. It also means more of you should be providing your own images for cover-making, just to be on the safe side.

In most cases I personally don’t have to worry – I normally take several images and create an entire work of art that is legally considered an original work using materials. It’s what I prefer to do: it keeps my covers original  and me safe under the Fair Use Act. However, it also can run just as expensively as just purchasing a single image with an extended license. Although I have made personal note as of tonight that Shutterstock actually has it in their online contract that any original artwork by myself that uses their stock art is theirs, not mine, and governed under their licenses by-laws.

Guess who just landed at the bottom of my preferred resource list. 🙂

My solution? Well if you’re like me you’ll haunt the public domain stock image website more frequently.  As a matter of fact, tonight I’ll be reworking our resource list and information to reflect on this problem.

Another thing I recommend is when you use those public domain sites DONATE TO THEIR CAUSE! You don’t have to donate a lot, just care enough to be thankful for the efforts of others. Imagine how sad it will be for everyone if these public domain places close their doors, leaving us with the stock image websites as our own course of action. If you don’t think it can happen, think again. I myself had to close doors on a couple of things because readers felt obligated to get something for free and I just couldn’t carry the weight anymore. I wasn’t the first. I doubt I’ll be the last.

Be aware of how far “public domain” actually goes. I have had people come to me wanting me to strip images off of poster print websites because the image they were using is technically in the public domain. Be aware that if you’re stealing someone else’s hard work, whether they used a public domain work to start with or not, it’s still stealing. You also should find out if that painting by Van Gogh is indeed in the public domain – for the record it won’t be. Just because he’s been dead by longer than 75 years doesn’t mean someone didn’t pick up the copyright. They did.

Another way you can get around this problem is to take your own photographs. Or draw something yourself. One of my best covers was made with a single stock image and a background taken for me by the client.  But be aware that taking a magazine ad with that kissing couple and painting over their hair with acrylic paint does not constitute a new, original work of art and can still get you sued.

And ultimately if you do find nothing in the public domain or hate your photos, you need to be prepared to pay full price for that awesome picture. If you’re writing that next big novel, start saving for your cover now. If you’re finished with that novel, be ready to do what you have to do. Lawsuits are expensive – far far more expensive than $40.

Sadly I don’t have any better advice for you at this time. But I’m looking into it. Peace out, for now.

EBook Cover Resource for Broke People

This photo is an example of what you may find in the public domain.

This photo is an example of what you may find in the public domain.

Sometimes a client will come to me with very little money on their hands – or so they claim. For the most part I take them at their word. After all, I also often find myself with very little money on my hands. 🐱

One thing a few clients have done to keep from spending money – whether they had it to spend or not – is to find images for their covers using Google image search. Which means nine times out of ten they’re stealing pictures they have no right to take. I’ve even had one client tell me he was an artist, scan magazine advertisements into jpg format, and “paint” over them – very badly – in an attempt to make them into his own original “art”.

Folks. Don’t do that. Please. I even have good reasons for you not to do that.

1. You can get the pants sued off of you. And I’m not joking about this. You can get sued. There are a lot of people out there right now who thought “borrowing” such and such a picture to post on their blog in a noncommercial statement wouldn’t get them into trouble, and lo! It did. How do you think the court is going to feel if you’re being sued over a COMMERCIAL venture? You’ll end up spending hundreds if not thousands more being sued than if you just paid the $10 or even $50 it took to “buy” the picture through a stock website.

2. Very often the picture you’re using is low quality, too small, and just looks plain bad. A bad cover chases away readers – which means you could potentially be losing more money than you would have gained by attracting them with a professional and attractive image you legally had the right to use.

3. It makes you a jerk, and if word gets out it makes you a warned-about jerk. Which chases readers away, as well as potential publishers, etc.

4. It shows a complete lack of care for your story. That lack of care is a reflection on the work not read – and no matter how good your work is, you’ll lose readers by that first impression alone.

There are ways to get and make covers when you’re on a limited budget. You can draw them yourself if you’re good with pen and color. You can get an artistic friend to do it for you. Or you can do what I sometimes do for clients and find them in an open resource website.

There are a few websites for this. Public Domain Pictures (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/) has got to be my personal favorite: the collection there is growing, and some of the photos aren’t half bad. And it’s a wonderful exchange.

If you do find photos there you can use and are on a limited budget, the images are free for private AND commercial use. For a small fee of about $5 you can buy a premium membership to download the larger files such as you would need for a paper print run. And, if you have another $5 to spare, you have the option of buying the photographer a cup of coffee for their donation to the world at large.

I myself have bought cups of coffee there AND have an account to donate my own photos to give back to the world at large for helping me (and my clients) out a little.

My second favorite is probably Stock Free Images (http://www.stockfreeimages.com/). You have to have a membership with Dreamstime to download from there, but it’s 100% free and has a huge selection. The only stipulation is you must must MUST give credit to the photographer if you use their work – as well you should!

These are but two examples I keep in my cover art resources list here on the blog, but there are many more out there. There’s also Open Clipart, StockXchange, CG Textures, and sometimes members of DeviantArt will donate something they’ve done for the cause. You just have to look around.

If you do, keep your etiquette in mind.

1. If you can, tip the artist even if you’re only giving $2. It supports the arts when you do, shows thankfulness, and helps enable more images to become available for free in the future.

2. Make sure the rights to the image are free for what you intend to do. The websites are generally very good about being clear on rights usage. If you’re in doubt, don’t guess. Contact the artist and get permission.

3. Always always ALWAYS give the artist credit. You don’t have to do this on the front cover – and that’s not the norm anyway. Your license page, you know that part that talks about copyright 2012 and warns other people not to steal YOUR work? That’s where you put the credit.

Yes! There are ways to have excellent looking covers while being able to save money here and there. Search them out, find them! And if you discover another website similar to the ones I’ve listed here, please let me know so I can add them to the database.

Don’t Rush a Good Cover (Why a rushed cover is bad and the marketing of making one.)

Oft times I’ll get that hurried client that wants a book cover. They want a good book cover, an original book cover, one of my best, and they want it NOW. They want their name in neon lights above the title, they want the image to catch attention, and at the same time they want blurbs like “Voted the best by the book readers monthly,” or “a strange man finds a strange object in a strange place at a strange time! What will he do?!?!” all over the picture.  And they get frustrated if I can’t deliver in a hurry. Sometimes they’ll hire someone else and my time is wasted.

If you want a good book cover, a really compelling book cover, from me or just about anybody the first rule is don’t rush it. Sometimes inspiration strikes and I’m able to produce that next masterpiece within minutes. But then there are other times when it’s like I’m pounding my head against a wall for weeks.

So you want covers like this?

If you do, then you have to let the artist think a bit. You wouldn’t cause the premature birth of your child. In some ways it’s the same thing.

When making a book cover, I don’t just slap words over the image and call it a day. I’m considering the following factors:

  1. What will catch the reader’s eye/attention?
  2. What looks great?
  3. Are the words readable when the image is a thumbnail as well as when its big?
  4. Does the lettering style fit the overall theme?
  5. Which is more important: author name or book title?
  6. Does this picture represent the book properly?
  7. Are the images and fonts legal to use?

And more.

The science of making book covers for the internet is similar to book covers for print books, but it’s not exact. With print books, the cover has to attract someone’s attention from across a room. The important part, title or author name, have to be readable from a few feet away. All of the information has to somehow be represented right there from the author’s name to what the book is about. There’s a variety of ways to do this, but the most tried and true methods appear to be putting “new” on the cover if the book is new by a famous author. Famous author’s name big and bold with book title not so much. Image matches content and can be foil, shiny: something that will flash like a neon sign. Blurbs such as “couldn’t put it down!” by some reviewer let people know the book is awesome. (Even when its not.)

With eBooks, the information the cover has to carry is split between it – the image – and the page the image is on. So things like the author’s name, if the book is new, what the book is about, review blurbs, and all other details are on the book’s home page. Take for example this Smashwords page for my book Black Wolf Silver Fox: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/4937

There’s the name of my book, my name, when it was published, two descriptions on what it’s about (the back cover material), search tags, and if I had any reviews that would be there too.

By contrast, look at my book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Wolf-Silver-Fox-ebook/dp/B002H9XUP4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1347812970&sr=8-2&keywords=black+wolf+silver+fox

You’ll see the book cover, about me, about the book, other books bought by people who bought it, a couple of reviews (its a miracle!), when it was published, and so on.

All of that information is put together on the book’s page when the book is set. The cover? Yeah. Let’s take a closer look at my cover.

Most importantly, the picture is very compelling. I have a woman representing a key character in the story. Her attitude was perfect, her clothing superb, her hair awesome. I had to have that picture, and I spent my last dime getting it too. LOL.

Once I had it in hand, I tweaked it a bit to bring out her face, arms and mirror a bit more. That’s where I wanted viewer focus.

In the mirror is a another key component to the story: an hour glass. And the woman (whose name is Aramina btw) is telling you she has a secret. All of that from the book in one fell swoop. Blammo.

Secondly, I have the book title in big, readable letters. Some covers don’t give me leeway to make things that big and still have it look good, but this one did me the favor. Because Aramina, the black wolf, was on the cover I chose to make the words silver in honor to the Silver Fox.

My name there at the top is the traditional place you’d put a name for a famous author. But I’m only the author, so my name doesn’t not overpower the image and I’m not likely to let it anytime soon.

This is the third incarnation of the cover, and it’s the one that has brought me the most sales. The first two covers – omg the first two covers. I’m not showing you the first two covers. But this cover is great.

Other covers, like the Hell cover near the top of this article, can take a bit longer. My client knew what she wanted. She provided me a picture of a woman walking through a forest. (Yes, a forest.) She asked for a couple of small tweaks, but by the time I was done I had the woman walking through the depths of hell itself. It was fun, it was a challenge, it took me at least two weeks.

The Amphitrite cover, by contrast, was even more of a challenge even though making it was a simpler process. In this case, the characters had to be dressed properly for the year 1833. I wasn’t about to try to draw it: my style wasn’t appropriate for this type of story. So I had to find it. I had to find it all. Finding images of women wearing mob caps through a stock image service is next to impossible. Good images of anything similar: ha ha ha. I laugh. I scoff. It’s lucky I don’t charge by the hour. Maybe I should.

I had to research the ship. There are at least a few hundred sailing vessel types out there. I had to get the right one, especially since this story is based on fact. This meant historical research – lucky for my client I’ve a minor in history instead of a major in art. And I got very lucky. I came across an actual anonymous photograph of the exact vessel type I was looking for from that year. I felt blessed by the gods.

Is that the actual photo of the Amphitrite? I’d like to think so, but I should be so lucky.

When the idea finally began to form (right about when I found the photo, which I found first), it was a quick assembly. It took me days to find the parts, and hours to put it together. But I had to have something in my head to work from, and I had to have the puzzle pieces to assemble, and even though I managed to make a cover I’m pleased with in just a few hours… it took me about a month just to figure it out.

Unless your book has outside publicity to pull people to it, your covers run the risk of chasing readers away. An ugly cover (not represented here as a courtesy to everyone involved) will be to the reader’s eye like water off a duck’s back. Sometimes that reader will check out a book, but not always. In the bookstore, this is a big deal. It’s that shiny image that gets the buyer’s attention in the first place.

For the internet, it’s not as big a deal but it still is. Going back to my cover for Black Wolf Silver Fox: that book has been in the market for years. When sales for it nearly stopped entirely I put it to the book’s age. Making that new shiny cover taught me a lesson on that matter. People were seeing this nifty thing and buying it all over again. I just had several sales last week as a matter of fact. I’m not Stephen King, but my book isn’t dead either. I can safely say my first two covers were not helping me any at all.

My best book covers happen to belong to clients who have been previously published and built a name for themselves. This isn’t because they’re famous. It’s because they were used to waiting a year or two before they saw their books on the shelves, and they gave me space and time to think. No rush deadlines from them.

So when rushing your cover artist for that cover, stop and consider. Do you want your book to sell? Then maybe waiting a little bit isn’t going to hurt you. Maybe it’s only going to help you: like waiting a full nine months for your baby to be born, perhaps.

Premade Covers Area Moved

The premade covers – comprised of rejected or unclaimed covers from previous clients – used to be housed on another portfolio I have, but lately I have been taking a look at their situation. They needed to be made more convenient for you, the client, so that is what I have done.

They are now housed onsite here, where they should be. Furthermore they all have “buy now’ links so that you no longer have to contact me, wait for a response, and make arrangements. If that’s the cover for you, then you can buy it right away, put your name and title into the instructions, and have it delivered by email quickly. Each ‘buy now’ link is also set to monitor stock: once a particular cover is purchased, that’s it. It’s done. No one else can buy it, I take it down and replace it with another.

Another thing I’m starting to do is add new stock to the premade section. Of late, I have fallen in love with making artful compositions from stock art. Making covers for various people is what got me started on it – the transformation, experimentation, and overall sheer beauty I am able to create is addictive. I already have added two new romance covers to the selection – just because I felt like making them.

I’ve always enjoyed having a premade cover section. It allows you, the author, to have immediate delivery and near instant satisfaction at an affordable price. Covers I’m contracted for won’t be finished nearly as fast!

It allows me to create for the sake of it – which sometimes an artist just has to do to blow off some steam.

It’s a win-win situation.