I have a few admissions to make.
First, I’m a book cover art junkie. I love book covers, I have way more fonts than I can ever use and way more stock photo credits than I can use.
Secondly, I lurk in a lot of cover design groups on Facebook. I haven’t posted in any of these for years, but I watch the feed to see what’s hot and what’s not.
Thirdly, and also rather sadly, of late, I’ve been unimpressed with the quality of cover design in general.
When selfpublishing became a thing, selfpublished books often had covers that were worse than bad in every conceivable way.
Authors quickly realised that most of them were not and could never be cover designers so a service industry sprang up where you could buy covers.
And oh, there were some good covers. Really good covers. Designers made a name for themselves and became so popular they could charge pretty much what they wanted. Within the limits of what self-publishing authors were willing to pay. More about this later.
I met an artist at the WOTF workshop whose portfolio included an image that suited a book I published. I bought the rights to use that image. This artist was doing commissions from traditional publishers. I asked how much a custom cover would be for book 2 of the series. It would be $3000.
Yes, but that’s the going rate for custom, hand-illustrated covers sold to traditional publishers. The relationship between those publishing houses and those artists had existed for a long time and this was the rate at which both parties were happy.
It takes a long time to draw a beautiful scene, and when you’re a freelancer, you need to load your rate to compensate for the time you’re not working or have to do admin.
Fair enough, but what about the artists who found that there was a rather hard ceiling on the rate self-published authors were prepared to pay at about $1500 (and even most covers are less than $500).
1. Were not (yet) full time cover design artists or had other income.
2. Lived in a place where life’s fairly cheap
3. Were happy to charge less under the banner of building a name for themselves.
But when the name’s been built and the business is mature, and it’s the only business you have and you have bills to pay, you can’t raise your prices, the only thing you can do is… produce more covers. Spend less time on each cover.
And while it’s possible to become more efficient as you create more of the same type of thing, there comes a point where the quality starts to suffer.
I think that a bunch of businesses have reached that point. Bills have gone up but authors are still very resistant to paying more because their sales have also gone down.
With the rush to produce more and more covers, a lot of samesy-ness has crept into the entire field of cover design.
Stock photos are not always used with a lot of modifications. Sometimes Photoshop skills leave something to be desired or the job seems rushed. A bunch of new service providers have sprung up that provide elements for making covers. Pre-rendered DAZ figures, cut out objects, .png files of magic glow on a transparent background. So that all a designer needs to do is put it all together and hey, another cover done. That will be $300 thanks.
There are definitely designers who still deliver great work, but others also… have slipped in the rush to create more covers.
This was a rather long preamble to my point: I wonder to what extent AI art is going to shake up the industry and kick it up the butt in a good way. Because it needs a kick up the butt. It needs to become daring and creative again.
A lot of cover designers are verrrrrrryyyyy hostile to AI-generated imagery (yet they use DAZ models to the hilt. Just putting that there). I know for a fact that some cover designers use AI imagery. Not because you can tell, but because they have stated that they use AI. As with DAZ figures, the only good way to use them is such that’s it’s not obvious or doesn’t look unnatural. As with DAZ models and stock photos, AI images would need to be combined to create the best covers.
I’m wondering if the use of AI imagery is soon going to change book covers for the better, and is going to lead to breaking the rut of samesy-ness where it’s currently parked.
(Image: I was bored and used three Midjourney-generated images in this cover mockup. I had to adjust colours and overpaint some sections)